Sunday, July 03, 2005

Dependence and Independence

Next to April 15, when I have the annual privilege of furthering the financial fortunes of this great country of ours, the Fourth of July is my favorite national holiday. Independence Day, the day on which our Founding Fathers signed away their allegiance to Mother England and went off on their own merry way, is an uncommon day of celebration.

American Jews live in a great country, arguably the greatest man-made society in human history. For Jews, exiled, since the destruction of the Temple, for nearly two millennia, America has been an historical anomaly, a haven of hospitality for a people to whom persecution and pogroms were the normative way of life.

It is incumbent upon every American Jew, therefore, to reflect annually, on this great day, and appreciate what this great country has given us—Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: The right to build synagogues and schools, the ability to pray and study Torah unobstructed, the simple freedom to walk down the street wearing a yarmulka without any fear whatsoever.

Of course, I speak of today’s America. These freedoms were hard to come by in the America of yesteryear. Men of my father’s generation did not wear yarmulkas at work or in the street as many of my generation do. The world—even the American world—was not so kind to Jews. Firms would not hire us. Neighborhoods would not welcome us. As recently as seventy years ago, a radio personality named Father Coughlin, the Rush Limbaugh of his day, publicly preached for the expulsion of the Jews—and much of America agreed with him.

Granted, this sort of discrimination was not strictly anti-Semitism. It was across the board. "No Irish Need Apply" signs littered corporate America. And we certainly don’t need to revisit the terrible treatment of non-whites in our national history.

Nevertheless, even with all the obstacles, the American Dream persisted. Jews persisted. The sheer quantity of opportunities inherent in our country’s composition allowed our people to rise above discrimination and take advantage of American liberty. Our nation was able to live, work, study, and lay the groundwork for the demographic upsurge—numerically, religiously, influentially—that took place in the second half of the twentieth century.

But this upsurge had one negative side-effect. It got us thinking more like Americans and less like Jews. We began taking our liberty for granted. We began to speak the language of Freedom and Rights. Our tone became emboldened, even obstinate. We no longer feel lucky to live here. We no longer thank G-d every day for sparing us the horrors experienced by so many of our ancestors. We forget that we are dependent every day upon G-d’s good graces.

Instead, we feel entitled.

And this sense of entitlement causes us to forget who we are and the duties we are charged with. Last month, a certain rabbi won a lawsuit against a restaurant that made the grave, anti-Semitic gesture of refusing to serve him coffee in a paper cup. The restaurant insisted that he drink his coffee in a ceramic cup like everyone else. But the rabbi, who had studied Jewish law for many years and knew that drinking coffee in a non-kosher ceramic cup was a sin of the highest order, was petulant. Upon refusal, he held high the banner of discrimination—and its concomitant suffering and mental anguish—and called his attorney.

Were this man’s actions improper? Should he have been more forgiving? Even if the waitress was clearly discriminating against him, was hitting her employers with a severe fine unreasonable? Does the image of the victim’s smiling face in the morning newspaper seem smug?

As an American, one might answer No to all those questions. And rightly so—he certainly was well within his rights. One might argue that his actions were, in fact, noble, another cobblestone laid on the road to freedom, an act worthy of Rosa Parks.

But as a Jew, was his behavior correct?

Judaism preaches qualities that are often at loggerheads with the conventional American approach. Instead of freedom and rights, the Torah demands restraint, discipline, courtesy, compassion, and most important, fealty to G-d Above. As Jews, we need to be more concerned with Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying G-d’s Name, impressing people—Jews and Gentiles alike—with our ethics.

As independent as we may feel here, we can not forget that we are forever dependent on G-d to sustain us and the country in which we live. G-d has given us America to provide for us opportunities and freedoms. It is now up to us to utilize those opportunities and freedoms to become great Jews, to develop ourselves within the framework of Torah and mitzvos.

May G-d bless our great nation, and may G-d bless the United States of America.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yasher Koach!

Mon Jul 04, 08:49:00 AM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...


As much as I love apple pie, baseball, and American Democracy - it really kills me to see a post like this. Obviously, one has to have hakarat hatov to G-d and the US for being such a great place for Jews to live. Its just depressing seeing a post like that, while reading it from my computer screen in Yerushalayim.

