This is not about politics or religion.
It’s about decency and Jewish values, about menschlichkeit, being a mensch, about yiddishkeit, being faithful to the real meaning of Judaism.
As we wave bye bye to the old Jewish year 5777, let us look, shall we, at three headlines from the last week or so, which pretty much sum up how alleged Jewish leaders acted the past 12 months.
‘Netanyahu’s son posts anti-Semitic meme on Facebook, neo-Nazis and David Duke cheer.’ ‘Former chief rabbi of Israel calls Reform Jews worse than Holocaust deniers.’ ‘Sara Netanyahu to be indicted for fraud.’
Now I realize the word Netanyahu appears twice in that last paragraph and the word rabbi does as well, but this is really not about politics or religion. It is about the state of the Jewish people and the State of the Jewish people. Anyone who wants to dismiss this as being about picking on Bibi or slamming the frummies, is an idiot and might as well stop reading now.
For that is part of the problem and that is why we are having these problems. Instead of facing what is happening in the Jewish world, we immediately take sides, get offended if it seems our side has done wrong and so instead of doing soul searching, which is kind of what this time of the year is all about, we get defensive and hostile, point fingers at other Jews.
The strength of a people comes from acknowledging what is wrong and working to fix it. The strength of a people is in focusing on the right things, on things all Jews have in common, rather than obsessing about how other Jews are not exactly like us and so must be condemned, must be made out to be not really Jews at all.
Let’s start with that former chief rabbi. His name is Shlomo Amar and he used to be the Sephardic chief of rabbi of Israel and currently serves as the Sephardic chief rabbi of Jerusalem. To be the chief rabbi of Jerusalem is no small thing considering that Jerusalem is at the center of the center of the Jewish world.
And yet shortly before Rosh Hashanah, the start of a new Jewish year, Rabbi Amar chose to publicly say that Reform Jews, who have Jewish souls just like him, are worse than Holocaust deniers because they reject traditional Jewish law.
Remember please that Holocaust deniers are the scum of the earth, contend that six million Jews were not murdered, that saying they were is a fairy tale. And yet this alleged rabbi, this chief rabbi of Jerusalem, says that Reform Jews, who are about half the Jewish population on earth, are just like Holocaust deniers. A couple of months ago, this same rabbi called Reform Jews “evil.”
Explain to me, please, what good this does, explain to me, please, how any rabbi, let alone the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, could call other Jews such names. Does he think that hearing this, Reform Jews will decide to be Jews just like him, will see him as a figure worth listening to? Does he not understand that all he has done is alienate Reform Jews from Judaism, and given an excuse for those small minded among the super Orthodox to feel justified, holy even, in calling other Jews names, dismissing them, defaming them. Is this the example a rabbi should be setting just before Rosh Hashanah?
Oh how I wish the pope was a rabbi. The great example of Francis is that he has said enough with obsessing about divisive topics like abortion and being gay, enough with making religion about condemning other people; let us remember that faith is about love and caring for others, about being kind to and reaching out to our brothers and sisters.
Amar’s words add nothing but hate to Judaism, ugliness to Judaism as the Jewish people stand before G-d and begin a new year. And he is far from the only rabbi doing that. The Jewish world is filled with them, on all sides, on all sides, as Trump would say.
And speaking of Trump, let’s take a look at what’s going on with the Netanyahu family, the first family not only of Israel but of the Jewish people. As the year 5777 comes to a close, we have news that it’s just a matter of weeks before Bibi’s third wife, Sara, will be indicted for fraud, for diverting some $100,000 in public funds for her family’s personal use. And we have news that Bibi’s son posted an anti-Semitic cartoon on his Facebook page. The image was a local take on a classic anti-Semitic cartoon suggesting that Jews control the United States. It has appeared widely on extreme alt-right websites. In this instance, it depicted four of his father’s perceived foes, all Jews of course.
Yair’s post drew praise from neo-Nazi groups in the United States as well as from David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. “Yair Netanyahu is a total bro,” wrote Andrew Anglin in the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer. “Next he’s going to call for gassings.”
