“Do what is right and good in the sight of Adonai, that it may go well with you.”
That statement is repeated, in one form or another, throughout the Book of Deuteronomy, including three times in last week’s parashah, R’eih, and in the very last verse of this week’s parashah, Shof’tim.
In every way that counts, “Do what is right and good in the sight of Adonai” is Judaism’s prime directive. It is the way we must live our lives.
In my last column, I argued that continuing to support President Trump is a communal sin for which we must repent in the season of repentance that got under way on Tuesday with the start of the month of Elul. It was my intention to go on to other areas we need to consider as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur come ever closer (and, God willing, I will do so over the next few columns).
Then, however, the events in Charlottesville and their aftermath happened, and are continuing to happen around the nation. While many voices were raised against the president within the Jewish community, some continued to support him, including from among Israel’s leadership. One in particular stands out. Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen of the Kulanu faction said, “Efforts to portray Trump as anti-Semitic are pathetic,” especially since Trump is “one of the most sympathetic [presidents ever] toward Israel.”
The Talmud has something else to say. In the Babylonian Talmud tractate Sota 22a, we are told that once a person has committed a transgression and repeated it, it becomes something he or she finds acceptable to repeat. For Trump, anti-Semitic behavior and statements are acceptable to repeat. To those who excuse Trump by saying he is just pandering to his racist and anti-Semitic base, but that he himself is not anti-Semitic, the record of just the last nine months screams otherwise.
ITEM: From his first day in office on January 20 until he spoke to Congress on February 28, Trump could not bring himself to address a wave of anti-Semitism that the ADL called the worst since the 1930s. So blatant was this constant dance around condemning anti-Semitism that it made headlines around the world.
Even Trump’s own vice president, Mike Pence, recognized the need to do something dramatic. In mid-February, he traveled to St. Louis to help clean up a Jewish cemetery that had been badly damaged by anti-Semitic vandals. Even then, with Pence grabbing the headlines, Trump would make no public comment until his speech to Congress eight days later.
ITEM: On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Trump could not bring himself to mention the word Jew in his statement marking the day. “It is with a heavy heart and somber mind,” his statement said, “that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, and heroes of the Holocaust,” but the statement never mentioned that Six Million Jews were the prime “victims, survivors, and heroes” of the Shoah.
Make no mistake. This was deliberate. Trump’s statement was drafted by the State Department’s Holocaust issues office, and it specifically singled out our martyred Six Million. Trump deleted all such references before issuing his statement.
ITEM: While visiting Poland, Trump did not go to the monument honoring the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto. Ever since the fall of Communism in 1989, every president and vice president of the United States who visited Poland went to the ghetto to pay tribute, but Trump could not make the time to do so himself. (His daughter did find the time to go, although the White House sought to keep her visit private, so no media were invited along.)
ITEM: After first denying it, Trump finally admitted to owning a copy of Adolf Hitler’s book of speeches, a book Hitler titled “My New Order.” (Trump originally said it was “Mein Kampf,” which is bad enough.) This is a book his former wife Ivana Trump told a Vanity Fair reporter that Trump kept by his bed and read from on many nights. She said this in 1990 — 27 years ago, long before he needed to pander to anyone on the right; long before he ever heard of Steve Bannon.
Trump defended owning the book by saying it was given to him by a Jewish friend in the film industry, as if that made it okay. The friend, however, was not Jewish, and said as much to reporters who asked him to confirm giving the book to Trump.
ITEM: Why did Trump think his friend was Jewish? It was because the friend was Martin Davis, head of Paramount Pictures and its parent Gulf + Western, and, as the White Supremacist world will tell you, the Jews control the film industry and the media. It follows that someone heading a media conglomerate must be Jewish.
ITEM: Trump is the man who went before the Republican Jewish Coalition in December and almost immediately invoked a most egregious anti-Semitic stereotype as if it was an established fact that Jews enjoyed hearing: “I’m a negotiator like you folks, we are negotiators. Is there anybody that doesn’t renegotiate deals in this room? This room negotiates them — perhaps more than any other room I’ve ever spoken in.”
Once a person has committed a transgression and repeated it, says the Talmud, it becomes something he or she finds acceptable to repeat. Trump commits anti-Semitic transgressions as a matter of routine. He is a racist generally and an anti-Semite specifically. Supporting Israel has nothing to do with his liking Jews; it has everything to do with pandering to the religious right that supports Israel because it is a part of his base. As I noted in my column two weeks ago, however, Trump’s actions as president show just how half-hearted and insincere that support really is.
This is not about politics, however. This is about “Do what is right and good in the sight of Adonai, that it may go well with you.”
It will not go well with any of us if we continue to stand silent. It will not go well with us if Trump is not called to account for his politics of division and hate.
It is time for the Jewish community to rise up with one voice and declare, “ahd kan v’lo yoter”— up to now but no further. We will not stand silent any longer. We will not continue to support a racist and anti-Semite in the White House.
It is time for us as individuals and as a Jewish community to demand of Congress that it formally censure Donald Trump, to let him know his racist and anti-Semitic leanings have no place in our society.
Write letters. Make phone calls. The time is now because, as history teaches us, if not now, when.
If we do not stand up to hate today, there may not be a tomorrow for us to wish we had.