The Satmar Rebbe zt'l told his Chassidim to stay in Hungary, rather than flee the oncoming Nazis. So why would anyone, kal vachomer, leave America where you can become "become great Jews, to develop ourselves within the framework of Torah and mitzvos."

Living in America is a lackluster compromise, bidi'eved at best (assuming you ignore the Rambam's opinion that its idolotry). To say that its "LeChatchila", the loftiest of ways to be a great Jew, is depressing.

I think that Jews who are "michalel shem shamayim" by espousing their American democratic rights are the logical outcome of living in America, "milichatchila."

Anyway, I'm off to eat a hotdog...there's a big Songfest with Dudu Fisher in Gush Katif this evening.

Happy Fourth.

Mon Jul 04, 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger Litvshe said...

Not that I disagree with Jameel's larger point...and it is clear from the Rambam that one needs to live in Eretz Yisrael...but the point of being an idol worshipper is not quite p'shat. It refers to people who leave Eretz Yisrael to go live in Chutz L'aretz. Not that there aren't opinions that anyone who lives in Chu"l is like an idol's just not the Rambam's shitah.

Mon Jul 04, 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Litvishe: You are correct specifically about the Rambam's point of leaving. Yet how could anyone live in Chutz Laaretz according the the start of the halacha (5):

לעולם ידור אדם בארץ ישראל אפילו בעיר שרובה עכו``ם ואל ידור בחוצה לארץ ואפילו בעיר שרובה ישראל

Its pretty clear.

Mon Jul 04, 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger Litvshe said...

אין הכי נמי
I thought I thought I made it clear that according to the Rambam one is required to live here.

Mon Jul 04, 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger ClooJew said...


You are of course correct that Eretz Yisrael ought to be the final destination of all Jews.

The purpose of the post was simply to demonstrate the delitirious effect of freedom and independence upon American Jewry. That there is, in fact, a Jewish population in America is a matter of fact at the moment. Whether it SHOULD be a fact is a topic for another post.

In any case, the mussar is greatly appreciated. Cheilecha le'Oraisa.

Mon Jul 04, 02:33:00 PM  
Blogger Alisha said...

ClooJew, it's interesting. I read your last post and thought very highly of it. I read this post and think you make a good point here, as well. But I am struck by a faint thematic contradiction between the two.

It seems to me likely that many of the instances of the expression "Siz shver tzizein ah Yid -- It's difficult to be a Jew" were likely in response or in reference to dealing with the attitude of the world towards Jews, rather than to the internal requirements of living a religiously Jewish lifestyle. If the phrase is used in this context, would you have the same R'-Feinstein-esque reaction, that the sentiment shouldn't be vocalized because it will push people away from Judaism? And if so, how can you reconcile that stance with a criticism of American Jews who insist "too" vehemently on their religious rights here that they push the limits of the American system of civil democracy as well as those of the Jewish ideals of humility and kiddush Hashem?

Just for the record, I'm not sure where the line is, myself. Just thought I'd raise the question.

Mon Jul 04, 04:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please comment on orthomom's gay pride post (2 posts ago).

I would appreciate your input.

Mon Jul 04, 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger Jack's Shack said...

It is fine to be respectful and important to do so. It is important to be aware of what is reasonable to ask and what is not reasonable.

But there is no reason why we should not demand the same rights as others and sometimes that line of thinking is missed and sometimes it is abused.

But the bottom line remains the same. All American citizens deserve the same respect and tolerance.

Mon Jul 04, 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Veev said...

My Bubby thanks God for America every day. She remembers what it was like to have her freedom taken away just for being a Jew.

I thank God for getting my Bubby safely to America's shores.

Tue Jul 05, 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger The source of all depth said...

Oy yoy yoy, what else can I say? ClooJew seems to be a nice fella with a good heart but he needs to READ a little more is all. I will share more later on regarding some of his...'points'... but fer now let's just say things are not usually as they seem on the surface, hence: 'the need to read'

Tue Jul 05, 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger parcequilfaut said...