And then of course we have Bibi himself, who is under criminal investigation for two matters but it’s the third matter that should send chills down every Jewish spine. A matter that goes to the very heart of Israel’s national security and is being seen as the biggest political scandal in Israeli history. And that’s saying something considering that in the Jewish year now coming to a close, we saw a former president of Israel released from prison after serving five years having been found guilty of rape. We saw the parole of a former prime minister of Israel from prison having been found guilty of corruption. We saw the former Ashkenazic chief rabbi of Israel go into prison having been found guilty of fraud, theft, conspiracy, breach of trust, money laundering, tax offenses and accepting bribes involving some $2.6 million. And we saw the conviction of the former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel (no, not Amar, another rabbi) for his involvement in a scam known as “the rabbis’ case,” which involved the issuing of false rabbinic credentials to more than 1,000 government employees, which entitled them to wage bonuses, thus swindling hundreds of millions of shekels from the government.
But the worst of all is the ‘the submarine case,’ which involves Bibi’s personal lawyer and close confidant, the man he appointed as national security adviser, his cousin, his former chief of staff, a former navy chief and former commander of the elite naval commandos, among the expanding parade of suspects.
The investigation involves multi-million dollar contracts with a German shipping company for the purchase of submarines and new missile ships that Bibi championed under very questionable circumstances, despite many objections and which wound up lining the pockets of many of those closest to him.
As one expert put it, “Apart from concern that corruption has taken root on the watch of an entrenched political leadership, many worry about its bearing on national security and the integrity of the military, Israel’s most hallowed institution.” Added Moshe Negbi, the legal affairs commentator of Israel Radio, “This is a very serious affair because it is about bribery and about life and death, about state security, perhaps about neglecting our security and investing unnecessary public money to satisfy people’s greed.”
Back to Rabbi Amar, who vomited out his pornography about Reform Jews in response to an Israeli Supreme Court decision calling on the government to either reinstate the Western Wall agreement with non-Orthodox groups or explain why the court should not force the state to honor the deal.
“They don’t have Yom Kippur or Shabbat, but they want to pray at the Western Wall,” Amar said. “But no one should think that they want to pray, they want to desecrate the holy.”
Actually, they just want to pray, which one would think a rabbi would be all for. The Supreme Court hearing was in answer to a petition filed by the liberal Jewish movements in Israel calling for the implementation of the agreement to expand and upgrade the egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall. The agreement puts the upgraded section on equal footing with the single-sex sections.
In June, the Cabinet suspended the deal passed in 2016 negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government. They suspended the deal because rabbis like Amar were squealing like wounded pigs, aghast at the idea that all Jews should be able to pray at the Wall in the way they felt most comfortable.
How obscene his and other super Orthodox opposition is was shown recently when four female students from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, including two Americans, were asked to lift their shirts and skirts for security before being allowed to enter the Western Wall plaza. The Western Wall security did not say what they were looking for, but in the past have detained women and searched for Torah scrolls and other religious items they consider inappropriate for women to bring to the Wall.
Such was 5777. Jewish women wishing to pray at the holy Western Wall being forced to lift their skirts. The son of the prime minister of Israel being praised by David Duke for his anti-Semitic post, the wife of the prime minister about to be indicted for fraud, the prime himself under criminal investigation and all his closest aides under arrest for endangering Israel’s very security in order to enrich themselves. All this following the imprisonment of a former president, former prime minister, not one but two former chief rabbis. The chief rabbi of Jerusalem condemning millions of Jews, calling them the worst of names. And I don’t even have room for Jared who conveniently forgets about meetings with Russians bankers, and with Russians who wanted to help Trump win the election, by whatever means necessary. Jared, who is too ignorant and arrogant to realize how unqualified he is to be assigned to reinvent the federal government and make Middle East peace and solve the opioid crisis and conduct relations with China and a dozen other things. And who got into Harvard not because he was smart enough, but because he was smart enough to be born to a father who could donate a couple million bucks so they would let him in.
These are not insignificant people, not trivial matters. These are the most public and powerful of Jews, this is our precious State of Israel. To dismiss it all as being about religion or politics is to fail to see the fire raging in our midst, to ignore very serious issues, to fail to work to clean the besmirched soul of the Jewish people.
I am very glad to see 5777 go. I can only pray that 5778 will bring us leaders deserving of the title, and will see us all acting in ways that make us worthy of the sacred title of Jew.