Rabbi Yose bar Hanina said: “Any love unaccompanied by criticism is no love at all” [Midrash Genesis Rabbah 54.3].
Diaspora Jews are junior partners in our people’s epic rebuilding and resettlement of its ancestral home. True, by virtue of our decision not to settle permanently in the Land of Israel – and not to face regularly the attendant threats to life and limb, especially service in the IDF – we have less at stake in certain security questions and less standing to take certain positions.
But if our stake is junior, it is partnership nonetheless. We are responsible for the long-term well-being of the state of the Jewish people. If we have a share of the blessings of Israel’s thriving and we will suffer the consequences of its failure, then that confers upon diaspora Jews the responsibility (not merely the right) to do our best to improve the health, welfare, wisdom and justice of Medinat Israel.
Before we open our mouths, Jews sitting in London, New York or Los Angeles should remember that one’s own personal sons and daughters may not be sent to take up Israel’s security burdens. That should give us modesty. But one should never forget that one’s nieces, nephews and cousins will take up those burdens. That should give us the fear of heaven and a commitment to help them as best we can.
Sometimes our responsibility for Israel’s well-being will entail telling difficult truths. It will often entail choosing sides in Israel’s own partisan disputes, advocating for one policy and opposing another. But failing to do these things is not loyalty; it’s hypocritical flattery. It is no love at all to say: “I love you so much that I don’t care what you do.” True love means telling the truth.
I have described criticism that derives from love and responsibility. Another kind of criticism comes from a misplaced sense of ethical purity, and an unwillingness to share Israel’s burdens. I am less inclined to hear rebuke from Jews who do not visit Israel, who do not support it economically, who do not understand what is at stake in its survival, who despise its struggles and who are unsympathetic to its unique security predicaments. But for those of us who demonstrate in word and deed that we do shoulder those responsibilities for the destiny of the Jewish people, then honest discourse is always part of our job.
May those who mourn with Jerusalem in her sufferings live to rejoice with her in her redemption.
criticism - regarding Diaspora Jews and Israel in particular?
We must examine the difference between
1)reproof and criticism
2)how to determine whether our own dissatisfaction is appropriate
3)how to recognize inappropriate criticism in public discourse
4)and how the delicate issue of criticizing Israel should be handled.
I.Reproof and criticism
The relevant value source is the following Scripture:
a.do not hate your fellow in your heart
b.surely you are to correct/reprove your compatriot
c.and do not compound upon him error [Leviticus 19:17]
Although reproof/correction is mandated as a religious obligation, the mandate is sandwiched between two negative norms. We may not hate the “other.” If we do hate the “other,” the criticism is a put down, a verbal assault, an affront to the personhood of the “other.” The correcting individual must not only assess her/his own feelings toward the other, he/she must assess the ability of the “other” to take the criticism or correction that is to be offered.
II.How to determine whether our own dissatisfaction is appropriate?
The religious Jew is a manager of right and not a mere master of rite. When we come to offer criticism, we must ask ourselves several critical questions:
·Do I hate or care for the person whom I want to correct?
·Am I correcting to vent spleen, to make me feel better, or to reinvent the “other” for good, to increase goodness in the world?
·Am I able to give, and is the “other” willing to hear, corrective complaints?
·Is my criticism necessary and appropriate?
·Is an act so evil, abusive, and destructive that the consequences for the group trump the pain caused by reproof to the offending culprit.
·Criticism is about making judgments [kritos in Greek] and when done Jewishly, is done with conviction and good will when appropriate.
III.How to recognize inappropriate criticism in public discourse
The formula we apply projects the Biblical model outlined above:
·Is the critic uncritically critical? Can the offender do no right? This criticism is destructive and must be avoided.
·If one advances oneself by savaging the “other,” that person is a savage.
·If one speaks in the name of the sweet Hillel but acts brusquely like Shammai, the critic is worthy of criticism.
·If one speaks about empathy but cannot show empathy to people who disagree, that person’s criticism is a social sword, and not a redemptive word.
·If one always justifies authority as right and does not advance authority if and when it is just, that person’s criticism is worthy of criticism.
·Those who are quick to take and give offense offer criticism that is usually offensive.
IV.How the delicate issue of criticizing Israel should be handled.
