December 1, 2017
Allow me to share a passage from Pirke Avot: ‘ Pray for the integrity of the government; for were it not for the fear of its authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive.’ The government that existed when this was written was the Roman empire and the author of this perek was Rabbi Chanina. He was often chosen to be an emissary to the Romans when a go-between between the government and the Jews was necessary. He was a diplomat, a very modest man and understood the importance of a stable government.
But what happens when the government becomes unstable? In fact, what happens when the government seems to be supporting a narrative that one class of people are evil and depraved? Or maybe the better question is ‘what happens when the head of the government seems to believe that one group of people are deserving of enmity?’ In this country, without doubt, we have reached this point and it certainly seems to me that there are people in this government that are encouraging us to eat each other alive.
The President’s retweets of a far-right, Nazi inspired series of hate videos from Great Britain that vilify and demonize all Moslems is, in my mind, an invitation for ‘real Americans’ to persecute this minority. His spokeswoman tried to spin his retweets by saying that he was just bringing up the severity of the issue without really endorsing violence. This seems untrue and disingenuous to me. (If this was really the case, why not a simple tweet like ‘We must be aware of religious extremist violence but not by alienating an entire religious community,’ or something like that). It is, rather, clear to anyone who looks objectively to this series tweets that the head of the government wants to thoroughly alienate, vilify, demonize all Moslems and invited all of us to hate them as much as he seems to.
I won’t take the bait.
I won’t eat my fellow citizen alive because an authority figure says I should.
I won’t participate in the fantasy of our head of state to persecute.
I won’t encourage others to hate Moslems.
I won’t because resisting the urge to hate is the most Jewish thing I can do. Each of us has a yetzer ha-rah, an evil impulse, and it is painfully easy to release it and let it run wild. Rabbi Chanina was right: we would eat each other alive if we had the chance.
Jews know what it is like to be eaten alive when the government controls the message. We know that words mean things and that each word, each tweet, must be weighed carefully. Ours is a religion of words. Arguments flourish and there doesn’t have to be a ‘winner.’ Disagreements are part of the Jewish soul. So it is incumbent upon us to meet words of hate with words of rationality and respect for our neighbors who wish to live in peace. As the Psalmist says, ‘Behold how wonderful it is when people dwell in peace.’
And there is another, selfish reason for us to respond with disgust. We’re next. It is easy to beat up on Moslems. Almost every reported terrorist attack in the world is done by a Moslem. 9/11, France, Spain, Belgium, Germany, England and other European countries struggle with Islamic terrorism all the time. The Moslem community is low-hanging fruit in the world of hate. Jews are harder.
We are harder because our community is more organized and it is simply uncouth to target Judaism. Rather, the simple and blatant anti-Semitism is couched as anti-Zionism. By and large, it really has nothing to do with Israel and everyone knows it. Sometimes the anti-Semitism bubbles forth, a-la Charlottesville. But mostly it is just behind the curtain ready to jump out.
If the tweets continue they will inevitably start targeting Jews – ‘Jewish money,’ ‘Jewish media,’ ‘Jewish banks,’ et cetera. And when that happens, I ask this question: Who will stand with us? Many Christians, certainly. And, God willing, the Moslems whom we defended from slander and hatred and who, at this moment, depend on us to speak clearly and without equivocation or spin.