Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript – August 15, 1999
Mike Feder: Hello and good evening. I’m Mike Feder and I’m here live in the studio with Rabbi Simon Jacobson. We are going to talk tonight about the shootings that happened out in Los Angeles, specifically and more in general, the idea and the concept of hate crimes.
Hard stuff to talk about.
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: But though we had said last week we were going to talk about miracles, I think it’s appropriate that we talk about this. I mean, what else is talk radio about if we don’t address these issues, particularly, in a way, that there was a miracle here at least that thank G-d no one was killed at the center. It is quite tragic that the mailman nearby was killed. Yet we must acknowledge the miracle that none of the children were killed.
Feder: The man shot the gun off 70 times and no one in that center was killed, except of course, for the man he murdered outside.
We’re going to talk about this subject tonight and, as always, we ask you to call us with questions and comments. The number here is 212-244-0150. We’re going to start talking about this with the Rabbi and then we do want to hear from you.
It’s hard to know where to start with such a terrible thing like this, and I’m presuming that everyone listening knows what happened, so we’ll just take that for granted. Is it necessary to define a hate crime, or what race or religious hatred is? Do we take it for granted that everyone knows what it is?
Jacobson: I don’t think so because I don’t know if we even understand the anatomy of hate altogether. But I will say that my first reaction, which is a healthy reaction probably shared by all of us, is real outrage, particularly as a Jew, especially when the person made a statement like he did (which is even difficult to repeat) which was a call to kill all Jews.
Feder: A “wake-up call” he called it.
Jacobson: And just reminiscent of thousands of years of similar statements that were acted upon. So this isn’t a theoretical thing for the Jewish people, and I think that it’s most important to express that outrage and, as Jews, there’s nothing at all to be ashamed of to say that we’re Jewish. The Jewish response to this is not to hide our Judaism or in some way to go undercover. The problem is with those who hate, and Jews in many ways are, the world’s moral conscience because hate crimes, though I do not take away from hate crimes against other races, but Jews have been at the brunt of it— almost on the pedestal (in a negative sense)—which represents a very sad chapter and a very low aspect of humanity in how Jews have been treated throughout history.
The outrage is very profound, but as I mentioned, Jewish outrage is not expressed through retaliation, through fear, but through positive action, and ultimately recognizing that there is a calling that we have to live up to.
But I think, especially in America, a loud call has to ring out that we — all people, not just Jews — will not tolerate such atrocities. A crime like this is not just against any individual group; it is a crime against all people, against all of civilization. That’s how I can begin to address your question.
When you hurt or kill one person in the name of hate, essentially you’re killing all people because it’s just a matter of perspective and subjectivity. You know, it’s the attitude. It’s not the question of, “Oh, I only hate this segment.” No. If you hate, you hate. Hate is a poison that seeps through the entire human being.
A person who is unable to hate doesn’t hate anyone. If a person is able to hate, he can ultimately hate everyone, and therefore, it’s a crime against humanity. In America, though we have freedom of rights, there isn’t the freedom to abuse those rights, where we have to cry out. Talk about a wake-up call. It’s a wake-up call against those who will not tolerate a racial crime. I think federal legislation is required to really make this a very serious crime. Because this is a call to hurt someone just in the name of someone’s color or race or religion.
Feder: Or the fact that the one person who did die out there was a Filipino who was shot because he was not white.
Jacobson: And though, thank G-d, the hate criminal is part of a minority, but even with one such crime, you do see what kind of headlines it makes. It touches a chord and we’ve learned from the silence of the Holocaust how silence can be in partnership with the crime itself.
Feder: So let’s talk about the idea of hate crimes. I think everyone understands instinctively what a hate crime is. There are some states that have laws on the books against hate crimes and prosecute people and there are some states that don’t. Now, you mentioned before something about a federal law. Isn’t there already something about that, about violating a person’s civil rights? That’s what happened in Crown Heights, that’s how they prosecuted that guy.
Jacobson: Right. It was not just in the name of individual murder but civil rights, which is the basis of this country. Because if you undermine that you undermine the freedom of religion, the Bill of Rights, and all the rights of an individual to practice religion. And I don’t know the details on the legal level of legislation, but legislation essentially can’t prevent crimes, per se. But still, it’s a statement.
Feder: No, they punish crimes.
Jacobson: And it’s also a statement of a standard of what we’re willing to tolerate and what we’re not willing to tolerate. And I believe that legal laws, even though they are mostly symptomatic, do make a statement of the standard of a society.
So that’s on one end of things. But ultimately the real issue here that we have to address (I don’t know how to make an agenda, but there are short-term solutions, there are long-term solutions, there’s preventive medicine, there’s dealing with the symptoms, the problems…) but obviously a fellow like this has to be treated and prosecuted in the strongest way possible: not just for him, but to send a message to anyone out there who carries similar feelings.
