Relativism Knows No Bounds
Many readers may have missed the following news item, which, to my knowledge, appeared in the JTA Daily News Briefing but almost nowhere else:
Close to 50 Reform youth leaders urged the movement to address the deaths of civilians on both sides of the Israel-Hezbollah war. “We applaud the Union for condemning . . . violent and terrifying attacks on Israeli civilians . . .,” said the letter delivered by 48 student leaders to leaders of the Union for Reform Judaism. But it adds:’We urge the Union to likewise condemn the IDF’s killing of unarmed Lebanese and Palestinian covilians, as well as its premeditated targeting of civilian infrastructure . . .’
A response, signed by 11 Reform student leaders, took a different stand on the conflict. “We are concerned about the equivalency made between the tactics of Hizbollah and the IDF”, the response said.
The Reform movement’s leader, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, also weighed in. “No side is completely blameless in a war, but I am confident that the government of Israel has taken alll reasonable precautions to avoid civilian casualties,” Yoffie wrote to the first student letter.
For a while after seeing this report, I tried to make sense of how it is that young Jewish kids who are involved enough in Jewish life that they’ve risen to be leaders in a religiously-oriented movement could have their perceptions this skewed about such basic things: about whether there are good guys and really, really bad guys in all of this, about the incessant media distortion of these matters, about whether the IDF has an essential morality that makes it unthinkable that it would really do the kinds of things thes kids accuse them of.
Then, serendipitously, I came across something in a recentForward article about a new curriculum for Jewish adolescents in Reform congregational schools and camps intended to provide guidance on sexual and relationship ethics. It was the following paragraph that made me do a double-take:
In the high-school curriculum, however, sexual-identity questions will be faced head-on. And in keeping with the URJ’s liberal stance on gay and lesbian issues . . . homosexuality is treated as no less valid an option than heterosexuality.
Now, I consider myself a knowledgable observer of Reform, but I must say that this caught me by surprise. To be sure, Reform staunchly supports the full menu of rights, civil and religious, for homosexuals, up to and including that of formal marriage. Similarly, such individuals are fully embraced and integrated into Reform religious life. I have always assumed, however, that these positions stemmed from Reform’s philosophy of personal autonomy, which renders it impossible to deny an individual’s right to pursue his own idiosyncratic religious or moral vision.
Thus, I have always assumed that Reform would answer in the negative if asked point-blank: In Judaism’s eyes, is homosexuality every bit as valid an option as heterosexuality? In truth, I probably couldn’t have made a coherent logical case for why the movement, given its clearly stated philosophical premises, shouldn’t answer in the affirmative — it just never occurred to me that it, in fact, would (and perhaps I’m behind in my readings in movement literature.) And, apparently, assuming the Forward reporter has gotten this right (although we all know that’s a mighty big assumption), such is clearly stated in this new Reform document.
Reading this, it occurred to me that the phenomenon of Reform youth leaders incapable of making the fundamental moral distinction between IDF soldiers and Hizbollah murderers that I assume is clear to readers of these lines might be a reaping of the radical value-neutrality sown by the movement in which they’ve grown up and formed their worldview.
At this point, a note to the usual suspects, i.e. the bile-spillers who won’t even wait to finish this post before launching into a hate-filled and cynical condemnation of me for engaging in a hate-filled and cynical comparison of homosexuals to Hizbollah terrorists: Listen (and lighten) up, the point being made here has nothing at all to do with comparisons and contrasts between those categories.
It is, rather, the simple idea that a worldview that says that homosexuality and heterosexuality are equally valid options, not as a result of a considered belief in the inherent propriety of both options, but simply because to pronounce one or the other alternative morally wrong, to pass judgment, any judgment, is itself immoral — such a worldview has ceded the authority, the right to draw moral distinctions even in matters that seem to cry out for them.
