Badge of honor turns into a mark of shame

Badge of honor turns into a mark of shame

As former director of Jews for Judaism, I used to view my Orthodox Judaism as a badge of honor. I was part of a group that was upholding the values of my ancestors, values that had fundamentally shaped civilization in the direction of justice and compassion and truth. I was a link to a people who had courageously refused to bow down to the gods of hatred, indifference, self-seeking and materialism.

As an Orthodox Jew, I had a mission: I was one of God’s representatives on Earth, seeking to model God’s attributes and in so doing to provide healing and comfort to a world in confusion and pain.

Sadly, that badge of honor has been transformed into a mark of shame.

We have just emerged from an election in which the need for a moral clarity informed by religious values has never been greater, at least not in my lifetime. The victor represented little other than darkness and division and fear, the same forces that had so often imperiled the existence of the Jewish people throughout the ages and the same forces against which we were bidden by our tradition to do battle.

This was not a time for neutrality or equivocation or indifference. If ever there was a time to stand up and speak out, this was it. And our community, enfeebled by its weak, timid and inwardly focused leadership, failed the test miserably.

He mocked the disabled. He singled out an entire religion for vilification. He appointed racists, anti-Semites and white supremacists to positions of power and influence.

And the Orthodox rabbis, with few exceptions, offered tacit support or, at best, silence.

He boasted of his sexual assaults on women, and spoke of women in degrading and misogynistic terms. He dehumanized Latinos and immigrants. He bullied and ridiculed all who stood in his way, urging his supporters to use violence to advance his cause.

The silence from the Orthodox community and its leaders remained deafening.

He treated truth as a commodity to be traded and discarded. He belittled the courts and mocked our democratic institutions. He sought to muzzle the press and expressed admiration for dictators and despots.

More silence from the Orthodox ranks.

Those who thought it couldn’t possibly get worse have now been proven wrong. Since the election, we have daily witnessed a continuation of the horror, as xenophobia, mendacity and ignorance reach new heights. Even the outright omission of Jewish victims from a Holocaust remembrance proclamation (an omission vigorously defended by the Trump administration) could inspire little outrage from the self-proclaimed leaders of our once glorious community or their sadly complacent followers.

With a very few exceptions, I can no longer look to the Orthodox rabbinate for moral guidance. On questions of ritual law or the proper interpretation of obscure Talmudic passages, I will continue to solicit their input. But on the real issues roiling this nation and the world, issues that touch the lives of all of us and that are indeed of life and death magnitude, the leaders I used to look up to have demonstrated that they have little of value to offer.

At a time when moral leadership and spiritual guidance has been desperately needed, the Orthodoxy I know has failed.

Larry Levey is former executive director of Jews for Judaism.