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Jewish Nationalists and Jewish Globalists Parshas Vayikra

This week, on The Late Show, Stephen Colbert proclaimed himself to be “the one person Donald Trump hasn’t fired”.

Of course, Colbert was referring to the recent firing of Rex Tillerson, the man who, if you Google him, still shows up as Secretary of State even though he found out he was fired this week. How did he find out that he was being replaced? Via a public tweet by the president. Colbert added, “It’s too bad Twitter wasn’t around when Trump ended his first two marriages. Back then he had to do it by fax.”

To add to this ever-growing list of personnel who have been fired or have stepped down, earlier this week, Gary Cohn, chief economic advisor to the President, announced that he would be resigning over fundamental disagreements with the president.

And while this all looks chaotic to you and me, some astute political observers are suggesting a consistent theme in the recent dismissals and firings. About a year and a half ago, the Economist had a cover story titled, The New Political Divide, in which they argued that there is a new political order forming. In their words:

“From Warsaw to Washington, the political divide that matters is less and less between left and right, and more and more between open and closed. Debates between tax-cutting conservatives and free-spending social democrats have not gone away. But issues that cross traditional party lines have grown more potent. Welcome immigrants or keep them out? Open up to foreign trade or protect domestic industries? Embrace cultural change, or resist it?”

This new labeling scheme has really taken off and instead of hearing people being described as liberals or conservatives, the new jargon is globalists vs. the nationalists; those who see their nation as part of a global community or those who see each nation as its own independent entity.

Gary Cohn, with his opposition to the new tariffs on steel imports, Rex Tillerson, with his support of the Iran deal and of strong sanctions against Russia, both fall neatly into the globalist camp. And it would seem, the analysts argue, that the President is slowly making it clear that he is aligning himself even more firmly with the nationalist camp.

Politics aside, I love this way of thinking about the political divide, because in many ways, the Jewish People can be neatly divided into these two camps; as globalists or as nationalists. Are we a light unto the nations, tasked with fighting every injustice all over the globe? Or, are we a family, expected to look out for our own?

And we usually fall into pretty predictable patterns. So for example, on one local Reform temple’s website, under a section titled ‘Giving’, they list: race-relations programming, providing food through Our Daily Bread (a subsidiary of Catholic Charities), and different projects that are designed to help the environment. Contrast that with what I found on a large Orthodox synagogue’s website. They list the following programs; Hachnossos Orchim, Shiva Homes, Bikur Cholim, and my favorite, Adopt a Bubby and Zaidy.

Globalists and nationalists.

Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik, in one of his most important essays, titled, Confrontation, suggests a far more nuanced approach. This is what he says: “We are summoned by God, who revealed himself at both the level of universal creation and that of the private covenant, to undertake a double mission—the universal human and the exclusive covenantal confrontation.”

In other words, just like G-d has a relationship with the universe, established through the act of creation, and He has a unique relationship with the Jewish People, established through the act of the Exodus, we too, have two relationships; our job is to care about the world around us and it is also to care for the Jewish People.

In one of the Torah’s we took out today, we read about this upcoming month being the first of the months, hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chadashim. The Biblical name for this month is ‘the first month, chodesh harishon’. But we call it… Nissan. And I know there is a wealth of literature explaining the deeper meaning of the month, but the real reason we call this month Nissan is because it’s a Babylonian name and about 2500 years ago, we adopted a more universal framework for our calendar.

The Jewish month, our sacred Jewish time, is marked both by our personal faith and by a universal fraternity which we are a part of.

And so what we should be finding on a shul website is encouragement to give to Ahavas Yisrael and programs that enhance race-relations, Gevuras Yarden’s Tikvah House and the Ronald McDonald House. (And before you go home and check what our website says, it doesn’t have a Chesed section!)

A few years ago, I received a summer fellowship with an organization called Tikvah. One of the presenters there, was a brilliant young man by the name of Dr. Daniel Mark. He currently serves as the chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and he was trying to teach us the following theory and that is; our Jewish value system is in essence a universal set of laws. And that being the case, he argued, that we should never fight for legislation because of the interests of our community. What we should do is explain why these needs are good for everyone and fight on behalf of all of society. So take every controversial topic you could imagine – school vouchers, traditional marriage model, end of life issues, etc., etc. Delve deeply into the principals that guide these laws and explain to all of society how it is good for good for everyone!

In other words, what he was trying to do was synthesize our national relationship with our global one. It’s a very nice theory and a very important one. We should be able to articulate why these laws are relevant in the 21st century and too often we cannot.

And this approach usually works – but not always. Because what if there was legislation which was clearly beneficial to the State of Israel and clearly detrimental to the United States? That could happen if it hasn’t already. What if there was a tax-cut that would be good for you and me, and most of the people in this immediate area, but would have terrible ramifications to others in neighboring communities?

That was Rabbi Soloveitchik’s point; they are two different relationships and they can, at times, conflict. We are not expected to be Jewish nationalists or Jewish globalists, we are expected to struggle with balancing the difficult task of being both.

And to be clear, more often than not, it is our Jewish interests which trump our global ones. But the question is, how do we get to that conclusion? Do we flippantly write off the rest of the world or do we struggle with balancing our two callings? That struggle is an expression of our double mission; of being nationalists and globalists at the same time.

There’s been what I believe to be a beautiful development in our community, how so many people are getting involved in politics and running for different offices. I think it’s great because we should be involved in this country at every level. I wish the many candidates the best of luck and I have only good things to say about each of them. But I am disappointed at some of their supporters, people who tell me that we should vote for them exclusively because they will have our immediate community’s interests in mind – I think that’s a mistake. That’s not enough of a reason for a Jew to vote for someone.

When we vote, on a national level or on a local level, we have to vote as Jews with a double mission, with a two-fold calling. We must worry about Israel and the global community. We must worry about our schools and the public schools. I do believe that we possess a value system that is universal in its nature. But when the two callings cannot be reconciled, may G-d grant us the wisdom to balance our national interests with our global ones, just as G-d does the same.

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