Perhaps Eric Yoffie can explain why one’s personal moral compass, or that of Torah, ought to be set aside with regard to homosexuality, but not when it comes to taking sides in the Middle East. I cannot. And apparently, presumptuous as it sounds, neither can many bright, good Jewish kids brought up on a steady diet of Reform antinomianism.
This column illustrates that Reform has become nothing more than 21st Century far left liberalism with a Jewish flavoring of a very “low maintenance” that may consist of some fascination with some predictable and ill defined terms such as “tikun olam” combined with a complete rejection of what the Torah calls Arayos and a return to classical Reform’s pre Holocaust and pre 1948 anti Zionist stances.One has to also remember that RJ has been a complete failure in EY with most secular Israelis viewing RJ ( and CJ) as American imports of a synthetic nature that do not offer any answer for their spiritual needs. One should also be aware that there is a group of R and C clergy known as “Rabbis for Human Rights” that includes many members who oppose the actions of the IDF in protecting Israel’s citizens from suicide bombers and who attended the infamous Durban conference and were quoted as agreeing that Israel is either an apartheid or racist state.This group’s members support and protect the rights of would be suicide bombers and those that protect them. In contast, their website and statements are devoid of any sympathy for the victims of suicide bombers. Perhaps, this group’s title should be more properly “Rabbis for Hezbollah and/or Hamas Rights.” Given this background, the latest statements of RJ’s leadership and its youth wing are hardly a surprise.
When you read the comments of the NFTY leaders, one wonders what they studied as a substitute for American history and more importantly, how “proportionality” has become a new measuring rod for any nation’s response in self defense. Think of the Civil War-Did Grant, Sherman and Sheridan committ war crimes by this standardin their besieging of Lee’s army, the destruction of Georgia, South Carolina and the Shenandoah Valley?! Did the US act in a proportional manner in response to Pearl Harbor by island hopping across the Pacific at a huge cost, shooting down Admiral Yamamotto and sparing millions of lives by dropping the bomb?! Once upon a time, war was seen as an extension of a nation’s foreign policy and soverienty. However, in the post Vietnam era, those who would oppose the actions of the US and Israel have retreated from open sympathy for terrorist to the mantra of the ill defined doctrines of international law.
I think you misdiagnosed the problem. Hope you don’t mind that I’m a bit long winded here.
Let’s look at four ethical statements:
A. Eating (kosher) bagels is morally superior to eating (kosher) crackers.
B. Heterosexuality is morally superior to homosexuality.
C. An army that causes unavoidable collateral damage on civilians (Israel) is morally superior to one that deliberately targets civilians (Hizbullah).
D. A ruler who does not commit genocide, such as FDR, is morally superior to one that does, such as Hitler.
I think we will both agree that A is incorrect. Anybody who tells you you should stop eating crackers and eat bagels instead is sticking his or her nose where it doesn’t belong (an immoral action). When it comes to baked goods, moral relativism is better than moral prescription.
I’m pretty sure that everybody in the most extreme Reform congregation would still accept D. When it comes to genocide, they would agree that moral prescription is better than moral relativism.
Therefore, the problem is not that Reform Education considers some choices, such as sexual preferences (B) to have nothing to do with morality. The problem is that those kids draw the line in the wrong position, between rules of engagement (C) and genocide (D).
R’ Eytan has made some pretty good guesses about where these kids are coming from. The problem is that they are only guesses and we don’t know what is motivating them. There were only 48 of them. If someone could get their e-mail addresses and engage them, we would know for sure. We could show them that we love them as fellow Jews (those of them who are halachically Jewish) or fellow human beings despite disagreeing with them. It would be good for the Jews. Maybe it could get as far as some Shabbos invitations.
It is perfectly fine to make the kind of presumption made by Eytan Kobre regarding moral relativism. It MUST be true that those who are willing to deal in some moral relativism are much more likely to deal in other examples.
