Are We Jewish Rednecks?
By Rabbi Reuven Tradburks
[R. Tradburks is the rav of Kehillat Shaarei Torah in Toronto, the President of the Toronto Vaad Harabonim and former Director of its Beis Din, and a former Board member of AJOP]
Gary Rosenblatt addressed an issue in his column in the Jewish Week, which we don’t like to admit. In both the lead up to the election and the aftermath of the election of Barack Obama, orthodox Jews expressed opposition to Obama that had little to do with his policies or his political ability. He is a muslim, he will be terrible for Israel, he doesn’t like Jews, I am suspicious, who knows what he will do.
There is a tendency, I believe, in our world to paint the world in the paradigms of Yaakov and Esav – good versus evil. But we often paint the wrong people with the Esav label.
There are Esavs in the world. There are people who display principles and attitudes that are dark and evil. Arafat, Hamas, Hizbulla, Aryan Nation, Ahmenidijad.
But Obama is not one of them. He is an intelligent, liberal thinking man of integrity and great rhetorical ability. You may not like his attitudes or his platform. But that is a discussion in the realm of ideas not in the realm of good and evil. He is a good man, a man who wants good. The pursuit of universal health care, of helping the working poor, of raising the image of democracy and America in the world arena are all good ideas. Whether they will cost too much or whether his policies are the best way to help people receive health care, to increase their economic well being and whether his view of America in the world is the best way to bring freedoms to the world can be debated. But the pursuits are all good – and they are things that we, as Jews, believe in.
“I am concerned about a leader with insufficient experience”. That is a fair statement. “He will be terrible for Israel” is totally speculative and unjustified.
There is a simplicity of thinking that we should not fall prey to. And I think the paradigms of Yaakov and Esav may be the root cause – not the paradigms but how they are applied.
The Torah and Medrash paint pictures. Esav looks lovey dovey – but he is trying to bite Yaakov’s neck. Ephron looks magnanimous in offering Avraham Maarat Hamachpela to bury Sarah – but Avraham knows the truth – Ephron wants his money and he wants a lot of it. Don’t be fooled by what meets the eye – there is much more than meets the eye.
This is a great lesson. And dangerous. Sure, there are duplicitous people in the world. Tricksters. But the entire world is not populated by tricksters.
We have all heard kids come home from yeshivas talking of shvartses and of goyim and seeing the world as “us versus them”. There is plenty for us to avoid in our world. But the entire world is not good versus evil, is not “us versus them”. It is not us versus them within the frum and non frum and it is not us versus them in the Jewish and non Jewish world.
We live in a complex and nuanced world. There are tricksters and there are fine, principled non Jews. There are evil and there are educated, dedicated non Jews working for our good.
I often feel this picture of us versus them, of good versus evil, of Yaakovs and Esavs is the dominant picture of how to view the world. It is taught in our schools from the earliest age and is reinforced all the way through Yeshiva. But it is not tempered with nuance, with subtlety of application, with an appreciation of the complexity of life and of human beings. And part of this is the insularity of our world – we meet too few highly educated, kindhearted non-Jews who share many of our values.
But I don’t know how we can change this, how we can impact our system of education, of Jewish media, of teachers and influencers to adopt a more subtle, nuanced and accurate view of the world. And how we can become more worldly, more aware of the wonderful parts of the non-religious and non-Jewish worlds.
We should not become Jewish rednecks. It would be a great disservice to our Torah in the eyes of our fellow Jews and in the eyes of the world.