It is interesting to see how the articles by Rabbi Jeremy Wieder and by Ariel Herzog on racism in the Orthodox community (December 1, 2016) acted almost as Rorschach tests, at least judging by the letters in response (December 8, 2016). Much of what those letters addressed was not actually written or even inferred in the articles, but seemed more a projection of the letter writers’ assumptions. One letter strongly implied that Rabbi Wieder is anti-Zionist or pro-BDS. Rabbi Wieder is a rosh yeshiva in YU. To accuse him of being anti-Zionist is as despicable as it is absurd. The letters also claim that Rabbi Wieder accused all Trump supporters of being racists. Rabbi Wieder, however, stated quite the opposite, that he believes most who voted for Trump are decent people who voted as they did despite—not because of—Trump’s racist views. Rabbi Wieder clearly wrote that his protest was directed at some students of his own yeshiva who, at an election-night party, behaved in a racist manner, indicating with their own words that they had voted for Trump “davka” because of his racist views. I think we—all decent people—can agree that that is repugnant. The accusation that all Trump supporters are racist, on the other hand, did not come from Rabbi Wieder. It seems to exist only in the minds of the letter writers.
Rabbi Wieder did write that he believes racism is a problem in the Orthodox Jewish community. No, he does not have numbers. But there is a place and a function for anecdotal evidence. One need only touch water so many times to determine that it is wet. It is somewhat reassuring to me that the letter writers are unaware of significant racism in the Orthodox community. That unfortunately has not been my experience, and it has apparently not been the experience of Rabbi Wieder or Mr. Herzog. Rabbi Wieder, by virtue of his vocation, is in a unique position to observe the varied and various opinions of young men in the modern Orthodox community. If he concludes, even based on anecdotal evidence, that racism is a problem in the Orthodox community, we would do well to take notice. One letter writer expressed concern that “focusing the lens of racism” on our community has potential for harm. But pretending it does not exist will not make it disappear nor will it render it invisible. Denial is not a defense, and if the fault is there, it will be plain for the world to see, whether we admit it or no. Rabbi Wieder raised the issue in this forum to his community, called out the racism he witnessed so that it can be addressed and fought. Denial does not heal wounds. It only allows them to fester.
The letter writers do seem convinced of one thing, that Rabbi Wieder, although he voices no political opinions in the article, is clearly a Liberal Jewish American with an agenda, just another Democratic Party operative. They are incapable of believing that one could truly just find the president-elect a reprehensible individual who professes racist beliefs and viciously slanders those with whom he differs. Indeed, the tone and content of these letters, implying that a YU rosh yeshiva is anti-Zionist, very nearly accusing him of anti-Semitism, are very much in line with the style of our president-elect. This is how low our conversation has fallen, following the precipitous downward path we have seen these past months. Our president-elect has blazed that path, and it has his name on it. We would do well as Torah Jews, regardless of political affiliation, not to follow.
Lastly, one letter writer accused Mr. Herzog of not using Trump’s own words, and thereby mischaracterizing his opinions. Here is the quote from the president-elect: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Those are his words. Judge for yourself. Though his words seem clear enough that it is unlikely they will ever find use as a Rorshach.Aryeh BaerTeaneck