Rabbi Avi Shafran’s latest drivel…What universe does he inhabit?

Munich, Germany, Saturday evening October 1, 1938 – The gabbai [warden] at the shul I usually attend on Shabbat is something of a comedian. When I was called to the Torah this morning, he offered the traditional ‘Mi Sheberach’ prayer and added a blessing for ‘ha [the]-president’ – which he quickly qualified by adding: “Not Hitler – but the president of the shul.”

I interjected: “Yes, Hitler.” Nearby congregants gasped. They shouldn’t have. The Mishna teaches us that Jews should pray for the government, as governments are what prevent people from acting on their worst instincts. But beyond the Jewish obligation to express hakarat hatov, “the acknowledgement of the good,” to the leaders of their lands, I believe that the current occupant of the Chancellery in Berlin well deserves our special good will.

After all, look what he has done for Germany. He has restored German pride after our defeat in World War I, he has built a system of highways (the Autobahn) that is clearly the best land transportation system in the world, our rocket scientists are second to none, our military is unbeatable and just this week his agreement with England’s Chamberlain has led to “peace in our time.” So it is with pride that we should include him in our prayers.

Anyone reading that would have to think that the writer was living in an alternative universe that has little if any relationship to the facts on the ground. After all, seven years later sixty million people worldwide had died as a result of the mutual insanities of Hitler, Hirohito, Mussolini and their ilk. While picking and choosing only those facts that support one’s argument may make a good opinion piece, closing one’s eyes to the actual truth is simply dishonest.

In today’s edition of Ha’aretz (January 8th) Rabbi Avi Shafran, the Director of Public Affairs for Agudath Israel of America, penned a piece (http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.567294) that is so biased, so absent of contradictory facts and so one-sided that calling it drivel is actually a compliment.

(This, of course, is the same Avi Shafran who two months ago castigated Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the new head of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and accused him of not being Orthodox because he invited non-Orthodox rabbinic leaders to his installation ceremony.)

In this newest op-ed his central thesis is that “much of the Orthodox community, including dear friends and most of the Orthodox media, seemed to see only danger in Mr. Obama” as America’s president. In support of his position to the contrary and his wish that American Jews would admit they were wrong and, instead, embrace Obama’s presidency, he recites a litany of the “good” things that the president has done to endear himself to the Jewish community.

For example, where most of us were disappointed during his famous Cairo speech when he linked the creation of the State of Israel to the Holocaust (as if this was the gift of the world to the Jewish people rather than the 2000 year old realization of the return to Zion), Shafran sees that reference as a plus. Shafran goes on to praise Obama for his regular statements about the US’ commitment to the long term security of Israel even while the Secretary of State is in the region proposing plans that would undermine that security.

And, of course, conveniently he omits all of the president’s actions and decisions that are simply bad for America: the pull back from active involvement in Syria, backing the wrong horse in Egypt, caving on the sanctions with Iran, spying on friendly nations, lying about Benghazi, lying about the effect of Obamacare, and the list goes on and on. But, of course, all of this is conveniently omitted by Shafran as he concludes simply with the words: “We humans don’t like to admit that we were wrong.” Rabbi Shafran, we were not wrong at all. This president has been and continues to be a disaster for all Americans. America’s esteem in the world has never been lower, our traditional friends are suspicious of America’s intentions and domestically the president is incapable of bringing the congress together for the good and welfare of the people who elected them.  

There is, of course, a long standing tradition in Judaism to include a prayer for the welfare of the government as part of the Shabbat service.  We always did that in America, a prayer for the government is included in most Israeli prayer books as well although often omitted in Charedei circles, and is even posted on the wall of many synagogues in Europe and Russia. The government and its leaders need our prayers to be sure and offering those is in the highest tradition of our people.

But when it comes to evaluating performance, commentators who choose to see only one side of the story demean their own importance and, perforce, their comments become irrelevant.   

American novelist Raymond Chandler once said: “Most critical writing is drivel and half of it is dishonest…. It is a short cut to oblivion, anyway.” Rabbi Shfran’s piece seems to meet both criteria.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 33 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, Ontario and Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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