In the last two weeks or so, I have read a great deal of statements made by Jewish organizations and rabbis dealing with our immigration policy and the merits of compassion, protest and defiance. I’ve seen Facebook posts by liberals and conservatives that contain words in all caps. In general, I’ve seen many statements but listened to little conversation.
I would like to add a different note to this conversation. The quality we are missing from dialogue today is wisdom. Wisdom is the key corrective measure to our brokenness today. Movements and mob mentalities usually feed off of emotions rather than rational thought. The Jewish community should not get sucked into partisan warfare and bullhorn politics just because it feels good. We should worry less about feeling good and concern ourselves more with acting prudently and elevating discourse.
We, the Jewish People, are commanded by the Torah to follow the path of wisdom. Deuteronomy 4:6 states, “Observe them (the laws) faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, ‘Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.’” We should be elevating the national dialogue, not feeding into a bipolar system consisting of executive orders and mass defiance. We can choose a third way – the path of wisdom.
Last week, I listened to an interview with legal expert Alan Dershowitz, who explained that Attorney General Sally Yates should have outlined the constitutional legalities and illegalities of President Trump’s executive order on January 27th limiting immigration before she resigned. Yates was not a hero for resigning. Our national dialogue, and the responsibilities of her job, required her to bring forward her legal arguments into the public domain. Dershowitz observed that Yates made a mistake and made “a political decision rather than a legal one.” I would argue she made an emotional decision, rather than a rational one.
Rational thought had its day in court last Friday. US District Judge James Robart in Seattle heard the case and ruled to suspend the executive order. Then, the administration challenged Robart’s ruling. Yesterday, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld Robart’s decision. Whether or not one agrees with the outcome, the US legal system functioned exactly as they are expected. The courts decided this issue according to legal reasoning and logic rather than hysteria. I believe the rabbis of the Talmud would have preferred judicial arguments as well.
President Trump nominated Neil Gorusch for the Supreme Court. Emotions aside, I believe he is qualified. I heard Rep. Nancy Pelosi describe him as “a hostile appointment” by President Trump. Even if that’s true, he is still qualified. President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court. I believe he was also qualified for the position. Garland never even received a confirmation hearing. The Republican majority in the Senate acted as immaturely as Yates. They made an emotional decision and covered their ears rather than argue the merits of Merrick Garland’s nomination.
How long can this amazing country last without dialogue or compromise of any kind? Is no rational conversation about immigration and safety possible? One that acknowledges the fears and merits of immigration. Is no rational conversation possible about Supreme Court nominees? Is it better to vilify every judge in the entire judicial system until nobody is left?
We as Jews are commanded to heed the words of God and the Torah, not to faithfully observe the positions of a single political party. Too often today it seems like I am speaking with a Jewish Democrat or a Jewish Republican. If we are more loyal to policy than to values, then why even attend synagogue? Why not just worship the political party platform?
The Torah is bigger than politics. It is bigger than policy. And it has to remain so for the sake of the future of the Jewish People. The Torah challenges us to navigate through ideas that make us feel good and make us feel uncomfortable. That is the Divine wisdom of the Torah. We continue to read it and study it and debate the Torah every week as a community.
We are required to bring wisdom into the conversation, not accept the indecency of today’s shouting. We must reject our current broken political system and raise the level of intellectual conversation. As Deuteronomy teaches, our conduct must inspire others to look at us and say, “…that great nation is a wise and discerning people.”
The Jewish People have always offered the world a model of wisdom. Our Talmud models heated debate that produces a synthesis of ideas – a well-reasoned compromise. Now is not the time to descend into extreme partisanship. That does not benefit the future of the Jewish People. Now is the time to offer our neighbors the antidote to the stagnation and shouting that has enveloped us.
As we say every time we open the ark to reveal the Torah, “Blessed is God who gave the Torah to Israel in holiness.” God gave us the Torah and now we, as American Jews, must share it with those around us so that we can reason, can reach compromise and can once again seek solutions to our communal problems – together.