Thursday, February 24, 2011

Response to Glen Beck on Reform Judaism


Short version: Beck took some time on Tuesday's show to, as Haaretz puts it, "slam" Reform Judaism by comparing it to "Radical Islam", on the basis that both are political, not spiritual, movements. "Allegedly", this was a response to a group of 400 rabbis that called him out for insensitively and inappropriately overusing references to the Holocaust.

Highlight of Beck's comments:
When you talk about rabbis, understand that most people who are not Jewish don't understand that there are the Orthodox rabbis and then there are the Reformed (sic) rabbis. Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It's almost like Islam - radicalized Islam - in a way to where radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics.

I'm not saying that they're the same on - and they're going to take it at that, but -- stand in line. It's not about terror or anything else, it's about politics, and so it becomes more about politics than it does about faith. Orthodox rabbis -- that is about faith. There's not a single orthodox rabbi on this list. This is all reformed rabbis that were -- that made this list.

Summary of the response:
“These comments are deeply offensive, completely absurd”, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism told Haaretz. “Reform Judaism it’s the largest segment of the U.S. Jewish community, and it’s the fastest growing denomination in the U.S. in any faith group – it has much to do with the spiritual needs of a large number of American Jews and to reduce it to [its] social justice agenda is just incorrect."

  1. I'm amused Beck considers Reform Judaism to be closer to radical Islam than Orthodox.  Neither is very close - the better comparison would be the Jewish fundamentalist wack-jobs that hang out by the Kotel throwing rocks at people - but the fact he would try to draw the spectrum that way shows his complete lack of understanding on the issue.
  2. I'm also amused that Rabbi Saperstein associates "Political" with "Social Justice Agenda". That's either a nice piece of spin, or an interesting insight into the man's mind. Either way, I recommend employing "social justice" as a new euphemism. As in, "I didn't like that Temple; the congregation's too focused on social justice."
  3. In all the "outrage" over Beck's comments (I use ironic quotation marks because, honestly, what did you expect from the man? It's like being surprised when your puppy pees on the carpet.), no one seems bothered by the implications he's making about Islam. 
Allow me to be so bothered.

This reminds me of the 2008 presidential campaign, when one of the big attacks on Obama were "allegations" he was a "secret Muslim". It took Colin Powell to put these rumors in their place, by reminding the public that there's a long distance between "Islamic" and "terrorist", and using the two synonymously, or attempting to use "Islamic" as a slur, is grossly inappropriate.

Beck's using "radical Islam" as an, I assume, ironic stand-in for his usual bogeyman comparisons to Nazis. The "punchline" being that he's comparing Reform Jews to the people trying to destroy Israel and Judaism! Hah! What funny! (My co-worker points out that, in this, some Israeli Orthodox rabbis might agree with him) But again, there is a massive inappropriateness in describing, as a movement, any branch of Islam as terrorists.

If you do have some need to point out the terrorist's connection to Islam (and I have no idea why you would; it seems more useful to say "Saudi Arabian terrorists" or "repressive social conservatives" rather than reference their religion), then "Islamic" should only be used as an adjective. In the same way you'd describe them as "tall terrorists" or "well-dressed terrorists".

Pointing fingers at "Radical" religion is misleading, and damaging. Because "Radical" means they support change or extreme ideas without offering any judgment about those ideas. MLK, for example, would count as a "Radical Christian" leader because he wanted significant and rapid change. A "Radical Islamic" movement might be one that believes women can serve as Imams (which is a nice bilingual Hebrew pun, if you think about it).

Implying that anyone wanting change is some sort of terrorist or promoter of violence is just plain wrong. It brings down the level of public discourse, and, ironically, reinforces the very same repressive understanding of religion that it purports to oppose.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps Beck was saying that rabbis are too concerned about "temple" politics?