Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Sarah Palin–Rage as an organizing principle

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Beyond the Tina Fey caricature is the undeniable fact that millions–it seems–identify with her. Many who often feel, by virtue of their military service, their skin color and their religious convictions that they are the real America, but, through some bizarre sleight of hand, they have become…marginalized.

They are living in a nightmare come true when along comes Sarah. She looks like us, she talks like us, she’s kinda cute, and her kids don’t always behave the way we would like…just like us! What else matters? Identity politics is not only the province of Sarah Palin supporters, but we all, and I do mean all of us, want to identify with our leaders as somehow the most idealized version of whom we would like to be.
For frum Jews, she, like most evangelicals, is adamantly pro-right-wing Israel–so, go no further. Bibi, Ha’aretz reports is already calling Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod self-hating Jews behind closed doors. Often, frum Jews are not as interested in social policy as they are in small government and an unhindered and blindly supported Israel. The belief that ‘government will only waste my money so why give it to them’ is widespread and so is the ‘fact’ that democrats/liberals are less reliable allies of Israel than republicans/conservatives. (Pat Buchanan notwithstanding). This is an argument that has merit. I’d like my charity dollars to go where they will do the most good, so let me decide, but how should one decide if one is not going to rely on the governement for social programs?
Living in exile as we are, we may look to the Talmud as to what our responsibility is to our neighbors.

The Sages taught: One should support financially the idolatrous poor with the Jewish poor, visit their sick with the Jewish sick and bury their dead with the Jewish dead. (Babylonian Talmud Gitin)

Add to this, the understanding that how we are perceived as a people actually does matter. The Talmud further states that we have a duty to “sanctify God’s name” or at least not profane it–the most egregious and severe of all sins. How do we do that? We do that by being exemplary, that we demonstrate our love and concern for all. Such respect makes others say, “He is good, his Torah is good, and God is good.” The way we love God is by being visibly, demonstrably, lovable.
Not by being angry, not by delegitimating others when we disagree, and not be capitalizing on the rage of others. This is true for everyone, including those who are the supporters of Sarah Palin. We need to understand the origin of their generosity and compassion as well as the injustices that they have endured.
I believe many of these people have been profoundly and unfairly insulted. We know that wisdom comes in many shapes and sizes–not only from the hallowed halls of the ivy league. It is easier to have two dimensional pictures of adversaries and certainly it justifies salty rhetoric, and salacious gossip. Caricaturizing the adversary is a national past time.
It’s just not a particularly constructive one.
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