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A letter to my children about Jewish values and January 6th

Donald Trump eroded the three pillars Judaism considers critical for a stable society and showed that democracy must never be taken for granted
A video clip is displayed of President Donald Trump as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 16, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
A video clip is displayed of President Donald Trump as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 16, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Dear children,

I know that over the past number of years you feel I harped too much on my concerns about the state of our democracy under former President Trump. You felt I overreacted. I decided that on the occasion of the public hearings of the January 6th Committee it is a good time to clearly articulate the reasons I feel so strongly about this, and why my feelings are inextricably tied with my deepest Jewish values.

Developments in the United States over the last number of years, and the events associated with January 6, 2021, in particular, shook me (along with countless others) to my core.

The Mishna in Avos (Ethics of Our Fathers, 1:18) teaches us that the world stands on din, emmes, and shalom – justice, truth, and peace. These three core Jewish principles, rooted unambiguously in Torah teachings, are the pillars of a stable society, and I believe that each of these has been weakened in recent years. In particular, the attempt by former President Trump and some of his supporters to overturn the election results, and interfere with the lawful transfer of power, eroded each of these principles.

Din (Justice): Societies should function based on the rule of just laws where people are treated fairly and everyone is held accountable for their actions. We are blessed that the United States is a country that aspires to these ideals, and I embrace the system of democracy and rule of law in the United States. I believe that based on Jewish values we must reject a system that allows elites to escape accountability, and where those with power can manipulate the authority of government and the legal system for their own interests. I believe we must reject a “might makes right” system. On the contrary, I applaud the characterization that “right matters here.” Fair elections conducted with integrity are fundamental to our society, and undermining elections is an assault on the rule of law. While challenging election results in court is fair game, many of the other measures that were taken following the 2020 election were completely out of bounds. One need only reflect on the actions of Vladimir Putin’s Russia to understand the difference between a democracy that respects human rights and is governed by the rule of law and an autocracy that lacks both of these qualities. Those who sought to overturn the election on January 6th made our country more like Russia and less like America.

Emmes (Truth): Justice is subverted through falsehood. Leaders who aim to undermine the rule of law lie blatantly and strategically. Former President Trump lied about the results of the 2020 election as a tactic to energize his supporters, and as a pretext for attacks on the rule of law. It is both tragic and outrageous that many of his supporters believe the former president that the 2020 Presidential election was “stolen.” We cannot tell lies for political reasons or allow ourselves to believe lies simply because they serve our purposes or because they are propagated by people who we perceive to be on “our side.”

Shalom (Peace): Too many people on both sides of the political spectrum engage in black and white thinking. One must be able to disagree without delegitimizing. We must reject the tendencies on both the political right and the left to stifle voices that do not completely toe their partisan line. This behavior is antithetical to both emmes and shalom. From the perspective of Jewish values, neither side of the political divide is fully correct, and neither side is fully incorrect. We must choose reasoned and nuanced discussion over partisan, ad hominem attacks. Willingness to engage in dialogue and to offer strong and reasoned arguments is more courageous, and certainly more peaceful, than supporting one side no matter what. Inflammatory rhetoric of the sort that paved the way for the January 6th attacks should be anathema to us.

Moving forward, I think we should all pray that our country as a whole, and the Jewish community in particular, embraces the principles of Din, Emmes, and Shalom. We should pray that the events of January 6th represent an aberration and not a new normal. I hope you, along with other members of your generation, appreciate the value of living in a society based on these fundamental principles and are willing to step up to the plate to help build such a society. Growing up I could never have imagined something like this happening, and I took the blessing of living under a stable democracy for granted. After January 6th, I hope you never will.

With love,

Abba

About the Author
Rabbi Micah Segelman writes both scholarly and popular articles on Jewish topics. He is a health policy researcher and completed his PhD in health services research and policy at the University of Rochester.
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