During this High Holy Day season Jews throughout the world consider their actions over the past year and how they can change and improve them in the year ahead. This is true in how people respond to their relationship with God as well as with their fellow human beings. At the same time, the tradition suggests, God is also not only evaluating Jews’ relationship with Him but also how Jews are conducting their affairs vis-a-vis others: their spouses, their children, their friends, their neighbors, etc.
This period of personal introspection is also a time in which it seems clear — after the bitterness and ugly speech that has been discharged during the Iran nuclear debate — that many Jews definitely need to consider the nature of their personal speech. This is hard, given the currency of this issue, but it is critical.
In the past few months, the hatred of Jews towards other Jews was truly toxic. Some rabbis, Jewish political officials, Israeli leaders, and Jewish elected representatives even called Jews kapos because they supported the agreement; while other Jews who opposed the deal were charged with dual loyalty. Representatives and senators who had visited Israel numerous times, were synagogue members, and were historically strong supporters of Israel were subjected to verbal abuse because they disagreed with others in the Jewish community.
Israeli leaders also need to lower the volume and the rhetoric. There may well be a difference in style between Israeli politics and American politics — as there is between the House of Commons and the U.S. Congress — but that still does not justify the absence of civility. Frequently, pure arrogance drives some Israeli leaders to besmirch American Jews as well as public figures who do not agree with them.
Prime Minister Netanyahu must find a way to repair his personal relationship with President Obama and the Democrats, many of whom he alienated last March when he addressed the joint session of Congress on the Iran negotiations at the invitation of the Republicans. Whatever Netanyahu’s agenda, political reality demands he work to repair the historic bipartisan relationship between the United States and Israel that has been damaged especially over the last six months. Many Israeli prime ministers have had their differences with American presidents and undoubtedly will continue to have them, but Israel cannot afford for its relationship with its most important ally to be consistently tense, and even uncivil, on both sides.
Rabbis in Israel and in the United States need to change how they speak to other Jews; on their left, their right, or in the middle. Haredim who bash Reform Jews, alleging that they are not Jewish, will not make a stronger Jewish people, nor will attacking Orthodox Jews who disagree on issues of religious pluralism. Jews must respect the diversity among Jews. Anger will only engender rejoinders, not understanding.
In his laws of repentance, Maimonides gives specific steps individuals should try to follow as they seek to change their ways. His final step is to pledge not to do what one did again. Perhaps that too is a lesson for all Jews after this ugly summer. Israel’s leaders, rabbis, some American Jewish leaders, and many individuals need to make this pledge as they consider the forthcoming challenges that the Jewish people and Israel face in the year ahead.