But really, ultimately, this is a catalyst and a call to us all to look at what, in a society, spawns and gives birth to people like this.
Feder: Let’s look at it in its most specific way. The man belonged to a group called Aryan Nation, which is one of a various number of Nazi or Fascist related groups in the United States. They live in compounds, they go to meetings. Actually, there are a lot of these groups in prisons, and then they relate it to the outside.
Now you were talking about preventative things before. Would you prevent the existence of such groups? That’s not the case now, they’re allowed to exist. They have arms training. They march (remember the march in Skokie, Illinois?). They’re allowed to do virtually what they want, although they’re obviously not allowed to kill people. Would you actually prevent them from existing? They’re prevented from existing in Germany. It’s a federal law there against even their existence.
Jacobson: That’s a very challenging question and I have mixed feelings, to be honest, because on one hand, we ought to be very wary of infringing on people’s rights of expression, because then it can carry over to areas of inhibiting areas of free expression of press, for example, if they were going to criticize the government or anyone else.
Feder: And then who’s to say which group should or shouldn’t be in existence? Who sets the law?
Jacobson: But I think that the real issue or problem has emerged because there’s a distortion, in my opinion, in the whole view of the Constitutional Bill of Rights.
Feder: Well that’s a pretty serious statement.
Jacobson: It is, and I will back it up. And there are many commentaries on many radio shows commenting about what happened, and I’d like to address it obviously from a Torah perspective—because that’s what I’ve been trained in—and I’ll leave it up to other commentators to express the anger and the outrage. And I hope to express it in a way that we can go away with something constructive and productive, without minimizing the outrage.
You know, we talk about the separation between church and state in the Constitution. There’s also the discussion of freedom of rights.
Feder: What do you mean exactly by freedom of rights?
Jacobson: Well, freedom of rights of expression, where anyone can express themselves freely, even if it offends someone else, obviously if it’s not criminal. But there’s always been the dilemma, beginning with the founding fathers, with what happens when there’s a conflict between the two: when someone’s freedom of expression, like in this situation, can lead to the education of hate that inevitably has to explode at some point. So what do you do…
Feder: This is combined with the right to bear arms, speaking of the Constitution.
Jacobson: Right. So what do you do? You just allow them freedom of expression to the point where they commit a crime? I mean, it’s quite logical. If a parent has children, and they allow them to say anything, and to express themselves without limits, where do they draw the line, only when they’re ready to go shoot someone?
Clearly, if you allow such education, if you allow such expression, it’s going to cultivate people, and particularly people who may have violent tendencies anyway, to act on them.
So this is not an easy question to answer. It’s similar to the difficulties that we have in many communities, that for the good of the community they don’t want certain freedom of expression. And you see that the federal government allows individual communities to determine certain standards, whether it’s pornography, or other factors that affect that community. So the communal good is affected by someone acting on individual rights.
And this is a conflict that has never been fully resolved.
Feder: Well, can it ever be fully resolved?
Jacobson: Only if one really has that kind of selflessness and dedication to a higher good and is not interested in selfish, narcissistic interests. If there was a person like that, then I think we could come to a point to realize this goal.
It’s very clear why they did that. Because they were coming from an environment back in Europe of religious persecution, and the dangers of that are evident in history. So that’s built in. Yet, on our currency they elected to write the words “In G-d We Trust.” The Congress begins with a prayer every day. And they also state in the Bill of Rights, in the Declaration of Independence “all men are created equal.” I think I’ve emphasized before that what is striking here is the word “created.” Created is created. They could have said “all men are born equal,” “all men are equal,” “all men are endowed with equal rights.”
“Created” implies a Supreme Creator, and they did not see any contradiction with the separation of church and state when they were making these statements. They were wise enough to understand that when they put in “In G-d We Trust,” they were talking about G-d. G-d is religious.
But I believe that their intention was a very simple one. Without a G-d, there are no true rights, because perhaps we are created unequal. Perhaps the world is a jungle, and it’s survival of the fittest, and our laws are simply made for some type of civility.
But maybe inherently we’re not equal…
Feder: That’s what these racists believe.
Jacobson: Precisely. When they said, “All men are created equal,” they were wise. If they had said any other statement, anybody could say, no I disagree. But when you say “created,” you’re saying by the Creator, by the mere virtue that you were born, created, you are equal, and no one can take that away from you. No government can take that away from you.
And the strange and the interesting irony here is that because the United States is built on the principle that all men are created equal, someone can rise and say, “I’m an Aryan and I don’t believe everyone is equal.” That’s the irony. They have that right based on the equality that we respect them with.
So they’re abusing that right.
So when the Constitution and the founding fathers guarantee these rights, it’s important—and this is where I think there’s been a major distortion—it’s become freedom from religion instead of freedom of religion.
