Hammering Hammerman

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The irrational fear and loathing of believing Christians on the part of non-Orthodox Jews and their utter lack of reticence in expressing that loathing endangers Jews in America. The latest evidence: a screed attacking Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow by one Joshua Hammerman, an “egalitarian” Jewish clergyman and J Street Board member from Connecticut.

Tebow is the NFL player most vocal about his religious faith and most prone to expressing his gratitude to G-d for his on-field successes. Despite unimpressive individual statistics, Tebow has led his team to a succession of dramatic late fourth quarter comebacks, and even introduced a new verb into the lexicon – “Tebowing” – after the prayerful position he occasionally assumes at crucial junctures in the action.

Writing in the New York Federation-funded Jewish Week, Hammerman expressed his fears that the Broncos might win the Super Bowl. “If Tebow wins the Super Bowl,” Hammerman suggested, “it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques… and indiscriminately banishing immigrants.” There is not one shred of evidence connecting Tebow, in word or deed, to any of Hammerman’s list of horrors. The article was out-and-out slander of Tebow based on nothing other than his evangelical faith.

Fox News exposed the Hammerman’s attack on believing Christians to tens of millions of viewers, and subjected it to well-deserved criticism. Eventually, theJewish Week removed the piece from its website and Hammerman issued the usual mealy-mouthed apology – “if I have offended anybody, I’m sorry.” But what astounds is the fact that Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt did not realize in advance how profoundly offensive Hammerman’s piece would be to American Christians, including many of Israel’s strongest supporters, or how the damage would be multiplied by the title “rabbi,” which Hammerman has appropriated.

Before he finally apologized, Hammerman attempted to defend himself on the grounds that Tebow is associated with the Southern Baptists, who have spent millions of dollars on campaigns to “save” Jewish souls. (In an egalitarian aside, he admits he would also “have issues” with Orthodox Jews who expressed any concern about the state of his “soul.”)

Needless to say, I’m not enthusiastic about Southern Baptist programs to “convert” the Jews. But if Hammerman and his fellow heterodox clergymen had done more to teach their congregants anything about Judaism – instead of conveying the message that religious faith is something to be sneered at – they would have nothing to fear from “conversion” campaigns.

This article first appeared in Mishpacha.

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7 Responses

  1. Zalman Alpert says:

    I have always thought that Orthodox jews have little to fear from the Fundamentalist efforts at Shmad. After all we know who we are and what we are.So we can cooperate on matters concerning Israel.
    MY non religious friends of the Jewish faith who are very smart men are always expressign their fear of these efforts and hate the Southern baptists.
    Indeed they do have some thing to fear as thier kids and family members may in fact be potential victims.
    So I am always wondering if we the Orthodox should bear this in mind when dealing with these pro israel Christian groups.
    Indeed our kids are safe and we can “use ” their pro Israel political stand, but perhaps our achrayas for klal israel ought to put some “breaks” on these relationships for their sake.
    Here isa matetr that I think we could use “Daas Torah”.

  2. Baruch Gitlin says:

    Although I didn’t read the article in question, I agree generally that what you refer to as our “heterodox clergymen” should not be disrespectful of religious faith, both ours and the faith of others. On the other hand, I think it is unfair to make this statement without referring to the phenomenon of religious Jews spitting at priests in Meah Shearim. It is not only “heterodox clergymen” who sometimes show disrespect for other faiths, and these spitting incidents certainly don’t win the Jews any friends. More importantly, it’s completely wrong – I’m sure I don’t have to point out the incident of the nun who came to Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky’s funeral because he had always said a friendly good morning whenever he walked by her, since I believe it was your biography in which I read that story.

  3. Reb Yid says:

    Yes, this Opinion piece appeared in a New York Federation paper, but it is a community paper. It has published Opinion Pieces from all kinds of authors all over the spectrum–some of whom, by the way, are Cross Currents contributors.

    But the piece was written by one individual. It made no claims regarding any other rabbis, any other movements within Judaism or Federation. It was roundly condemned, the piece was retracted, and Federation issued an apology.

    Let’s move on…

  4. DF says:

    It was a repulsive article, and Hammerman’s apology was indeed mealy-mouthed, like you say. But I think the Jewish Week itself simply didnt catch this, realized it made a mistake (even if prompted by blowback, which is usually how these mistakes are caught) and sincerely apologized. Gary Rosenblatt is a lefty, but unlike Hammerman, he’s not a bigot.

  5. Friar Yid says:

    But what astounds is the fact that Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt did not realize in advance how profoundly offensive Hammerman’s piece would be to American Christians, including many of Israel’s strongest supporters, or how the damage would be multiplied by the title “rabbi,” which Hammerman has appropriated.

    This story says more about the Jewish Week’s lack of good editors than it does about your average non-Orthodox American Jew. Remember this is the same editor that didn’t think a blog post by the paper’s associate editor saying Reform Jews were worse than radical Islamists would be a big deal.

    While there is a fair amount of cultural discomfort between Jews (of all stripes) and religious Christians, claiming this one rabbi speaks for millions of non-Orthodox Jews is just as unfair as people claiming that the Haredi rioters in Bet Shemesh represent all Orthodox Jews.

  6. Bob Miller says:

    E. Fink, Hammerman reacted to the blowback.

  7. E. Fink says:

    You are being very unfair. Hammerman retracted his article over a week ago.