Eliyahu’s Comments are Wrong

The recent flap over former radio-TV “shock-jock” Don Imus over racist and sexist words he used to defame the Rutgers University Women’s Basketball Team is only the most recent example of the maxim that words can cause real harm and hurt, especially when they cross the line from humor or criticism into hate speech. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, a former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel set off a firestorm when he told a Haredi (fervently Orthodox) radio station last week that Jews as a whole were not to blame for the Holocaust, “but the Reform movement started in Germany, those who changed the religion began in Germany. And because it is written that God was angered, even He did not differentiate among the righteous, and it was done.”

Rabbi Eliyahu’s statements were met with immediate and strong rebuke from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League, and by the executive director of ARZA, the Reform Movement’s Zionist arm. Rabbi Andrew Davids, executive director of ARZA said, in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post from New York, “Anyone with the most basic understanding of German anti-Semitism would understand that there is no relationship between the piety and religiosity of Jews and the violence committed against them.”

Adolf Hitler and his evil Nazi regime did not differentiate among the various streams of Judaism in their efforts to commit total genocide against the Jews of Europe and later the entire world. Any and all Jews, from the most assimilated and acculturated, Reform and Orthodox, secular and even anti-religious Jews were swept into the death camps and gas chambers in an all-out effort to kill all of the Jews in Germany, Austria and the other nations conquered by the Nazi regime.

Rabbi Eliyahu’s statements amount to slander against millions of Reform and Progressive Jews, past and present, who take their Jewishness just as seriously as do Jews who are affiliated with other branches of Judaism. Fortunately, in our Jewish community of St. Louis, we have cordial and cooperative relations among the various streams of Judaism thanks to the enlightened rabbinic leadership of our leading rabbis and institutions. It is not unusual to find youth groups from all streams of Judaism holding joint programs, and increasingly there are rabbinic exchanges among the synagogues in which rabbis from one branch of Judaism visit others to share their insights and wisdom.

When Jews remain united as K’lal Yisrael, we cannot be defeated. When destructive and divisive statements such as those of Rabbi Eliyahu are uttered, that very unity is threatened. We hope that the appropriate rabbinic authorities in the State of Israel will indeed officially chastise Rabbi Eliyahu for his unacceptable remarks.