The founding fathers never meant to eradicate religion. They meant that no one should dictate religion. No one should impose on others their particular religious beliefs. But the concept of a non-denominational G-d is absolutely necessary to establish a moral system. Otherwise morality is ultimately arbitrary and subjective if you don’t have some type of absolute higher calling.
Feder: Just like moral relativism?
Jacobson: Exactly. Because take the Ten Commandments, for instance, in the Bible. They begin with “I am your G-d.” Then it continues with seemingly simple commandments: Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not commit murder, honor thy parents—statements that don’t seem to require a G-d. So the question is asked about the Ten Commandments: why are these moral laws equated with belief in G-d? Why are they included in one set of Ten Commandments, along with “I am G-d.” Morality is morality even without G-d. And the answer is, if there is no G-d, morality is ultimately arbitrary and relative, and anarchy is right around the corner. Because ultimately where do you draw the line? Is it by consensus? If the majority of a country suddenly decides that Aryan Nation is the right thing (and the majority of a country did decide that 50 years ago), does that make it right, because majority rules?
In other words, you must answer to Someone who gave us life. Now, whether that something—we’ll call it G-d—is Jewish, Christian, Islam, Buddhist, or some other thing, that’s where the founding fathers say don’t intervene. That’s for people to decide. But the concept of having a higher calling, that we don’t just do what we like, and we don’t just do it out of fear of being caught but there’s really a moral compass within your spirit, is essentially the basis of any type of democratic society.
Feder: So you’re talking about this in terms of something that transcends whatever conflicts or inherent problems there are in the Bill of Rights or in the Constitution. There’s a higher Bill of Rights in other words, there’s a higher thing than just the Constitution.
Jacobson: And that’s why we have on our currency—money, the symbol of idolatry, the symbol of mundane life, the symbol of selfishness—”In G-d We Trust.” I believe this is the only country that does this, and yet this is the country where separation of church and state is sacred.
Feder: And yet this man is not only a member of the Aryan Nation, but he’s got books in his van, he’s got well-known Right Wing nut fringe literature that are actually Christian oriented that say the same old tired story that they’ve been saying for the last 2,000 years, that the Jews killed Christ, that they are a debased race, etc. He reads this stuff, he’s connected in some terribly awful way with the worst fringe section of this religion, and he is saying that in the name of G-d he did this. So what G-d are we talking about?
Jacobson: Good question. But let’s go to the callers. I want to respond to that because it’s an important question which includes the concept of anti-Semitism and those who, in the name of G-d, are anti-Semites.
Feder: But people have been killing in the name of G-d forever. So we have Mike on the line calling from New York.
Caller: I’ve been listening to this show, and I feel like I have to interject because the country was formed by white supremacists. I mean, there’s an irony in what you’re talking about. Listing the good things that were put forth by these people is one thing, but they existed in the context of total white supremacy.
Feder: Well, that’s a really good point, I must say. Would you like to comment on that?
Jacobson: I would. It’s an excellent comment, but the fact is that the laws that they put into motion created a country, unprecedented in history, that allowed for religious freedom. And I’m not discussing their personal lives here and their personal choices. But the fact is that in the laws of the Constitution… slavery was abolished… the laws of the Constitution are among the most humane, most tolerant, most accepting—notwithstanding their personal lives and behavior.
So that may be a tribute to lawmakers who put into motion something that transcended their own weaknesses.
Is there anything in the laws that would indicate white supremacism? That would be my question.
Feder: Well, in fact amendments had to be added later to…
Jacobson: But the ability to amend the constitution was also allowed and put into motion by the original writers. I’m talking about the picture as it stands now. If someone was to suggest that any line in the Bill of Rights indicates and allows for some type of racism or some tinge of it, that should be addressed, but I’m not aware of anything of that nature.
Caller: Originally, black people were considered less than a person.
Feder: I guess the point we’re saying is that that there’s law and then there’s de facto law, the actual law as it is applied today. In fact, the law of the country, as it worked every day, allowed racism and religious intolerance, sexual intolerance, and this is something that’s in the history of our country.
But what the Rabbi was saying, I think, is that it’s not written in; the opposite is written in as the ideal to aspire to.
Jacobson: And slavery was an aberration, I agree, that was inconsistent, and ultimately it was amended and is no longer part of our laws.
Feder: Thank you very much for the call. Now, let’s take a slight break here to identify who we are and then we’ll move on. You are listening to Rabbi Simon Jacobson, and this is Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. My name is Mike Feder and we’re here every Sunday night from 6-7pm talking about issues that we hope are inspiring to you, and you’re listening to WEVD, 1050AM in New York City.
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Now we do have a couple of calls, but hold on one second.
Jacobson: I really believe that a topic like this really generates a lot of response, and anything that we can’t cover on the show should be covered on the website where you can find transcripts of the show, so please write to us there if you don’t get through on the phone.
