Reform Judaism might have been the first Jewish movement to embrace social justice in the 20th century, but the first decade of our current century has seen a vast increase in the importance of Tikkun Olam in the global Jewish community. There are few Jewish congregations in North America that have yet to embrace a coordinated social action initiative.
While there may be some rabbis who would prioritize the adherence to Jewish law, prayer, ritual, study, and worship above social justice work, there are not many rabbis who have the chutzpah to actually criticize synagogues or individuals for participating in such noble endeavors.
But that’s where Glenn Beck comes in. Back in March, the Fox News personality told his audience to leave churches and synagogues that pursue social justice as a value. I am not a regular viewer of Beck’s show, so when I heard this sound bite I thought I misheard him. But, no, he really said it.
Many church groups and Christian leaders fought back, but there was not a strong rebuttal from Jewish groups. Simon Greer, the President & CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice, wrote in the “On Faith” column on Newsweek’s website that Glenn Beck is “a con man and America is not buying it. I exhort you to stop bottling your ideological agenda and labeling it ‘theology.’ Americans deserve and demand better.”
Greer went on to tell Beck, “You’ve told us what not to look for in a house of worship. But now I ask you, sincerely, what kind of house of worship do you desire? On March 23, you said, ‘Make sure your church puts God first and politics and government last.’ The question then is, how do we put God first?”
In response to Greer’s column Beck retorted: “This is exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany” and that Greer, “a Jew, of all people, should know that.”
Here’s my simple take on this: Social Justice is an essential component of any Jewish theology. As Jews, we should use our hearts to pursue prayer, our heads to pursue the study of Torah and to seek to understand God’s Law, and our hands to assist God in the repair of this broken world in which we share responsibility. The same holds true for all people of faith. Caring about our fellow human and seeking to help them is at the core of being part of a just society.
Glenn Beck? He’s just a crazy man saying ridiculous things to anyone who will tune in and listen. Part of our job in pursuing peace and justice is to publicize just how incredibly wrong and hurtful Glenn Beck’s words are to humanity.
We should be grateful not only for the sacred work that Jewish Funds for Justice is doing, but also for the mitzvah of tochecha (reproachment) that its leader Simon Greer has demonstrated.