Regarding the response made by Yehoshua Friedman, we do not need to guess about the base-line imperatives of liberal activism. We know the playbook by heart and there is no guesswork. It is therefore obvious that these same Reform Jews will not readily accept constructive engagement or reciprocal Shabbos invites. They make heterosexual relationships morally identical to homosexual ones, they see a dead Islamic fighter as exactly equivalent to a dead Israeli civilian and they see the Sabbath as exactly equivalent to any other day of the week.
Why frame this as a “Reform” issue? Check out the piece below from yesterday’s Ha’aretz. There is no reason why ritually observant, halachically committed Jews should not want to assist those in Lebanon who have been affected.
Importantly, assisting Jews in Israel (or Lebanese civilians) should not imply a zero-sum game. That’s the George Bush mentality–“you’re with us or you’re against us”.
If, as some on this board are alleging, that “Reform” is simply a stand-in for liberal politics, I would hate to think that “Orthodoxy” is simply a stand-in for reactionary, closed-minded politics when it comes to humanitarian issues.
If the reaction to this effort by segments of the Orthodox world, as hinted at in the article, is representative of O in general (which I fear is probably the case, although I’d be happy to be proven wrong), then there is much soul-searching and heshbon nefesh that should follow, particularly given Elul zman.
U.S. yeshiva student rockers raise cash for Israelis, Lebanese
By Yair Ettinger
A married couple approached the stage. As the guitars picked up the pace, they shyly started to move. The skullcap-wearing husband, David Berger, fights in the unit that shelled the central sector of southern Lebanon. He returned two weeks ago from his military service on the northern border, and went out with his wife to the Yellow Submarine club in Jerusalem on Monday night.
But David Berger was doing more than just going out for a night on the town – he was participating in a benefit performance in the Talpiot industrial zone. The money will be donated equally to citizens of northern Israel and those of southern Lebanon. Only in Jerusalem could an event like this bring together some 80 young people from the left and right, speaking English (mostly) and Hebrew. There was rock music and Arabic music, swinging tzitzit and exposed cleavage.
Shimshon Segal, a yeshiva student from the Bat Ayin settlement in Gush Etzion, was the emcee for the “After the War” evening of music.
‘We’re all human beings’
We all have different opinions about the war, about the political situation here in Israel, Segal said from the stage in English. Nonetheless, he added, we all agree that everyone can relate to a human being as a human being.
The money going to the residents of the north will be donated to the charity organization Table to Table, Segal said, but he and his friends are not yet certain how to get the donations to the Lebanese. It’s important that the money be transferred in a way that guarantees that it will reach the civilians, and not Hezbollah, he said.
The organizers of the event – Segal, Daniel Sieradski and Amy Kaplan – are Americans living in Israel and studying at Orthodox religious institutions. They recruited local artists such as Segol 59 from Jerusalem and the Arab rapper Saz from Ramle. The three organizers have different political opinions, but agreed to run an event that would help civilians on both sides of the border. They were surprised by the extent of the opposition the event generated. Posters hung up to advertise the event were torn off, and an ad on the Arutz 7 Web site led to a wave of negative e-mails.
“I’m Sabbath-observant and I keep kosher, I put on tefillin and study Gemara,” said Sieradski. “And as soon as I try to respect people’s humanity, they immediately treat me like the enemy of the Jewish people.”
Regarding this, um, “Israelebanon” concert….. I do strongly question its wisdom. I wish that donating money to the south Lebanese Arabs would buy some goodwill and perhaps dismantle some emotional barriers. But I think it’s at least as likely to cause the south Lebanese to look at Israelis as weirdos who think that Arabs can be bought. It will also help reduce the cash burden being shouldered by Iran for the southern Lebanon rebuilding. (Hmmmm, I wonder what the saved money will go to….)
