Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Goldblog and Roger Cohen are at it…again. Two Jews in a "passing water" contest.

In Uncategorized on April 12, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Roger Cohen once again draws attention to Bibi’s objection to the Iranian regime. Jeffrey Goldberg revels in his honorable mention by Cohen as Bibi’s “stenographer” read, apologist, when all Goldberg did was score an interview. Goldberg is happy to be trashed by an NYT columnist, claiming that he has gotten under Cohen’s skin.

It reminds me of R. Yossi Ben Kisma and R. Hanina Ben Tradyon. R. Hanina was the defiant scholar who studied Torah publicly knowing that if he were caught, he would be executed. Yossi collaborated with the authorities under the assumption that the Roman victory indicated that God’s favor was with them and not with the Jews.

R. Yossi became ill and, lo and behold, Rabbi Hanina went to visit him even though it seems there was very little upon which they agreed. That level of concern for each other in spite of their differences, always struck me as particularly powerful given that there was so much at stake. R. Yossi Ben. Kisma was a collaborator after all, and R. Hanina was anything but that.

R. Yossi dies from his illness, and the Romans eulogize him with great fanfare and then on their way back from the funeral, they “catch” Rabbi Hanina teaching to the multitudes with a Sefer Torah in his lap. It is here he utters the most famous four words in Jewish martyrdom, “Gvilim nisrafin, v’otiyotav porchot” (The Parchments are burning, but the letters are flying free.)

I ascribe the most noble of motives to Cohen and Goldberg, but if Cohen turns out to be wrong about Iran, he loses very little in that he has cast his lot as a citizen of the world who is willing to mortgage Israel’s future on his enlightened perceptions. Goldberg, on the other hand, would lose much more for his attachment to Jews, Judaism and Israel is well documented. He would have certainly been on Hanina’s side in this argument, while there is no doubt where Cohen would be.

The question is would one visit the other if he was ill?

For the Talmudic rendering of Rabbi Hanina’s trial with R. Eliezer Ben Parta and the subsequent tale of his visit to Rabbi Yossi Ben Kisma, click here.

  1. Yours is an interesting site. Someone sent me the link to your piece on "Pirates, Ransoms & Talmudic Sages," and this one caught my eye.

    I don't agree with your characterization of Goldberg's response to Cohen. I don't think Goldberg "revels" in his "honorable mention." He notes that he is " happy to have gotten under [the] skin" of someone he considers a "Jewish apologist for an anti-Semitic regime" and as such "should be reminded often that he has debased himself." That sounds just about right to me.

    Not only does Goldberg not seem focused on himself — as, say, those whose chests swelled with pride when they found out they were on Nixon's Enemies List — I read his last line, though cryptic, as oddly generous toward Cohen: "But in a way, I'm disappointed that he's so easily rattled."

    I enjoyed the Torah study in this piece, but I must say I think you're short one Jew in your "Two Jews in a 'passing water' contest" title. You are not an innocent bystander but have made your own contribution to said contest.

    Would Goldberg or Cohen visit the other if he were ill? Both seem like honorable men, though I frankly think the latter is a fool. He did made a good-faith effort to engage his critics, both Iranian Jews and Bahais, at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, so I give him credit for that. My guess is that either would be willing to visit the other. And, for what it's worth, I'm confident that you would happily visit either.

  2. Thank you for your comments. I guess I’ve been following Goldberg and Cohen for awhile, and witnessed the subtle accusations on both sides. I don’t know if Cohen is a fool, but I believe he would not mourn too long if Israel disappeared, whereas Goldberg has been and would be with us in the trenches. My feeling here was the fact that Goldberg responded at all with a snippy “you lost the argument by giving me airtime and attacking me” is not exactly a substantive airing of the issues. For this alone, it was a fair characterization I feel. As for whether my “water” was an added contribution, I guess so, but that’s what blogging is. And yes, I would visit both men in the hospital, and I would hope they would visit each other.

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