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‘If not now, when?’ a response to Gordis’s criticism of Brous

Gordis vs Brous: Gordis fails to heed the words of Hillel

In his November 18th blog post, Rabbi Daniel Gordis excoriates Rabbi Sharon Brous for her most excellent message regarding the current conflict between the IDF and Hamas. Rabbi Gordis seems to misread Rabbi Brous’s intent and her display of deep compassion.

Brous expresses a deep sense of solidarity with fellow Jews in Israel and affirms their “right and obligation” to defend themselves from the terror unleashed by Hamas. Yet Brous deftly suggests that the “best way to diminish the potency of Hamas – which possess a genuine threat to Israel – is to engage earnestly and immediately in peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.” Brous also calls on each of us to find that place within us that is most human, and therefore most Jewish, that place that is the source of “empathy and grace.” With so many innocent Israelis facing existential threat, she acknowledges that Jews are scared. Rabbi Brous also reminds us that there are innocent Palestinians who are suffering, under threat, and “children of God.”

Rabbi Gordis charges that this message is an attempt at “balance,” that it is somehow an attempt to sow universalism and diminish the primary importance of Jewish solidarity. Further, he declares that this is “almost entirely divorced from the richness of Jewish heritage and the worldview of our classic texts.” This is completely false. Rabbi Brous is adhering to the very admonition of Rabbi Hillel and the Ethics of the Fathers.

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?

Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14

Rabbi Brous’s message is a clear and passionate acknowledgement that Jews must be “for” ourselves. We must protect our own, show solidarity, and be willing to endure the hardship and fear that accompany self defense. In essence, if we Jews are not for ourselves, who will be for us? Who will defend us? It is clear we must be self reliant and express a strong peoplehood. Yet Rabbi Brous thoughtfully and compassionately reminds us of the other, greater, nobler side of being Jewish. As individuals and as a people we must understand that morals, ethics, and compassion are universal rights, even for those outside our family. For if we are only “for” ourselves, who are we?

From Rabbi Brous, I hear a message that calls on us to ever examine our world view and beware of our tendency to demonize all Palestinians. The current cycle of violence is killing the mothers, fathers and children of our family and theirs. This endless war and violence seem to only beget more death and destruction and an ever-widening distance from a “viable and sustainable peace.” We are all grieving for our families, and yes (I pray) for our neighbor’s family too. I stand with Sharon Brous. Let us all ask… “If not now, When?”

“Heartache,” the original message from Rabbi Brous to her community can be found here.

For the original post by Daniel Gordis, click here.

For the rebuttal from Sharon Brous, click here.

For a response by David N. Myers, click here.

For a response by Ed Feinstein, click here.

For a response by Gil Troy, click here.

For the rejoinder by Daniel Gordis, click here.

Sivan Zakai argues that debates like this have harmed Jewish education in the US – click here.

About the Author
Adam R. Bronfman is the President of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.