The Benediction Rabbi Hier Should Offer at the Inauguration

Editor’s note: RABBI MARVIN HIER Founder and Dean Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance has accepted an invitation to give a benediction at the Trump inauguration. While his presence there is a disgrace to the very notion of a “museum of tolerance,” and a betrayal of the 70% of Jews who voted against Trump in the 2016 election, Rabbi Aryeh Cohen provides him with ethical guidance in what he could say to redeem his presence, which provides the very kind of legitimation to Trump that Trump’s appointment as a key White House advisor who has been the publisher of anti-Semitic and racist articles of the alt-Right has been to the racist section of the poltical Right. But don’t hold your breath to see if that happens. Congratulations to Rabbi Ayreh Cohen, a contributing editor to Tikkun magazine, for his courageous and prophetic article which appears in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. –Rabbi Michael Lerner 
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Rabbi Hier, you have been given a unique challenge and a unique opportunity. When you speak at the inauguration, you will be carrying the weight of our tradition that prizes the paths of righteousness, the beliefs of many of us in the goodness of this country, and the realization that Donald Trump does not represent that vision. You have the chance to sanctify the name of God, and not be distracted or seduced by the pomp and trappings of power. Your long career looking evil in the face and calling it out, denouncing hatred in all its forms should stand you well in this hour.

After King David, at the height of his power, engineered the death of Uriah the Hittite in order to get Uriah’s wife for himself, Nathan the Prophet showed up at David’s doorstep. With no regard for his own standing in David’s house or kingdom, Nathan used a short parable to make David understand the vile behavior of an evil man. Nathan then continued:

“That man is you! Thus said the Lord, the God of Israel: … Why have you flouted the command of the Lord and done what displeases Him? You have put Uriah the Hittite to the sword; you took his wife and made her your wife and had him killed by the sword of the Ammonites. Therefore the sword shall never depart from your House — because you spurned Me by taking the wife of Uriah the Hittite and making her your wife.”

Nathan was given a unique opportunity to speak directly to David. Nathan took advantage of that opportunity to berate the king for the evil he had done, and articulate the wrath of God.

Rabbi Hier this is your chance and your moment.

I would hope you turn to the newly inaugurated president and say:

“Mr. President, you have achieved the highest office in the land in a way that besmirches this office. You have unleashed hatred, xenophobia, racism upon the land in a way that was unimaginable only a short time ago. You demeaned and denigrated your opponents. You seem to despise the press, and prefer to tweet out your thoughts rather than to engage in an open exchange with those who are agents of the people’s right to know.

“Mr. President, you have appointed a chief strategy officer who has made a career of providing a platform for the basest forms of hatred, racism and anti-Semitism.

“You characterized the majority of the people of this great country, those who voted for your opponent, as your enemies.

“You demeaned and denigrated the institutions of government.

“Yet, our rabbis teach us that the doors of repentance are not sealed. I call on you now here, in front of your family and friends, in front of the people of this country and the world to renounce your evil ways. Turn back to the path of righteousness. Spurn hatred and greed. Become the leader that the people deserve and not a leader that the people will inevitably despise.

“May these words of Jeremiah be with you as a goad:

‘Do what is just and right; rescue from the defrauder him who is robbed; do not wrong the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow; commit no lawless act, and do not shed the blood of the innocent in this place. … if you do not heed these commands, I swear by Myself — declares the Lord — that this palace shall become a ruin.’ ”

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After reading several responses to Rabbi Cohen on the website of the Jewish Journal of L.A., Rabbi Lerner posted the following response:

Congratulations to the Jewish Journal for printing the wise and courageous article by Rabbi Aryeh Cohen. Those Jews who support Trump after he appointed as a chief advisor the former publisher of one of the most anti-Semitic alt-Right magazines in US history are like those few Jews who have cuddled up to ruling elites throughout Jewish history, mistakenly believing that identifying with the oppressor will somehow save them. Rabbi Hier’s presence at the inauguration is itself a statement of legitimation of this horrendous new administration, dedicated to undoing the support systems for the poor, the powerless, the worst victims of the competitive marketplace, the victims of racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia–all the programs that the majority of Jews have actively supported. Aryeh Cohen gives Hier a path to redeem what is otherwise a disgraceful abandonment of the Torah’s call to pursue justice and love of the stranger (the Other–ha’ger). But in the twisted logic of the minority of Jews who voted for Trump, if he can be counted on to support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, his violation of all the major principles of Judaism can be discarded. That’s one reason why we at Tikkun magazine are proud to have Rabbi Aryeh Cohen as a Contributing Editor, even as we are proud to be pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-Judaism and a champion of the wisdom of the Jewish prophetic tradition.–Rabbi Michael Lerner, Editor, Tikkun

Aryeh Cohen, Professor of Rabbinic Literature at the American Jewish University, is the author most recently of Justice in the City: An Argument from the Sources of Rabbinic Judaism (Academic Studies Press). He blogs at Justice-in-the-City.com.
 
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