I do want to comment about the issue of the Christian element, briefly. If belief in G-d doesn’t bring a person to personal refinement, ultimately one has to question what kind of G-d that is. So I’m not here to vindicate, argue or debate the different religions, but I’ll speak on a personal level from a Jewish perspective as well as from any religious perspective.
If you have a G-d and you can go ahead and hurt or hate another person, more importantly, take it a step further, that in the name of G-d you can hurt another person, then I wonder what kind of G-d that is.
Feder: You know, there’s never been a religion that I’ve ever seen, including the Jewish religion, no matter what religion (except for the Buddhists as far as I know), that haven’t at one time or another used G-d as a reason to take land and kill people.
Jacobson: Well, I have to disagree about Judaism, because the fact is, look at individual Jews and look at the community of Jews. They have never done that in history.
Feder: In the Old Testament there seems to be quite a lot of that.
Jacobson: No, they did not go and take land that was not theirs. If you quote the Bible, the land was given to Abraham and the Jews returned to their land.
Feder: What about all those wars? What were they all about? There’s a lot of killing going on there.
Jacobson: Well, killing is going on if you’re in your own home and you want to defend yourself.
Feder: Okay, I just thought I’d bring that up.
Jacobson: Fine, for the record I wanted to state that because I completely disagree, but I will say that again, you have to look at the individual. If someone can kill, or try to kill another, to hate another person, in real life, I would question what kind of G-d that is.
Feder: Or whether they are in touch with G-d themselves.
Jacobson: Right. It’s a G-d that is defined by human subjectivity. In other words, if G-d says to you, Do not kill anyone that I love, and I love them by the mere fact that I created them, then because you have your racist feelings, to pigeonhole G-d into your feelings is beyond sacrilegious.
Feder: Okay, we have Jennifer. You’re on the air.
Caller: I disagree with the concept of a hate crime. Not because these crimes are not horrific and abominable and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, but I can’t say that when you call something a hate crime, that allows the crimes that are not so defined to not be called a hate crime. All crimes are hate crimes.
Jacobson: I think that’s a very good point and would concur with Jennifer that any crime against another human being is a form of hate, whether it’s due to jealousy, rage, pettiness, or self-hate. Sometimes you have low self-esteem and you go act out on others. But yet I think the cliché, when we use the word hate crime, is something that is stated as a statement, an anti-Semitic statement or an anti-black statement. I think that’s really what we’re referring to. But the point is very well taken that any type of crime against humanity is ultimately a manifestation of hate.
Feder: All right. Thank you very much. We have Bert. You’re on the air.
Caller: Yes, good evening gentlemen. In the discussion of hate and Jews as targets, I would like to ask if this thing could be expanded to the sources of anti-Jewish feeling that comes not from gentiles, not from Nazis and neo-Nazis, but from the Jewish left. For example, the Crown Heights pogrom. I listened to WBAI back in 1991, and heard the so-called progressive, left-wing Jews joining in the attack against “those right-wing extremist Jews,” those “right-wing Jewish fundamentalists who live in Crown Heights and who are pushing out the black people.”
Feder: Okay, I see what you mean.
Caller: Now, when you, Mike Feder, courageously spoke on WBAI asking people to call in and identify anti-Semitic actions on WBAI, the head of the station publicly…
Feder: Let me interrupt you for a second. I don’t really want to get into my personal history, because the idea is to concentrate this show on general issues that are universal to everyone.
Caller: Can we therefore generally, say that the Jewish left is one of the sources for anti-Jewish hate as well as Nazis?
Feder: Very legitimate question. Thank you.
Jacobson: The only thing I would say is that I think we have to put things in perspective. When a white supremacist or a white self-proclaimed Aryan goes and shoots young children, I think in that type of discussion you don’t want to bring in other crimes, even though you can equate them and they do have similarities. Because it tends to, in a sense, desensitize us to the magnitude of this particular crime.
Because when the Nazis did what they did 50 years ago, and to start saying that there are left-wing Jews who make similar statements, I do agree that I am outraged when someone makes a statement like that on WBAI, but I think you should distinguish between the two, and not because one is worse than the other. I think that because it is a general attitude among people who sometimes stand from a distance and who are not involved to bring their own personal political inclinations into it and that’s my only comment.
Feder: Okay, let’s go to another call. Howard, you’re on the air.
Caller: As a Jewish person, I would want to know why the Jews are always targets, and it’s my feeling that they kiss every shvartze tuchus, every anti-American…
Feder: Okay, we really appreciate your very wide ranging views on things! Do you have a comment about this?
Jacobson: Well, the issue of anti-Semitism in general is a very fundamental one, and it goes back all the way to Biblical times, beginning from the classical battle between the two brothers, Esau and Jacob. From a Jewish perspective, anti-Semitism is not something for Jews, out of fear or panic, to run away from. As a Jew I would say thehatred of Jews is a testimony to a secular world that has difficulty with G-d.