Frankly it’s rather patronizing to receive cash handouts from the people you’ve just been fighting for a month (and nobody can come close to the Iranian Treasury when it comes to a competition for cash handouts). Perhaps you could answer ‘Well they weren’t fighting Israel, Israel was blowing up their buildings while trying to fight Hizbullah.’ But: the people in south Lebanon accepted or assisted Hizbullah’s penetration and takeover of the south. They acquiesced to the presence and power of an organization who’s founding vision is mass murder. Maybe the people in south Lebanon were simply bought off by Hizbullah? Well that speaks very poorly for their moral character.
If poor whites in a southern US town accepted the basing and arming of the KKK, on the grounds that the group provided the town with much needed money we would denounce the residents of that town for turning a blind eye to the moral consequences of their cowardice and for giving sanctuary to a band of murderers. Why do we treat the southern Lebanese differently?
“And as soon as I try to respect people’s humanity, they immediately treat me like the enemy of the Jewish people.”
Please. This isn’t about Siedarski being an “enemy of the Jewish people”. It’s about him doing something that is probably just foolish. And this isn’t about the “humanity” of the south Lebanese. It is in fact their humanity that speaks so poorly of their own moral choices, and leads me to feel that they are probably not particularly good humans.
You are assuming most Lebanese civilians had a choice about having Hezbollah nearby or in their midst. If even the Lebanese Army cannot disarm Hezbollah, what are you expecting the civilians to do about it?
Many civilians did try to flee during the fighting–those who had the means to do so. Of course, those who were weakest, the poorest and most vulnerable could not avail themselves of that option and suffered greatly.
Since you brought up the US South and we just commemorated the one year anniversary of the New Orleans floods, we saw the same thing there, too. Those who were the poorest and most vulnerable suffered the most. By your logic, I suppose we should “blame the victim” and wonder why they supported such a corrupt government in New Orleans and Louisiana.
Actually people in a democratic system who live under a corrupt government may indeed bear some moral responsibility for that fact. (Isn’t that the point of democracy?) BUT–however corrupt the New Orleans political machine may or may not have been it was certainly not committed to the mass murder of the residents of surrounding towns. That is why there is no serious moral comparison between Lebanon and New Orleans. Most of the residents of south Lebanon were part of a setting and system that permitted and encouraged the basing and empowerment of a group whose guiding purpose is mass murder. These residents cannot claim the mantle of genuine “victimhood” because they themselves acquiesced to the conditions that facilitated it.
In other words they hosted a group whose presence was certain to lead to the destruction of their homes and now that their homes have predictably been destroyed they want to be compensated. Um, hello? Can they actually claim “Our hands did not spill this blood and our eyes did not see”? If we were talking about some Jewish town that hosted some murderous anti-Arab group what would our response be? “No problem guys, you’re just poor victims….” I don’t think so. That being said I still (inexplicably!) feel sympathy for many of the people there but let’s not pretend that they’re pure as the driven snow.
There’s also the issue of the propriety and intelligence of sending cash into an area controlled by terrorist groups and Iranian agents. Just what will the money go to? If the Israeli money is spent on medical supplies will that free up more cash for Hizbullah and the Iranians to purchase weapons? And what is the point of trying to compete with the oil-flooded Iranian treasury when it comes to distributing cash? Have the organizers of this concert thought about these issues?
As for the Lebanese Army–are you kidding? It’s not that the Lebanese Army “cannot” disarm Hizbullah. The problem is that it’s at least half-Shi’ite and therefore its soldiers cannot be trusted to disarm Hizbullah because they presumably subscribe to Hizbullah’s value system. That’s it. If the Lebanese populations of these towns “could not” oppose Hizbullah they also cannot claim to be morally clean of the consequences of their actions and inactions–anymore than we morally exonerate the Germans and Europeans who were “forced” to cooperate with the Nazis. Do they deserve charity too?
Even if some Lebanese were innocently caught up in the war, enough Lebanese were outright Hezbollah supporters for us to be wary.
Also, the oil-rich nations and the EU are providing plenty of aid to the Lebanese but are not exactly lining up to help victims in Israel. Our priorities should be clear.
