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Loyalty and Disloyalty

08/22/2019 04:06:11 PM

Aug22

Parashat Ekev is all about loyalty. Moses reminds the Jewish people that there are many situations that will test their loyalty to God. Will they maintain their faith when they are in the desert, living meal-to-meal with manna and carrying only the clothes on their backs? Conversely, will they continue to sustain their faith when they are living in a land full of riches, and it would seem like they don’t “need” God’s help at all? The Haftorah carries the converse message - that God is like a caring mother who can never forget or abandon her child. That special relationship between God and the Jewish people has withstood the worst and the best of history over the past 3500 years.

This week, the word loyalty is on everyone’s lips as President Trump tweeted that Jews who vote in a particular way are “disloyal.” In later statements, the President specified that his intent was not to indicate disloyalty to the US, but rather that Jews who do not vote for him were disloyal to our people and to Israel.

These statements were frightening to many Jews for two reasons. First of all, for generations, Jews have been threatened with accusations of disloyalty, or dual loyalty. Even if Jews are being accused disloyalty to Israel, and not to this country, whenever we are presented to the public as having to choose our loyalties, that sends a powerful negative message to those whose hatred overlooks such nuances. Unfortunately, in the current climate, there are people of violence, who hearing an accusation of disloyalty against the Jews from a figure they trust, might choose to act on that accusation with terrifying results.

A second, more subtle concern is that there are increasing efforts to inject politics into Judaism. I wrestle with myself how often to respond to these types of statements and conflicts, which arise every day. I used to not want to bring politics into my Jewish teaching. For most of my career as a rabbi, individual Jews might have supported one party or another, or had opinions on particular issues, but Jews saw themselves as spanning the political divide. There was a consensus that there was a “separation of church and state” - one could be a member of either party and see one’s self as a proud Jew, and supporter of Israel, without fear of dual loyalty.

Now, the landscape has changed - politics and politicians have inserted themselves into the debate about Jewish identity, and it is much harder to keep them out of those conversations. In the last few years, there have been increasing efforts to portray one affiliation or another as incompatible with Jewish values and connections. Often, these arguments revolve around pointing out particular anti-Semitic or anti-Israel elements on the other side. In fact, there are plenty of haters to go around. There have been anti-Semitic statements and violent attacks from the left and the right. Congresswomen who want to boycott Israel and right-wingers with assault rifles are dangerous in different ways. To try to single out one type as more dangerous is a foolish exercise. Furthermore, any attempt to portray Jews as being “in the pocket” of a particular side in Americans fractious political debate is, as my grandmother would say, “bad for the Jews.”

These debates are distressing, but they don’t have to dictate our future. Despite the rising tide of hate, there is still broad support for Jews, and for Israel, in this country, from both sides of the aisle. We should express gratitude to each side as it is due. Last week’s brouhaha revolved around two Democratic Congresswomen, known for their anti-Israel views, and whether they would be allowed to travel to Israel or would accept the terms for entry. What many missed amidst the noise was that just a week earlier, over 70 member of Congress, proud members of both parties, spent a week in Israel with AIPAC, even traveling together part of the time (one of the few venues where this still happens). The accusations of disloyalty we are hearing can only erode that broad cooperation and support.

In the prayers we say before the ark on Shabbat, we proclaim that we do not put our ultimate faith in any human prince,  political leader or party, whether of the country where we live or of the Jewish state. Ekev commands us that our allegiance must be to do what is right, and our faith remains with God.

Thu, November 14 2019 16 Cheshvan 5780