Friday, February 25, 2011

Reform Judaism: Nothing to Be Ashamed Of!

The talk radio host Glenn Beck made news this week when he compared Reform rabbis (and by extension Reform Jews everywhere) to Islamic fundamentalists. He subsequently apologized for these comments - see below.

His offensive comments were made during his February 22 radio program.  You can hear them here (the relevant part begins at around 2:55).

Beck's comments stem from an earlier incident...which began when Beck called into question George Soros' past - and specifically his behavior during the Holocaust.  (Soros is a Holocaust survivor and noted philanthropist who supports primarily liberal causes, which Beck takes issue with.)

A coalition of 400 rabbis from across the Jewish spectrum, organized under the umbrella organization Jewish Funds for Justice, recently took out ads in prominent newspapers condemning Beck for his attack on Soros, and for his too-frequent comparison of his political enemies to Nazis.

Beck's February 22 comments were a response to those ads.

His initial comments earlier this week were quickly and widely denounced by the URJ (our Reform Movement) and the ADL (among others).

The good news is that yesterday - February 24 - Beck apologized for the comments at the top of his show, describing his original Feb 22 remarks as being misinformed and "one of the worse analogies of all time."  He followed up those on-air remarks with an open letter to the ADL reiterating his apology.  Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, accepted the apology and now considers the matter closed.

Jewish Funds for Justice does not.

What do you think?

My initial inclination - as a Jew - is to generally be open to an apology.  Our understanding of teshuvah implies that forgiving someone is as important a mitzvah as asking for forgiveness.  Of course, our Jewish understanding of teshuvah presumes that the offender won't repeat his error again in the future.  Only time will tell if Beck will hold himself to a higher standard than Tuesday.

In the meantime...putting aside his offensive comparison of liberal Jews with radical Islamists (we have literally nothing in common)...let's examine his original contention that there is something wrong with a religion that applies its values to the political process.

I don't have to tell you that that notion is anathema to Judaism.  Our values aren't just ideas that we live out in the privacy of our own homes.  They make up our hopes and dreams: our collective vision for what life on this planet could be like if we were able to figure out a way to get along, and care deeply for one another.

Part of what it means to be a Jew is to take those values out into the world, and to practice them.  That's why it's such a mitzvah to give tzedakah to the unknown homeless person on the street -- because even though they are not related to us, or connected to us in any concrete way...nonetheless, we Jews believe in our moral obligation to help that stranger...and to end the plight of the homeless everywhere.

Fighting homelessness (or your other favorite social justice issues) isn't just done on the street.  It's done in Washington, where all Americans have the opportunity to lobby their representatives for either more or less funding for this cause or that cause.

To be sure, Jews comes in different political stripes.  We have Jewish Democrats and Jewish Republicans.  And those two groups tend to disagree on a lot of issues.  Quite passionately.

But one thing that they have in common is that neither is embarrassed about their Jewishly-informed passion to engage on the pressing political issues of the day.

And I, for one, agree.  There is nothing to be ashamed of about being a Reform Jew in general.  And there is nothing to be ashamed of about wanting to be politically involved...and to base that involvement on one's own individual religious values.  Just the opposite.  It's a mitzvah to be involved Jewishly and politically in that way.

I understand, and respect, that there might be some in our community who are/were fans of Glenn Beck, because of his advocacy for a political agenda that many in this country are captivated by.

But if this most recent incident has left a bad taste in your mouth - about who Beck is, and the political tactics that he represents, you might consider adding your name to the Jewish Funds for Justice petition that continues to circulate, calling for him to be fired - not in response to this week's remarks which he has apologized for, but for his repeated and inappropriate invocation of Holocaust metaphors that are insensitive to Jews.  You can find that petition here.

In the true spirit of democracy, and of respectful discourse, I encourage you to share your thoughts on this matter by weighing in in the Comments box below.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Brown

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