Jewish thought equates anti-Semitism with anti-G-dliness. Because, ultimately, what is it that bothers people about the Jews? Their religion, because Judaism is essentially religion. It’s not dress because you see the Nazis didn’t care how you dressed, they didn’t really care whether you were observant or not, or whether you were half-Jew. They saw it as some type of genetic thing.
So from a Jewish perspective, essentially, a world that is still able to hate another human being, it manifests itself in the scapegoat called the Jew. So from a Jewish perspective the response to that is a response to the following concept: as long as people do not embrace G-d in this world, in a real way, in daily life (I don’t mean only on Sundays or compartmentalized so that it doesn’t affect your personal life), then even the G-d they do embrace is compromised. They once asked Bertrand Russell how he could behave in an unethical way since he was a professor of ethics at one of the universities, and he answered, “I’m also a professor of mathematics and I’m not a triangle.”
That is an unG-dly statement. It means that you can teach one thing and be another. From a Jewish perspective, G-dliness means that you behave in a refined way. Human majesty. Human dignity. You love people even if you disagree with them entirely, completely, about all their opinions. But the mere fact that they are here on earth means that G-d put them here, so you love that element.
The person may be a criminal so they have to be locked up. We’re not naïve and so into brotherhood that we just accept everything. Law has to be enforced and all of that. But with that element of how to deal with anti-Semitism, I was very gratified to hear, right before I was coming to the show, about some of the responses of Jewish groups in Chicago and California, of the acts of goodness and kindness. One group of children in Chicago and in other cities decided, since it’s summertime, to send toys to the children in this Jewish Community Center in LA as a voice of support: we’re one. We’re one people. It’s not just a crime that happened on the West Coast. It’s a crime that happened in the world. It’s a voice of support.
We hear others doing things that cultivate Jewish pride. I hear that in some cities Jewish communities initiated a mezuzah campaign. Mezuzahs are what Jewish people traditionally put on their doorposts as a sign of protection and trust in G-d. And it’s very encouraging and very life affirming to hear such responses.
You will never see as a quintessential Jewish response, an eye for an eye in any literal sense. You will never see Jews mobilize and say “Let’s go get those whites.” There’s no Jewish advocate for that.
Feder: Well, I want to talk to you about that a little later. But we do have Joan on the line who’s been holding on forever. You’re on the air.
Caller: Hello. I’d like to make two points. I learned the Ten Commandments in elementary school, and one is, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” I was in elementary school and I heard key in that commandment, “as thyself.” I know the person who did this horrible crime has to be punished, but if in fact we started with the very young and had an atmosphere of love, if they loved themselves, these people who commit these horrendous crimes… I think basically they hate themselves. That’s point number one.
And point number two. The gentleman who spoke about the black people and the way they were treated, women were treated terribly too, but in order for women to have gotten the vote, and slaves to be freed, there had to have been good people on top who had the vote who allowed women and slaves to become ex-slaves, so there are good people, and they have to be awakened and they have to teach their children that love is of the essence.
Feder: Thank you for your comments.
Jacobson: I think Joan summed up our show in a very powerful way and I couldn’t concur more and say that yes, exactly, you matter, that birth is G-d’s way of saying you matter, and that you are meaningful, and we have an erosion in our community, when a person ultimately has a lack of self-esteem, when they hate themselves or they don’t value their own life, other people’s lives are very easy for them to harm and hurt.
And on a positive note, ultimately on a preventive medicine level, it’s critical to engender, instill, imbue in our children at a very young age the sanctity of life, that it’s a gift from above, where you treat your life as something that’s given to you as a gift and treat it as the greatest gift you have.
If someone gave you a gift worth millions of dollars, how would you treat it? You would make sure it’s protected. You would keep it at night in a place where no one would harm it. You would treat it with a certain sanctity.
Life is that gift, and it’s a gift from Above. Your life and the life of everyone around you. No matter how much you disagree with another person, there are ways to communicate that do not have to be aggressive and violent.
So ultimately that’s the message that has to be taught to children from a very young age.
Feder: But speaking of aggression and violence, and picking up on something you said before, I really have to take issue with what you said before. I think you said that you don’t see the Jews organizing in an aggressive manner. Do you remember the Jewish Defense League?
Jacobson: Mike, I could always rest assured that you will find a little crack in what I have to say!
Feder: I’m not doing that—this isn’t a debating team here!
Jacobson: No, I appreciate it by the way. I said that as a tribute to you.
Feder: But let me just add one little thing. I remember reading, historically, a creature called the golem. You know what the golem is more than I do, I mean, after all, the golem was a creature created sometime in the 15th or 16th century which was an avenger, an actual creature sent out by the Jewish community to protect itself, and it would actually fight, it was aggressive, it was a creature who couldn’t be stopped to harm its enemies. And let me just add that one of the basic tenets of the people who live in Israel is “never again,” they are not going to let themselves be pushed around and they will often assume very aggressive stances against people they presume to be their enemies. So you want to go to Tom? Tom, you’re on the air.
