Sunday, January 28, 2018

How the Tables Have Turned!

VP Pence asked an Orthodox Rabbi (Lord Sacks) to write his speech 
One of the things I found fascinating about former President Bill Clinton is his perception of an authentic Jew. The more  ‘Jewish’ someone looked, the more authentic he believed them to be. I believe that is one of the reasons he agreed to see the Skverer Rebbe, R’ David Twersky. He looks the part: full beard, peyos, long Chasidic Bekeshe… the works. The Rebbe saw President Clinton for purposes of getting some of his Chasidim released from prison. They had been convicted of fraud. He succeeded in getting their sentence commuted. 

It wasn’t only the ‘look’ that intrigued Clinton. One of his friends turns out to be Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the OU’s Kosher division.  R’ Genack is Orthodox but not Chasidic and outside of the Kipa, there is nothing especially  ‘Jewish’ looking about him.

It is also rather well known that Clinton’s beautiful eulogy for Itzhak Rabin which he ended with the words ‘Shalom Chaver’, was written by another Orthodox Jew, Rabbi David Luchins.

Clinton was not alone in this regard. Another President apparently feels the same way. The current one. He too has Orthodox Jews that are important to him. Two of his top advisers on the Middle East - Jason Greenblatt and David Friedman - are Orthodox Jews.

Not to be outdone by these two Presidents in terms of what  kind of Jews they value the most, the current Vice President, Mike Pence seems rto value Orthodox rabbis too. It has recently been revealed that he asked the former Chief Rabbi  of England, Lord Jonathan Sacks to write the speech he delivered to the Knesset last week. A speech that was filled with biblical references that could have been delivered by any Orthodox Rabbi.

It seems to be increasingly the case that Orthodoxy is not only the wave of the future for Judaism in America - it is increasingly being seen by leaders of both political parties as the more authentic version of Judaism.

This was unfortunately not the case when we needed it the most during the Holocaust. The Rabbi most trusted by then President Roosevelt was  Stephen S. Wise, a Reform Rabbi. FDR considered him the spokesman for the Jewish community. Orthodox rabbis were ignored by him when they came to plead  the case of European Jews that were being systematically slaughtered by Nazi Germany as they overran Europe. FDR asked his Jewish speech writer and adviser, Samuel Rosenman whether these Orthodox rabbis were important. Rosenman told him to skip the meeting because these rabbis represented an archaic culture of Jews that have no real constituency and no future.

My how the tables have turned. I can only imagine what heterodox rabbis must feel when they see the way things have evolved. They are practically ignored by the current administration. Not that this should surprise anyone. They are among the most vehement critics of the President in the entire world. Not that he doesn’t deserve some of that criticism. He does. But they are so blinded by hate that they never see anything he does as good. Not a single policy or act. Not even recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, or moving the embassy there.

If one looks at how Reform Judaism was founded, the idea was to ‘normalize’ the Jew and make him blend into society as completely as possible. Which meant not only looking like the rest of the world but acting like it too. Shabbos and Kashrus were no longer necessary and an impediment to complete societal assimilation.  They reasoned that a Jew could be defined by the ethics of the Torah sans its Mitzvos. 

The Conservative Movement was not quite as bad, but moved in that direction. They too felt that one need not overstate their Judaism in public. And that assimilation was just fine. True, they considered themselves a Halachic Movement. But they did little to insure that their members behave that way.

This unprecedented level of assimilation, it was thought would eliminate antisemitism. Tragically, as the Holocaust taught us, this was proven not to be the case. Nazism didn’t care how we looked. For them a Chasidic Rebbe and a Reform Rabbi were equally guilty of being part of a degenerate race to be annihilated.

In this week’s Parsha we read the Ten commandments. These are commandments, not suggestions that we can ignore and follow only as means to ethical behavior.  We, the Jewish people have been commanded to follow these rules by God on pain of severe consequences if we don’t. 

We have survived as Jews throughout a history of constant persecution.  Assimilationist movements that tried to change the world’s attitude about us have failed. And in the last couple of decades it is Orthodox Jewry that is on the ascendancy and the only Jewish demographic in America that is increasing in number. And we now seem to be more recognized as authentic by American leaders of both parties.  Orthodox Rabbis like Lord Jonathan Sacks have taken the place of  Reform rabbis like Stephen R.Wise..

I say this no out of a sense of joy or triumphalism. I say it as merely a fact to demonstrate that the more we try to assimilate out of our Judaism, the less likely we will have a future. This is a lesson that Heterodox rabbis have not yet learned. And that the far left of Orthodoxy needs to pay far more attention to.