Judaism’s Reputation Takes a Beating Again

by Maskil on February 4, 2009

I should be used to it, but I still find myself disgusted by the actions of “august” bodies, such as those referred to below; one of which recently condemned Rabbi Haskel Lookstein’s participation in the interfaith service with President Barack Obama.

So, on the one hand, it’s not OK to take part in something that enhances perceptions about Judaism.

On the other hand, however, it’s OK for an entire delegation of Orthodox rabbis to meet with jailed Agriprocessors’ CEO Sholom Rubashkin. A delegation that “included representatives of the Orthodox Union, the Rabbinical Council of America, the National Council of Young Israel, Agudath Israel of America and Chabad-Lubavitch”.

To observers out there, Rubashkin and Bernard Madoff appear to be vying with one another for the prize of “who has done the most damage to Jews and Judaism in 2008”. Despite this, however, we are treated to the nauseating sight of the entire pecking order of ultra-Orthodoxy in America prostrating themselves before Rubashkin. Surely he should be entitled to chaplaincy visits and nothing more?

According to the JTA article, however, the delegation was there “to offer Rubashkin support”. Is it the normal practice of these organisations to “offer support” to Jews who have entered the prison system? Or does this only apply to so-called observant Jews? Perhaps only moneyed observant Jews?

The article goes on to say that “At the conclusion of the meeting, Rubashkin led the group in prayer.” It also quoted Rabbi David Zwiebel as saying “I have to tell you, it was one of the most moving experiences I’ve had in some time” (referring to the prayer service). A moving experience? Please don’t make me nauseous. Taking gifts to an orphanage would be a moving experience, not this unseemly display.

It no longer concerns me that they bring Orthodoxy into disrepute by their actions; I doubt that they could bring its name any lower than it already is.

I do care, however, that their words and deeds reflect on Jews everywhere and Judaism as a whole in the eyes of the world. I do care that this fawning behaviour towards someone accused of offences that mock the very meaning and essence of Judaism affects us all. It tells both Jews and non-Jews all they need to know about the moral and ethical standards of Judaism in this age.

This is the answer they give to the questions “Why be Jewish?”, and “What is Judaism all about?” Do they really believe that the world, and those in search of answers within our own tradition haven’t noticed, and drawn their own conclusions?

(This blog post is a slightly revised version of a comment that originally appeared on the JTA website.)

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