You have to open your mouth pretty wide to put your foot in it, but it can be done. The last week offered ample demonstration.
Sarah Palin, denying that conservative rhetoric led to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), condemned liberals’ “blood libel.” This medieval fantasy accused Jews of killing Christians for their blood. Dumb. Then Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) flogged House Republicans for using the Nazis’ “big lie” technique in opposing 2010 healthcare legislation. Dumber. Cohen, Tennessee’s first Jewish congressman, should know better than to hurl such an accusation lightly.
But Alabama’s Republican Governor Robert Bentley wins the prize. During his January 19 inauguration address he stated, “Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.” Jewish and Muslim Alabamans; Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Alabamans; atheist and agnostic Alabamans—convert or take a hike. And Bennett spoke from the pulpit of a church once led by Martin Luther King. Dumbest.
Bentley apologized. (The Sages point out that speech is like an arrow. Words released cannot be brought back.) He said he was speaking as an evangelical to other Baptists but would be the governor of all the people. Assuming that Bentley is somewhat conversant with the Bible, he missed an important lesson in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro (Exod. 18:1–21:36).
Moses’ father-in-law and priest of Midian, Jethro (Yitro in Hebrew), observes Moses sitting all day in judgment of the Israelites regarding matters large and small. He advises, “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well” (Exod. 18:17–18). Jethro suggests that Moses appoint officials to handle smaller matters with only the big cases sent to him. “Moses heeded his father-in-law and did just as he had said” (Exod. 24).
How intriguing that a non-Israelite shaped Israelite judicial practices. Note that following the Exodus from Egypt, Jethro stated, “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods…” (Exod. 18:11). Yet shortly after meeting with Moses, Jethro returns to Midian. He does not become an Israelite, although his new religious outlook makes him an ally of Israel.
Governor Bennett might also consider the Noahide Laws established by the Sages. These seven basic laws—including adhering to monotheism and prohibitions against murder and incest— apply to all humanity. Non-Jews who follow them are entitled to the same portion of the World to Come as Jews who adhere to all the mitzvot (commandments).
May Governor Bennett realize that all Alabamans are his brothers and sisters, since all are children of the same Creator. And may the ache in his jaw then subside.
In “The Emperor’s New Old Clothes” (12-17-10), I suggested that President Obama and the Quartet (U.S., E.U., Russia and the U.N.) propose the terms of an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In the January/February 2011 edition of FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Howard M. Sachar, Professor Emeritus of Modern History and International Affairs at George Washington University, urges both proposing and imposing an agreement. It’s worth reading.