An ADL Response to the Anniversary of Charlottesville for Clergy

  • August 2, 2018

This essay and talking points can be used with or without ADL attribution by you and your community.

1. An ADL response to the anniversary of Charlottesville: For Jewish Clergy

(Scroll down for a response for all clergy.)

According to the Jewish calendar, this Shabbat (August 11) is Rosh Chodesh Elul, the first day of the month of Elul.  According to tradition, this is the anniversary of the day that Moses ascended Mount Sinai for the third time, in order to prepare a new set of tablets to replace the ones he broke in anger upon seeing the Israelites worship the egel ha-zahav, the Golden Calf.

Elul is also the month preceding the Yamim Nora’im, the high holidays of Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur.  It is a considered a month of preparation for the Yamim Nora’im; according to the Maharal of Prague, “All the month of Elul, before eating and sleeping, a person should look into his soul and search his deeds, that he may make confession.”

In some synagogues, it is the custom to sound the shofar at morning services during this month.  In our long history, the shofar has served many purposes: as an alarm, a call to repentance, a call to arms, and the proclamation of freedom, to name a few.

It was a year ago this week that white supremacists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia in what was billed as a “Unite the Right” rally.  Emerging from the surge in racist rhetoric that was especially apparent during the 2016 presidential campaign and using the proposed removal of memorials to the Confederacy as a pretense, white supremacists sought to capitalize on what they saw as their new-found social acceptability to spread their message and increase their ranks.

The images from Charlottesville, of torch carrying white men chanting, “Jews will not replace us” and of a car careening through a crowd of counter protesters, killing one and injuring many, have been replayed many times.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read the following:

 

  • Deut 13:2-5: 2,If there appears among you a prophet or a dream-diviner who gives you a sign or a portent, 3saying, “Let us follow and worship another god”—whom you have not experienced—even if the sign or portent that is named to you comes true, 4do not heed the words of that prophet or that dream-diviner. For the ETERNAL your God is testing you to see whether you really love the ETERNAL your God with all your heart and soul. 5Follow none but the Eternal your God, and revere none but God; observe God’s commandments alone, and heed only God’s orders; worship none but God, and hold fast to God.

 

Let us make no mistake: those who preach white supremacy are false prophets and their message is idolatry.  At the very core of Judaism’s anthropology is the conviction that every human being is created in the image of God.  In Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5, the rabbis teach:

 

  • Therefore, humans were created singly, to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul [of Israel], Scripture accounts it as if he had destroyed a full world; and whoever saves one soul of Israel, Scripture accounts it as if she had saved a full world. And for the sake of peace among people, that one should not say to his or her fellow, "My parent is greater than yours;" and that heretics should not say, "There are many powers in Heaven." Again, to declare the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be God, for one stamps out many coins with one die, and they are all alike, but the King, the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, stamped each person with the seal of Adam, and not one of them is like his or her fellow.

 

The image of God is reflected in the very diversity of humanity.  Those who preach that their group is superior while others are inherently inferior based on race, religion, ethnicity and the like are substituting an image of themselves for the image of God.  This is the definition of idolatry and those who teach it are false prophets.

Here are some facts:

  • White supremacists in the United States have experienced a resurgence in the past three years, driven in part by the alt-right.
  • The alt-right is the newest segment of the white supremacist movement, bringing new energy and activism to the movement’s racism and anti-Semitism.
  • White supremacist violence – from murders to terrorism to other crimes – is at a high level today.

How should we respond to the phenomenon of white supremacy?

[You can find wealth of information on the ADL website about Charlottesville and white supremacism, as well as valuable educational resources here.]

Regarding the false prophet, the Torah commands us to “sweep evil” from our midst.  The Torah, in its context, envisions this in terms of capital punishment. In our context, the proper response is to use the resources at our disposal -- education, the courts, and partnering with allies from other communities -- so that every individual is honored for the spark of the divine they reflect.

This month of Elul is a time for beginning the process of tshuvah, of repentance, that concludes on Yom Kippur.  As our thought turn to our higher selves, let us pledge as well to create a society in which everyone, stamped with the seal of Adam, can sit under their vine and fig tree with none to make them afraid.

2.An ADL response to the anniversary of Charlottesville: for all clergy

These talking points can be used with or without ADL attribution by you and your community.

August 11-12 marks the first anniversary of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that resulted in the death of a counter-protester as well as two police officers killed in a helicopter accident.  The image of torch-carrying white supremacists chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans was a chilling reminder that hatred and bigotry continue to find expression in our country.

Common to most religious traditions is the idea that life is sacred.  In Judaism and Christianity, this is usually phrased in terms of humanity being created in the “divine image” (cf. Gen 1:26).  Other traditions may use different language or terminology, but all emphasize the essential dignity of each human being, as can be seen in the following quotations:

Islam“We have indeed honored the descendants of Adam (ie. human beings).” (Qur’an 17:70)

Christianity“Do you not know that you are the Temple of God?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

Judaism“So God created humanity in God’s image; in the image of God, God created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

Buddhism“All sentient beings without exception have the Buddha-nature.” (Nirvana Sutra)

Hinduism“The human body is the temple of God.” (Rig Veda)

White supremacy teaches the opposite: that one group is superior to all others.

Here are some facts:

  • White supremacists in the United States have experienced a resurgence in the past three years, driven in part by the alt-right.
  • The alt-right is the newest segment of the white supremacist movement, bringing new energy and activism to the movement’s racism and anti-Semitism.
  • White supremacist violence – from murders to terrorism to other crimes – is at a high level today.

[You can find wealth of information on the ADL website about Charlottesville and white supremacism , as well as valuable educational resources here.]

On this solemn anniversary, we should become acquainted with the phenomenon of white supremacy and how we can unite with other to offer a different vision of society in which all people are valued and respected.