A. God and the prophets of Israel criticized Israel the nation. The Torah canon philologically parsed provides the benchmarks for criticizing Israel. On one hand, Israel has been subject to criticism for
1. being too hawkish[
2. being too dovish
3. being too Jewish
4. being insufficiently Jewish
5. having too much corruption
6. being indiscriminately inclusive
7. being too exclusive
B.The nation of Israel living in Israel fights there, works there, pays taxes there, and votes there. We try to see both sides and respectfully and thoughtfully disagree with the “other” without vilifying and demeaning the other
C. When is criticism needed
i. When Israeli Arabs are disloyal to the State of Israel, disloyalty is an existential right but has consequences
ii. WE Orthodox have to contribute to the State by being as inclusive as Jewish law allows and not as exclusive as our our conditioned taste dictates
iii. When racism is advanced as Judaism, even in Israel, we realize that our All-Powerful God is color blind
iv. When there are righteous victims and abused innocents, we as human beings must stand in the breach or else we will be in breach as we are mandated to seek to aid the oppressed.
Before judging others, when there is doubt, the “other” gets the benefit of that doubt. mAbot 2:4
The issue of reproof and criticism is one that has been the natural twin of the Israeli-Diaspora relationship. There is good reason for this. The nascent State of Israel depended on the philanthropy of Diaspora Jews and American Jews, in particular. The state depends on our missions, our dollars and even, to some degree, our influence in the American political process. It is, moreso than any other sovereign country’s relationship with its Diaspora, a symbiotic relationship. And, like all relationships, there are bound to be tensions.
The Torah has its measure of rebuke. Take a look in Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8 and Leviticus 26:3-27:34. Called in Hebrew ‘tochacha,’ the idea that the Jewish people are deserving of rebuke from time to time for their sins is a well-known phenomenon. The midrash, too, cites Moses’ use of criticism and tochacha toward his people and God’s guidance toward Moses in uttering such criticism. Clearly our tradition does not shy away from getting people on the ‘straight and narrow.’ (By the way, the root of the word ‘Torah’ means to ‘shoot straight’ – i.e., to get people to go on the straight and narrow path).
There are those Jews who have no connection with anything Jewish nor with Israel. They are vocal and loud and, frankly, have little to offer the conversation. Should Israel listen to them? Of course. For as Baalam and Balak taught us, even in the intent to destroy with words may be found truth. Ironically – and thankfully – there are many Jews who have a strong connection with Israel and who love Israel. And it is true that they are often very vocal.
In the Talmud, there is a commentary on Psalm 3:1 which begins, "A Psalm of David when he was fleeing before Avsholom, his son". The Gemara asks why this is called a ‘Mizmor’ – a Psalm of Praise when he was running away from his son who threatened him! The Gemara answers its own question by quoting another verse that says, “Behold I will raise up evil against you from the midst of your house" (Samuel 2 12:11), David was afraid that it would be a slave or someone illegitimate, but when he saw it was his own son, Avshalom, he was greatly relieved and said a Psalm of Praise! God sent Avshalom to pursue David and, where God was involved, there was still covenant and partnership, no matter how stressed the relationship. The same is true vis-à-vis Jews and Israel. Indeed, you can certainly read this midrash as teaching that it is better to get rebuke and criticism from someone who loves you than someone who doesn’t!
To rebuke Israel for bad decisions and to criticize Israel for policies that threaten to disrupt – or even destroy – the Israel/Diaspora relationship is not just warranted, it is absolutely necessary. When Israel moves to make non-Orthodox conversions treif, when the corrupt Rabbinical establishment in Israel prohibits non-Orthodox Jews from buying land for their synagogues, cemeteries, to deny women their rights, and holds the trump card in every coalition government, the Diaspora Jew has a right and an obligation to reprove and criticize Israel. To sit back and allow ourselves to be run over is a self-destructive exercise and Israel is mature enough to know that we, too, have a stake in the State. Guilting Jews into remaining silent is simply not an option for Israel any more. It needs our help and it will get our feedback, as well.
It is true that if you really want a voice in the State, you ought to move there and vote. However, it is also true that as long as the State asks us to send it our tourists and our dollars, our tzedakah and our hearts, we too have a say in what happens and when there is injustice, we have a responsibility to reprove and criticize. But, as our tradition teaches, first we must do it privately so as not to embarrass publicly. However, there is a time and place when only a public recrimination will work and, as long as there is a relationship between Israel and the Diaspora, it will be a two-way relationship. Anything less than that is self-destructive.
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