Re: A Call For Moral Clarity; Let's Talk About Democractic Values and Jewish Values.

By: Yisroel Bass  |  January 14, 2021

By Yisroel Bass

Dear Rabbi Schwartz,

Thank you for your observations and call for moral clarity following last week’s events. 

I feel however that your analysis and message gives too much attention to countering a fantastical scenario that has no grounding in reality (i.e. the election was stolen), rather than addressing the core of the issues at play. The reasons that you felt it necessary to rebuff this claim as if it were true, while admitting that it is not, is a testament to what has been called a “reality crisis”. 

The real issue that should be addressed by our Orthodox communities and clergy is that we, as observant Jews, are no less susceptible to anti-democratic, authoritarian, cult-of-personality, and supremacist ideology than any other ethnic or religious group. 

That Jews who were raised frum (religious) or identify now as observant were participating in the insurrection is disgusting, but not surprising. For many years, especially preceding the current administration, “safe space” has been given at our shuls and institutions for authoritarian, supremacist and even genocidal discourse, with no accountability nor censure.

Let me be clear that free speech is not the issue here, but rather the fact that the sort of speech that is inherently violent, when allowed to fester and normalize for years, will lead to violence eventually, and this is no surprise.

As Jews, we need to demand of our clergy and institutions a recognition that we have a fascism problem and that our history as victims of fascism does not nullify its power of attraction. Like Trump himself, the ideologies manifested in his supporters share a common thread of appealing to our basest desires and longings for security, importance, power, pride and leadership. Those desires cut across class and religious lines and can be found manifesting themselves around the world.

That frum Jews should be functioning on a higher moral plane goes without saying, but your call for moral clarity does not give us a roadmap. How do we combat these base desires that transform at best into non-participant sympathizers or at worst, into insurrectionists locking arms with actual Nazis? Musar (rebuke) is not enough. Disgust is not enough. 

Yisroel Bass,

Director, Yiddish Farm Education Center

Goshen, NY