Please don’t say ‘But’

When condemning the murder of police officers in Baton Rouge, please don’t say ‘But’.  Sworn law enforcement personnel take oaths to serve and protect.  There is no qualifying the agonizing news that spouses and children received today that their loved one lost his life simply for wearing a badge.  A badge is only a target for the lawless.   And there is no place for understanding or explaining, much less justifying, such wickedness as anything other than the lethal hate crime it is.

Clearly America’s pandemic of race-based hostility and the baseless-violence that too often attends it is now exposed by cameras.  Decent people everywhere will be watching closely to see how our defective systems, practices, and policies, adopt the radical reformation they require.

Two summers ago in reaction to the hateful murder of an Arab Jerusalem teen by Jews, Rabbi David Wolpe wrote “Please don’t say ‘But’.  When a condemnation is qualified by ‘but’ it undoes what comes before it.  “But they lionize while we condemn.” “‘But’” conveys Wolpe, “is a meaning duster, sweeping all that precedes it.”  Wrong is wrong.  No ‘but’ makes it less so.

It is true that Jewish tradition suspects simplicity and mono-causal claims. The sources of violence are complex and the web of contribution is difficult to disentangle.  Yet there is a time for each task.

In keeping with Pirke Avot’s ethic “not to try to impose comfort on a mourner when his dead still lies before him” (4:23), let us honor the task that lies before us.  Let us condemn, and in so doing,  please, please let us not say ‘But’.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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