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We Shouldn’t Overdo It With the Apologies

It is time to dispense with the virtue-signaling and dial down the atonement.
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October 3, 2023
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Fresh off a day of fasting and breast-beating, many Jews had spent Yom Kippur atoning for sins, committing to change, and hoping for the best when it comes to the Book of Life. (I always assume my inscription to be provisional, penciled-in to keep the Almighty’s options open. See you next year, hopefully.)

But, as of late, there is a curious extension of the holiday. Think of it as Kol Nidre meets Groundhog Day. Far too many Jews just can’t seem to get enough out of a day’s worth of atonement. They want more, and with great urgency and gloom, they believe that the moral universe demands more — no less than a daily dose of prostration and self-abasement is expected from the Jewish people.

Jews, after all, are an irredeemable lot. Is there a more morally deficient people on Earth? 

If you don’t know what I am speaking of, you probably haven’t been to many Reform and Conservative synagogues (mine, for instance) where a sermon has become more like a summons. You can receive the same judgment by faithfully reading certain Jewish writers. And there are scathingly self-righteous words of contrition from some Jewish artists and entertainers, too. 

Coinciding with the Black Lives Matter and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements, there arose a rabid impulse to judge the Jewish people harshly, accusing them of racial insensitivity if not outright racism, overabundant white privilege, shameless moral superiority, and an utter disregard for Palestinian rights. 

It seems that these presumptions are irrebuttable — especially when Jews are making them. It is a stain that can’t be removed, even after a lifetime of tikkun olam (efforts undertaken to repair the world). The vast catalogue of exculpatory acts, demonstrating Jewish generosity, good works, and a dedication to benefit humankind, enhancing its knowledge and culture, is either forgotten or deliberately unlearned.

Of course, such self-identification has a selfish purpose. It’s the fastest way to gain acceptance into the sanctums of this cultural moment, by joining the fraternity of the blameworthy. Remember to check one’s privilege and flash a woke ID card at the door. Slavishness to political correctness is mandatory. The admission of guilt is like taking a blood oath, a catechism that cannot be cancelled. And the uniformity of thought has concluded that white people are inescapably racist, and persons of color have grievances that are everlasting. 

It makes for a marvelous way to begin a friendship.

Progressive Jews are especially down with these decrees. They are killing it in the “bad-Jew” sweepstakes.

And to them I say: Stop it! Cut it out. Your accusations are unbecoming and untrue. Jews were front-line crusaders in the struggle for civil rights, jump-starting the NAACP and participating in the freedom marches in far greater numbers than other white Americans. A Jewish lawyer represented the Scottsboro Boys, pro bono, ultimately prevailing before the Supreme Court. When Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the federal bench, he anointed a Jewish attorney as his successor at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

There are countless examples of such anti-racist endeavors performed by Jews. Of course, it makes no difference to Kayne West or Louis Farrakhan, but it is abhorrent that it matters so little to Jewish-Americans, too.

And, ironically, Israel has become the world’s first-responder to Acts of God. Rescuers are maligned rather than rewarded. As for the treatment of Palestinians, if one bothers to take a break from Jew-hating and do some reading, one would discover that the Palestinians have rejected five offers of statehood — beginning from the first days of Israel’s existence — largely because the only state Palestinians will accept is one without Jewish neighbors.

Instead of all this Olympic-level prostrating, Jews should be standing up for their people and the nation-state created in their name.

Only at a time of reckless moral relativism and global lunacy can Iran, Syria, and North Korea have greater moral standing than Israel.

It is the cause of great disappointment when progressives ponder whether Jews might not actually be the worst people on Earth. The General Assembly of the United Nations has long ago made up its mind. Only at a time of reckless moral relativism and global lunacy can Iran, Syria, and North Korea have greater moral standing than Israel. Neither are American bigots — the Alt-right, woke-left, political Islamists, the Nation of Islam, or the Black Hebrew Israelites — persuaded that Jews have value.

But since when did Jews take their cues from the likes of them? What perverse self-hating madness is at work here? New slanders are reviving old stereotypes. No longer Christ-killers, but a people with bloody hands, nonetheless.

It is time to dispense with the virtue-signaling and dial down the atonement. Jettison the moral narcissism, too. Jews, like everyone else, are an imperfect people, but the bottom-rung of humanity they most certainly are not. All this anguish over Jewish misdeeds is a gross distortion, a defamation with dangerous consequences.

After all, if Jews insist on publicly begging for forgiveness, ad nauseam, perhaps they are pulling the levers in Hollywood, banking, and the seats of governmental power. Why else are they this apologetic?

The conscience-stricken are so relentless, they can ruin a good movie. During Yom Kippur, the cable station TCM featured “Exodus.” To help introduce this epic film, they invited Israeli filmmaker, Guy Nattiv. 

For those who are unfamiliar, the movie is about the days leading up to the creation of Israel — the Jews who had lived on the land since biblical times, and the Holocaust survivors who just arrived and would take up arms against Arabs who were prepared to kill women and children to wipe out the fledgling state.

Apparently, Nattiv is no great fan of the film, but what seemed to trouble him most was that it did not depict Arabs being forced off their land. What movie was he watching? So much for native knowledge given his overly simplistic and ahistorical take. At least he was politically correct. An American audience conditioned to think of Israel as Middle East oppressors must have greatly appreciated his perspective.

Elsewhere, however, on Fox NFL Kickoff, hours before the start of the holiday, with tens of millions of Americans watching, former New England Patriot Julian Edelman, now a football analyst, wore a black turtleneck and a large Star of David hanging centered on his chest. Edelman’s Jewish identity didn’t seem to ruin football Sunday. He wouldn’t have cared if it had. He was once a scrappy undersized jock. On pre-Kol Nidre Sunday, he was an unfailing Jew.

That’s how Edelman kicked-off Yom Kippur. Without apology. Just pride. Still a Patriot, just not with New England.


Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.” 

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