Tuesday, August 18, 2009


In today’s Jerusalem Post, Shmuley Boteach’s "No Holds Barred: Why footballer Michael Vick should be forgiven" column dealt with forgiveness for Michael Vick. In the middle of his column, Boteach wrote about the divide in both America and Israel that occurs in judgmental societies. I’ve chosen to excerpt that part of his column.

IN GENERAL, America is becoming a harsher, more judgmental society. Turn on the radio on any given day and you'll hear the mortal combat of left versus right, liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican that has come to define the American political discourse. When I spoke to a conservative political group recently about President Barack Obama,

I explained my principled opposition to many of his policies, especially toward Israel. I said I found the president to be mature, charismatic, highly intelligent and well-intentioned. But his pressure on Israel for a unilateral freeze on settlements was prejudicial, misguided, ill-informed and ultimately destructive to any possibility of peace. Pressure on the Arabs to accept Israel's existence and respect their own people's rights is what was necessary, and Obama was simply too soft on tyrants.

I was astonished at the response. "The president is none of those things. He's a fool and he's a fraud." OK. We can resort to character assassination. We certainly witnessed the lengths to which some on the left were prepared to go in destroying the good name of George W. Bush. And we can continue to divide this country along political lines. But are any of us properly served when we can find no good in our fellow Americans?

IT WAS even sadder listening to Israelis last week when leading a trip for Ma'ayanot-birthright. The secular-religious divide in Israel is simply out of control. So many of the secular Israelis I spoke to hate the religious. They characterize them as freeloaders who refuse to serve in the army and live off the public purse. They are backward Neanderthals who preach intolerance and hate. And it affects their views of Judaism.

While the American participants on the trip were thrilled to have a bar mitzva at the Western Wall (only a handful of our men and women had even had that central rite of passage), our Israeli participants mostly sat and watched, refusing to be touched by the light of Jewish life.

Conversely, many of the religious spoke of secular Israelis as hedonists who have no morality and are deeply ashamed of their Jewishness.

What seems astonishing is how neither group accepts the absolute necessity of the other. Without secular Israelis who largely built the country and work so hard to defend and maintain it, religious Jews would not have the security and freedom that is the hallmark of Israeli democracy. Conversely, without religious Jews sustaining Jewish commitment and observance, there might be precious little to fight for, as Israel becomes more and more like any other decadent Western nation.

But judging and dismissing is so much easier than forgiving and embracing one another.

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