Dear Friends,

My favorite pop online magazine is called Tablet. It covers news from the Mideast to America and parts in-between. Though more cultural than religious Tablet does favor from time to time some spiritual reviews such as an occasional Talmudic response to current concerns affecting Jews.
At the time of writing, and I believe in anticipation of Chanukah, the hate-filled pronouncements by the Nation of Islam Farrakhan were reviewed.

Homophobic and anti-Semitic, this “minister” spews out his hatred through Twitter to nearly one half million followers. Some examples include: his referring to Jews as “Satanic” and claiming that they control most industries and many nations with their secret cabal; Farrakhan has described Adolf Hitler as “a very great man” and has repeatedly argued that the 9/11 attacks were a Jewish conspiracy.

On the other side of the racial divide come the hatemongering actions of White supremacist Richard Spencer. His sanitized pronouncements are offered in the name of authentic white pride called the “Identarian Movement.” His vitriol includes his advocating for a white homeland for the “dispossessed white race” and calling for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” to halt the “deconstruction” of European culture. As a featured speaker at the Charlottesville demonstrations, Spencer’s followers often use the hated Nazi salute and pronouncements of “blood and soil.” That anyone would embrace an ideology that caused the death of millions upon millions boggles the imagination.

As Chanukah approaches we are reminded of the twin concerns which the celebration embraces: the first is the preservation of the Jewish people and its faith and the second is the support given to the notion of freedom. The American experiment has similarly championed these endeavors which regrettably come into conflict. On College campuses restrictions are being advocated to thwart hate speech. How to measure the unacceptability of one presentation against another is the troubling question of our times. To this end, many appearances by speakers for Israel have met with opposition and at times, censorship. It is a slippery slope that we slide down when we thwart free speech.

On the other hand we can become so open minded that our brains fall out. In this age of Twitter, Facebook and Snopes, I have no simple answers except to note that the complacency of many of our European brothers and sisters prior to the Holocaust is something we need not repeat. I have firsthand knowledge of the events in Charlottesville from a colleague and classmate. It was horrifying for him to see the neo-Nazis standing with an intimidating stance with guns outside his Temple.

It occurs to me that there are two Chanukahs of history, the one celebrating the spiritual light, the miracle of God’s light, and the other the prideful recollection of Jewish military resistance. I prefer the former to the latter. Some years ago, I saw in a Jewish home a menorah made out of a spent shell from the six day war. I was stunned to see this martial display, and not the more recognizable decorative and peaceful candelabrum.

I pray for the day when we will have the need for the one that spreads only light and not for the one that emphasizes our resolve to defend ourselves if necessary.

Wishing you a light filled season.

Rabbi Yossi J. Liebowitz