Was denunciation of Stephen Miller Lashon Hara?

Was Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels’ Rosh Hashana  denunciation of Presidential Aide Stephen Miller a form of Lashon Hara?

Newsweek said

Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller was blasted by his rabbi before the congregants at a synagogue on Tuesday during a Rosh Hashanah service. Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica, California, didn’t mince words when talking about Miller, who he said used to attend the synagogue.

“The actions that you now encourage President [Donald] Trump to take make it obvious to me that you didn’t get my or our Jewish message,” Comess-Daniels said during his sermon, according to The Washington Post. “That notion is completely antithetical to everything I know about Judaism, Jewish law and Jewish values.”

Cleveland Jewish News summarized it as follows

The childhood rabbi of Stephen Miller, Jewish senior advisor to President Donald Trump, said Miller learned nothing from his Jewish education.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom, a Reform synagogue in Santa Monica, devoted his Rosh Hashanah sermon Monday to denouncing Miller, the key architect of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policies, The Guardian reported. He called Miller a purveyor of “negativity, violence, malice and brutality.”

“Honestly, Mr Miller, you’ve set back the Jewish contribution to making the world spiritually whole through your arbitrary division of these desperate people,” Comess-Daniels said. “The actions that you now encourage President Trump to take make it obvious to me that you didn’t get my, or our, Jewish message.”

Lashon Hara, as Rabbi Comess-Daniels well knows, is the commission of derogatory talk about someone.  Maimonides https://torah.org/learning/halashon-review1/ described it as

Anything which, if it would be publicized, would cause the subject physical or monetary damage, or would cause him anguish or fear, is Lashon Hara.

There appear to be two issues here.  First, did the rabbi of Santa Monica’s Progressive Reform congregation say anything derogatory about Mr. Miller, causing him anguish or fear?

There seems to be no question of that.  Perhaps he had in mind the Oscar Wilde remark quoted in today’s WSJ by columnist William McGurn:

A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings—unintentionally.

The second, more subtle, question:  Did Stephen Miller do anything so horrific?

Miller is widely identified with those who favor enforced American borders.  Is that necessarily bad?  It may be to R. Comess-Daniels, but is it truly wrong for America to prevent traffic at will into the nation?

He is also identified with a policy of separating illegal alien adults from children as they cross our borders.  If children cannot be incarcerated for more than two or three weeks, does that mean that anyone who illegally enters then stays, as long as their children accompany them?

Meanwhile, non Orthodox Jewry is not having enough children to maintain its current numbers. With Reform and Conservative populations shrinking, and intermarriage rampant, the kind of Jewry Rabbi Comess-Daniels champions is on the road to extinction. Does the Santa Monica rabbi want their numbers to be replaced by illegals from Central America, the Middle East and North Africa?

Is it really so wrong for Stephen Miller, or any other American Jew, to love this country as it is, and to work within its laws to enforce its borders?

Miller may or may not be right in believing his actions are legitimate and eithical.  Rabbi Comess-Daniels may or may not be right and ethical in believing that America’s borders should be open.

Comess-Daniels insists that Miller’s views are “completely antithetical to everything I know about Judaism, Jewish law and Jewish values.”

Maybe the real problem is that this Progressive Reform rabbi doesn’t know enough about Judaism, Jewish law and Jewish values.  However, as William McGurn points out in The Wall Street Journal this week, sometimes calls for civility in public discourse are really efforts to shut down opposing views.

Perhaps we should insert Lashon Hara for civility in McGurn’s piece:

Was it civil, (or Lashon Hara)  for example, for Hillary Clinton to dismiss half of Trump voters as “deplorables” who were also “irredeemable”? Is it civil that showing up with a “Make America Great Again” cap can invite a beating?

His column is here.

About the Author
A resident of Ann Arbor, Michigan, I hold BA and MA degrees in economics, and spent the first decade after graduate school in journalism. I have worked on Wall Street, met a payroll, won a wire service award, and served on three boards. With a partner, I am involved in a litigation funding business.
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