Better a closed mouth than an open letter

A commenter to my recent post, upbraiding those Jews who seek to rescue Israel from itself through public criticism, chastised me and those of my “ilk.” I was both surprised and pleased to learn that I have an “ilk!” I hope that fellow members of our ilk join me in condemning the position of my colleague, Rabbi John Rosove, and others of his ilk.

Rabbi Rosove wrote a self-congratulatory piece, taking pride in joining “more than 400 American rabbis, cantors and rabbinical and cantorial students who signed an open letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing our deepest concern about his government’s latest settlement decisions.”

I am sorry that Israel continues to disappoint Rabbi Rosove and that he is discomfited by the belief that Judea and Samaria are the Biblical patrimony of the Jewish People of Israel.

He seems to be impressed by the quantity of rabbis but, of course, you can herd four-hundred rabbis into any ideological corral. But the verse from Torah comes to mind: “Do not follow after the crowd to do evil.” Multiplying wrong does not make it right.

Rabbi Rosove describes how “difficult” it was for his ilk to write an open letter and tells us that it was not done “lightly.” Wrestling with one’s conscience, however, does not guarantee that the combatant won the bout, for his open letter is no more than another paternalistic reprimand that infantilizes Israel.

“But I and my fellow signers believe we have a Jewish and moral obligation to speak out now.” The Rabbi is, of course, welcome to speak up but he is not welcome to speak out. For while he sits comfortably in Los Angeles, Israelis know the true meaning of Longfellow’s Psalm: “Life is real! Life is earnest!” Rabbi Rosove will not have to huddle with his family in shelters beneath Hollywood Boulevard should his gratuitous counsel be accepted and turn out to have been not fateful but fatal. As Edward Alexander wrote:

There is nothing ‘healthy’ in such cravenness or in hallucinating moderation in a murderous enemy when you are not the one who will have to face his attack.

Unless Rabbi Rosove is willing to swap living in security in California for living with vulnerability in Israel he should not be so quick to indulge his high idealism and put his bleeding heart on public display. I think, though, that this is a lost cause since Rabbi Rosove is ultimately concerned with what Israel should do to make them feel better about Israel.

Rabbi Rosove whines that “any Jewish leader who criticizes the Israeli government is immediately targeted by some Jewish organizations as a fifth columnist.” This is a mistaken usage of “fifth columnist” since the expression refers to one who sabotages a country from within and who does so clandestinely. Rabbi Rosove does not live within the country of which he speaks with such certainty and is hardly clandestine in his activities. He tells us that organizations like J Street are “creating a space where real dialogue on Israel can take place.” This new-age speak of “creating a space” is nonsense. What’s next: “finding ourselves?” Maybe we can meditate the conflict away. Real dialogue is not found in open-letters that parrot the Palestinian platform and internalize the criticisms of Israel’s implacable foes

The Rabbi states that “The government of Israel and the Obama administration both need to know that the American Jewish community does not march in lockstep behind Prime Minister Netanyahu.” Yes, of course, that is just what the Obama administration needs to know. Armed with this revelation, the administration can ratchet up the pressure with less fear of domestic consequences. And then there is this: “Right now, arguably the greatest danger to the long-term survival of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority comes from the settlement project.” Really? This is the greatest danger? Is not Iran’s genocidal intent the foremost threat to the survival of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority?

Rabbi Rosove cloaks himself in the mantle of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, laying claim to his legacy as a protester of civil wrongs in America. Rabbi Rosove can protest to his heart’s content here in America. After all, both he and Rabbi Heschel shared an important status that conferred this privilege upon them: the fact of citizenship! Would Rabbi Heschel sign this open letter? Since we will never know, it is not fitting to summon him from the grave to offer posthumous validation of a political stance.

Rabbi Rosove concludes by claiming “we have no choice but to raise our voices and speak out against policies” and to air “our concerns respectfully and as part of the greater Jewish family.” If he wants to address “concerns” as a family member, may I suggest that he act as family members should: speak to the parties concerned in private.

And, yes, Rabbi, you do have a choice! Just obey the order given to me by the Hebrew teachers of my youth: “Sheket B’vakasha!”

About the Author
Rabbi Mark S Miller served as Senior Rabbi of Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach, California, for thirty-five years. He is now Rabbi Emeritus of the Reform congregation. He has long supported Israel's right to determine its own destiny, free of interference by Diaspora Jews.