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November 27, 2014 / conservadox

The most interesting thing I’ve read about Ferguson

From a rabbi in Toronto: \

I certainly believe that Jews must speak up against injustice – but, to my mind, the Jewish reaction ought to be more sophisticated than this. First, because the facts of the case are murky enough that each side can present a legitimate argument. But more, because Jewish history as well as Torah put us on both sides of the situation.

Jewish history – Like Michael Brown’s family, we know what it is like to have our blood spilled by government or police, and often without even the fig leaf of an excuse, certainly without an investigation by a grand jury. But like Officer Darren Wilson, we also know what it is like to have underprivileged populations pre-judge us as the enemy, and assume the worst about our intentions and actions.  We have seen what happens when those who suffer at the bottom of society concoct theories about precisely who is responsible for their misery. Just look at recent centuries – from Chmielnicki’s 17th century Cossacks, to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the late 19th century, to Leo Frank in the American South in 1915, to Europe today, Jews have been, and continue to be, frequent targets of the worst socioeconomic prejudices.

Torah – Our Torah seems to instruct us to sympathize with both sides of this situation.

  • On the one hand, Devarim 10:19 says, “You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in Egypt.” Numerous mitzvot command us to take the side of the disadvantaged.
  • But on the other hand, Shemot 22:27 warns us not to curse the judge and the leader; as Sefer haChinuch explains, society needs its officials, and it needs respect for those officials.
In light of the Torah’s instructions, it seems to me that taking one side over the other is not a legitimate Torah-based approach, and turning our backs on both sides is also not a legitimate Torah-based approach. Rather, we are expected to sympathize with both sides – with the pain and helplessness of Michael Brown’s family, and with the beleaguered civil servants who make up the Ferguson police department.

I acknowledge the ring of naivete in my words here, but perhaps when more people look for the right in both sides, and are moved to assist both sides, then tragedies like these will become less frequent, as bridges between the communities will become stronger.


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