On Accountability and Responsibility

As I watch the news, I am deeply impressed by leaders such as Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, NY City Mayor Bill De Blasio, California Governor Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, governors, mayors, city councils, boards of supervisors, Democratic members of the House and Senate, as well as the nation’s doctors, nurses, health care workers, and regular citizens who are stepping up to help the sick, shut-ins, the elderly, poor, and incarcerated.

I am also grateful to the major news organizations who not only are reporting truthfully what is happening and asking the hard questions of the President and the federal government that need to be asked in order to understand what the government is doing and not doing, but using their air, digital, and print-time to educate the population about this crisis and what we can do to protect ourselves, our families, and communities. All of them exhibit our best angels of spirit, intelligence, decency, and will.

They are all filling a yawning chasm left by an irresponsible President Trump who denies the truth, makes false and self-serving exaggerated pronouncements, commands but doesn’t follow up, shirks responsibility (and admits it – “I am not responsible”) that any “war-time” president and administration would take, and blames everyone but himself for the state of this crisis.

I think of Abraham Lincoln, FDR, and Winston Churchill as the extraordinary leaders that they were in the darkest of times, and their memory reminds me that our leaders have the capacity to respond to this crisis if they utilize their intelligence, will, and common decency to do so. I exclude from this criticism people like Dr. Anthony Fauci and a few others in the Federal government who are trying to work around Trump to do what is right for the people of our nation.

On this Shabbat eve, I offer a few quotations from Jewish tradition and beyond on the themes of moral accountability and responsibility. Many of our leaders and citizens are rising to the occasion and fighting the good fight despite the overwhelming speed of the disease’s relentless spread. Their decisions and actions are turning out to be the difference between life and death, and we citizens ought to be enormously grateful to them.

“One who is able to protest against a wrong that is being done in his family, his city, his nation, or the world and doesn’t do so is held accountable for that wrong being done.” (Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 54b)

“The legal status of a person is always that of one forewarned, and [that person] is liable for any damage caused, both when awake and when asleep.” (Talmud Bavli, Bava Kamma 3b)

“Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” (Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel)

“Alas, after a certain age every person is responsible for his face.” (Albert Camus)

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.” (Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar)

“You take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing: no one to blame.” (Erica Jong)

“The buck stops here!” (President Harry S. Truman)


About the Author
Rabbi John L. Rosove is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and immediate past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the newly created Union for Reform Judaism's Israel and Reform Zionism Committee (IRZC). John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (Nashville: Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing Company, 2017) available at Amazon.com. His new book "Why Israel [and its Future] Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" will be published in November, 2019 (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press) and will be available at Amazon.com. John has written a series of 8 Jewish Life Cycle Guides that are posted on the Temple Israel of Hollywood web-site (http://www.tioh.org). The Guide “Preparing for Jewish Burial and Mourning” also appears on the web-site of Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles. (http://hillsidememorial.org/jewish-lifecycle-guide/). John writes a regular blog that appears at the Times of Israel at ​https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/john-l-rosove/. His Facebook site is www.facebook.com/RabbiJohnLRosove John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (age 34) and David (age 29). Daniel is married to Marina Javor Rosove. John and Barbara have one granddaughter.