Caller: Yes, I agree with the previous caller who said that this country was founded by racists and I disagree with something you said that there are no laws or statutes that actually support racism.
Feder: In the Constitution.
Caller: There were written laws that stated the degree of rights that a particular person would have depending on his race.
Feder: This is in states, you mean.
Caller: And federal laws also.
Feder: These I never heard of.
Caller: Well, I can name a few. First, if you go to the state of Louisiana, there are still laws on the books.
Feder: Well, we all know about the laws in those states.
Caller: The federal laws were made by precedents, for example, the Supreme Court ruling, Plessy vs. Ferguson, [where Plessy argued that the law of separate but equal railroad cars for black and whites violated a clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guaranteed citizens equal protection of the laws. The Supreme Court ruled that the amendment did not seek to guarantee the social equality of all races.] That ruling established the law by precedent and the precedent was actually set before that ruling and it continues up until today.
But whether it’s written or not, the fact remains that those conditions did exist and they still exist today.
Feder: Can you channel that into what the discussion is about?
Caller: No, I’m just saying that those conditions exist today and people who ignore them or talk like it doesn’t exist, they are either in denial or they really don’t care.
Feder: And the conditions that you say exist are…?
Feder: Oh, okay.
Caller: It may not be overtly as they did before but there were federal laws, in fact, if you go to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC you’ll see flyers, bulletins, put out by the federal government rewarding people for bringing in the scalps of Indians.
Jacobson: This is going a little off on a tangent. I made a statement about the general bill of rights, “all men are created equal,” that statement in the Constitution. The fact that there are contradictions, we hope will be eradicated and finally amended to the extent where the entire Constitution and the laws of this entire country are consistent with that statement, “all men are created equal.” So I agree, of course there are pockets of racism and that was really not my statement. I was really addressing that line. That line is unequivocal. All men, it doesn’t say part of the men. And slavery and other elements of racism were abolished, and the quality of life for women and other groups, are slowly improving.
The bottom line is that it should continue toward that end. But that’s another discussion.
We were addressing people who abuse it and abuse it for their own personal interests or their own low self-esteem.
But let me address your comment about aggression in Jewish history. You mentioned the JDL, never again, the Golan.
Feder: And Israel.
Jacobson: To put things in context, one of the things I get really upset about is when (not at you, Mike) is when you hear of aggression against Jews, and then someone gets up and says, “But the Jews have also been aggressive, look at what they’ve done to the Palestinians,” and so on. First of all, even if there is some merit to that argument, when you’re dealing with one topic, you don’t try to obfuscate it by suddenly bringing up aggression. I’m not suggesting that you did that Mike, but it’s a separate discussion how Jews behave.
Individual Jews, like individuals anywhere, can be accountable and don’t necessarily live up to the consistent view or philosophy of Judaism. The JDL (the Jewish Defense League, Meir Kahane), actually, for many Jews was considered to be something that was inappropriate, it wasn’t considered to be a Jewish approach. So it wasn’t like all the Jews and all groups accepted that.
Feder: Did you think that?
Jacobson: I think it played a role. I thought it was good to have someone who made a statement like that. But would I become an active member personally? It wasn’t my style, but no, I think in context, it’s like having a community patrol. So it may not be something that I’d consider to be Jewish philosophically, but when you have crime going on, it’s good to patrol your streets, and have individual patrols. That’s really, by the way, how the Jewish Defense League got started. It grew out of a group called the Maccabees in the sixties, after the ’60s riots. But if you were to ask me if that’s the general Jewish response, usually not. Except in the cases as with the golem, with the Maharal of Prague, (Reb Yehuda Leowe of Prague), there was a terrible pogrom which was threatening the lives of the Jews there, which was not uncommon in those days in the Middle Ages, but for some reason he felt that enough was enough, and tradition goes that he created the golem to protect the people. But you’ll find that only once in history.
I wish we had more golems throughout history. In the 40’s, it would have been nice to have a golem dealing with the Nazis.
Feder: Well, let’s define this. The golem was a creature created out of the dust of the earth, out of the clay and dust and dirt of the earth, who was indestructible and attacked the enemies of the Jews.
Jacobson: Protected them.
Feder: In a very offensive way sometimes.
Jacobson: No, but the golem did not go and aggressively pursue, it was always in defensive mode.
Feder: That’s true. He found out the whereabouts of criminals, he found out evidence, and things like that.
Jacobson: But shrouded in mystery as well; it’s not really clear exactly what happened.
Feder: Don’t you think we should have one right now?
