The Beguiling Pretense of Prefacing Remarks as a Jew or Rabbi
Why begin a sentence with the sobriquet as a Jew or Rabbi? Invoking a self-proclaimed status is just pretentious; it shouldn’t make what is said any more authoritative. Either the opinion advanced makes sense or it doesn’t. It’s insidious to use a title to add legitimacy to assertions that are otherwise unsupportable.
Unfortunately, all too frequently when someone introduces an argument this way it is likely the person is also advancing a suspect agenda. The use of the title also implicitly suggests some sort of representative capacity. However, unlike being a duly authorized representative speaking on behalf of a recognized group or organization, the generic use of the title has no explicit provenance. We, therefore, must be on guard.
This week we were treated to a sordid example of this kind of abuse. Representatives of an anti-Israel organization were confronting presidential candidates with contrived questions about whether they supported deliberately harming children. The response was predictable; how could anyone not be outraged at the thought of innocent children being harmed? They then deftly shifted the subject to incarcerated juvenile offenders from the areas controlled by the PA and Hamas. Mischaracterizing the offenders as innocent children, they cited vastly inflated and demonstrably false statistics to perpetuate a fraud on their thought leader targets. It was a classic propaganda ploy.
The theme they portrayed was nothing more than a modern adaption of the notorious blood-libel. It’s a vicious and rabidly anti-Semitic canard that falsely accuses Jews of harming children. In this new lurid version, Jewish Israel is the culprit. Invoking the image of innocent babes suffering is designed to prevent any reasoned response. Fortunately, Senator Cory Booker had the knowledge and courage to resist the importuning and foil their obnoxious verbal assault. Others though were not so adept at combating these vile tactics.
Social media has enabled the unscrupulous to ambush individuals this way and magnify the impact by publishing it to a host of unsuspecting people. It permits anyone to assume a self-glorified identity and pursue a nefarious agenda. There are no editors to answer to, vetting mechanism or other scrutiny. Of course, there are many good people who use the title Rabbi or preface their statements as a Jew. However, there are also others who use the implicit authority these venerable designations suggest to perpetrate a fraud on the public.
Why should anyone unilaterally be able to style his or her self as speaking for the Jews or, for that matter, any person? No one speak for all the Jews. Indeed, the very idea that someone speaks for the Jews because they happen to identify as a Jew is ludicrous.
Unfortunately, history is littered with the remains of actual or self-proclaimed Jews, who practiced anti-Semitism. There is no justification for this kind of disreputable behavior. Indeed, Jews who suggest they are the good Jews because they espouse a certain point of view and those others, who espouse a contrary opinion, are somehow bad Jews, are just reinforcing a classic anti-Semitic trope. Two Jews, like anyone else, should be able legitimately to argue about policy without being demonized.
The problem is ancient in origin and harks back to the Biblical figures Dathan and Abiram[i]. They were opposed to leaving Egypt and stridently voiced their dissent. The Midrash[ii] and Talmud[iii] detail the sordid history of Dathan and Abiram. It begins with their fateful encounter with Moses, when he saves Dathan from being killed by an Egyptian overlord. The next day Moses finds Dathan violently quarreling with his brother-in-law Abiram[iv] and cautions them not to do so. Their response was to accuse Moses of lording over them, questioning who appointed Moses to be their judge. Despite being saved by Moses, Dathan and Abiram proceeded to inform on him to Pharaoh concerning his killing an Egyptian. Ironically, this was the very Egyptian who tried to kill Dathan. In effect, Moses was forced to flee Egypt because he intervened to save Dathan.
Their irrational and malicious opposition to Moses isolated them from their brethren. When Moses attempted to engage Dathan and Abiram, they refused even to meet with Moses[v]. They didn’t seek the truth, but only sought victory and personal advancement[vi].
It appears that there are still some who suffer from this syndrome. It’s no different now than it was at the very beginning of the Jewish people in ancient Egypt. Indeed, the Egyptian experience bears an uncanny resemblance to modern times[vii]. Not everyone was a slave in Egypt[viii]. Some like Dathan and Abiram were a part of the governmental apparatus of Egypt. They were very successful and every bit as entitled as many are today, enjoying patronage by those in power and becoming a part of high society and the establishment[ix].
When the time came to leave, Dathan and Abiram elected not to do so and remained behind with Pharaoh[x]. They also accompanied Pharaoh when he pursued and sought to recapture the Jews, who left Egypt in the Exodus. When they rejoined their brethren at the Red Sea, the unrepentant Dathan and Abiram still sought to convince everyone it was better to return to Egypt[xi]. However, their rhetoric was unconvincing.
Did Dathan and Abiram purport to represent the Jews before Pharaoh? They likely did and Pharaoh may have even believed that they, not Moses, were telling him what the Jews really thought. However, in point of fact, they were only pursuing their own self-interests. Why are some still fooled by this charade?
Has anything changed since then? Dathan and Abiram may no longer walk the Earth; but the scourge they engendered is still extant. Is it any surprise that Jews are cast in a prominent role as the face of an otherwise malevolent organization promoting BDS or other anti-Jewish programs? Whether they truly believe in the cause, cynically enjoy the attention or are paid for the job they do, the result is the same. They continue to serve as useful tools for the nefarious forces behind them. Similarly, the pious pronouncements of self-appointed experts or pundits, who may even believe, because they are Jewish, they actually know what Jews think. However, other than some personal perspective that is often the result of projection, there is no such thing.
I speak only for myself. The fact that I’m Jewish is irrelevant. Using religion or a position, as a tool, to advance a personal cause is inappropriate. The Talmud[xii] notes a genuine representative of the Jewish people requires near universal acceptance. These ostensibly Jewish fringe anti-Semitic groups don’t enjoy public acceptance. They are barely tolerated and even disdained by most. The Talmud[xiii] also frowns upon the use of the title Rabbi for self-promotion and notes it is fraught with danger.
This is not about free speech and the right of each person to express their own personal points of views. It’s about purporting to speak for me or any other Jew. Frankly, it’s galling to hear anti-Jewish propaganda being circulated by those purporting to speak as a Jew or a Rabbi and, therefore, implying all Jews agree with them. How then to distinguish those continuing to use these affectations to promote their anti-Jewish agenda?
It’s time for everyone who genuinely cares about the Jewish people to eschew these titles. For heaven’s sake, let’s join together to end the charade. Am Yisroel Chai.
[i] Numbers, Chapter 16.
[ii] Midrash Tanchuma, Shemot, Siman 10 and Vayera, Siman 6.
[iii] See, for example, Babylonian Talmud, Tractates Megillah, at page 11a and Sanhedrin, at page 109b.
[iv] Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, Shemot 2:13.
[v] Numbers 16:25 and see Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, at page 110a, as well as, Midrash Rabbah, Bamidbar 18:12
[vi] See Malbim commentary on Avot 5:17.
[vii] See Rashi commentary on Exodus 13:18 and 10:22, as well as, Mechilta d’Rabbi Yishmael on Exodus 13:18, Mechilta d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai 13:17, Pesikta d’Rav Kahana 11:10 and Midrash Tanchuma, Beshalach 1:4. See also Ezekiel 20:8-9 and Radak commentary thereon.
[viii] See Meshech Chochma, Parshat Vayera 8 and Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Rosh Hashana 3:5, at page 17a.
[ix] Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 14:3
[x] Targum of Yonatan ben Uzziel, Exodus 14:3.
[xi] Midrash Tanchuma, Shemot, Siman 10.
[xii] See Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Brachot at page 55a.
[xiii] See Avot 1:13 and 4:5; Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Nedarim, at page 62a; and Derech Eretz Zuta 2:4.