Why a Recent California Court Case Should Concern Jews

Jan. 26 2018

A ruling by a federal court in California, writes Mitchell Rocklin, suggests a disturbing threat to religious freedom that could have far-reaching implications:

The Ninth Circuit recently upheld a California law that requires pregnancy crisis centers to advertise state-funded abortions—when their very raison d’être is to promote other alternatives. The law further requires that the advertisement be made in thirteen languages, needs to be in the largest font of any material disseminated by the center, and must be made available at the beginning of the organization’s dealings with the client. This . . . requirement . . . effectively undermines the ability of pregnancy crisis centers such as the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) to offer their own advice to women as they see fit, and without violating their consciences. . . .

For centuries, American Jews have established institutions that allowed them to function as a small community within a larger American community. These included synagogues, schools, cemeteries, burial societies, libraries, lodges, social-service organizations, charities, community centers, and even hospitals. Sometimes these were created by choice, other times as responses to discrimination. Undeniably, American Jews have been able to participate fully in civil society without compromising their Jewish identity. But without the ability to express our Jewish identity in Jewish institutions—including through engaging in practices conforming to our religion and morality—our community will be greatly hindered. . . .

To this end, Orthodox Jews have a particular need for protection —the same protection that NIFLA is asking for in its lawsuit: the freedom to promote a message without being forced to comply with a governmentally favored alternative. . . . Let’s consider a few examples of how governmentally compelled speech could affect other Jewish organizations. . . . Should private rabbinical courts be required to advertise civil courts? Should Jewish rehabilitation centers or hospice programs be required to advertise secular alternatives? . . .

Orthodox Jews are particularly vulnerable to majority messages because they exist as an independent community that is in many ways separate from the rest of American society. To thrive, they must be free to cultivate their differences. While the cultural trend disfavoring traditionalist religion may be against Christian groups right now, there is nothing preventing it from turning against Jewish issues like circumcision and kosher slaughter. Indeed, the latter is already banned in several European countries, and has been legally challenged multiple times in the United States.

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More about: American Jewry, American law, Freedom of Religion, Orthodoxy, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Politics

 

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays