Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Tebow Effect

Tim Tebow is an anomaly - in more ways than one. Although he plays quarterback for the Denver Broncos, he seems to run as much as he passes. (For those of you not familiar with the National Football League, a quarterback traditionally throws the ball much more than he runs with it.) And when he does throw, he has an unorthodox throwing motion. As a result, many sports analysts dislike him as an NFL quarterback. But the criticism doesn't end there. You see, Tebow is also a religious Christian whose values influence his conduct both on and off the field. As a result, many people dislike him as a person.

Just to be clear, this blog in no way endorses any theology other than that of Judaism, but it also focuses on common decency. One of the unique aspects of Judaism is that the Torah compels us to focus on this world - not on the afterlife, as well as on good behavior - not on ideological agreement. Therefore, it seems quite fitting to address the hatred directed at this young man as a way of learning how to behave more appropriately. As will be noted, the kind of hatred taking place here is nothing new, but it's also something that needs to be eliminated.

One of the most destructive character traits is to hate someone for who they are. In fact, this was precisely the kind of behavior that led to the destruction of ancient Jerusalem. It's called sinat chinam. While the common translation of sinat chinam is "baseless hatred," it can also mean "hatred of their grace." In other words, every individual is endowed with a certain "grace" (i.e. distinct personality traits that make them who they are). As long as that individual acts ethically, there's no justification to hate that which makes them unique - whether it's their level of religiosity or simply their choice of profession. Ultimately, this kind of hatred is an affront to God because He created the uniqueness of that individual.

With so much real evil to hate in the world, it's absurd to critique all the subjective differences that exist among people of goodwill. In this case, Tebow's theology may be wrong, but his behavior and values are right. In a day and age in which professional athletes tend to focus on themselves, here is a guy who wants to focus on God and others. For some reason, placing God and goodness at the forefront has become an anachronism. The personal hatred directed at Tebow isn't occurring because he's doing something wrong - it's occurring because he's doing something right.

It may seem odd that a Jew is writing favorably about a Christian, but it really shouldn't be that way. If we were to actually start making moral judgments of behavior rather than petty remarks about our differences, we will have taken a giant leap toward a better world. Theological disagreements have their place, but they are not the be all and end all. From the Jewish perspective, what God desires more than anything else is goodness. In order to achieve that end, we need to inculcate good values - the most important of which is to act decently toward one another. And while good interpersonal behavior should always start at home (i.e. between fellow Jews), it should never end there.

[By the way, if you ever wondered why orange and blue was the color scheme of this blog, here's your answer: GO BRONCOS!!!]

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"And Everybody Hates the Jews"

Well, they never said that anti-Semites were smart. Apparently, the man in the picture above has a deep hatred for beverages - and spelling. In order to clarify his hatred, notice the word he added in parenthesis. But as Martin Luther King, Jr. said upon hearing a Harvard student launch a tirade against Zionists: "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You're talking anti-Semitism." Of all the minority groups on earth, and of all the easy targets to use as scapegoats, it is virtually always the Jewish people who take the brunt of the world's wrath. Whenever there is economic, political or social turmoil (and for many in the Arab world, when there is a natural disaster), it is somehow our fault.

From ancient to modern times, anti-Semitism has been a constant. Every major villain in Tanach sought to rid the world of Jews; Hitler considered the extermination of Jewry as more important than victory in World War II; the United Nations has spent more time on resolutions against Israel than any other country on earth; the Occupy Wall Street movement (although consisting of some sincere protesters) has been endorsed by radical groups that shift the blame to Jews. The list goes on and on.

Consciously or subconsciously, when people go out of their way to pick on Jews and Israel, they're acknowledging that the Jews are God's chosen people. Although there are times when rational explanations for anti-Semitism may hold true, there has to be something much deeper to the world's obsession with a single group. The bottom line is that there is one God, He demands ethical behavior, and His chosen vehicle for this message is the Jewish people. Most people aren't comfortable accepting this, so they take it out on the messenger (even when many of the messengers don't care for the message either).

All this Jew-hatred can become quite frustrating, but it might be best to simply laugh about it. There's a satirical song from the 1960s that wittingly demonstrates the ubiquitous nature of anti-Semitism. In it, Tom Lehrer mocks something called National Brotherhood Week. Be sure to listen closely because there's a great line that sums up this whole subject:

Anti-Semitism is absurd, but so is intra-Jewish hatred. So the next time you have trouble with a fellow Jew, do your best to keep things civil - because we're all in this together, whether we like it or not. Don't wait for the next libel or event to unite us. Eventually, the day will come when God will bless the entire world with peace. In the meantime, just try to laugh at all the craziness taking place.

Note: This blog post has been brought to you by the International Zionist Conspiracy.