Shmuely Boteach....Please Give us all a Break!

I have been biting my tongue for so long, I am afraid I might have a hole in it, but I cannot hold back any longer. I feel compelled to respond to the opinions of Rabbi Boteach, a frequent columnist in this paper.

I do not know Rabbi Boteach on a personal level. My umbrage is purely based on what I have read over the course of many years in this publication.

I cherish the notion that in healthy communities, we can share differing views on politics, religion, sports allegiance, or what have you, and be celebrated amongst the many faces that make up our rich and diverse Jewish society. However, when we do have topics on which we differ, there is a way we can share a thought without denigrating others in the process. To me, that is the crime Rabbi Boteach commits far too often.

Rabbi Boteach’s ad hominem attacks, nasty tone, and name-calling in countless articles and full page advertisements, toward the likes of the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers; the chair of the Democratic National Committee, the proud Jewish leader, Debbie Wasserman Schultz; the U.S. security adviser, Susan Rice, and way too many more to list — although overwhelmingly they are women — causes me to cringe.

I, like Rabbi Boteach, am firmly against the recent deal brokered with Iran. I believe it is not in the United State’s best interests and also does not serve the interests of our allies in the Middle East — most notably, Israel. There are those who take a different view, for many reason. Their opposition, however, does not make them pariahs. Their struggles and their eventual conclusion, which falls on the other side of the ledger, should not categorize them as anti-Semitic or failing the Jewish people and state. Their decision should not be dismissed as purely emotional and without substance. That decision is just another opinion — and not the opinion that either Rabbi Boteach, or in this case, I hold.

Rabbi Boteach likes to refer to himself as “America’s rabbi.” He can call himself whatever he pleases. But surely he should know when he calls himself rabbi, it would behoove him to demonstrate finer rabbinic standards, like those of Hillel and Shammai, or any of the myriad of rabbis in mishnaic and talmudic literature. Our tradition is replete with disagreements and rich with passionate opinions, but it is limited in its name calling.

Focusing on the “America’s” part of Rabbi Boteach’s nickname, it would correspondingly befit him to demonstrate the core tenet that this country was founded upon: Equality for all of its citizens, even those with whom we disagree.

In a great display of irony, Rabbi Boteach serves as the executive director of This World: The Values Network. According to its website, This World is an “organization that seeks to bring Jewish values to mainstream culture.” I am mystified about how the rabbinic head of such a body could behave in a way that seems not in consonance with the values and morals it claims to espouse, and that are core to our religion and country. Even last week, the rabbi advocated for AIPAC to have been more ruthless toward members of Congress to achieve their goals. That is ridiculous!

Perhaps the most dangerous part of Rabbi Boteach’s approach, though, is politicizing Israel. Trying to turn the 67-year history of bipartisan support for Israel into a political football that will further divide the political parties and make support for our homeland contingent on the letter following a politician’s name could pose a greater existential threat to the land he and I both love then a nuclear Iran or an armed Hezbollah would.

Support of Israel should live on both sides of the aisle and should be strong and resolute because of our shared values and strategic interests. The other reasons to support Israel are gravy!

The Talmud specifically teaches that the living God has many voices. Not knowing what God wants is my definition of pluralism. So is the license to hear things I disagree with, and to treat the people that share them with respect and kindness.

Sadly, Rabbi Boteach seems to have taken a different approach. He appears to practice the idea that for him to be right, everyone else must be wrong. And the more loudly it is said, and the more severely, the more correct it is.

While it is Rabbi Boteach’s prerogative to act and attach as he chooses, I would claim that attitude to be uncouth, unwise, and un-Jewish.

The paradox of Judaism is that the religion unites us as a tribe but the core of our tribalism is rooted in a sense of diversity and variety. There are differences that divide Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Orthodox and Reform, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative. Yet all of them — all of us — have a place in our tent.

When Rabbi Boteach puts people who do not share his world or his political or religious views in his crosshairs, with coarse rhetoric and personal assaults, he goes against the very values (ahem) of our people and repudiates his own claim to being ‘America’s Rabbi.’

Shmuely, please share your opinions thoughts and passions. It is what makes the world go ‘round. Just, please, do it nicely! It is the both the American and the rabbinic way!

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