The disgraceful level to which our politicians and rabbis have sunk over the past year is alarming. Moderation, nuance, restraint and reasonableness have become orphan concepts in this country’s political landscape. The prevailing culture is kasach – unbridled, untamed confrontation.
Published in Israel Hayom, July 15, 2013.
On the eve of Tisha BeAv it’s worth remembering that, according to the Talmud, a previous Jewish commonwealth disintegrated because everybody hated each other. And because leaders led the vulgarization of society, instead of preventing it.
Woefully, some of our current leaders are making the same mistake: propagating sinat chinam, baseless and unnecessary hatred. They could do with a dose of teshuva, repentance, for their inflammatory, intemperate, seditious demagoguery.
Consider Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. This Torah giant unfortunately has bound his sharp tongue to the political fortunes of Shas, and tragically descended to street-level mudslinging.
Always a master of snide political witticism (“Netanyahu is a blind sheep”), Rav Ovadia’s frustration with Shas’ current political fortunes has led him to lash out uncontrollably at the national religious (or religious Zionist) community.
In past, he called the “Mafdal” (an acronym for the National Religious Party) “fools who believe anything.” More recently, he slandered the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party as the “home of goyim,” and smeared the Religious Zionist candidate for chief rabbi, David Stav, as a rasha, a wicked man.
Two days ago, he sat silently next to his sidekick, Rabbi Shalom Cohen, as Cohen vomited forth incredibly nauseating denigrations of the Religious Zionist community. Knitted kippa-wearers (i.e., Religious Zionists), Cohen said, are the equivalent to the biblical uber-evil nation of Amalek, and G-d’s throne in this world “would not be complete until knitted kippa-wearers disappear.”
This follows upon Shas’ infamous, racist “Kochavit Giyur” (Dial-a-Conversion) advertising campaign in the recent elections. This campaign smeared Russian immigrants as counterfeit converts, and slandered Religious Zionist rabbis as liberal destroyers of conversion standards.
I know that Rav Ovadia is old and perhaps not in complete control of his thoughts. I also assume that he is being played like a marionette by the shady, retrogressive, misanthropist Shas leader, Aryeh Deri. But still! The dignity that comes from study and observance of Torah ought to mandate a little more restraint.
Of course, political crudeness and defamation is not the preserve of the Ultra-Orthodox. The political left has been engaged in character assassination of Benjamin Netanyahu for decades. Yossi Sarid of Meretz (who is still around, writing a column for Haaretz) leads the pack with some recent beauties: Netanyahu is “mastool,” high on drugs, and thus unfit to govern; and Bibi is a “trickster, swindler, dissembler, charlatan and cheat.” (These words rhyme in Hebrew).
Tzipi Livni said much the same things about Netanyahu in her recent election campaign. Then, of course, she was cynically the first to jump into coalition with Netanyahu after the vote. The secular left likes to demonize the Haredi community too. Deputy Finance Minister Micky Levy (Yesh Atid) recently warned that the Ultra-Orthodox must “stop being parasites.”
Once upon a time we tended to chalk-up the rough talk to Israeli “character” and shrug it off. But the disgraceful level to which our politicians and rabbis have sunk over the past year is alarming. Moderation, nuance, restraint and reasonableness have become orphan concepts in this country’s political landscape. The prevailing culture is kasach – unbridled, untamed confrontation.
In school, we were taught that ahavat chinam, boundless love, towards other Jews, was the answer to sinat chinam, boundless hatred. That’s nice. But unless you’re completely naïve or a saint, it’s kind of hard to advocate ahavat chinam in the political arena. Alas, we are divided by very-many real policy and ideological divisions.
But it should be possible to draw a line between policy disagreement and political violence; between a legitimate argument and illegitimate character assassination; between legislation that is meant to better the greater good and legislation meant to punish, demean, penalize or crush a rival camp.
On the eve of Tisha BeAv, our leaders should consider making this personal commitment for the coming year: “I undertake to avoid making quick judgments out of ignorance or antagonism, for these are intellectually-flawed shortcuts designed to serve weak, fearful and hate-filled minds. I undertake to restrain my tongue, because over-heated rhetoric can lead to terrible tragedies. I commit myself to the patience necessary to withhold harsh judgment of my friends, colleagues and adversaries, out of an abiding, overriding concern for Klal Yisrael.”