Rabbi's Weekly Message

A Message from Rabbi Peltz ~ Thursday, February 14

Recently we have seen anti-Semitic comments and insinuations made from leaders on the left and the right, with each quick to point out the sin of the other. Surely anti-Semitism must be called out and condemned no matter where it comes from, and we are grateful for those who have done so. But what I have found troubling is how quickly each side condemns the other, and yet how reticent each is to call out the anti-Semitism of their fellow partisans. This leads to a type of “gotcha” discourse that misses the dangerous point, which is that anti-Semitic remarks and tweets appear too frequently in our society from all sides. Given that it is Presidents’ weekend, it is worth revisiting the famous letter written by George Washington to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island in August of 1790. This letter became well known for its succinct articulation of religious liberty in the new nation of America. Upon receiving a letter of congratulations from the Jewish community of Newport, the new President responded as follows: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it were by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…” For 18th century Jewish immigrants from Europe, whose greatest hope was not for freedom, but “toleration,” this letter signaled a new paradigm. America would not just tolerate its Jews, but it would give them freedom to practice as they wished. Washington articulated a vision of a nation whose founders valued religious liberty for all people. This value is still yet to be achieved, but holding it up as an ideal gives us something to strive for. Both for our own Jewish community, and for other minority communities in our country. In a time when we see anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred continue to rear their ugly heads in our society, from the left and the right, Washington’s words challenge us: Do we give bigotry no sanction, persecution no assistance, regardless of where it comes from? Or do we make excuses and find reasons to let those who agree with us on other issues off the hook?