The Conspiracy

For Heaven’s Sake

The Mishna teaches us that an argument for the sake of heaven will yield lasting results. Judaism is a religion of arguments: Hillel vs. Shammai, Rashi vs. Rabbenu Tam, Heschel vs. Kaplan. Yet the Mishna tells us that even if arguments become heated, we must remember that it is not personal. We argue not to win but to determine the truth.

Unfortunately, members of the Jewish community have not learned this lesson and have ostracized a controversial but valued member of our society.  Judge Richard Goldstone’s recent report on last year’s Gaza war has inflamed many in the Jewish community to the point of threatening to protest his grandson’s bar mitzvah, which has driven him to agree to not attend. This is unacceptable behavior and that the community should condemn.  I am shocked that the South African Zionist Federation and Rabbi Moshe Kurtstag, South Africa’s Av Beth Din (religious chief justice) would taint one of the most important days of a young man’s life in order to make a political point.

I do not agree with Judge Goldstone’s findings on Operation Cast Lead, but my many strong objections do not diminish the immense respect I have for Judge Goldstone.  Having personally met him, I can say that he is an eminently gifted legal thinker with an enormous breadth of knowledge and a lifetime of service to the cause of human rights. He has devoted his life to bringing justice to those who have been silenced. As prosecutor in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Judge Goldstone forced the world to pay attention to the terrible atrocities going on in those countries. A look at his distinguished career says that he is a living tribute to the phrase “Never Again.”

When Judge Goldstone came to speak to my school on his report after all the anger it caused in my community, I came to the meeting with hatred for him. Yet when I met with him, I found a gracious and kind man who responded with incredible dignity and self-restraint to a hostile crowd that seemed keen on insulting him.  I left the meeting shaking his hand and thanking him for his time and kindness in patiently answering my question. Although his speech did not assuage my issues with his findings, Judge Goldstone’s behavior taught me a lifelong lesson: one can vehemently disagree but remain civil, respectful and amiable.  I doubt I would have had the confidence to stand calmly before such an angry crowd.

Even if I didn’t find Judge Goldstone to be a honorable person, I would still cry foul to the South African Beth Din, which is setting a dangerous precedent. Judaism has prided itself on intellectual rigor and discourse. Shunning a person for his beliefs, however misguided, is something we abandoned in the Middle Ages.Disagreement is a necessary and vital part of Judaism and is a cornerstone of our faith. Treating a fellow Jew with such cruelty makes the entire community look weak and narrow-minded by refusing to allow dissenting opinions.  Instead of engaging him in discussion, the community has shut down the debate in the cruelest fashion possible.  John Morley said, “You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.” You have only shown you are too afraid to hear him speak.

If Judge Goldstone is wrong, prove it in a court of law or a court of academia. Debate the issues vigorously, but do it for the sake of heaven. Do it for a better future. Do not try to prove your point by humiliating and silencing a man who only wishes to be a private citizen and have the joy every grandfather deserves, to see his grandson join the Jewish people.

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4 Older Responses to “For Heaven’s Sake”

  1. Harpo Jaeger
    April 17, 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    Well put, Elle. This is exactly the kind of thinking we need more of.

  2. Elle Weiss
    April 17, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    Thank you! This is turning into a lynch mob mentality. Everyone has a right to their beliefs.

  3. Ben Packer
    April 19, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    complete nonsense! not all opinions are valid or valued in Judaism – most aren’t! and certainly this terrible person Goldstone’s opinion is utterly comtemptible! He has done more harm then any jew-for-j and they aren’t allowed into things all the time.

    Furthermore, South Africa is a very difficult place for many Jews to live nowadays and Goldstone made it a lot harder!

    Finally, I would doublecheck to see if the Beit Din actually had anything to do with this at all. Its my understanding that they didn’t. But if they did, its not your place to tell a respected Beit Din what to do, its the other way around!

  4. Elle Weiss
    April 19, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    Ben,

    May I ask who gets to decide which opinions are welcome and which earn people the verbal pillory? It would definitely be helpful for others wishing to avoid the same treatment. While his opinion may or may not be contemptible, why should it bar him from participating in a service? Jews for Jesus seek to stop other Jews from observing Judaism and reject the principles of Judaism, that God cannot ever be a man. Hence, they cannot participate in the service. Does Goldstone’s opinion reject any basic principles of Judaism? Please, name his crime! What has he done to deserve such scorn and ire?

    Second, how has he made life more difficult for Jews in South Africa? Please, give me an example of how he did so.

    Third, the beit din themselves support his treatment is wrong. And yes, it is my place to tell a Beit Din when they are wrong. They are wrong to chain women to abusive husbands, and they are wrong in this case to not stand with a fellow Jew who is not asking to speak at the event, but merely wishes to attend. I know my place and my place is speak up with every fiber of my being. “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20) That’s my mandate!

    B’shalom!

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