Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Not Your Father’s Esav

Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginzberg
In what is otherwise a beautiful plea for civilized discourse that should reflect the pleasant ways of the Torah, I must take issue with an attitude Rabbi Aryeh Zev Ginzberg expressed. It is an attitude which I believe to be endemic to much (but not all) of the Charedi world. Ironically it was in the context of a criticism with which I agree. That of the lines being crossed by the extreme fringes of the Orthodox left. One of those lines is religious interaction with members of other faiths. That has been clearly rejected by all Poskim, Not the least of which was Rav Solovietchik.

One of  the Rav’s more prominent students - Open Orthodox founder, Rabbi Avi Weiss - has openly and admittedly departed from the ways of his Rebbe and is now proactively involved in doing exactly that. One such endeavor was inviting a neighboring Church’s Gospel singers into his Shul to sing Gospel music. (Right in front of the Aron Kodesh I  believe!)

I am just as appalled by this as is Rabbi Ginzberg. I have nothing against Gospel singers. I am just opposed to inviting them into a Shul to sing Gospel music. But Rabbi Ginzberg didn’t stop there. Here is the offending paragraph: 
While we have to live with them side by side until the final geulah comes, do we have to invite them into our shuls? In front of our Aron Kodesh? What pain the image has brought to Myron and countless other Yidden like him. Is this דרכיה דרכי נועם? And for what purpose? To pacify some goyim? Whether it made any difference to even one non-Jew can be debated, but that it caused such division and pain to so many Yidden and caused such a split in our community needs no debate. Where is the נועם, the pleasantness of their actions, in all that they do? that refe 
I am dismayed, but not surprised. The derogatory way in which he refers to non Jews is unfortunately the way many Jews in that community are indoctrinated. They see the ‘Goy’ as the antithesis of the Jew.  I have heard this type of pejorative expressed in a variety of ways. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard  a rebuke of a student’s behavior calling it  ‘Goyish’!  as though what a Goy does is automatically bad. As though all their values are the anathema to Torah values.

This is how too many Charedi educators – especially those on the extreme right - feel about Non Jews. I will never forget the ‘Hashkafa’ recording of one Chasidic Rav who urged that – while we must get along with ‘Goyim’, we must nevertheless HATE them! (Yes he actually said that.) The message being that they are innately evil unless proven otherwise.

This is clearly wrong. Even if one interprets that famous Rashi of ‘Halacha He, Esav Sonei L’Yaakov’ as Esav AND his descendants generally hating all Jews throughout time. This does not mean we must hate them back. And yet this is the attitude that permeates the thinking too many people in the Charedi world.

Of course Rabbi Ginzberg did not say any of that. But he didn’t have to. His disdain for Goyim is all too evident in that paragraph. And I cannot protest it enough.

Aside from being immoral to hate people for the ‘sins of their forefathers’ in Europe, it fosters a climate among some of us that justifies cheating and stealing from them because they are evil and hate us anyway. And that is an outrageous attitude that has led to serious violations of the law, violations of Halacha, trampling of ethics, and has resulted in one Chilul HaShem after another

I understand his objections having Gospel singers in a Shul. I agree with him about that. But disparaging non Jews – even in the indirect way that he did is uncalled for and wrong.

One might want to excuse him somewhat because of the example he used that was clearly an instance of Jew hatred in the extreme. Unfortunately all European Jewry experienced that kind of hatred during the Holocaust. His point was that even a Holocaust survivor that was no longer religious was still Jewish enough to treat Christians properly. And that what Rabbi Weiss did in his Shul was an insult to all such people… and should therefore be an insult to those of us that are religious.

What a specific Catholic Church did to that Holocaust survivor’s family back then was awful. Abhorrent in the extreme! One cannot blame that survivor for his feelings today. But to use him as an example of why we should hate the Catholics or Christians of any denomination in our day completely ignores what has happened 70 years since.

I am not going to go into details. But it should be clear to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention that the Catholic Church as done a complete 180 about us and the vast majority of churches, their priests and ministers would never do to any refugee, Jewish or otherwise, what their some of their European predecessors did to that survivor. Especially in America.

You would have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to see that change. It doesn’t matter whether the non Jew in question is a political liberal or conservative. We are the most beloved religious group in America according to the most respected polling organization in the world, Pew research. I am 100% certain that those Gospel singers are among them.

The damage done by teaching young people this ‘anti Goy’ attitude is incalculable. In my humble opinion, Rabbi Ginzberg needs to make a public apology for projecting this attitude in his essay. Which is online and can be read by anybody. What’s more the Charedi world needs to rethink how it sees the non Jewish world; not base their attitude on the past; and teach their children accordingly.

It’s time to recognize the truth and stop basing our opinions on the past.  It’s time to realize that American values are NOT all evil. While there is much in American culture that is inconsistent with our values, there is much more that is consistent with them. Especially among those non Jewish Americans that are more inclined to a religious perspective. Because their values are similar to ours and based on a bible that is in part shared with us.

Instead of projecting disdain, we ought to be projecting gratitude, appreciating how they feel about us,  and welcoming their friendship. And certainly not be saying the kinds of things Rabbi Ginzberg did.