Rami Abadi was hanging out at a hookah bar in Paterson NJ when he heard the news of the recent terrorist attack in the bike lanes of lower Manhattan. Like others in his community interviewed by Post journalists, his immediate reaction to the news was simple: “Please don’t let it be a Muslim.” Interestingly, I had the same reaction. And, as horrible as it was, I found myself being “thankful” that the church shooting in Texas was not perpetrated by a Muslim.
So, how do we Jews react when a Jew commits a high profile crime? Think Ivan Boesky or Bernie Madoff, or now Harvey Weinstein. Or think a former Israeli Prime Minister and President, in jail simultaneously. Do we wish these weren’t Jews? I surely do. Others I talk to are mostly not as concerned, or more selective – eg. what Madoff did plays on historical images of the Jewish goniff whereas Weinstein is embarrassing to men but not necessarily to Jews.
Why my reaction? I have some theories, not sure which is operative:
1. It’s the old mah yomru hagoyyim? “What will the Gentiles say?” Think of Jacob’s response to his sons killing all the Hivite men in Shechem after the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34:30) Minorities worry about their place in the society and how their neighbors perceive them. Jews are no different.
2. “Is it good for the Jews?” The classic prism by which people like me judge the actions of Jewish people.
3. It’s an embarrassment when a member of our tribe acts so poorly. (This is somewhat like #1 but the tribal element is different.)
4. On the deepest level, where did we go wrong? Is there something in Jewish culture or religion that leads to, or justifies, wrongdoing, or rationalizes it?
You will tell me if there are more theories to be considered. In the meantime, I don’t think theory #1 should be in play here. We are well accepted in this society (thank G-d) and are blessed (I believe) with not having to worry that we will be judged by the behavior of a few of us. On #2, maybe. On #4, I don’t think there is anything inherent in Judaism or Jewish life that justifies or rationalizes bad behavior. Theory #3 may be most on target, especially if we think Jews have a mission to be a light to the nations, but it is interesting to understand (from my conversations with millennials ) that younger Jews are not nearly as tribal as my generation and don’t own that these bad actors have much to do with them.
Is my reaction, hoping the latest crook or jerk isn’t Jewish, then age- related and, barring the unforeseen, Jews won’t have it much longer? Or is it just that I am a rabbi and worry about the Jewish people 24/7? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic.
Best regards and Shabbat Shalom. Bill Rudolph