September 24, 2018

Deluge of letters to Prager shows inability to discuss serious issues

The deluge of letters vilifying Dennis Prager for his Jewish Journal column, “The Torah and the Transgendered,” is yet another manifestation of too many Jews’ inability to amicably, or merely intellectually discuss important, serious issues without dismissiveness and ridicule.

In nearly two full pages of letters printed in the Jewish Journal and myriad comments posted on its website, members of our Jewish community, including many members of our educated elite, accused Prager of being mean-spirited, bigoted, ignorant, and publicly humiliating a transgendered rabbi, among much more.

Some went so far as to say Dennis should no longer be published in this paper. That’s a new low. Wow, how far we’ve regressed and how divisive we’ve become. To think, traditional/conservative, Jewish/social views should be prohibited in a community-wide Jewish newspaper.

Not one of the respondents actually spoke to the substance of Dennis’s main point: To what extent do you use the Torah as your moral/religious guide? The closest comment to anything substantive came from those suggesting Prager doesn’t understand that Jews rejected Karaitic Judaism.

Really? That’s the best one could do? I suspect that Prager knows well that Karaitic Judaism died centuries ago.  He simply believes, as rabbinic Judaism always has, that the Torah is the Jews’ basic text—our Constitution, if you will.

Let’s be clear here.  Those who wrote the hate-filled letters want to quell any attempt at open, rational dialogue with anyone right of center, especially Dennis Prager, a deep-thinking, rational and effective exponent of traditional Jewish values and conservative political/social positions. Add another peg in the coffin of respectful dialogue and intellectual openness.

Sadly, we live in an age of muddled thought and political correctness; an age of “micro-aggressions” and Orwellian doublethink.  Include in the bulging list of free-speech suppressing universities—Missouri, Yale, Brandeis, Smith, Ithaca College, Kentucky, Princeton, Claremont McKenna, Amherst, UNC-Chapel Hill, Dartmouth, Columbia, Johns Hopkins and too many more to list—large numbers of my rabbinical colleagues in Los Angeles and throughout America.

It used to be that arguments and debate defined our tradition.  To be sure, within the Talmud there was plenty of name-calling:  Am Ha’aretz (ignoramus), Sageh Na-Hor (dimwit) and re’kah (empty headed).  But, in spite of it all, there was an acknowledgement that the discussions were for the clarification of what God wanted from us.  Opposing sides could sit down and share a meal and talk; they could agree to disagree.

The academies of Hillel and Shamai exemplified all that. The Talmud recorded over 300 areas where these two schools of thought disagreed. Yet, through it all, they maintained respectful bonds.  The Talmud remarks they married among each other, and danced at each other’s weddings.

What do too many Jews do now?  They cast aspersions on a man who is strong enough and wise enough to raise questions that most of us won’t because we can no longer think beyond what’s popular and uncontested—or because we are simply too afraid.

Shame on those who wrote these hate-filled, personal attacks against Dennis Prager; shame on those who are unable to civilly discuss important issues of our day without the stifling cloak of political correctness guiding one’s every word; shame on those who have lost the ability to agree to disagree.  Where is their compassion?  Where is their sense of fairness?  Where is their Godliness?

Rabbi Michael Gotlieb, Kehillat Ma’arav, Santa Monica, CA