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Jews And Civility
Mon, 09/19/2011 - 20:00

Few things are as satisfying or as much fun as a passionate conversation full of disagreement and dispute, be it at a Shabbat table or on an inner-city stoop. This has been a great Jewish sport through the years. A game of chess in Washington Square Park, or tea in a Lower East Side cafeteria, were often accompanied by passionate debates about everything from the Hitler-Stalin pact to the Ladies Garment union, along with colorful and heated Yiddish insults, now sanitized by nostalgia. Cleverness was once valued more than civility. Civility, at times, was distrusted as more British than Yiddish.

Times change. This week, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs is urging rabbis to devote a High Holy Day sermon to the virtues of civility, and of course its virtues are many. “Increasingly, conversations are giving way to diatribe,” warned JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.

Yes, we live in heated times, partially because the stakes are presented as nothing less than social Armageddon: “Jewish survival” and “Jewish continuity.” Debates over Israel involve one side being for “peace” or for “appeasement.”

Is this really something we’re “increasingly” seeing? Compared to the decades-long feud between the establishment Zionists and the Revisionists, leading to charges of murder in the Chaim Arlosoroff case, or the sinking of the Altalena, or the charges of “perfidy” and wholesale blame leading to, and then following, the assassination of Rudolf Kastner and years later, Yitzchak Rabin, well, the last 15 years of Jewish differences seem almost idyllic.

When some Jews joke that Chabad is the closest religion to Judaism, is that good fun or incivility? When some Jews say that President Barack Obama is “anti-Israel,” or that Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry are “complete idiots,” is that just lively debate or incivility, a kind of bullying that shuts off all discussion?

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has written in the Huffington Post, “All this talk about civility is beginning to make me uncomfortable ... distorting norms of democratic debate.” Of course, personal attacks are unacceptable, but he cites God’s instructions to Isaiah: “Cry with full throat, without restraint; raise your voice like a ram’s horn!”

And yet, civility is essential, said Rabbi Melissa Weintraub to a JCPA plenum. “Nothing less than the Jewish people is at stake.”

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my in-laws came back from Rosh Hashana services at their Conservative synagogue filled with outrage. Their apparently PC rabbi could not be bothered giving a sermon on anything as mundane as tshuva, or anything that was remotely related to our relationship with Hashem. Rather this "Rabbi" blasted Israel for all of it's perceived shortcomings. Is it any wonder that Conservative Judaism is dying a death of a 1000 cuts. I grew up in a Conservative shul but what passes for Conservative Judaism today is not what I remember from my USY days. And no, I am not that old.

I recently joined a Reform Temple. On the New Year I was absolutely stunned by the Rabbi's remarks which had nothing to do with the New Year. Rabbi Ritter gave a political speech which, unfortunately, marked him as an adolescent. He ended his diatribe by asking us, "what has Israel done for us?". Utter nonsense. If you ascribe to organized religion then you have bought the "message" and to tear it apart piece by piece is nonsense. "What is the sound of one hand clapping?".
Comments that a family is cruel, abusive, deceitful, and greedy belong in every family history regardless of race or religion. One has to do with the other. However, will agree that the editorial was poorly written. The age of the "written word" has disappeared.

My rabbi's sermons and side comments during the High Holidays placed more emphasis on cooperation with Muslims and interfaith issues in the United States than with the support for Israel and various branches of Judaism here. Our children are so confused with this political correctness mush it's no wonder we suffer from divisive behavior. By the way, I used to think Obama was anti-Israel. I'm convinced that he simply lacks that koach, intelligence and skill to stand up to Israel's enemies. He's not anti-Israel. He's just gutless. His gutlessness in support of Israel and its willingness for a two-state solution, but NOT a divided Jerusalem is what's infecting the American Jewish community. Any Jewish organization that supports a position that compromises the status of Jerusalem has no understanding where any negotiations are headed. Every rabbi who reaches out to his Muslim co-religionists should get them to publicly call for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Let's see how that conversation goes. Any Jew who has difficulty with that question might as well join the lost tribe because, indeed, that person is lost.

You don't quote one Orthodox Rabbi is that civil? and I'm not even Orthodox

I was anxious to read this editorial about Jews and civility as it is an issue that has hit very close to home and quite severely. I was disappointed to find the editorial so very shallow - citing only heated debate as the example of Jewish incivility. Too many of us (including my own family) have been bitterly affected by out and out deceit, cruelty, backstabbing, greed and other hurtful behaviors in the name of Jewish Community. Among other things, this hardly mentioned issue is a reason why many Jews have shied away from their Judaism - and in some cases renounced it altogether. It doesn't do much to help old fashioned (and not very nice) Jewish stereotypes either. The problem runs very deep. Sadly, your editorial didn't. Perhaps your publication can explore this further - if you can muster up the courage.