Jews, Lies, and Videotapes (Vol. 64, Issue 4)
Throughout history, the Jewish people have been viewed as the living embodiment of ethical and religious triumph. Since antiquity, Judaism has been cast as a distinct and captivating system of ethics. The moral direction of the Jewish people has influenced innumerable works of literature and philosophy, and as such, the Jewish people have long been identified as the moral compass of humanity.
We are, after all, the “chosen people” designated by G-d to serve as a beacon to the nations of the world. But chosenness does not imply that the Jewish people are inherently better than, or superior to other peoples. Rather, the election of Israel bestows upon the Jewish people a relentless and burdensome responsibility towards the inhabitants of this earth. In other words, we were chosen to bear the ethical burden of humanity. We were commanded by G-d to maintain a moral and religious presence in this world—at all cost— and to disseminate that perspective with passion and fortitude. This is the raison d’etre of the Jewish people. It is Judaism’s mandate.
But this understanding of chosenness is lost to a large number Jews. Far too many Jews harbor pronounced feelings of superiority and deep rooted contempt for the goyim. Whether these attitudes are the result of general ignorance or a reaction to centuries of anti-Semitism is unclear. Nevertheless, such attitudes are unfortunate,
There is, however, a way in which the concept of chosenness is presently being misconstrued. This misunderstanding is both subtle and unassuming and is therefore all the more dangerous. Interestingly, it is not the result of anti-Semitism and years of separation. Rather, this misunderstanding is a direct outgrowth of America’s multiculturalist climate and is a decidedly modern movement. In fact, it was brought to light during the current Clinton/Lewinsky scandal.
Last month, the House Judiciary Committee decided to release President Clinton's grand jury testimony to the public. The day that the tape was scheduled to be released happened to coincide with Rosh Hashanah. Realizing this, a number of Washington-area rabbis telephoned every member of the committee and requested that the tape be released after the holiday, but not one committee member bothered to respond.
The reasoning behind this campaign was expressed by one of the rabbis in a New York Times article: “Releasing it on Rosh Hashanah is such a mean spirited thing to do, The officials who are doing this ought to say ‘Wait a minute, there’s a whole community within our nation that is celebrating its solemn, solemn day of the New Year. This is not the time. We'll wait two days. Of course we don't expect the Government to close up. But at the same time when we are dealing with the specifics of our nation, and what touches the hearts and souls of so many people, it’s not appropriate. If tomorrow were Christmas, you certainly wouldn't see this happening.”
This rabbi's comments are revealing. To begin with, he called the tape "the specifics of our nation” and something that “touches the hearts and souls of so many people.” Such a characterization is as laughable as it is sad. The tape was an obvious attempt to embarrass the President. There was absolutely no need to release four hours of lurid and licentious testimony for the viewing pleasure of America’s children. The failure of this rabbi to address the immorality of the decision to release the tape, irrespective of the time, is deeply disturbing. If the tape is improper for Rosh Hashanah, it is, also improper for every other day of the year!
But notice what this rabbi further did. He postured the Jewish people as a victimized minority. He argued that this tape should not be released on Rosh Hashanah simply because it would offend the Jewish people. His argument was offered from a self-imposed position of weakness. Instead of actively advocating the tapes removal from the public sphere ‘on its own terms, this rabbi cowered before the House Judiciary committee and asked for a delay. His sole desire was not to influence the ethical standards of Congress, but rather that the American government temporarily cater to Judaism's refined moral sensibilities. But his argument wasn’t even shrouded in moral terminology. Rather, it was formulated in the amoral and transparent jargon of multiculturalist America. In other words, the Jewish people have no unique ethical message to promulgate. We're the chosen people, or in other words, an ethnic minority that the government should avoid offending.
Contrast the passivity of this rabbi with the active approach of Senator Joseph Lieberman, a old friend of President Clinton, and known on Capitol Hill for his ethical standards and religious convictions. Following the President's mea culpa, Sen. Lieberman was the first Democrat to break party lines and reproach the President for his prurient behavior. His speech on the Senate floor was hailed as masterful and the President respectfully accepted Sen. Lieberman's rebuke, Sen. Lieberman's decision to excoriate the President must have been difficult. Nevertheless, the Senator opted to engage the scandal, not as a member of a powerless minority, but rather from the moral high ground. Such is the task of a member of the chosen people.