Time to work against ḥilul haShem
Language matters; how and what we teach matters; thinking matters; spirituality matters; religious thought matters. The recent wrenching state of violence in Israel brings to me a sense of trembling, and a sense of shock followed by anxiety. I usually calm myself by remembering that, in my experience, being outside Israel in times of volatility feels worse. This time, however my sense is that we are witnessing the effects and natural consequences of an accumulation of hate speech and the use of sacred texts for purposes that are antithetical to Torah. These are teachings that are unholy and create ḥilul HaShem—a desecration of G.’s name and eclipsing G.’s presence in our universe.
For far too long, the “religious” leadership in Israel (which in essence is a corrupt bureaucracy) has permitted religious expressions of Judaism, which—through extremism and fanaticism—have clearly left the fold of Judaism, to teach hatred, xenophobia, homophobia and racism. We know from Torah that silence is tantamount to agreement. We know that when we are silent in the face of injustice, it as if we are active in that same injustice. When the rabbinic leadership of Israel—and of course I am not referring to Liberal rabbis, since we have no authority yet in contemporary Israel, but rather the entire rabbinate—does not, with a powerful voice and in clear actions, censure and ostracize colleagues who are teaching hate, the rabbinate is responsible. It is too late to denounce the violence when you have allowed the language and teaching to foment into poisonous ideologies. Poisonous ideologies that get ramped up by religious underpinnings are extremely dangerous. There has been an increasing tolerance in segments of Israeli society to expressions of racism and homophobia over the past decade. It is heart-wrenching that over the past 36 hours we have witnessed stabbings at the Jerusalem Pride march, and the murder of innocent children in Duba. As a Jew who cares deeply about Torah and sacred teaching, the fact that these deranged individuals acted in the name of G. sickens me. I also know that it is far to easy to place blame: “It was they—the Orthodox establishment—who allowed this to happen”, “It was they who teach hatred.” Friends, we are all involved.
The first reality is that there is no them—there is only us. It teaches in Torah that as Jews we are all responsible for one another. So I need to ask myself what have I done when I have encountered articles, teachings, commentaries that are taught in the name of Torah that are what I recognize as shadow torah, teachings in the name of Torah that generate fragmentation and otherness, and do not bring shalom. I am aware that we tend to respond when our own interests are at risk; like religious pluralism. I am also sensitive to the fact that the intensity of conflicting ideas, passions, lifestyles, politics…. thrust into the crucible of evolving Israeli society and culture can be overwhelming. They are partially overwhelming due to our emotional attachment—and that is a good thing. I believe as Jews it is important that we build a strong connection and attachment to Israel. That we look at Israel through an honest and albeit complex lens. I also believe that we cannot maintain silence when we witness injustice—including the injustice that is in the realm of thought and language.
I am working on two responses. My first response is to strengthen my commitment to working for social justice of all kinds in Israel, by increasing my support for organizations and NGOs that I know hold values that I share. Values that I feel in a deep intuitive place, the same values that I encounter in Torah. This is a time to increase our attachment to Israel and to sisters and brothers in Israel working towards all different kinds of expressions of shalom. If you would like some ideas about Israeli projects and organizations, please ask.
My second response is to check myself. What am I communicating? Is my speech careful? Am I responding from a place of compassion and loving kindness? What about my internal dialogues; are they free of prejudices? What vestiges of categorizing others are ingrained in my own consciousness? Before I castigate others, can I achieve the humility to see myself tolerating the same kinds of poisonous ideologies? It is time to turn up our ḥesed--loving kindness—and to nourish and sprout seeds of shalom.
– Rabbi Harry