Jacobson: Well, you need a Maharal of Prague to build one. Now I’m sure if you and I, Mike, try to build a golem, it wouldn’t protect anyone.
Feder: Look, if someone comes up to you on the street, you’ve got your yarmulke, you’ve got your beard, you look very Jewish. Someone comes up to you on the street and says, “You so-and-so Jew,” and says he’s going to knock you down just as a wake-up call to America. What are you going to do out there on Seventh Avenue? Are you going to talk to him about love? About G-d?
Jacobson: That’s not at all what I’m suggesting. No, when I speak about preventive medicine, I’m discussing it on an educational, national level. Let me speak to the listeners out there who aren’t Jewish. Let’s say, if you think that your child can grow up hating only Jews and no one else, it’s a big mistake. Hate breeds hate. They will end up hating in general. It’s just a matter of time before it will express itself one way or another. So a general educational approach, and on a revolutionary level, we need to have a revolution in education, because there’s an erosion.
I don’t want to equate the shootings in Los Angeles with other shootings that occurred these past few weeks, but ultimately life is being compromised, and children’s lives, on a consistent basis. Children, who were always supposed to be protected—childhood was supposed to be an oasis—that no one touches children. Suddenly there are no longer any lines drawn.
If I meet someone in the street the way you described, I’ll defend myself with everything I have. Now, of course, if he had a weapon or if he was threatening, I would have to determine whether it is worth fighting. If you’re able to protect yourself, you do. If you can get out of there, you run for your life.
But my attitude would be that of course I’d protect myself, and no, I would not start preaching to him about G-d. Because you’re dealing here already with a person who is a criminal.
You know, when we speak about G-d, we’re talking about preventive measures. This guy on the street was not born that way. He was born a child. He picked up attitudes. He may have picked up anti-Semitism from his education, from his parents, and he needed a cause, so he got involved in some hate group. It become like a passion that fed him and it became an ongoing thing.
I mean, it’s so difficult to address this, there are so many aspects. But it ultimately comes down to the level of early education. The earlier stage really determines the rest of our lives, and I don’t want to sound naïve, that that’s our solution here. No, the solution is to prosecute this guy with everything you have. Federal government, state government, and send a strong message to anyone of this nature. They should have investigations of hate groups, there should be constant monitoring, just as they monitor criminal groups. I don’t think that’s an intrusion of rights because you don’t invade unless you see something happening, but you have to monitor them, like you would monitor a spy group. Because with groups like that, ultimately something will give, and there could be a tragedy beyond the proportion in which it happened now.
But that’s called symptomatic medicine, that’s dealing with the symptoms. The bigger picture is that we need to cultivate an overall respect and value for goodness and kindness. An aggressive revolutionary statement that human beings have to live up to a G-d. I don’t think this fellow, this gunman, will respond to that message.
Feder: One last comment or question. What do you think we should do at this time, you think he deserves to go walking around in society anymore? No. Do you think he deserves to live?
Jacobson: I think the death penalty is definitely an option in the country’s laws and if I were the prosecutors, I would encourage them to prosecute as far as they could go.
Feder: He murdered a man.
Jacobson: Torah definitely condones the death penalty in circumstances, obviously not just to use it loosely, but if there’s no reasonable doubt, and he was stable, and all of that. But I would believe that even if he had not murdered the postal worker, the mere fact that he turned on children because they were Jewish, that for me is a very powerful, powerful, crime, because there’s absolutely no justification for it. Would that warrant the death penalty? I don’t know the laws of this country, whether abuse of someone’s civil rights warrants the death penalty, but it’s definitely attempted murder. He could have murdered them.
But clearly, laws have to be as strong as possible to deal with preventing these crimes and sending a message deterring others to make similar statements, so to speak.
Feder: Let’s go to one last call before we move on. Baruch, you’re on the air.
Jacobson: Good evening. I just want to say, with regard to the golem which you mentioned before, I recently heard a lecture from a distinguished authority, Professor Lyman from Brooklyn College and other places, about this whole thing and he brought a very strong case that this whole golem thing is really like a bubbemaaseh. He traced it, and one of the things he mentioned is that the Maharal supposedly made this in the 1600’s, and there was no record in writing of this golem for a few hundred years. It was only much later that somebody….
Feder: Baruch, let me ask you a question. That’s an interesting academic point you made, but what is your real feeling about what we’re talking about tonight?
Caller: I wanted to make this point that a lot of people…
Feder: No, but I want to know. How do you feel about what we’re talking about?
Caller: Listen, I don’t have any strong things to argue on what was said, I’ll just make a general comment. I don’t know if it’s correct, I don’t know if I could accept, like it was said in the beginning of the program, that somebody who hates, hates everybody. And also the theory which is popular now which was expressed earlier, which is like a psychological type of theory, that someone who hates, hates themselves. I don’t know if that would apply in all cases.
