Op-Ed: Torah vs. American Values, A Response

Rabbi Yossie Katzman responds to a widely published letter written by Rabbi Mendel Itzinger of Igud Hayeshivos addressing the question by a bochur on taking a stand towards a political party or candidate.

I am shocked to read this article written by a Mechanech of our children, I think with this article he simply illustrated what is wrong with some of our Mechanchim.

For starters he misrepresents what is the value of “freedom”, he attacks the notion of free speech and free press as not being a Torah value.

So let me ask you what is Bechira Chofshis all about? If we learn just basic Chassidus we know that freedom of choice is the highest value in Torah, and it shows how the Jewish soul has a G-dly quality to be able to choose freely one way or the other.

Indeed, this is the sole purpose of creating man, Bechir Hanivroiim (the choicest creation) to exercise freedom of choice to the ultimate extreme, and when choosing wrongly we have the choice and ability to do Teshuvah.

The ideals which a Jew should choose are the job of the Mechanchim, they have a responsibility to teach their students and to give them the skills how to choose right from wrong, but to say that freedom of choice is not a Torah value, is the total opposite of Torah and Chassidus.

Another point is that we vote for those who help us in Avodas Hashem, seriously? Since when do we strive to see the government help us in Avodas Hashem? This again is the job of our Mecahnchim, not the job of government.

What we look to government for is to provide us with whatever is available to help us live and conduct our lives freely and comfortably, the government must provide us with the security and guarantee our freedom to live our lives according to Torah, and when there are funds available we should be able to take advantage of those funds like every other citizen without discrimination.

For example, when we support school choice and we ask for funding for schools for our Yeshivos, there is certainly a very strong argument against it, because while we will get our money, there will be millions and millions more going to Christian schools, which border on Avoda Zara, is this a Torah value?

The obvious answer is that government is not here to help our Avodas hashem, but rather to treat us equally like any other citizen.

Another example, prayer in schools, the Rebbe fought for prayer in public schools, the fact that in the later years the Rebbe advocated for a moment of silence was clearly because the Rebbe said it is more feasible to get a moment of silence passed than full-fledged prayer, but what about all the places where they will encourage Christian prayers, and in some cases perhaps a Jewish child may be in a class where they do such prayer and he’ll have to go with the flow, this was a very strong argument by many Jews who opposed prayer in school.

But because the government is not here to help our Avodas Hashem, we are not concerned about the potential pitfalls in our position, because all we ask is that the government gives us the freedom, and how we exercise the freedom is up to us.

And the funniest thing is the analogy of loving or hating Adam Schiff vs Ted Cruz, even in Perek Lamed Beis the Alter Rebbe does not negate the possibility of hating the negative behavior of a Rasha, the Alter Rebbe struggles to give us a reason how we can still love him because of his Neshama, but in context of this conversation, it was written in connection with his actions, some of which include his inciting anti-Semitism.

So to castigate someone for hating actions which are against our clearly stated Jewish interests, and for hating what we call Meharsayich Umachrivayich Mimeich Yetzeiu (your destroyers and uprooters come from within your own), and for hating the actions which put us as Jews in danger, and his politics which uproot all our freedoms to live and practice our Avodas Hashem, to say that because he is a Jew we must love him just because he is a Jew, is plainly absurd, and as precedent, the Frierdiker Rebbe did say Yimach Shemo on Leibel Trotzky and his Jewish henchmen, and he certainly did not refer to their Nashama but to their actions.

So while loving Adam Schiff and offering him an opportunity to put on Tefillin and to do Teshuvah, we can clearly hate him, not personally, but his actions because they cause us serious harm.

And loving a Goy who is clearly from Chasidei Umos Haolam is in no way against any value of Avodas Hashem.

Government is not our Mashpia or the enabler of our Avodas Hashem, government is there to guarantee our freedoms, and to provide us with funds equally to any other citizen for our basic rights like any other citizen, and the fact that unfortunately some Jews use their Bechira Chofshis to harm the Jewish people and some Goyim are the tools that Hashem chose to support our freedoms, we hate (the actions of) our Jewish destroyers and we love the Goyim who are our supporters, their identity is of no consequence.

Perhaps the Mechanchim should stick to educating how to exercise our freedoms, instead of taking them away from us, this is clearly not a value of Torah or Avodas Hashem.