We live in very confusing times. We want to fight racism, so we create racism. We teach that all whites are racists and that it is systemic. And our president is then, by definition, racist. It would be right for him to step down and yield the office to his vice president, who is whatever race and gender – one could fill in the appropriate non-racist and non-sexist boxes. We teach tolerance of all genders, but we are taught that there really is no gender separation. Being called a hypocrite is considered not an insult but a confirmation of the correctness of this skewered way of thinking.
“Social Justice” has become a code word for encouraging the unsuccessful to sulk in their victimhood while castigating the successful. It also brings a shudder to traditional Jews, as we are never privileged to be on the list of social justice causes. We made the mistake of success.
Nothing is expressed with profound thought proven in the laboratory of experience. Everything is reduced to feel-good slogans of the day, no matter how destructive they have proven to be. Even science has become the tool of political correctness.
In these very confusing times, we should be able to expect moral clarity from our religious and political leadership. But they are failing us.
The Ramban (Nachmanides), in his commentary on the Torah (VaYikra 5:15), explains the reason why a Korban Asham, which is a sacrifice brought when one is unsure if he sinned, is more substantial an animal than a regular Korban Chatas, brought when one surely sinned. When one is sure of his sin, explains the Ramban, one is more likely to seriously atone for it. If he can clearly identify the sin, he is more inclined to address it. When one is not quite clear about the sin, he is likely to be more dismissive of the sin. Hence, the need to have a more demanding sacrifice offered toward atonement.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l (Sichos Musar 5731:55) explains the reason why the Jews suddenly sank to the depths of idol worship as they served the Golden Calf. As quoted in Maseches Shabbos (89a), the Satan convinced the Jews that their leader Moshe Rabbeinu was hovering in the clouds somewhere and no longer in a leadership role. Confusion in leadership yields disastrous results.
These times desperately call for leadership. We are not getting it. During the recent war between Israel and Hamas, we needed to hear about the just cause of Israel. We needed to publicly and forcefully decry the anti-Semitism in the streets and college campuses throughout the country. We needed to call out our Jewish and non-Jewish political leaders for their silence. We needed to identify anti-Semites in Congress and their tacit supporters. We needed to hear about the anti-Semitism being clearly adopted by the BLM movement.
We got none of that. The same silence during the Oslo years and the Gush Katif expulsion is what we did get. We knew we were right for forecasting disaster then, and, unfortunately, we were proven correct. I personally was vilified in a public letter by a major writer for a chareidi publication, and the Modern Orthodox world refused to allow me to address it in a public arena. Do you think anyone would have the decency to apologize for their grave and costly error?
And this is why I am so thrilled that we have the Coalition of Jewish Values, which is unafraid to take on any of these issues. Recently, we gathered the signatures of 200 rabbis to plead with House Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi to do the very least – to strip Ilhan Omar of her position in the House Foreign Relations Committee, following her anti-Semitic and anti-American rants. The Republicans have done that to some who are far less deserving.
Remember that last year I warned about “Cancel Culture Comes To Orthodoxy.” I wasn’t kidding. And I wasn’t wrong.
A major Orthodox yeshivah in New Jersey published a yearbook in which dozens of students expressed their sympathies with numerous criminals killed by police. The implication was a support of BLM, which has proven to be anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. (That part was edited by the school board.) Some parents, in an angry response, published an ad paying tribute instead to the families of police officers who were killed by criminals.
I am told that some major Orthodox high schools refused to allow a speaker from the Israeli consulate, as it would be too upsetting to some of the students.
Why is this happening? Because the major rabbinic and lay leadership organizations are not expressing clarity! They are taking the politically safe and easy way out. Kids and the rest of the community find themselves like the time during the disappearance of Moshe Rabbeinu. They are left floundering, looking for a belief system, for a hashkafah. Often, that system is the most harmful to our own preservation.
Please write, email, and call these organizations. Demand that they show the leadership expected of them. At the same time, check out the website of the Coalition for Jewish Values. Give them a great “yasher koach!” that they so richly deserve!
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.