You almost certainly know that earlier this week the actress Whoopi Goldberg, one of the hosts of “The View” television program, said that the Holocaust was not about race because both the Nazis and their Jewish victims were white. The next day she appeared on the show with Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the ADL, and apologized for her remarks which caused offense. Nevertheless, she was suspended from “The View” for two weeks by the ABC Network. Greenblatt said that he did not support the suspension.
It seems to me that if you hire a group of people, many of whom are primarily entertainers and comedians, to have an unscripted chat about current events, occasionally people are going to say uninformed and hurtful things. In suspending Goldberg, I think that ABC is missing what we call a “teachable moment”.
I’ve often discussed paradoxes within our own understanding of Judaism. If you ask Jews what the most important prayer in Judaism is, a very high percentage will say it is “Shema Yisrael.” And yet paradoxically, the “most important prayer in Judaism” is not in fact a prayer. A prayer is directed to God; the Shema is directed to the people of Israel.
Similarly we talk about the “Ten Commandments” but the first of them is not a commandment. “I am the LORD your God” isn’t a commandment, it’s a statement.
In this controversy, two things can be simultaneously true: Jews are not a race, and yet the Holocaust was about racism.
Writing about this kind of stuff is fraught with danger which is why I prefer to address controversial topics in greater depth through my Thursday night “Modern Jewish Controversies” class rather than in writing. It gives me an opportunity to explore things in greater depth and with more nuance, and engage in dialogue rather than simply share my own perspective. I hope you’ll join me this coming Thursday, Feb. 10, after minyan to discuss this issue.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian