Are We Jewish Rednecks?


By Rabbi Reuven Tradburks

[R. Tradburks is the rav of Kehillat Shaarei Torah in Toronto, the President of the Toronto Vaad Harabonim and former Director of its Beis Din, and a former Board member of AJOP]

Gary Rosenblatt addressed an issue in his column in the Jewish Week, which we don’t like to admit. In both the lead up to the election and the aftermath of the election of Barack Obama, orthodox Jews expressed opposition to Obama that had little to do with his policies or his political ability. He is a muslim, he will be terrible for Israel, he doesn’t like Jews, I am suspicious, who knows what he will do.

There is a tendency, I believe, in our world to paint the world in the paradigms of Yaakov and Esav – good versus evil. But we often paint the wrong people with the Esav label.

There are Esavs in the world. There are people who display principles and attitudes that are dark and evil. Arafat, Hamas, Hizbulla, Aryan Nation, Ahmenidijad.

But Obama is not one of them. He is an intelligent, liberal thinking man of integrity and great rhetorical ability. You may not like his attitudes or his platform. But that is a discussion in the realm of ideas not in the realm of good and evil. He is a good man, a man who wants good. The pursuit of universal health care, of helping the working poor, of raising the image of democracy and America in the world arena are all good ideas. Whether they will cost too much or whether his policies are the best way to help people receive health care, to increase their economic well being and whether his view of America in the world is the best way to bring freedoms to the world can be debated. But the pursuits are all good – and they are things that we, as Jews, believe in.

“I am concerned about a leader with insufficient experience”. That is a fair statement. “He will be terrible for Israel” is totally speculative and unjustified.

There is a simplicity of thinking that we should not fall prey to. And I think the paradigms of Yaakov and Esav may be the root cause – not the paradigms but how they are applied.

The Torah and Medrash paint pictures. Esav looks lovey dovey – but he is trying to bite Yaakov’s neck. Ephron looks magnanimous in offering Avraham Maarat Hamachpela to bury Sarah – but Avraham knows the truth – Ephron wants his money and he wants a lot of it. Don’t be fooled by what meets the eye – there is much more than meets the eye.

This is a great lesson. And dangerous. Sure, there are duplicitous people in the world. Tricksters. But the entire world is not populated by tricksters.

We have all heard kids come home from yeshivas talking of shvartses and of goyim and seeing the world as “us versus them”. There is plenty for us to avoid in our world. But the entire world is not good versus evil, is not “us versus them”. It is not us versus them within the frum and non frum and it is not us versus them in the Jewish and non Jewish world.

We live in a complex and nuanced world. There are tricksters and there are fine, principled non Jews. There are evil and there are educated, dedicated non Jews working for our good.

I often feel this picture of us versus them, of good versus evil, of Yaakovs and Esavs is the dominant picture of how to view the world. It is taught in our schools from the earliest age and is reinforced all the way through Yeshiva. But it is not tempered with nuance, with subtlety of application, with an appreciation of the complexity of life and of human beings. And part of this is the insularity of our world – we meet too few highly educated, kindhearted non-Jews who share many of our values.

But I don’t know how we can change this, how we can impact our system of education, of Jewish media, of teachers and influencers to adopt a more subtle, nuanced and accurate view of the world. And how we can become more worldly, more aware of the wonderful parts of the non-religious and non-Jewish worlds.

We should not become Jewish rednecks. It would be a great disservice to our Torah in the eyes of our fellow Jews and in the eyes of the world.

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Tammy B
6 years 10 months ago

I cannot believe what I am hearing from the Jewish Communities. First, I am not a Jew, but I am a Christian that loves the jewish race and every other race because we are suppose to love everyone. Second I am black and female. So I hope that you can already see the battles that I face here in America alone. (I live in the south) I do not agree with alot of Obamas’s views but pray for him because he is our president and will continue to need all the prayer that he can get and I pray that God will guide him in everything he wants to do. God still hears our prayers you know. To be racist or say racist comments just because the man is black is a problem. Hate is a sin. Praying for someone that needs it is not a bad thing. I have been to lots of churches that taught “hate others but love eachother” and I only stayed at those churches simply because “how you know that some people have been lead wrong and seek the truth.Although at the same time I know that you cannot change evryones veiws. A lot of white people that I know have said horrible things and lies about Jewish people that were untrue. I studied and learned more and more on my own despite what I’ve heard from my people and whites about God and Jews alike. Even though I am christian I serve the same God and everyone knows that if it weren’t for the Jews there would be no bible for us christians in the first place and the Lord will deal with people who hate his people. I am so sad that (some) Jewish people are even speaking racist comments in the first place. Hate the veiws not the color. I have been fighting for the right to even speak positive about Jewish people in some of the churches that I have been to and around some of my white friends who think that you guys have too much power and to much money but I will continue.I have told them that the problem is that we both christians and Jews are allowing to much of everyone elses veiws affect us more than God. If there is an atheist in my child school or a muslem or buddist I could care less because I can’t stop them for being here if they are legal. But what I don’t like and will not tolerate is when they tell me not to let my child wear a shirt with I love God on it are that he cannot pray silently to himself at recess because it is violating their constitutional rights. What about our rights to even say his name (God) without someone getting offended. Isn’t this country suppose to be based on In God we trust anyway.I have first been through a great deal of racism here in America. I have a degree in Desktop publishing and saw an help wanted sign at this printing company. So I called my friend who was in the same field that I am in with the same amount of education to see if she was interested also. So I walked in and asked to fill out an application and the first thing told to me was “oh you have to have exsperience. I said I do. Oh at least 4 years exsperience. I do. Oh well at least 11 years experience. Just when I was about to give my resume the manager walked up and said that the job had just been filled and that he’d forgotten to take the help wanted sign down. Ok, I left out and my freind had arrived and I told her what they had told me. She went in anyway saying that she would still leave her resume anyway incase that the other person don’t work out. Well to make a long story short she wasn’t in there for even 5 min. and got the job. My school instructor had warned me of such racism in my field of education but I did not believe her. My gandmother is half white and cherokee indian. So I had too learn quickly about not being given a chance because of my race. My family has had it bad on both black white and indian sides. My great grandmother was raped which is how she is half white and indian and looks more white than indian with hazel blue eyes and pale white skin. Then she married a black indian.I don’t understand why everyone hates eachother because of their race. The only thing I could think of was because of power. I pray that everyone will love eachother and not try and step on Christians and Jews beliefs because of their own. I could have hated whites for giving me a hard time in life, or I could hate blacks for disliking me because I was tall dark brown with dark reddish-brown hair and they would call me white girl because I was very thin or hate other christians because they think that I am trying to be jewish because I adore the way they try to live their lives in general. But I don’t hate any of them.I hate the sin in them not the person and I pray for them. Whether he is our president are not we do have a voice people and need to use it especially if he is fooling himself about Israel and Iraq. Godbless everyone and I hope that everyone will let their voice be heard. God will not let anything happen to his people, I strongly believe that whether or not he is being ignorant or not.

6 years 10 months ago

Unfortunately, far too many people are responding to valid criticism of Obama’s statements and positions with denouncements of racism.

And as for his positions on Israel, we’ve already had a heads up (and I don’t mean with Robert Malley).

From his own mouth, in a detailed interview with the Jerusalem Post, Obama’s answers on various questions regarding Israel give serious cause for concern, but more importantly, the way he chose to phrase his answers leaves no doubt in my mind that Israel is going to be in for a very rough ride with him.

Gershon Seif
6 years 10 months ago

Rabbi Tradburks,

After reading the comments, including yours, it seems the intention of your article: to appreciate nuance and shades of gray, was missed by many readers. Those critical of your article who assumed it was all about the elections, proved your point. Pity. It was a refreshing piece to read. I remember you from the old days at OS as always thinking and not getting led by the crowd. Seems you’re still at it 27 years later!

Bob Miller
6 years 10 months ago

The article is a fantasia of wishful thinking, and I reject its rosy rendition of Obama categorically. Too many facts are known that point in the opposite direction.

6 years 10 months ago

Re. the author’s comment, #16, let me first repeat the gist of my first note,#4:

“That you want to encourage us to give him a chance to prove himself – Sure. %100. That we should be particularly careful to not err on the side of superficial, skin associations – Absolutely. But all this is a far cry from guilt-tripping us into lusting after the worldliness that you find so ennobling!”

Now – I appreciate that you’ve clarified your thesis, since your post came accross much more shallow and provacative. You now say you merely want “to identify the goodness in the world that is beyond our ‘team’”. WONDERFUL. I’m also fully with you in seeking to civilize the coarse, my-team political egotism that has infiltrated too much Orthodox Jewish thinking. Yet your sizing up the problem as simply an expression of our lack of education the fine nuances of the big world is a GROSS moral leap!

There are reasons that Jews tend to favor their “team.” Powerful, historically and theologically based reasons. I’m sure I don’t need to educate anyone on this site about them. That people go to the extreme in upholding a truth is of course a problem and for that I support your concern about a rednecking tendency. But please… don’t go to the other extreme.

The problem’s emerging from my team-first mentality, when that team is G-d’s team, cannot be resolved by equating all teams as equal! Rather we must learn to distinguish between the “my” and G-d”.