Orthodox leaders call for moral leadership, rejection of hatred


Expressions of angst over the fascist demonstration in Char-lottesville, Virgina, and President Trump’s comments suggesting a moral equivalence between the demonstrators and their left-wing opponents, spread through Orthodox communities this week.

“There is no moral comparison,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America.

“Failure to unequivocally reject hatred and bias is a failing of moral leadership and fans the flames of intolerance and chauvinism. While as a rabbinic organization we prefer to address issues and not personalities, this situation rises above partisan politics and therefore we are taking the unusual approach to directly comment on the words of the president.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, the RCA vice-president, said his organization “joins with politicians of all parties, citizens of all political persuasions, and people of all faiths calling on President Trump to understand the critical consequences of his words. We call on all the leaders of our country to denounce all groups who incite hate, bigotry and racism, while taking action and using language that will heal the terrible national wounds of Charlottesville.”

The president of Yeshiva University, Dr. Ari Berman, said that “all people of conscience unambiguously condemn the racism and hatred on display in Charlottesville.”

He urged members of the YU community “to think deeply about the terrible events of last week, and consider how to respond moving forward.”

Several YU faculty members reflected on Charlottesville in a package of articles distributed before Shabbos.

“Rejection of racism is a visceral, intuitive matter and is essential to decency,” wrote Rabbi Daniel Feldman, rosh yeshiva of YU’s RIETS. “No explanation is necessary.”

“The very idea that in our time we would see a Nazi flag — perhaps the most vicious symbol of anti-Semitism — paraded in the streets of the world’s greatest democracy, and Israel’s most cherished and greatest ally, is amost beyond belief,” said Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, in a letter to Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

In Lakewood, Rabbis Aaron Kotler and Moshe Zev Weisberg said in a statement that “groups marching with swastikas and assault rifles … are not America.”

With the genie of fascist talk seemingly freed from its bottle by Charlottesville and its aftermath, many Americans were confronted this week with a relaxed expression in public forums of anti-Semitism and racial hate.

In one example, a KKK leader sat down for an interview with Noticias Univision news anchor Ilia Caleron. In a widely viewed video, he tells her, “we’re going to burn you [immigrants] out” of the United States.

“How you going to do it with eleven million immigrants,” she asks.

“It doesn’t matter,” he responds. “We killed six million Jews the last time. Eleven million is nothing.”

White nationalist leader Richard Spencer used an interview on Israel’s Channel 2 to argue that Americans had good reasons to hate Jews.

“Lets be honest,” Spencer said. “Jews are vastly over-represented … in what you could call ‘the establishment’ … and white people are being dispossesed from this country. So some in the crowd were making a statement.” 

Some Orthodox Jews criticized the substance of Trump’s comments without evoking his name. Majorities in Orthodox communities, including those on the South Shore, in Brooklyn and in Lakewood, supported Trump in last November’s election.

As reported last week, both the OU and Agudath Israel issued statements denouncing the hatred displayed in Charlottesville.