Yitz and Rachel were bullied

Recently, Yitz the baker and a neighbor of mine was asked to make a cake decorated with both a rainbow and the word ‘pride.’  He was uncomfortable with the request and consulted with his rabbi.  His rabbi instructed him not to fill the order.  Privately, and in a timely fashion, Yitz the baker updated the customer.

If this were an inclusive society, that’s where the story would have ended.  It is not, and it did not.

A moment of intra-religious dialogue is in order.  Occasionally, we Orthodox Jews do consult with our rabbis.  By doing so, we connect ourselves to a proud spiritual and intellectual tradition that dates back millennia.  Amongst its numerous praises, that process helps to dispel the subjective doubt inherent in many of life’s situations.  That’s how we do it.  And it’s cool.

The event became a popular topic of conversation and appeared in the June 30 edition of the New Jersey Jewish News. Reactions were divided between condemnation with teeth and condemnation without teeth.  Both shared the presumption of having taken the ethical high-road.  I find that presumption presumptuous and I will address what are, in my opinion, two errors with it.

First, I heard a local rabbi address the issue.  Both he and the NJJN employed a disturbing indirectness.  I count five instances of the name “West Orange Bake Shop” in the NJJN article but not a single instance of Yitz’s name.  Similarly, not once did the rabbi mention his neighbor by name.  For them, this wasn’t about Yitz the baker — an Orthodox Jew who asked his rabbi a shiilah — but about the inanimate West Orange Bakery.  That indirectness affects dehumanization; dehumanization played a role in both forms of condemnation.

Condemnation with teeth advocated a boycott of the “The West Orange Bakery.” I submit that that policy is immoral and unethical.  Yitz doesn’t own Thomas, Entenmann’s or Arnolds.  He makes his living running a small business, a “ma and pa” bakery.  If adopted, that policy could have a serious deleterious effect on Yitz, his wife Rachel, and their family.  It is easy to skewer an “it”; you’re more careful when that “it” is your neighbor who has a name, a wife, and children.

Though adamantly and eloquently defending their right to react according to their own values, the policy is flawed.  If tilting with Thomas, Entenmann’s or Arnolds, you have the right to use greater power.  But when the confrontation amounts to nothing more than this kind of disagreement with your neighbor, you have the right to quietly determine what you bring into your own home, and that’s the only right you have.  Use of heavy artillery is abuse of power.  In that the condemners-with-teeth monopolize all the relevant power, I conclude that the policy is not only an abuse of power but also an act of bullying.  No euphemisms here: I call their behavior “bullying.”

Condemnation without teeth amounted to only denunciation.  In that the denunciations took place in the public arena, it constituted public shaming of a Jew who was following his spiritual principles.  Again, people in positions of power abused their power.  Public shaming is a form of bullying.  No euphemisms here: I call that behavior “bullying.”

Second, dialogue should precede declaration.  If dialogue isn’t forthcoming, inclusiveness should embrace even those with whom we categorically disagree.  Dialogue and inclusiveness are, tellingly, missing from the condemners’ reactions.  Building upon none other than Tom Lehrer, it seems that every expression of human spirituality — from atheism to Zen — labors with antagonism and arrogance.  The difference between them is upon whom they vent.  There is a systemic arrogance to liberal Jewish ethics which presents itself as intolerance and exclusiveness when liberal American Jews are addressing chareidim or chasidim or run-of-the-mill Orthodox Jews.  It is all but certain that, had the bakery been owned by anyone other than an orthodox Jew, the condemners would have toned down their condemnations.  Once again, no euphemisms here: I call that “bigotry.”

My personal conclusion is that the behavior of the condemners was an abuse of power and reflects bullying and bigotry.  To the extent that it might cause them financial harm, I suggest that the ethical high road is to compensate Yitz and Rachel for any financial losses arising from their bullying and bigotry.  Minimally, they owe them a face-to-face apology.

In the spirit of Kohelet: there is a time to shout and a time to whisper.  When you’re disagreeing with your neighbor — who is doing Judaism in a time-honored and respected manner — an energetic rolling of the eyes and a barely audible “tsk tsk tsk” are all that are appropriate.

Rabbi David Levy, West Orange

Can Robert Kennedy Jr. be made kosher?

In his July 13 NJ Jewish News column, Rabbi
Shmuley Boteach suggests that Donald Trump, who has massively promoted antisemitism in our country and continues to do so, may throw all that aside and become one of the good guys for Jews if he only accepts to become more “pro-Israel.” I couldn’t help recall another recent column by the rabbi (June 15) in which he defended the anti-vaxxer conspiracy
promoter Robert F. Kennedy Jr. from the accusations of antisemitism related to his questionable association with a controversial musician who had appeared in a Nazi uniform. At that time, Rabbi Boteach claimed that Kennedy Jr. “is a champion of Israel … and has been completely misunderstood.” He offered Kennedy Jr.’s attendance at this year’s Israel Day parade as proof of his claimed kashrut for Jewish voters considering his primary election challenge to
President Biden.

Now Kennedy Jr. has gone much further, and aroused the outrage of most sections of the organized Jewish community by saying, without evidence, that the covid-19 vaccine may have been “ethnically targeted” to spare “Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese,” while purportedly harming the health of others. Contrary to what I would have expected, it is being reported that Boteach is not reconsidering, but is doubling down on his support for the conspiracy-monger.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous politicians like Trump and his fellow MAGA-style Republicans, as well as Kennedy Jr., who use anti-Jewish hate as one of their tools to divide our country and curry favor with racist neo-Nazis, are all too happy to also fly to Jerusalem and kiss the proverbial ring of Israeli President Netanyahu without altering their fundamentally anti-democracy politics which target our community. And Mr. Netanyahu, who in his latest coalition has been an explicit ideological bedfellow of the U.S. far right, seems to have had no problem in welcoming their support. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the inventor of the infamous Rothschild “Jewish space laser” fantasy, is also claiming to be pro-Israel now. These are not conversions. They aren’t kosher.

Mark Lurinsky, Montclair

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