Regarding Reform’s support for (and not mere toleration of) immorality, their religion is liberalism. As liberalism evolves in America, so does Reform.
You ended with the following question:
“If the Lebanese populations of these towns “could not” oppose Hizbullah they also cannot claim to be morally clean of the consequences of their actions and inactions—anymore than we morally exonerate the Germans and Europeans who were “forced” to cooperate with the Nazis. Do they deserve charity too?”
The answer is yes. Didn’t the US help in a big time way to rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II? What about the subsequent Berlin airlift? Would you have preferred that the tens of millions of needy civilians had languished since, by your logic, they were all implicated in some way?
In relative terms, this current effort is minimal.
Reb Yid-I think that the rebuilding of Germany and Japan as well as, the Berlin Airlift were more motivated by the Cold War than by any love of the nations that produced Nazism ,Pearl Harbor and the Bataan death march. AFAIK, Hezbollah is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and uses Lebanese villages as cover for its missiles. Why should American Jews give a nickel to rebuild the conditions that provide cover for missile attacks?
I thought you might cite that example! EXCEPT: In the post-WW2 rebuilding, the US launched rebuilding efforts after the war was over! In the current case there is universal agreement that both sides are bandaging their wounds and sharpening their talons in anticipation of the bloodshed of Round 2.
In any event your invocation of the post-WW2 example is totally inapplicable to the current situation. The post-WW2 rebuilding of Germany was wholly, entirely and exclusively motivated by geopolitical interests and strategic calculations–not for a moment by questions of morality or justice which would in fact have militated against sending any “relief” assistance to Germany or Japan and thereby “relieving” those morally foul societies of their self-created catastrophes. (Certainly every dollar of aid given to those countries during the war would have meant another yen and deutschmark available to purchase weapons.)
The US decision to rebuild western Germany in particular (as partially distinct from the rest of the western European Marshall Plan) was exclusively intended to build up what had rapidly become America and England’s (i.e. the West’s) primary ‘confrontation line’ state against the USSR and Communism. The fear being that a weak and poor western Germany would be infiltrated by the Soviets and that the Communist march Westward would continue apace. We also needed to counter western Europe’s preexisting moth-to-the-flame infatuation with Leftism and socialist politics, which could have facilitated their drift into becoming Soviet satellites. Well nothing like tens of billions dollars to get people’s attention.
Nearly identical reasons applied to rebuilding Japan, which was seen as a crucial US military center for keeping the Soviet fleet contained from a massive march on the Pacific Ocean for an approach to the US from the west, and as a base for containing North Korea and China–in other words both Germany and Japan were rebuilt solely to give the US secure bases from which to project massive geopolitical power against Communism and prevent further Soviet expansion. West Germany enabled us to project power into Europe and Japan let us project into Asia. And in strategic terms the plan worked well (at least it has so far).
But that is entirely different, 180 degress different, from arguing that we had a moral obligation to rebuild Germany and Japan. Let me quote to you from Alan Dershowitz in his book Chutzpah which I happen to have sitting near me tonight:
“Although I do not believe in collective criminal punishment, I do believe that the German (and Austrian) people–those who did not actively oppose Nazism–bear considerable moral responsibility for the Holocaust…
“Just as the vast majority of German people expected to reap material benefits from Hitler’s aggression, so too they should have reaped the bitter fruit of defeat. They should have suffered–as a people–after the Holocaust. Individuals who actively resisted should have been individually rewarded. But those who went along with Hitler’s genocidal program, even passively so as to live the good life, should have been made to suffer in rough proportion to their complicity and culpability.