Now maybe somebody hates, let’s say, a certain group because maybe this person was living in a neighborhood and the other group robbed his store or he feels they brought down his neighborhood, so it doesn’t mean that he hates himself. Maybe he was a victim of a crime from members of that group. I’m not say that if he goes overboard in generalizing that it’s the whole group, rather than the bad people from that group that he should hate, but to say that he hates himself is the answer for all hate, I can’t accept that.
Feder: Okay, thank you.
Jacobson: Good. I’m glad you elicited that. I think Baruch is 100% right. To make a general statement like that is incorrect. Much hate is just directed toward individual groups or it can be circumstantial, but there are elements of hate that are very much connected to a person’s own erosion of self.
From a Jewish point of view, the ability to hate someone else is not recognizing that G-d created us all and we’re all one large organism. So you’re really hating a part of yourself because it’s all part of one life. So even if it’s not directed at yourself but it’s the idea of living a very self-contained lifestyle where you don’t recognize the rights of other people. But his points are very well taken.
Regarding the golem, it may be that there are questions about the story, but the fact is that there are well-established authorities that do accept it, so you can chalk it up to being shrouded in some type of controversy or mystery, but there are authorities who clearly state it.
But the point that we were talking about was the general attitude toward dealing with aggression.
Feder: Well, here we are again approaching the end of the show. Further comments and questions are very much wanted. And you can call 1-800-363-2646. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and go to our website at www.meaningfullife.com to download transcripts of this radio program.
I do want to mention that almost all of these issues are covered in the book, Toward a Meaningful Life, by Simon Jacobson, which is available almost everywhere, and I would recommend on this particular subject, chapter 28 on Good and Evil. That’s one place you might look in the book for some insights and guidance about this.
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Tonight we’ve been talking about what happened at the Los Angeles Day Care Center, where a man identified with the Aryan Nation, who thank G-d has been arrested, who turned himself in to the cops, tried to kill a lot of people. He only wounded five people, and then he went down the block somewhere and shot a Filipino postman to death.
We’ve been talking about hate crimes tonight, and now we are near the end of the program and once again we try to look toward the more positive or inspirational thing. Now let me ask you this question. You’re sitting in the cell with this man. I won’t mention his name because I don’t think he deserves to have one. But you’re sitting in the cell with him, right now. What do you say to him? Would you give him a blessing? Would you pray for him? How would you help him and how would you address him?
Jacobson: Well, I assume if that was the case, he’d probably be spewing hate toward me and I don’t think there would be room for any type of discussion or communication.
Feder: But when I say him I mean everybody like him.
Jacobson: No, I understand, I’m just making this statement for a reason. There’s a point to be made, because once there is that type of wall of racism and sterotyping and hatred placed between us, there’s no room for communication. It’s not like you can say, You know, let’s discuss this. He already has preconceived notions. He lifted a gun, weapons, on children to make a statement, so I’m not so naïve as to think that we’re just going to sit down with him and rehabilitate him and educate him.
I would probably ask to be taken out of that cell, because I don’t think I could really accomplish much. I think first things first. He should be prosecuted and once he’s in prison and well away from being able to harm someone, I believe every human being has in them a side that is spiritual, a side that is G-dly, and therefore there is always hope.
Feder: He’s not lost entirely.
Jacobson: I would not say that. You could rarely say that. I mean, there are people who are so poisoned in their lives and spirits that they really are beyond… but he has to be first of all out of commission, in the sense that he has to be out of harm’s way. I would not invite him to any community.
In a prison, if he joins rehabilitative programs, and there is some type of sincerity, then it’s a question of education. I’m not talking about releasing him, or parole, or anything like that. But he has to show an initiative. I wouldn’t spend much time trying to get through to him. Because people like that are often very poisoned.
I would say this overview to us all: You have to separate the event that actually happened here overall message to us all. This event deserves all the outrage and anger, prosecution if necessary. We simply cannot tolerate a person turning a gun in the name of killing Jews. But there is also a larger lesson, as the Baal Shem Tov teaches that everything has to be a lesson to us, that we have to learn from everything.
I think it comes down to, from a Jewish perspective, that adding in acts of goodness and kindness has always been the Jewish response to hatred. Never an “in kind” type of response. Obviously we protect ourselves, we defend ourselves, we do everything that’s necessary, but acts of goodness and kindness to show moral support for each other as Jews, both here and abroad, to know that every time there’s a community that faces certain challenges we have to come together—and the Jewish approach is study, prayer, and ultimately being a living example of what it means to be a G-dly human being, what it means to love, and it may not immediately rub off on others, but some people will be affected by that. And ultimately it will affect all people.
I do want to say one final thing, that I’d like to announce that we will be doing a weekend camping experience on August 28 and anyone interested should call 1-800-3MEANING for more information.
Feder: Okay. Next week the show will be on miracles. Thank you.