By: Laurence Kaplan  | 

Letter to the Editor: Vietnam (Vol. 31, Issue 8)

To the Editor:

I was both shocked and saddened to see the full page ad in The Commentator For Peace with Freedom in Vietnam. This ad, which was signed by over 700 students and members of the faculty, seems to me to indicate a complete abdication on the part of the Orthodox Jewish Community of their moral responsibility. That an ad can support the President’s policy in Vietnam and not even suggest the possibility of negotiations is unbelievable. Moreover, this ad was circulated and signed before the U.S. had stopped bombing North Vietnam and before it started its current peace offensive. That 700 students and faculty members could at that time so uncritically support the war in Vietnam, as not to even call for either a cessation of the bombing or a strengthened effort on the part of the US to help implement negotiations, is frightening.

I consider this to be frightening not only because such a stance seems to me to be morally disastrous on general principles but also because it seems symptomatic of a serious moral and religious malady which is afflicting Orthodox Jewry in America today.

Over the past decades a convenient, if corrupting division of Iabor had developed in the American Jewish community. The Orthodox were to take care of the “ritual” aspect of Judaism while Conservative and Reform groups were in charge of ethics and social action. In the past few years it seemed as if, hopefully, a change was taking place. It seemed as if Orthodoxy was finally realizing that it could not afford to keep silent; that tradition and Halacha were concerned with and had something to say about the great issues confronting our times. Orthodox Rabbis and lay leaders finally began to speak up on such issues as civil rights, labor relations and poverty in the midst of prosperity.

Yet, when one considers that no Orthodox group at any time chose to speak in the slightest measure against the President's policy in Vietnam but instead went silently along or, as did Mizrachi as well as YU, uncritically supported him, one begins to wonder whether the hopeful signs of the past few years were only an illusion For it was easy — it was chic to speak about civil rights or labor relation. But when it came to Vietnam it was difficult and unpopular to call for a cessation of the bombings or to imply that perhaps the U.S. had not done all it could do in trying to bring about negotiations. The pressure was on to go along. And to our shame we, the Orthodox community, either out of a lack of courage and concern or both, succumbed to these pressures. Conservative and Reform groups spoke up. Are we to say that Orthodoxy is not concerned about the issue of war and peace? Have we somehow narrowed Halacha that it no longer includes the search for peace? I hope not.

And yet, if this current peace offensive does lead to a lessening of the brutality of this war and perhaps eventually even to a cease fire, then part of the praise for such a result will be due to those groups who were not afraid to demonstrate their case and concern. We will not be included with those groups. For we sold our birthright, at once our pride and our responsibility, for a mess of pottage. 

Laurence Kaplan ‘65