“That is why the rebuilding of postwar Germany into one of the world’s most affluent nations is a moral disgrace. A minimal appropriate response to the collective responsibility of the German people for the crimes of their leaders–whom they elected and enthusiastically supported and whose mass murders were carried out with the assistance and knowledge of so many citizens–should have been a generation of poverty, for most Germans, coupled with rewards for those who opposed Nazism. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., [U.S.] Secretary of the Treasury during WW2…urged that postwar Germany be partitioned and transformed into an agrarian society [and] called for the transfer of equipment and factories from Germany to the Allied nations as war reparations.
“But instead of requiring the German people to live at subsistence level for 20 or 30 years, we immediately rewarded them with the Marshall Plan… We rewarded the evils of the past to confront the more “pressing” concerns of the future. The most pressing of these concerns–the Cold War against communism–certainly did not justify the rewards we heaped upon West Germany…” *
And Dershowitz’s footnote to the above paragraph:
” * West Germany certainly did not have to be rebuilt in order to compete with East Germany, Poland, or other countries under Communist domination, since the Soviet Union allowed these countries to languish in near poverty. Nor did West Germany need to be rebuilt in order to prevent a recurrence [of] militarism… since an agrarian society cannot wage modern warfare.”
— (p. 137-138, Chutzpah, hardcover ed. 1991. Little, Brown & Co. All emphases in original.)
To compress the above Dershowitz to two lines: America rebuilt Germany out of strategic calculation not moral obligation. By either measure it was unjustifiable. (Given Japan’s abominable assault on innocent life in WW2 the same logic would probably apply).
I am pouring energy into this dialogue because the point it addresses is utterly crucial for all of us today: how do we relate to enemy human beings in wartime and non-wartime? And how do we understand the meaning of “enemy”? So no: I do not believe we have any moral obligation whatsoever to send money/resources into Lebanon and thereby rescue that country and its masters from the disasters wrought by their own malice, racism and backwardness.
I want to reiterate what I said above: I still feel an (apparently indelible) emotional sympathy for many of the people in south Lebanon. But me must be tremendously thoughtful about how and when we transform emotional sympathy into practical activity. (Indeed this past Shabbat’s parsha addressed this issue directly). And most importantly we need to be morally and conceptually clear about the relative status of the actors in this situation.
Reb Yid: “Didn’t the US help in a big time way to rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II? What about the subsequent Berlin airlift? Would you have preferred that the tens of millions of needy civilians had languished since, by your logic, they were all implicated in some way?”
Ahron: Yes in general I would have for the reasons noted above and elaborated by Dershowitz. But ice cold geopolitical calculus raced far ahead of my moral sensibilities.
I would argue that the idea of Jews/Westerners sending money/supplies into south Lebanon right now may be comparable to an Allied donation of ambulances to Germany the morning after the bombing of Dresden.
This is all very interesting. It is fascinating to see the intellectual gymnastics that are being performed here.
Based on the logic of the past two posts, one would therefore conclude that, geopolitically speaking, the West needs to make sure it does its share to rebuild Lebanon lest it become another Iraq or Iran.
In any event, the basic premise of my original post appears to be substantianted, namely:
If some here argue that “Reform” is simply a stand-in for unadulterated liberalism, I fear that “Orthodoxy” more and more is coming to share a parallel political association with extreme conservatism.
The funny thing is that the head of HUC, David Ellenson, is himself far to the “right” of other Reform leaders on the issue of Israel–politically speaking. That does not–and should not– make him a more or less “authentic” Reform Jew.
Similarly, I would hope that the returning soldier studying in an Orthodox yeshiva who sponsored this event is not considered any less of a “halachic” Jew (in terms of practice or hashkafa) simply because of this endeavor.
Reb Yid-Like it or not, Lebanon reached the status of both a country in the midst of a war and dominated by Islamofascists who are both anti US and anti Israel. Why should anyone “rebuild” a Lebanon that is Hezbullah dominated and still presents a threat to Israel ?
