Dec 09 2012

The U.S. Constitution: Is the First Amendment Kosher?

Published by at 8:44 pm under Is speech really free

The U.S. Constitution: Is the First Amendment Kosher?

My eldest child, Shmuel, who is named after my wife’s maternal grandfather, is a precocious child, to say the least. From the time he was a little boy, it seemed that nothing could escape Shmuel’s curiosity. Tow trucks, Fire Engines, Ambulances and police cars, nothing could quench his thirst to experience it all. Now, at age 12, as he stands less than a year before his Bar Mitzvah, please God – there has been little change in his passion and excitement for life, however his biggest thrill nowadays are our field trips to Manhattan. The mesmerizing lights of Time Square, the magic of the Empire State building, not to mention the energy and stimulation of simply walking through the crowds, have become my eldest’s favorite pastime.

A few weeks ago, Shmuel and I ventured into the city to pick something up at a friend. As we head up Broadway on the way to Kosher Delight ( Read: McDonalds without the Cheese or 99 cent burgers) Shmuel’s favorite eatery in town, we passed by a street corner on which two gentleman wrapped in turbines, were shouting racial epitaphs at whomever walked by. While my first response was to shield my son from this horrible display of the ills of humanity, I finally acceded to his desire to see what all this commotion was about. As I had predicted from the very start, as soon as these “gentleman” saw us – the Anti Semitic comments spewed were both loud and cruel. While on the one hand I was not pleased that my son had to witness this scene, I also realized that this was world that he also lived in, and perhaps shielding him from the concept of antisemitism, would prove to be a disservice to him, in the long run.

As we finished our viewing and headed on our way, I was mentally preparing for my son’s inevitable line of questioning. I prepared for explanations I’d have to give about antisemitism, about why people hate us, and about how we can fight against us. What I didn’t prepare for was the question he did ask that threw me for an absolute loop.

“Daddy, he said, why aren’t those men being arrested?”

As I initially responded to the naiveté of his query, we talked about the first amendment, freedom of speech, and the right to voice one’s opinion. But as I thought about the question more deeply, I realized that I, as a Torah Jew, was really the one who was naïve.

On Sunday, we began the Jewish mourning period known as the “Three Weeks” While perhaps this observance is less known than others, it nonetheless is one of our most meaningful observances, as it commemorates the period of sadness for the Jewish people, leading up to the destruction of both temples in Jerusalem on Tisha B’AV (In 2 different eras )

Our Rabbis comment that the two temples that were the central being in Jewish life were lost to our people for entirely different reasons.

The first temple saw an era of man’s iniquity toward the Almighty. Idol workshop, desecration of Shabbat and the laws of Kashrut, to the point that God decided that his Temple of worship could not tolerate such iniquity, and consequently it had to destroyed. The Jewish people were sent to the Exodus, and resided in Babylonia, the place where the Talmud was written and the location of where the Purim story took place.

At the conclusion of 70 years in the exile, Ezra and Nehemiah, the great leaders of the generation, brought our people back into the holy land, where they built and subsequently worshiped in the second temple.

The second temple, was destroyed for an entirely different cause. While the Jews adhered to their keeping of the commandments, there began a terrible climate, in which people did not get along with each other. Sinat Chinam, or baseless hatred, meaning that I have no reason to hate you, except for the fact that we are different. We don’t think the same, dress the same, and observe the same customs and traditions. In short, it was politics that brought about the second temple’s destruction. Being that this problem is present nowadays, and has been throughout the generations, we have not merited the third temple, and will not do so until our situation is remedied. We are told that any generation that doesn’t merit the building of the third temple; it is as if it was destroyed all over again in that generation, for the malady of Free Hatred still exists. Hence, the observance of the three weeks is not merely commemorative; rather it is a time for us to work on our interpersonal skills.

Getting back to Shmuel, in the eyes of Judaism, these gentleman on the corner, should indeed be silenced, however this is not the nature of our society. In our world, one can walk up to President Bush, or appear on television to millions of people, and insult, and poke fun at, as long as he/she poses no physical danger. The government doesn’t care if we respect each other, so long as we are tax paying, law abiding citizens. Which brings us to the question, why does God, indeed care so much, about how I treat my fellow human beings, to the point that it cost us the Temple.

Although the are volumes that have been written about this topic, we will attempt to explain this phenomenon with a concise, dual headed explanation. The Torah tells us that we were created in God’s image, while it also says that we must be “God like” If we are all in God’s image, then just as if I rip up your masterpiece that you have worked on for so long, it is you, in the end, that I have slighted. Since each one of us is a creation of the Almighty, so when I insult you, I am in essence slighting your creator.

Similarly, if we need to be “God like”, then, tell us our Rabbis, we must be merciful like God, generous like God, and embody all of the attributes of God with which he treats his creations. To do otherwise is a lack of respect, for our job in being here, is to emulate our creator.

There is no nation like the people of Israel who embody the kindness and sacrifice we make for each other. Jews, in general are the most benevolent members of society. Yet for all our kindness, we still live in a world fraught with intolerance and politics.

Let us take the next three weeks and turn some of our baseless hate, into baseless love. Let us all get along simply because we are Jews, and in our world especially, we have no one extra to spare.

May this year be the last “three weeks” that we observe in the exile, and may we merit the building of the third temple, speedily in our days.

Leshana Habah Byerushalayim!