CJ --

The Rambam with which I am most familiar is the Jewish private investigator in the Friedman novels, so I'll be brief as I can't follow the English of the comments, much less the Hebrew (I am working on broadening my education, but one language at a time, please.)

My religion (which is not Christianity, as I believe you are aware), too, has a history of persecution, and I have seen in my own community a tendency like that of the rabbi in question -- the tendency to stand up and scream and shout about EVERYTHING that might be construed as a slight or a slur, a tendency which I think makes people less likely to stand in solidarity with us when something serious enough to warrant pursuing transpires (as when one of our weddings was broken up by cops, three or four years back). The thing to do in the case of the rabbi, the neighborly thing, the community-preserving thing, is not to pitch a fit and file a civil suit -- it is to speak quietly to a manager and then take your business elsewhere and spread the word of mouth, if you choose to take it farther, that the restaurant refuses to accomodate kashrut. So it would seem to me, although there may be factors of which I am unaware in the specific.

I have had service people ask me if I worship Satan. I didn't use my faith to get rich, but I didn't patronize the place that slighted it any further, and I made sure I knew the management knew why.

It's great to have the rights being an American citizen affords one. But one should try to make the world better, is it not so, rather than concentrating on getting it to fit you...because if it fit you perfectly, there would not be the choice to take the path of virtue, to pick up one's hat and leave instead of spreading negative discord and lawsuits in your wake.

Thanks for coming to see me! Hope you'll stop by again...

Wed Jul 06, 02:21:00 AM  
Blogger Me, Uncensored said...

What does lulei demistifina mean?

PS: Noxema is good, as is aloe vera. Vinegar also works well to take the sting out of a sunburn, although you smell like a salad afterwards.

Wed Jul 06, 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...

Lulei demistafina means "Were I not afraid." It's a phrase used by many of the Biblical, Talmudic and halachic commentators when they want to say something controversial. They say, "If I were not afraid, I would say..." and then they say it. Its a signal of humility, as if to say, who am I to propose such an original idea.

Wed Jul 06, 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

I want to thank you for all your kind comments on my blog.

Someone is going on some of the blogs and posing as me, using the name, barbarianfromcalifornia.

This person obviously is sick, with some serious mental health issues. The Torah tells us to pray for these misguided souls, and this is what I intend to do.

If there is something else for me to do, please let me know. I suspect I know who this poor soul is.

Wed Jul 06, 09:31:00 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

ack, cloojew. you left a message for me, telling me that I should want to be with myself....maybe I should....thanks for the advice. But....loneliness is a demon, I'm almost sure of it. And all I want is someone to hold me.

Wed Jul 06, 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Esther said...

Wow. Interesting post once again, cloojew, and great comments. I hadn't heard about this case with the Rabbi. Would it have killed the waitress to give him a paper cup?

I don't consider myself a pushover, but I think I would have been more apt to take it out on her tip and then never go there again... and make sure the manager knew why -- if not the owner.

Thu Jul 07, 01:22:00 AM  
Blogger mojoala said...

are jews in this country republican or democratic?

Thu Jul 07, 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger Balabusta in Blue Jeans said...

Er...I have to ask, what was the Rambam's problem, then? I seem to have a vague recollection that he stayed in diaspora himself, despite a couple of Birthright trips. (Am I missing something?)

A brocheh tzu Columbus, even with all his mishegoss. My great-grandparents came here for a reason. If I ever make aliyah it won't be because I am not profoundly grateful for what it is to be an American Jew.

Fri Jul 22, 02:26:00 PM  
Blogger ClooJew said...


I'm not sure what "problem" you refer to...that he stayed in the diaspora?

Rambam holds that living in Eretz Yisrael is not a requirement. The Ramban disagrees. This is a classic dispute that has ramifications to this day.

Mon Jul 25, 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Truly beautiful post.

As I try to become a more observant Jew, I too have been told that it is all about taking baby steps.

And you are right: G-d does indeed like any steps one can make in His direction.

Be well.

Mon Aug 08, 04:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's time to take charge of your future and independence by having your own business!

Sat Jan 28, 08:55:00 PM  

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