Orthodoxy is not synanomous with any secular political philosophy because the Torah has elements that easily fit into different philosophical notions.However, I can see why some would object to the actions of the yeshiva students cited in the article. Does one raise money for Nazis, Communists or other entities that have as their raison de etre the eradication of Klal Yisrael? Such a student certainly is observant, but IMO missing a basic lesson in Hashkafa 101-there is no halachic or hashkafic basis for preserving the rights to live of a mortal threat to the Jewish People. OTOH, RJ has always been associated with liberalism since its earliest days, regardless of whether that benefits Jewish continuity in the long run.
You are conflating Hezbollah with Lebanese civilians, and Nazis and “Islamofacsists” [note to Dubya–you were supposed to be a ‘uniter’, not a ‘divider’] with folks who want nothing to do with Hezbollah and suffered greatly during the past few months.
At any rate, your second comment deserves further elaboration. The Torah is indeed malleable for political purposes, as you note. But this has affected all movements within Judaism. In the US Civil War, for example, congregations and rabbis in the North tended to support one political position while those in the South tended to defend slavery, for example. Still other rabbis tended to promote “Union” and shied away from ideological positions on either side of the coin.
The point is that region was much more of a factor in determining one’s political views than religious denominations (i.e., Reform vs. Orthodox)–Jewish texts were brought in to defend each of these positions. A century later, one saw similar dynamics in play during the Civil Rights era.
Another point–much earlier in the 20th century there was a direct association between wealthy German Reform Jews, the Republican Party and political conservatism, while liberalism and association with Democrats and Socialists flourished elsewhere in the Jewish community.
Finally–in its early days, there were various streams within Reform Judaism with different political and religious perspectives. To be sure, there were those who advocated for “Radical Reform Judaism” with an emphasis on social justice, but in the larger scheme of early Reform Judaism in America this political faction was hardly dominant.
Reb Yid-All of the objective press coverage, as opposed to what the liberal media publishes based upon HRW’s anti Israeli Kenneth Roth and his pro Arafat and anti Israel staffers , proves beyond any doubt that Hezbollah used the civilian population’s resources with their complete cooperation and support for their actions against Israeli civilians and troops.
I don’t understand your second point.Like it or not, the notion stated by R R E Yoffe that no side is without blame in any war cannot withstand serious historical or political analyis. Was the South blameless in seceding in order to protect states’ rights or slavery? Should the North have stood by silently during the events of 1861 or negotiated for peace after a string of Northern defeats? The notion that rabbis’ positions in the North or the South bore any relevance to the decisions of Lincoln or Davis cannot be sustained simply by placing their roles in that of the context of history.Did the powers who commenced WW1 act without blame?Was Hitler without blame in remilitarizing the Rhineland, invading Austria and for the division of Czechoslovakia? Was Japan without blame in its rape of Nanking, bombing Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March and its exploitation of both Asians and Allied POWS?
IMO, the fact that rabbis preached on both sides of the conflict in the Civil War was irrelevant, as opposed to the acquiesence and failure to protest the Holocaust by the vast majority of European Christian religious leaders and theologians. They provided window dressing and paved the way for the Holocaust as opposed to the roles of American Jewish rabbis during the Civil War.
I also believe that your assessment of RJ pre WW2 is historically wrong.WADR, I have never heard of any Southern American rabbi defend the treatment of African Americans. AFAIK, Jews of all denominations marched in favor of civil rights and appreciated the support of Dr King for Israel, both before and after the Six Day War. However, when the African American community leaders viewed quotas as their salvation and failed to criticize openly anti Semitic and anti Israel rhetoric as well as applauding violence against Jews in Crown Heights, it became apparent that African American leaders increasingly viewed Jews, their strongest allies, as part of the problem. RJ, pre WW2, was resolutely anti Zionist. While some wealthy R German Jews may have become Republicans, their children gravitated towards liberalism and Zionism in the 1930s. OTOH, you are correct that the New Deal’s coopting of much of the socialist platform attracted many Jews who viewed voting Democratic as the “614th commandment” , especially after 1948 and the founding of the State of Israel.