Sunday, February 05, 2017

Last week, Peter Beinart in The Forward asked why God forced Jews to endure slavery in Egypt and gave one answer based on a modern Haggadah commentary that most Jews never heard of, that it was meant:
to sensitize the People of Israel to the suffering of others, to teach them what it means to be alienated and oppressed, so that when they set up their own society, they will be sure not to impose such suffering on others.”

Slavery, in other words, was meant to ensure that Jews would remember powerlessness once they gained power. Jared Kushner is what happens when that memory fails.

Rae Kushner was the daughter of a furrier in the Belarusian town of Navahrudak. The Nazis murdered her mother, her elder sister and her younger brother. She survived, with her father and younger sister, by climbing through a tunnel out of the ghetto and then living in the forest for a year.

Jared Kushner, her grandson, has lived a very different life. He attended Harvard after his father gave the university $2.5 million; he bought a newspaper company when he was 25, and now he advises his father-in-law, the president.

Their lives illustrate the revolution in Jewish fortunes that has occurred over the past 75 years. In remarkable ways, modern Jewish history echoes the passage from powerlessness to power that begins in the Book of Exodus. Therefore, the challenge for Jared Kushner, and everyone in our extraordinarily privileged generation, is to remember our ancestors’ suffering and honor their memories by defending the weak, vulnerable and oppressed today.

How could Kushner — a Modern Orthodox golden boy — fail to internalize that? How could he invite Donald Trump’s Cabinet to his house for Shabbat dinner only hours after his father-in-law’s executive order banning refugees from entering the United States? How could he pose in a tuxedo alongside his wife, Ivanka Trump, on Saturday night as that executive order wreaked havoc on innocent people’s lives simply because they hailed from the wrong countries?

Kushner’s failure is not his problem alone; it should chill every Modern Orthodox educator, rabbi and parent in the United States. How could the Modern Orthodox community, a community that prides itself on instilling in its children Jewish knowledge and ideals, have failed so profoundly?

This little essay of Beinart's fails on multiple levels.

It is exactly because of Shabbat that the Kushners had no idea of the firestorm that Trump's executive order engendered last Saturday - one that is hugely out of proportion to the actual contents of the executive order Trump signed that was fully aligned with his campaign promises.

Moreover, the Kushners have not sought to be the poster children of modern Orthodoxy.

Furthermore, it is a family's responsibility to support each other. To expect Jared and Ivanka to speak out against their own family is the height of chutzpa.

But the part of this essay that bothers me the most is that Beinart, characteristically, takes a very small section of what being Jewish is about and magnifies it out of proportion to reality.

Being Jewish is not synonymous with "tikkun olam," "repairing the world." That is the view of people who are more liberal than they are Jewish.

Jews are more than a nation - we are a family. And families, like nations,  prioritize each other over others.

I read an article over Shabbat by an immigrant to Israel and how she routinely gives rides to hitchhikers, as well as how she allows her daughters (under some conditions) to hitchhike themselves. This is because most Jews in Israel act like family, not only like mere citizens. They'll start loud arguments with strangers because they know that the other party is not likely to pull out a gun. They grieve as one when there is an attack and celebrate as one when there is a victory.

Families take care of each other before they take care of the rest of the world - and taking care of the rest of the world cannot happen at the expense of taking care of your own people. The same applies to how nations treat their own people and people who want to join.

When the Torah tells the Jew to love the stranger, it is not referring to the entire world. It is referring to the "ger" - in some cases, people who convert to Judaism, and in other cases people who choose to live in the Land of Israel as part of a social contract that they accept the basic laws of society.

It is reasonable to argue as to how much this applies to a sovereign nation and its immigration policies. A policy of unlimited immigration is national suicide; but a policy of no immigration allowed for anyone is cold-hearted. Any reasonable person knows that the correct policy is somewhere in between. And Judaism - real Judaism, not Beinart's faux liberalism-as-Judaism - says that allowing immigration is a two-way street; there are obligations on both the sovereign nation and on the would-be immigrant, for the latter must accept the social mores and laws of the society that they want to join.

That is the moral starting point for any discussion, let alone a discussion based on Jewish sensibilities.

Peter Beinart is not basing his critique on the Kushners on anything that Judaism has to say. He is twisting Judaism to fit his outrage over Donald Trump and at the same time throwing the Kushners - his supposed family - under the bus, in his zeal to show the world how damned moral he is.

So the question isn't how modern Orthodox Judaism could have produced Kushner, It is how modern Orthodoxy could have produced such a hateful, self righteous prig as Peter Beinart.

I wonder if the teachers and principals at Peter Beinart's Jewish schools are proud of him today as the leading critic of the Jewish state and the self-appointed smug arbiter of morality, or if his hateful writings in Haaretz and The Forward and appearances on CNN fill them with pain and embarrassment for being the product of their schools and environment?

UPDATE: Beinart belongs to a modern Orthodox shul and identifies with its community but does not define himself that way and grew up Conservative.

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