30 July 2009

“You must reprove your kin, lest you bear their sin yourself.” – Leviticus 19:17

I sent the following as an Op-Ed submission to the Courier-News and Star Ledger this week. It was printed as a letter in the Courier.

It is always awkward – and sometimes painful – to see a member of one’s own identity group splashed all over the headlines. A natural first reaction is to bury the head deep in the sand and hope that it will all go away. Yet, when a member of another group does flagrant wrong or speaks words of hate, we are often the first to ask members of that group to repudiate and disavow – not only the hateful words or wrongful actions, but the individual as well.

I can do no less, as a Rabbi and member of the Jewish community, than to do that which I would expect of others. The ancient sage Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to any person.” We are commanded, as Jews, time after time in our Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Is our neighbor only the person who lives next door? Who dresses, acts, and speaks in the same manner? No, we modern and progressive Jews, who have accepted the benefit of the Enlightenment - to live among those of different creeds and heritage – extend the name of neighbor to each and every member of the human race.

Last Friday night, at our Shabbat service, I took the opportunity of our weekly Torah discussion to lay out this case before my congregation. As modern Reform Jews, we have explicitly rejected the insular communities that care only for their own welfare, in favor of living in the world, not outside of it. In Nedarim 28a, The Talmud, the basic text of Rabbinic Judaism, states the concept of dina demalkhuta dina – the law of the land is the law. This means that when Jews live in a country they are obliged to live by its laws. We take this further to mean that we are obliged to be active, intelligent and informed citizens. Problems with the government are dealt with by the ballot box, the legislatures, and the courts, not by back room deals and bribery. I say again, Judaism does not in any way condone bribery or corruption in a free and democratic society with legitimate redresses for grievances. Further, by the words from Leviticus above – that we are commanded to reprove our community members when they do wrong - we are compelled to speak out publicly and say, should these rabbis and community members so recently in the news be guilty of such acts, they are not acting in accord with Jewish law or custom. In fact, they act directly contrary to dina demalkhuta dina when they break the laws of the communities they have chosen to live in.

Lest we bear that sin upon ourselves as well, we all must speak out against it – and repudiate and disavow those who would break the law and take refuge in their Judaism.

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