I prefer the 400 rabbis of 1943 over today’s 340 rabbis

On 6 October 1943, the Nation’s Capital witnessed an unprecedented sight, the march of 400 rabbis, many dressed in their traditional Jewish garments,towards the gates of the White House. They wanted to meet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt , in order to plead for SOMETHING to be done for the Jews of Europe. The President, the champion of so many Jews at that time, almost a messianic figure in their minds [any resemblance to somebody elected in 2008?] refused to talk to them. He was in his office; there was no other meeting at that time. Vice President Henry Wallace met them. The Daily Forward of these times asked if a delegation of Catholic clergy would have been treated in this manner, a rhetorical question, of course. No, I do not compare 1943 to today’s situation with Iran, regardless of what the Huckabees of the world can say. Still, I think that these rabbis gave us all an unforgettable lesson.

They did not care about the Jewish establishment opposition, part of which had to do with the blind admiration of many Jews for FDR — see the example of Stephen Wise, the Jewish luminary of the day — part of which had to do with the revulsion that many felt with the appearance of the rabbis, as they looked SO Jewish, God forbid.

The rabbis, though, showed a moral fiber, a sense of leadership, a strong feeling of Jewish solidarity. They were fearless, they were leaders, they were what we expect from leaders — they braved the inevitable derision of their coreligionists — they entered the pages of history for eternity. Did Stephen Wise? I leave the question open.

There is now this letter of 340 rabbis in support of the Iran deal. A legitimate position, surely one which represents typical left wing positions. So where is the problem? Why am I angry? Well, the number 340 may seem big, but it ain’t. 15 only from the entire state of Florida, 50 from all over NY, 5 from DC, not impressive. But the contents? Oh dear, what a polished political, PR document devised by the Jewish supporters of the deal.

Let us see what is missing there? No word about the nature of the regime of Iran, not a word about the oppression of our fellow remaining Jews there, not a word about “the Zionist are vermin,” not a word about destroying Israel, the oppression of women, gays, other minorities. Not any expression about Israel. Yes, the word terror is mentioned once. WOW! This is REALLY what you expect from rabbis? No moral element, no Jewish values, nothing! Only one, as a matter of fact, the traditional ”Ma Yafitha” [how good you are] directed at the sovereign, the President.

This is where it is all flawed. Support the deal, prove your point, show the advantages to Israel, not just to the US, do SOMETHING that befits you as rabbis. But this shallow Madison Avenue document? Is this what we need rabbis for?

Here is where the difference with the 400 rabbis of 1943. They dared the most popular PRESIDENT OF ALL TIME, they did it a time of great tragedy, they preferred the Jewish interest over anything else. Our ”brave” 340 rabbis did the opposite. They claim that they go against the establishment? Really? Let them read some history books to show them what happened to those who went against the establishment in 1943, the Bergson Group, Ben Hecht, the rabbis and others. They paid a much bigger price than anything that any of our current rabbis will pay these days, if at all.

But the bigger question is about the role of rabbis in our current Jewish world. What really do we expect from them? We have politicians, diplomats, strategic experts who express their opinion about the deal. They all bring to the plate their respective expertise and specialties. Should not we expect that from our rabbis? But, instead, this group gives us another political shtik, and in full fairness, who cares about what they write, so long as they just use their rabbinical title, but not their rabbinical
moral edge.

The 340 referred to the agreement as being historic, a word so easily used these days. History will judge them and the Agreement,
and remains to be seen how, though I personally have a fairly good sense of what it will be. History already judged the 400
rabbis of 1943. They are heroes of the Jewish people.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina