Jon Taub

“Nein, nein; du ist yuh a tzaddik.”

Chanukah might actually be the most enigmatic of Jewish holidays, owing not least to the fact that it ostensibly finds itself competing with Christmas (and, before that, possibly Saturnalia) but also because it tries very hard to not celebrate that fact that it might be predicated on a Jewish civil war.  While certainly not the first civil war in Jewish history, it remains the only one that celebrates—however reluctantly—the victory of one side over the other.

Just as a contrast: other examples of celebrations regarding civil strife—particularly Yosef and his brothers, and the Tu b’Av associated with the Pilegesh b’Givah incident—celebrate the ends of the conflicts and attendant reconciliations, not the victories of one side or the other.  Al haNisim indicates that with Chanukah, that is clearly not the case.

Currently, while thankfully there is nothing in Jewry that quite resembles the homicidal nature of these conflicts, there has certainly been a large degree of internecine rancor, even just within Orthodox circles, regarding “proper” “Torah” response to Donald Trump.  Prior to the election—especially when the conventional wisdom indicated for a “yuuuuge” loss—the louder voices were the ones insisting that his policies were better for the Jews.  Since then, the apparently shriller ones are exemplified by those insisting that the Torah insists on something resembling progressivism at a time like this.  [The phenomenon has been examined on this page more than once.]

In the wake of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration, some of these voices have gotten louder.  In addition to the “usual suspects” of the left worrying about the viability of an ostensible “peace process”, Mr. Torah Trumps Hate doubled down on his ongoing alternative history lesson using forced analogs between Trump and Hitler, all but accusing his “fellow pro-Israel Jews” of turning Jerusalem into an “avoda zara” because it prevented them from being sufficiently solicitous to the plight of those of another faith who are ostensibly undergoing persecution, which, according to him, must currently be our primary religious obligation.

[The irony of placing the ostensible plight of another faith ahead of his own to the point that he accuses his co-religionists of idolatry seems to be lost on him.]

Two classic Jewish concepts come to mind here with regards to this progressive, and maybe all “religious progressives”: the chassid shoteh, or pious fool; and the verse “Do not be righteous overmuch” (Ecclesiastes 7:16).

The Trump-Hitler analog loosely comes under the pious fool rubric.  (The analog may be forced, but certainly no more forced than the one being critiqued.)  A pious fool might hurt himself and a few others, but in the larger scheme of things, the impact of his folly is limited.  (Giving the slightest bit of credence to the analog might make one as foolish as one who propounds the theory in the first place, so it’s best to stop there.)

The classic case of “Do not be righteous overmuch”—King Saul‘s flexibility toward the eliminationist Amalekites in wartime—indicated a more serious infraction, that of being “merciful to the cruel” as a matter of public policy.  Accusing one’s coreligionists of idolatry for expressing their religious prerogatives in the face of the ostensible prerogatives of practitioners of another faith who are almost uniformly hostile to the beliefs, if not the very existences, of those not of their creed—starts to resemble one motivated by rachmanus al hachzarim.

Maybe Mr. #TorahTrumpsHate just thinks Torah Jews, if they join forces with Trump, are selling themselves short.   That would be fine if he didn’t disingenuously associate/disassociate with Linda Sarsour; that’s not selling us short, that’s selling us out.  Furthermore, by lobbing “avoda zara” accusations at his coreligionists, Mr. #TorahTrumpsHate starts to resemble ”the way of an adulterous woman: She eats and wipes her mouth and says, ‘I’ve done nothing wrong [Prov. 30:20] when he and his ilk who have signed on to the #resistance declare “We don’t like Linda Sarsour” or “We can ignore Linda Sarsour” or “She’s not important”. Mr. #TorahTrumpsHate should ask the hanchala at the DNC how important Ms. Sarsour is.

Maybe Mr. #TorahTrumpsHate thinks he just discovered social justice now that he’s joined the resistance.  Maybe someone should tell him that there once was a Social Justice movement and publication spearheaded by another populist eminence as Judeophilic as Linda Sarsour: Charles Coughlin.

Or maybe, in thinking that the progressive banner is a good place for “Torah”, Mr. #TorahTrumpsHate has fallen into the tips Churchill warned against: at a certain age, not being progressive means one lacks a heart, but after a certain age, being progressive means one lacks a brain.

Or maybe there’s a much simpler explanation, based on the above quoted verse in Ecclesiastes and a story attributed to my great grandmother.

The family was sitting at a seder with an avowed “religious socialist” who was boring the attendees to tears with his theories, until he finally said—explaining how he could be religious and socialist [and this was in the 1950’s]—

“After all, I’m no tzaddik.”

Cue my great grandmother.

“Nein, nein; du ist yuh a tzaddik.

A PEI tzaddik.”

Don’t be a pei tzaddik.


About the Author
Jon Taub is an ex-Upper West Sider, now-married Riverdalean who has two MA's, plays three instruments, and consults for biostartups.
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