Rabbi Avi Weinstein

The Tragic and Senseless Shooting In Arizona Has Little to Do With Uncivil Behavior and Violent Language. Jewish History, and Talmudic analysis Will Teach You That!

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Let’s be honest.  Violent video games, war movies, and over the top rhetoric do not create assassins.  Ideologies, however, do. When Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzchak Rabin, he was cool, collected and sane. To this day, he is in jail with no regrets. In fact, his “sacrifice” is self- justified because he thinks he stopped the Oslo accords from going forward.  He saw Prime Minister Rabin as an existential threat to a messianic vision. He acted in accordance with his beliefs, and the consequences were devastating. In those dark days, much was made of the verbal violence that permeated the ether. Violent language was not, however, the cause of the PM’s murder. It is, however, a conversation stopper. How can you talk to someone who is threatening you?

Similarly, it is not rhetoric that makes a terrorist, but an ideology. The rhetoric fuels the ideology, but it does not create it.

Our current assassin de jour is deranged. It is pretty clear to me that if everyone spoke with a more civil tongue, this bozo would not have been deterred.  There seems to be an ideology that spurred him on, but not a particularly coherent one. I imagine that Beck, Limbaugh, and Hannity were not extreme enough for him, and he probably suspected them of surreptitiously working for the other side.

The reason for a more civil level of discourse is not to deter lunatics. Nasty rhetoric is a detour from the business at hand. It distracts us from the truth, and it keeps us from moving forward as a nation.  In the Talmud, disagreements are analyzed with “What can we agree upon?” Once that has been articulated the areas of disagreement, as well as the possibilities for moving forward, become obvious.

Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are profound distractions, and have no interest in this level of discourse.  They wish to metaphorically obliterate the opponent, but neither has a clue regarding solutions for the enormous challenges this country faces.  They continue to waste time that we don’t have.  When the left points to nastiness as the problem and triumphantly say “I told you so!”  Theirs is a Pyrrhic victory that only exacerbates the distractions that feed the media beast.  Most sane people realize this. Many of whom are called “independents”.

To gain momentary political capital from this tragedy is shortsighted, and just perpetuates a cycle that encourage Palin and Bachmann for whom the axiom “there is on such thing as bad publicity” is a sacred chant.

Let’s take a deep breath, send our condolences and prayers, and get on with the business of governing.

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  1. I don’t know how you can possibly write something like this when the Jewish religion is so clearly concerned with the power of speech and the proper application thereof. Has the Chofetz Chaim been forgotten already?

    No, you are quite wrong on this matter. Speech and the way we conduct ourselves is vitally important and Judaism is very much concerned with how we speak. Yes the Talmud does record hyperbolic speech between learned rabbis but it in no way shows this to be an ideal. One can state ones opinion forcefully and respectfully without incitement.

    Yes it is clear that the suspect in this case is deranged. So maybe he would have shot up a grocery store instead of shooting at a U.S. representative. It seems likely that he was incited to choose this target by the toxic atmosphere in Arizona. Ideology combined with hate speech leads to action. Ideology alone might not have done the trick.

    We should be indifferent to the coarseness of our public interactions. Sorry, you usually are spot on. This was not one of your best efforts.

  2. Thanks for your reply, and certainly, as it says in Proverbs, “Life and death are at the tip of the tongue”. Publicly humiliating someone is tantamount to killing them. None of these statements contradict what I said. Where you and I disagree, is what role the “atmosphere” played in his decision to shoot a member of Congress. I never justified the rhetoric. In fact, I said it is a distraction and a waste of time and that it plays into the hands of demagogues whom I feel are dangerous because they are self serving. I don’t think that this fellow was one of the Palin/Bachmann minions. I also don’t believe that the heated atmosphere in Arizona played a significant role in his behavior, and accusations of this sort end up playing into the hands of the demagogues and serve no constructive purpose.

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