Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky: Words from a Broken, Loving, and Hopeful Heart

The recent explosion in anti-Semitic expression including acts of anti-Semitic violence in numerous quarters around the world is not only frightening and alarming, it is eerie and perhaps even ominous. The inevitable and logically-necessary descent of rabid anti-Zionism into the exclusion and even hatred of Jewish people is in plentiful evidence, and rabid anti-Zionism continues to provide an obscene, self-righteous veneer to anti-Semitism. Which is not to say that the “left” is the only worrisome quarter, for plainly it is not. We are living in a time when we need to be vigilant, to be unflinching in calling out anti-Semitism, to be strengthening old friendships and actively cultivating new ones. It’s a serous time.

Human nature is such that when a particular group feels besieged and targeted, when it feels that the world has abandoned its ethical and civil codes in its behavior toward it, that this group then responds by loosening its own commitment to these very same ethical and civil codes. Not out of the belief that “two wrongs make a right” or that “you have to fight fire with fire”. Rather out of the belief that the rules just aren’t the rules anymore, that we have entered an amoral jungle, a time and space which simply exists outside our normal ethical commitments. This is a very human response. It is the way of human nature.

And this is precisely the reason that God gave us religion. Religion’s revolutionary and radical claim is that there is no such time and there is no such space, that there is no such thing as the amoral jungle, that human beings – even when engaged in a state of warfare – are always accountable to the norms of God-fearing, God-loving, God-revering behavior.

Last week’s appalling decision by Habayit HaYehudi, the political party representing Religious Zionism, to join electoral forces with Otzma Yehudit, the Kahanist political party whose platform is rooted in and founded upon racial hatred, is a precise manifestation of this awful tendency of human nature that religion was intended to correct. (Much has been written in recent days about Otzma Yehudit’s ideology and politics. I think that Yossi Klein Halevi’s essay summarized it best. See The defense that HaBayit HaYehudi is offering is that the State of Israel and Zionism itself are under siege from enemies both within and without the State, and electoral victory must be assured even at the cost of bringing the racists out from the political cold and into cabinet-level power. This represents of course, nothing less than the utter rejection of the mantle and responsibility of religion, rendering HaBayit HaYehudi’s claim to be the “Religious Zionist” party a mockery and a sham.

And frankly, it renders its claim to be a Zionist party at all to be a mockery and a sham, certainly in the sense that Israel’s Declaration of Independence which guarantees that the State “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”, is considered a foundational Zionist document.

It is heartening that numerous important and influential thinkers within the Religious Zionist community have condemned this turn of events. Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein and Rabbi Benny Lau have been among the most public and courageous. And it is heartening that many America Jewish organizations, including AIPAC, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (through Malcolm Hoenlein, its executive vice chairman) have expressed their grave concern, in particular over the Prime Minister’s catalytic role in the political merger. (The National Council of Young Israel is one of the few organizations that has expressed its support for what has happened, and individual Young Israel synagogues must now express outrage at their leadership.) More voices of ethical and religious clarity are still needed. Absolutely including yours. Perhaps the worst outcome can still be averted.

There’s no underestimating the importance of this political moment in the history of our beloved Medinat Yisrael, and even in the history of Judaism as a great world religion. Yes, we must love and support Israel, and confront anti-Semitism, but לא כך – not this way. For the sake of all that we hold sacred, never this way.

Response to the tragedy at Tree of Life synagogue

Special Statement

Response to the tragedy at Tree of Life Synagogue

Ruach Hiddush Executive Committee
Rabbi Prof. Michael Chernick (Chair), Rabbi Les Bronstein, Rabbi Pam Frydman, Rabbi Elliott Kleinman, Rabbi Mark Levin, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, Rabbi Gordon Tucker, Rabbi Elyse Wechterman, Rabbi Uri Regev (Hiddush President and CEO)

Ruach Hiddush, the rabbinic and cantorial association working toward religious equality and freedom in Israel, and its Israeli patron, Hiddush, turns its attention to the tragedy that occurred at the Tree of Life synagogue this Shabbat. We mourn the loss of life and injuries sustained by the Tree of Life family and the suffering of the larger Pittsburgh Jewish community. We beseech God to spare them and all of us from further sorrow due to senseless hatred which leads to acts of violence and murder.

We thank the law enforcement agencies that came to the rescue of our fellow Jews and pray for healing for those of them who suffered wounds on our people’s behalf.

To our great sadness, demonization of the Other has become an almost worldwide scourge. It is true here in the United States, in Europe, and most tragically for the Jewish people, true of the political, religious, and social scenes in Israel.

Ruach Hiddush condemns in no uncertain terms the underlying causes of this plague: religious intolerance, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and denigration of the Image of God which grants inestimable value to every human being.

We ask each of our members to speak out forcefully against the descent into tribalism and incivility here and abroad that has become rife in today’s world.

May our words and actions put an end to tragedies of the sort that occurred at Tree of Life synagogue. Then we and those who join us on this path will be among those who become partners with God in bringing salvation to a world much in need of it.

May God grant comfort to the Tree of Life family, and may we all merit God’s greatest blessing: Shalom.