The following is a letter sent out by Rabbi Yisroel Gottlieb, Rav of Congregation Bais Torah, Suffern NY (formerly known as “Rabbi Wein’s shul”).
When, at times, we have witnessed heinous acts of terror committed by a few individuals in the name of Islam, we have all wondered where is the voice of the moderate Islamic clergy in condemning the violence and the madness. At those times, I have often thought that perhaps members of the mainstream, moderate Muslim leadership might feel that these bad actors fall so far outside the pale of their religious belief and practice that there is no need to condemn them. But, to those of us on the outside, the silence of the Muslim leadership appears as tacit approval of these horrible acts.
In a similar vein, while many in the Orthodox Jewish world might believe that the statements and actions of a few bad actors in Borough Park in recent days fall so far outside of the pale of Orthodox Judaism as to not even warrant condemnation, I fear that our failure to condemn these actions and actors may be construed by outside observers as approval and support. I therefore take the opportunity of this forum, and I urge any others in positions of leadership in the Orthodox Jewish world to use their platforms to condemn, in no uncertain terms, recent statements and actions carried out in the name of Orthodox Jewry that are, in fact, diametrically opposed to Orthodox-Jewish law and values.
I therefore, hereby condemn, repudiate and disavow:
· All those who have instigated violence and vandalism and those who have acted violently. Violence and vandalism are not the Jewish way.
· All those who have spoken disrespectfully to and about any elected official and others in positions of authority. Jewish law demands that we respect the dignity of the office and its occupants.
· All who claim that Orthodox Jews are not bound by American Law. One of the basic tenets of Jewish Law is fealty, loyalty, and complete fidelity to the law of the land.
· All who ignore and flout public health measures and directives. Jewish law places a premium on the life and health of all human beings.
· All who claim to be speaking on behalf of Orthodoxy while espousing views diametrically opposed to Orthodox Jewish teachings. They do not speak for me or my constituency and I suspect that they do not speak on behalf of the vast majority of residents of Borough Park who are in no way involved in these actions.
· All who accuse the governor of acting out of anti-Semitism. While I do not agree with the Governor’s Draconian measures against synagogues, I do not believe the Governor to be anti-Semitic. I well remember how careful Governor Cuomo was, when the initial New York outbreak centered around an Orthodox-Jewish synagogue, to avoid any language implicating the synagogue community and to emphasize how the outbreak could have happened anywhere. I believe the measures taken, which are unfair to Jews, are more likely a reaction to loudmouth activists publicly challenging the governor and daring him to come after the community.
· Those who attempt to divert attention from their own misbehavior by asserting anti-Semitism. Wrongly invoking claims of anti-Semitism as an excuse for not taking personal responsibility weakens and undermines the assertion in cases of real anti-Semitism.
· Those who invoke the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors in opposing the governor’s directives. It is possible that those who did so were conveying the reactions of specific Holocaust survivors who communicated their feelings to them. I will speak on behalf of the Holocaust survivors whom I buried as a result of this pandemic and the Holocaust survivors who have been completely shut in their homes for months. They understand how dangerous it is for Jews to be perceived as spreaders of disease and they would like you to comply with all public health mandates. Invoking the Holocaust is always dangerous and irresponsible and is especially distasteful where the comparisons are completely flawed and unwarranted.
· Those who, claiming to represent the Jewish people, have and continue to speak in ways befitting hooligans and brigands in order to further their own political careers. They represent no one outside of their own political interests.
· Those who act with anything but gratitude and grace toward the City and State of New York and the United States of America. We do not take our rights in this country for granted. Jewish law and tradition places a premium on Hakoras Hatov. We are grateful for the opportunity this country has afforded us and continues to afford us to practice our religion unmolested. While we will assert our constitutional rights as strenuously as any other ethnic group, we do so with the utmost humility, dignity, and gratitude that those rights are granted to us.
· All those who conduct themselves without regard to Jewish history and to our place in exile. The complete disregard for our proper place and conduct in a country that has hosted us so benevolently runs counter to the entire body of Jewish tradition and law.
It behooves the leaders of the community to engage in serious reflection and self-examination to consider whether the culture and education system has fostered an environment that led to this lawlessness and hooliganism.
I realize that in sending this to you, I am preaching to the choir, but I also recognize that when you are asked, you can say, my Rabbi forcefully condemned this behavior. I also realize that a number of these brigands and hooligans will claim that they, not I, represent true Orthodox Jewry. To the, I say that is simply a matter of semantics. Whatever you label it, it is clear that we do not share religious beliefs, values and ideals, and they do not represent my religion, whatever you call it.
Have a good Shabbos
Rabbi Yisrael Gottlieb