Do Jews Defend their Civil Rights?

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The following question and answer just appeared on our Jewish Answers web site, under the heading “Jewish Civil Rights:”

Please tell me why Jewish people as a whole seem not to defend their civil rights in America? I have noticed this in my experience with fellow Jews at our town meetings. I won’t go into the details, but I have tried to involve the organizations that claim to protect civil rights, but there is only so much they can do as non-profits.

I understand that Israel is important but for me the United States is important as well.I feel I am a fighter, a Maccabee, and I will continue but I truly desire to understand why I seem to be alone in this endeavor.

You have raised a very important question. I applaud your passion for protecting the rights of the Jewish people. Indeed, we are privileged to live in a land, which provides Jews equal protection under the law, and we should certainly strive to safeguard the civil liberties granted us. I cannot comment on the specific issue that you note, as I am not completely familiar with all the details. I will only comment on the hesitancy you notice among some (or many) Jews not to stick up for our rights.

In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this reluctance. The first relates to the very unique nature of our current situation in America. Never, never, in the history of the Jewish people have we been afforded such equal protection under the law as we are in the USA. Even in the best days of the golden age of Spain, the Jews were regarded at best as second class citizens. Embedded deep in the Jewish psyche is the notion that speaking out results only in more trouble and more problems. Silence became the only true answer to authority. Thus, even in our unique station in history, the Jewish consciousness remains reluctant to speak up.

The second reason, I believe is the fear of crying wolf. I believe Jews are concerned that if we speak out against every injustice, after a while, we will be disregarded entirely, even if the cause is truly just and vital. Whether or not such concerns are warranted, I believe such concerns do exist.

Of course, every issue should be examined in its own right to determine the prudence of speaking out. But there is no question that we should not remain silent where the situation demands our voices be heard, for indeed, a right not defended is a right forfeited.

Be well,
Rabbi Yoel Spotts

I question the premise of this article. Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League are extremely vocal about discrimination against Jews, while the American Civil Liberties Union, which is fanatical about church-state separation, has a plethora of Jews on board, from the President on down. Every synagogue organization (with the exception of Young Israel) has a Washington office.

While it may be true that quiet advocacy is often the chosen route, I don’t believe that Jews are extraordinarily likely to be silent even when Torah values would suggest that approach. Your comments appreciated!

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11 Responses

  1. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL, good point. If the situation in the most “liberal” college campuses gets extended to the entire society, we’d all be in trouble. I guess I didn’t think about that because I live in Texas, which is very conservative.

  2. HILLEL says:

    Ori:

    Read Bob Miller’s post about the situation on college campuses today. These are the leaders of tomorrow.

  3. Ahron says:

    …their civil rights in America

    I seem to be the only person here who is utterly mystified by the premise of the original article. Exactly what “civil rights” are even one Jew currently being deprived of in the US? Are there currently National Parks with signs reading “No Jews or dogs allowed”? Does the federal government exclude Jewish employees from coverage by minimum wage laws? From the shelter afforded by the Equal Protection clause?

    Either we live in two very different countries or somebody is misusing vocabulary.

  4. Ori Pomerantz says:

    HILLEL, in every generation somebody wants to kill us. But it’s a big world, and not every Jewish community is being oppressed all the time. You would be hard pressed, for example, to demonstrate that the US Jewish community is oppressed right now.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Current problems of Jewish public advocacy in America include:

    1. Un-Jewish measures are often advocated in the name of Judaism. This happens when our nationwide “defense” organizations adopt a left-liberal agenda. This can make conservatives supicious of even our proper public efforts.

    2. It’s easy to get the majority to think we’re only out for ourselves at their expense.

    3. Some other minorities we might have wanted to align with to fight more effectively for minority rights are largely anti-Jewish themselves.

    I think the main public civil rights advocacy needed now is to protect Jews on campus from anti-Jewish acts by administration and faculty members and by students. Many on campus share the Left’s hatred of religious Jews and Israel. Many universities or departments have been bought off by Arab oil money. Distortions about us in the curricula also need our attention.

  6. HILLEL says:

    To KT:

    Have you forgotten what we all say in the Hagaddah on Passover:
    VeHee SheUmDa…ShebeChol Do-VaDor OmDim AleNu LeChaLoSenu…?

  7. Charles B. Hall says:

    Rabbi Menken is correct about America. The only time in history during which Jews had full civil rights with as little discrimination was a very brief period under Roman rule — and even then, Roman rule was arbitrary and brutal with the possibility of summary execution if you were not a Roman citizen (as some Jews were). For over 350 years, Jews have been welcome in America and for that we can thank HaShem. America is not Esav. America is Medinah Shel Chesed.

    It is also clear that while the old quiet backroom dealing was totally appropriate to the corrupt anti-Semitic societies of Eastern Europe, it does not work in America where every other interest group is very outspoken in its advocacy. It is good that multiple Jewish organizations have lobbying offices in Washington and that the Speaker of the New York State Assembly is an observant yeshiva graduate. Better to be in power than close to power.

