A great nephew of Adolf Hitler converted to Judaism and is now living the life of a Torah-observant Jew in Israel. Understandably, he changed his name.
Rightly or wrongly, people lump us together with others of the same family, gender, age, nationality and religion. While businesses routinely discharge employees who hurt the company’s reputation and the individual above withdrew from his birth family, separating from a group is rarely easy.
Thus I sadly criticize about 250 rabbis who recently appended their names to a shameful newspaper advertisement. In it they defamed Glenn Beck, calling for sanctions against him.
Full disclosure: I like Glenn Beck and consider him a friend. I have frequently appeared on his radio and television shows and I find most of his views to be fully supportive of Israel, good for the United States, and largely in accord with the values of the Torah. The enormous number of fans Glenn has in Israel and among America’s Orthodox Jewish community suggests that other Jews share my enthusiasm.
This leaves the question of why these rabbis called Glenn an anti-Semite. Answering that requires a certain understanding of what makes a rabbi.
Unlike many other professions, there is no universally accepted qualification for rabbis. In fact, anyone can declare him or herself one, and even accreditation by a seminary proves no adherence to a common standard. Thus we have rabbis who do not believe that the Torah is God’s message to mankind and we have rabbis who do not believe that the Exodus ever occurred. We even have atheistic and humanistic rabbis who do not believe in God at all. In itself, the title means nothing.
This helps explain how rabbis are easily found who are willing to state almost anything, regardless of how bizarrely distant it may be from Torah values. It doesn’t explain why they would choose to slander Glenn Beck.
These rabbis attacked Glenn Beck not because he is an anti-Semite, but because he is a conservative. The attack was political; liberals tarnishing someone whose influence they hope to diminish. I am practically certain that there was not a single Orthodox rabbi on the list. It’s a fair guess that none of those named rabbis opposed Obama-care or considers homosexuality a sin.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is neither a Republican nor a Democrat but that doesn’t mean He has no views on how society ought to function. He prefers private charity to government. He prefers private ownership of property to communal ownership and He has a lot to say about how we live our personal lives. He says all these things in His Book. Those Jews who reject the message their ancestors heard at Sinai frequently replace it with the message of secular fundamentalism whose doctrines are usually quite the opposite of those found in the Torah.
When such people damage the reputation of a good man, it is appropriate to publicly protest.
Defending one’s own reputation as well as that of one’s family or group is an important moral obligation. Upon being assigned his mission, Moses slandered the Israelites by saying, “But they will not believe me…” (Exodus 4:1)
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that God’s reaction was not random. He transformed Moses’ rod into a snake (Exodus 4:3), ancient Jewish wisdom’s symbol of scandalmongering, to convey the message that Moses was being snake-like by defaming the people. He then made Moses’ hand white and leprous, (Exodus 4:6) the traditional Torah response to Lashon Hara—negative gossip.
Having told you that the title rabbi is undefined, let me define who I am. To the best of my ability I teach that which I was taught, as part of a chain reaching back to Sinai. I constantly strive to stay faithful, but am aware of how easy it is to deviate from the correct path. The decline from Adam to the generation of the Flood, which I delve into in my audio CD set, The Gathering Storm, on sale this week, sounds eerily current. I encourage you to listen to it and make sure you learn how to distinguish between those with whom you wish to stand and those whose entreaties you should ignore.