Dear Rabbi Ellenson,
I read your op-ed in response to Michael Chabon’s commencement address and was left mystified.
In your article you defend your choice of Chabon as graduation speaker. You recognize that he articulated a strong position on the Israeli settlements, but add that, in the spirit of democracy, academic freedom, and Jewish tradition, you prefer intellectual vigor to fearing controversy, even at celebratory event. This is certainly a courageous stance.
You further compliment Chabon by noting that Chabon “articulated deeply Jewish and Zionist commitments…specifically religious, communal and even tribal.”
I listened to Chabon’s speech twice. It was well crafted, thoughtful, and passionate. But I sensed no Zionism in his address. Criticizing settlements, while not inherently anti-Zionist, evinces no love of Zion either.
As an aside, in stating your bona fides as a Zionist institution, you claim that HUC-JIR is “the only American Jewish institution of higher learning that backs its official Zionism with a campus of its own in the State of Israel.” Both JTS and YU have locations in Israel.
But more pressing is your utter disregard of Chabon’s greater point: he prefers exogenous marriage, even to the point of the disappearance of the Jewish people. This is neither communal nor tribal.
My objection is not to Chabon’s speech. He is in fact an influential Jewish writer and it is an honor to hear him speak. It goes without saying that he has a right to speak his mind. And similarly, you defend his speech in the name of democracy, a core component of HUC-JIR.
But another core component of HUC-JIR is Jewish continuity. HUC-JIR is not a proponent of exogenous marriage, and it certainly does not see the disappearance of the Jewish people as a price we should be willing to pay in order to break down barriers, as Chabon would have it.
You defend Chabon’s speech in the spirit of lively civil discourse. I fully respect that. But part of civil discourse is the courage and integrity to voice disagreement. As someone who embraces intellectual vigor even when accompanied by controversy, I wonder why you failed to follow through and express your honest disagreement with Chabon’s preference for exogenous marriage.