    Aaron, one of the largest communities that continues to use a language other than English in daily life are the charedi Jewish communities that use Yiddish. It is precisely the tolerance of American society that allows us to retain our separate lifestyles and not be a threat. Yes, even as a modern Orthodox Jew with a hashgafah that most would call left-wing, I maintain a significant distance from much of secular culture and like it that way. How can an observant Jew actually support assimilationist policies?

    Also, the US never denied citizenship to Communists or polygamists — and it was never illegal to be a Communist in the US. Actions, not beliefs, are what gets you punished in this country and that is another thing for which we can be grateful to HaShem.

    Finally, the US’s northern border (with Canada) is twice as long and far more porous than the southern border. Open borders are good for Jews — only after most of the world closed their borders in the early 20th century was it possible for a Shoah to occur.

  8. Joel Rich says:

    I almost agree with Hillel,

    I would amend “The Torah’s approach to the relationship of Jews to gentiles in the Diaspora may be summed-up, as follows:” to “Some viewThe Torah’s approach to the relationship of Jews to gentiles in the Diaspora may be summed-up”

    One only need to look at Rashi (Genesis 33:4) or even better the Pesikta Drav Kahana to see that “1. “BeYoDua SheEsav SoNeh LeYaAkov”—Esau hates Jacob (Esau is convinced that Jacob “stole” his birthright).” refers to a historical individual, not a general rule.

    The survival of the Jewish people in exile is not just a physical thing but more aspiritual one, both due to HKB”Hs love for us which keeps us from what would be the normal forces of history.

    we just read parshat Yitro where the pashut pshat is that he was on our side.(2 sides again I suppose since there are mefarshim who say he converted)

    Bottom line – there is support for your approach especially amongst those who lived in times and places of strong persecution, please understand that your approach is not the only one which is found regarding our relationship with our non-Jewish bretheren (do you feel it will be different bymot hamashiach?)

    KT

  9. Aaron says:

    I’m a Cub Scout leader for my son’s den and a member of both the NRA and the JPFO. Why are Jews so quiet about the obvious benefits of the Second Amendment?

    Is the demise of the United States through the porous southern border a good thing or a bad thing for Jews? I think it’s a VERY bad thing and we should be more vocal on the “Big fence and BIGGER gate” platform with emphasis on assimilation of American values. If you want to have a neighborhood that accommodates new immigrants, great. If you want the state and country to be forced to allow you to take your driving test in your language… well, there’s a problem with that.

    The country used to deny citizenship to members of the Communist Party and polygamists. Why not lobby for denial if citizenship for members of and donors to parties listed in the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations and those who cannot assert, as an entry requirement “I reject the replacement of the U.S. Constitution with Sharia now and forever”.

    Why not lobby for revising the Jackson-Vanik Amendment — linking trade with the USSR with their human rights improvements — which was effective in bringing down the Iron Curtain, and link it to denying favored trade status with the nations at the bottom of the Freedom House annual rankings?

    We also need to get out of thinking of changing political parties as apostasy. The parties that our parents and grandparents voted for no longer resemble nor represent those values. I left the Democratic Party in 1979 and I left the GOP in 2006 (no, I did NOT go back to the Democratic Party!).

    I agree that it is precisely our over-emphasis on the Holocaust and in fighting for government subsidies and not on “what we can do for our country” that doesn’t seem to leave a nice aftertaste.

    But the LEAST we can do is make the case that it is intellectually and morally reprehensible for media, academia and Jewish activist groups to emphasize the flaws of the upper quarter of the ranking of nations by Freedom House disproportionate to those nations in the bottom quarter of that ranking.

  10. HILLEL says:

    To Yaakov:

    The Torah’s approach to the relationship of Jews to gentiles in the Diaspora may be summed-up, as follows:

    1. “BeYoDua SheEsav SoNeh LeYaAkov”–Esau hates Jacob (Esau is convinced that Jacob “stole” his birthright).

    2. “KavSa Achas Bein ShivIm ZeEvim”–Israel in exile among the nations is likened to a lone sheep among seventy wolves (They would all like to get rid of us).

    3. “LaMa TisRoU”–Jacob told his sons: Don’t show yourselves in public–The less they see of you, the better off you’ll be.

    4. “The continued survival of the Jewish People in exile among the nations is a grater miracle than the Exodus from Egypt”–Rabbi Yaakov Emden, one of the greatest Medieval Torah Scholars

    The agressive public policy advocacy practiced by the Anti-Demation League (ADL) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), creates great resentment–and even hatred–among millions of Americans, especially since this advocacy is often on behalf of immoral causes, such as unlimited abortion and GayRights.

    The proper role of an advocacy office in Washington is quiet ShtadLoNus–behind-the-scenes work on behalf of the Jewish community. The less publicity, the better.

  11. Fern R says:

    I tend to agree. I can’t think of any particular attack on Jewish civil rights where the Jewish community has “taken it on the chin.” It seems to me that quite the opposite is true, at the slightest hint of impropriety Jews are standing up and demanding the situation be remedied. Sometimes, some Jews are even a little too over zealous (the Seattle airport x-mas tree debacle comes to mind…).