'Bullying Is Antithetical To Judaism': An Open Letter to Jewish Teens and College Students
Tue, 10/12/2010
Special to the Jewish Week
Rabbi Steven Wernick
Rabbi Steven Wernick

Dear Friends,

Like many in North America I was saddened by the recent suicide of Rutgers University freshmen Tyler Clementi. I feel for his family and friends. May their memories of him be a comfort.

As I have been reflecting on the events that led to his death and discussing it with my family, friends, and colleagues, a few thoughts come to mind. I'd like to share them with you because I know you are also thinking about this tragedy.

It seems that the suicide might have been in reaction to bullying. Bullies pick on the people they think don't fit in, maybe because of how they look, how they act, their race or religion, or because the bullies think their targets may be gay or lesbian.

Research shows that people who are abused by their peers are at greater risk for mental health problems, such as low self-esteem, stress, depression, or anxiety. They may also think about suicide more. Bullying is a form of abuse in which one person is picked on repeatedly by an individual or group with more power, either physically or in social standing. Bullying often happens in public, adding to the humiliation the victim suffers.

Today, with instant communication through text messaging, Facebook, email, and YouTube, the tools of bullying are ever more public, more humiliating, and more abusive. The consequences of that bullying - including suicide - can be far greater than the bullies can imagine, and will scar the bullies as well as the victims for the rest of their lives.

Bullying is antithetical to Judaism. We believe that every human being is created b'tzelem Elohim, in the image and likeness of God. Bullying another person, therefore, is like bullying God.

When Rabbi Akiva asked for the Torah's most important lesson, he said v'ahavta l'reekha kamokha. Love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, the entire Torah is intended to teach us how to be mentschen, how to get in the habit of civility and decency in our interactions with each other; how to act on the belief that each of us is created in the divine image. V'ahavta l'reekha kamokha and b'tzelem Elohim guide us to be ever vigilant in elevating each other toward holiness, not bringing each other down through bullying.

I'd like to share a second and related thought about suicide. Because we are created in the divine image, we are sacred and our lives are of infinite worth. We -your parents, your teachers, your community -want you to know that we love you unconditionally.

You are sacred to us. You are our infinity. You are the embodiment of our past and our hopes for the future. Suicide is permanent. It does not resolve loneliness or hopelessness. It is just the end of everything. We want you to know that we take the feelings that may lead someone to consider suicide seriously. We are committed to doing whatever it takes to assure that each of you has a support system and you know that you have the resources to work through whatever feelings and challenges you face. There is always hope. And we are always here for you.

It might help to remember these things:

* If you are being bullied or see someone else being bullied, speak out. Ask for help from an adult you trust.

* If you are thinking about suicide, talk to a parent, a teacher, a rabbi or another responsible adult.

* If you know someone who is thinking about suicide, don't try to handle it yourself. Talk to a responsible adult.

* Or if you prefer, seek help by calling a teen suicide hotline: In the USA: 1-800-Suicide (800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-Talk (800-273-8255). In Canada: 1-800-448-3000.

On USY's homepage,  you will find educational resource materials on bullying that may help.

If our reflections on Tyler's life and death lead us to a renewed commitment to reduce bullying and to reach out to people who need help, then we will have turned his tragedy into an opportunity for growth. And we will all be the better for it.


Rabbi Steve Wernick

Rabbi Wernick is executive vice president/CEO, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.


I was bullied in a Yeshiva nobody stopped it ! Only by a miracle I am live. It might be against the Jewish religion but kids or people do it. Instead of protecting the underdog people bully or abuse someone different, weaker then them. It still stay with you it scars your life.

"Bullying is Antithetical to Judaism."

Allow me to introduce you to Rabbi Manis Friedman. Friedman posted a video on youtube in which he likened the shame an humiliation of childhood sexual abuse to having diarrhea. His message was that if one has been abused, one should keep quiet about it and get over it. His original video has since been taken down, but it has been copied and re-posted by others. Since this prevents him from denying what he said, he has offered an apology in an vain attempt to preserve what remains of his credibility.

That, Rabbi Wernick, is the Jewish community's real position on bullying: keep quiet, suffer in silence, deal with it yourself and don't even think of saying anything that will make the community look less than perfect! As I said before, your pretty words are just hot air in the face of reality. That is why I, and others, have left Judaism forever.

Very well-worded message. People today have no respect. They dont respect themselves either. A society void of any kind of respect. The fish rots from the head down? may be

Bullying is antithetical to Judaism? Where was that attitude when I was young? I spent the first 18 years of my life in the Jewish community because I had to, and 2 years after that because I thought I had to. From the day I started attending Hebrew school I was shut-out, ridiculed and made the butt of practical jokes by my Jewish "brethren." At the Hebrew school I went to, bullying was dismissed was just part of being a kid. When I was actually assaulted by my peers, however, they reluctantly became involved (they may not have understood compassion but they sure understood potential liability). The school contacted the parents of the bullies, who demanded to know what I had done to "make" their little angels assault me. Having no answer, the school principal demanded one from me. How was I supposed to answer that? My last contact with Judaism was at my oldest niece's Bas Mitzvah. I was called to dress the Torah, and the rabbi stood behind me sneering (twice) "Hurry up, you dress yourself, don't you?" It was then that it hit me: Children who bully in Hebrew school become adults who bully in synagogues. That was 7 years ago, I have not entered a synagogue since. So now Judaism is acknowledging that bullying is bad. Well, its nice to see that Jewish wisdom is catching up with secular wisdom, but who are you kidding? There will be a lot of pretty speeches given and touching letters written while the issue is the news, but if you really think that anything will change, you are a fool.
I think that this article is of critical importance to us as Jews. We cannot turn a blind eye to social injustice, even if it complies with laws and one of the most vile offenders that I have ever seen is the company called TOPIX.COM. This website describes the problem with Topix which hosts forums which are annonymous, unmoderated and which contain posts which are not just anti-semitic, but hatred, bigotry, defamation and endless bullying. http://toxictopix.webs.com Perhaps one of the more difficult issues is that at least two of the employees of the companies are Jewish themselves. Hard to believe and a very interesting subject of debate as to how they justify their cause.
After 23 years in juvenile court, I believe that teenagers learn from the experiences of their peers, not just from being lectured by those in authority. Consequently, “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” was published in January, 2010. Endorsed by Dr. Phil on April 8, 2010 ["Bullied to Death" show], “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” presents real cases of teens in trouble over their online and cell phone activities. Civil & criminal sanctions have been imposed on teens over their emails, blogs, text and IM messages, Facebook entries and more. TCI is interactive and promotes education & awareness so that our youth will begin to “Think B4 U Click.” Thanks for looking at “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” on http://www.freespirit.com [publisher] or on http://www.askthejudge.info [a free website for & about teens and the law]. Respectfully, -Judge Tom.

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.