Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Welcome to the Jewish Inquisition!

The Center for Jewish History, on West 16th Street in New York

(RNS) — In the middle of my Rosh Hashanah preparation (and may I say to you, my loyal readers: Shanah tovah — a good and sweet new year!), I started thinking about the British comic troupe Monty Python.

One of my favorite bits:  “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

Least of all, the Jews.

So, this is the story of Professor David Myers.

David Myers is a prominent American Jewish academic, who has recently been engaged to become the next president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History on 16th Street in New York City. The center is a collection of Jewish institutions that includes YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, the Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum and the American Sephardi Federation.

Except, a group of right-wing Jews does not like David Myers. He is too left-wing on Israel for their tastes, and so they are waging a war against him. Quite simply: They want him fired.

Other prominent American Jewish scholars, including David Ellenson, past president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Jonathan Sarna, the historian of American Jewry who teaches at Brandeis University, have stood up for Myers. They have defended not only his academic credentials, but his commitment to Zionism and to Israel itself.

They are far from alone. There is an online petition supporting Myers’ appointment. The board of the Center for Jewish History has also stood up for Myers. The board is defending this hire and standing behind the man it has chosen chosen to lead this prestigious American Jewish institution.

I am, quite simply, sick over this.

What is the cause of my moral nausea?

David Myers is certainly more left-wing on Israel than I am.

But, that does not matter.

First, the positions that he has espoused, however liberal they might be, are similar to the way that many Israelis have come to espouse.

Second, the lead position at the Center for Jewish History is an academic appointment — with major fundraising responsibilities, of course. It is not a political position. No one is suggesting that David Myers become, say, the next American ambassador to Israel, or even that he ascend to leadership in an American Jewish defense organization.

He is a scholar. Dayeinu. Enough.

Here is what is really making me sick.

The Myers debacle is only the most recent manifestation of a Jewish community that is turning ever more fiercely to the right.

And by the right, I do not mean simply conservatism. I mean real right-wing politics and tactics.

I am going to say it: It is McCarthyism with a smear of cream cheese.

It is the Jewish Inquisition.

We have a cadre of public relations agents and communal leaders who are the self-appointed kosher supervisors of Israel loyalty and Zionist street cred.

They have only two interlocking definitions of what it means to love Israel and to be a Zionist.

  • You must believe precisely, and without question, what they believe about Israel and about its policies.
  • You must believe precisely, and without question, what the current government of Israel believes, and agree with its policies.

Please understand what this means.

If you believe that the only way to express loyalty to a country is to agree precisely with everything that its current government is doing, then if you don’t agree with everything that, say, the Trump government is doing, then ipso facto, you are not a good American.

It would also mean that if you didn’t agree precisely with everything that, say, the Obama government was doing, then ipso facto, you were not a good American.

There is a word that we use when we say that loyalty to a country, and/or affection for a country, means fealty to only one person, one party and one version of an idea.

I will not say that word.

The attempt to remove Myers violates almost every Jewish intellectual idea that I know: a love of nuance, a love of conversation, a sense that we can struggle with ideas, an addiction to pluralism.

In fact, it violates everything that the Center for Jewish History stands for — the rich diversity of the Jewish experience.

Worse than that: This is dangerous, even lethal, stuff.

It is dangerous, because last time I looked, no one — I mean, no one — abrogated the collective decision-making of the American Jewish community to those people.

And it is lethal, because this whole campaign against David Myers has been designed to do only one thing.

That is to destroy this man’s livelihood, to destroy this man’s reputation, to destroy this man’s life.

This is a violation of a list of Jewish laws and teachings, and if those who perpetuate this don’t know that, well, go back to religious school.

Shame on them. And, shame on us if we do not continue to scream about this.

And for those who do not understand this, have a fun Yom Kippur.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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