There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s advisors. She was right. I never should have cited those websites–they were wrong and I apologize to my readers for my misstep.
As I intimated in my first post the notion that Obama is somehow bad for the Jews is absurd based on what we know and what we have seen. All we as a community should be focused on is what the person has said and what he has done. While I am still unsure about a few issues and disagree with him on a few others, the more the campaign continues, the more I like what I hear and see from Obama. Many have already praised his talk on race as being indicative of the type of nuanced and complex yet straight and simple kind of thinking that this country needs, I would like add just a few points that have not been addressed.
I understand those such as Hillary Clinton and my friend and wise op-ed columnist Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe who felt Obama’s comments came up short, arguing, in Jacoby’s case, that if there rabbi or minister ever made such a comment they would call for his dismissal. There are many cases where I would have no problem taking such a position. To be sure, if my rabbi had ever said “God damn America,” I would be shocked and horrified and perhaps even call for his dismissal.
Obama did the right thing when he denounced Jeremiah Wright’s statements yet did not thrown his longtime pastor overboard. I was among the many Jews who called on Obama to make such a statement and felt that those in his campaign who kept dismissing the issue were terribly mistaken. His remarks on Wright should satisfy any Jew who has gone to synagogue and heard a rabbi–who has married, or bar mitzvahed his kids, or counseled him and his family in rough times–say things they disagrees with or find disturbing. Clerics talk a lot–probably more than any other public official–and they say a number of different things that sometimes can sound awfully silly. This should never excuse calls for violence or hate speech, but we should always remember the context and history of the people making those comments.
(Just a few weeks ago a leading rabbi from Yeshiva University called for the assassination of the Prime Minister of Israel if he were to ever give back Jerusalem–and all he was asked to do by the university was to apologize. He should have been fired or at the very least have been demoted).
But my rabbi did not experience America as a segregated country that undermined my very existence and my rabbi was never a U.S. Marine.
Obama not only did the right thing by not dumping Wright, he taught America a lesson. Just because we don’t agree with everything everybody says that does not mean that we ought to reject them fully as human beings or as leaders. Obama’s approach to dealing with the situation broke with typical political thinking that paints people as either being black or white.
Likewise, in Jewish life there is way too much black and white thinking among those in various denominations. We either “legitimize” or don’t “legitimize” other Jews as if their entire being and religious lives were based on one or two issues that we might disagree with them on. Such thinking destroys the complexity and beauty of life and humanity. By making every argument into a matter of legitimacy or illegitimacy it becomes impossible to ever have real conversations that recognize that there is no one group or person that has all the answers.
People are not one 15-second sound bite, position, or idea. They are complex creatures with myriad and often conflicting opinions. Such complexity, however, should never prevent us from critiquing, judging, or challenging one another.
Because we make things into black and white we loose our ability to openly criticize and challenge our own orthodoxies and opinions. Without our ability to criticize ourselves and others we risk living in a world destined to become its own inadequacies. Open and honest critique is the basis for redemption.
More than anything since writing this blog I think we all have realized that disagreeing with one another does not mean not legitimizing their role as a leader of their community and the Jewish people. Writing alongside Rabbis Grossman and Rabbi Waxman has always been an honor. Any arguments we have had have been, in my mind, a machloket le-shem shamyyim, an argument for the sake of heaven, and what could be a more lofty and honorable endeavor than that.