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.

18 Comments

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  • I have it on the best authority that right wingers never silence opposing views, never target people for having the wrong beliefs, never interfere in academic freedom. Only left wingers do that.
    My mom also tells me that at 67, I look no different than I did at 25.

  • Aside from the sickening tactics the Israel-can-do-no-wrong crowd is using to attempt to destroy Myers, their arguments themselves are pretty shady. For example, Myers wrote somewhere that he opposes “most forms of BDS.” From this, the ICDNW crowd shouts “He supports BDS!!!!!1!!”

  • I too would be very concerned about this current ultra-conservative movement. The word I would use to describe this is totalitarianism. Yes it is scary, and oh yes people should be concerned. Totalitarianism however can be found on both ends of the spectrum where people are so certain they have the answers to right living they use this ideology to attempt to force people to comply. It is a running theme trying to gain traction all over the world including the USA.

    I hope people can recognize when this ideology rears it’s ugly head and denounce it vehemently. It is the root of all subjugation and domination we have seen throughout time. The world never seems to understand that you can never pass laws, regulate, force, coerce, anyone’s heart to change for good or evil, they must do that on their own.

  • Was not my intention…but glad to see you saw the humor in it.

    When Helen Keller tells you look the same 42 years later you understand her perspective and can enjoy her honesty.

    When Helen Keller tells you your butt has always been prettier than your face, then try’s to convince you her vision is 20/20 well… then Helen Keller starts to become someone we’re not so sure we ever knew.

  • teehee.
    I know it wasn’t really intended as mean. We used to tell helen keller jokes when I was in grade school.

  • Note to self: Ben is definitely not the blind seer on the hand car in movie brother where art thou.
    1. Too many names
    2. Too many jobs
    3. Too much pronouncetion.

  • There’s a Ukrainian Jewish joke about Rabinovich wanting to be the Rabbi of his small town. The congregation met to decide the issue. One member said, “Rabinovich cannot be the Rabbi. His daughter is a prostitute! Another member said, Rabinovich doesn’t have a daughter! He has three sons! The other member retorted, “Well, at least I gave my opinion.” Everyone is entitled to their opinion even if you don’t like it. My concern is with fascism, whether left or right. Fascism always includes curtailing speech or opinions. It’s not the sole property of the right. If you don’t think so, then what about Antifa, Do you think they would protect Mr. Myers?

  • I appreciate the author’s chagrin, but why would he suppose that Jews are any different than any other class of human being; in their passions, in their principles, in their tactics and strategies to preserve and maintain, not to say mandate, their point of view. Obviously such discord within one’s own community would be distressing to anyone, but not a surprise.

  • I guess if the Orthodoxers want to support the Center exclusively, without any help from us non-Orthodox Jews, they’re welcome to it. I have some difficulty with their stand if they would destroy the reputation of an academic whom they probably have never met but are nevertheless trying to destroy for reasons having nothing to do with the position to which he was appointed. Some repentance is required here for sins of destruction.

  • Poor Rabbi Salkind is just sick to learn that a bunch of dogmatic Jewish rightists object to the hiring of a scholar to run the Center for Jewish History. Dr.Myers is a scholar! Dayenu! End of story. But, alas, the word “scholar” covers a multitude. Some of them are themselves dogmatists, like all those, including Dr. Myers, associated with the repulsive organization “Jewish Voices for Peace.” As Ruth Wisse has argued cogently, “anti-Zionism” of the JVP sort is merely the anti-Semitism of the Left–it is not, as the saying goes, good for the Jews. Of course Dr. Myers says he is a Zionist, even though he traffics in the apologetics of those who hate Israel (e.g. hatred of Jews in Palestinian textbooks? Nah.) But, Rabbi Salkind, it isn’t obligatory for Jews to put those who actively side with their enemies in charge of major Jewish institutions. On the whole, that’s not a smart thing for any people to do to itself. And defaming those who object to it (he won’t “say the word” but he is ever so willing to imply it), isn’t exactly in that wonderful Jewish spirit of “love of nuance, love of conversation,” is it, Rabbi Salkind?

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