Response to FrontPage’s “Rabbi of Hate” Smear

Tikkun note: Rabbi Lerner is in the midst of prayer for healing of all people hurt in the Israeli assault on the Gaza Aid Flotilla, including Israeli soldiers as well as anyone else hurt, and their families

David Horowitz’s FrontPage magazine has published an article about our recent Network of Spiritual Progressives national conference in DC under the absurdist headline “Rabbi of Hate.” I am including some representative paragraphs and comments (go here if you have the stomach to read more), and then my response on their site. Some quotes from the article itself:

Tikkun Rabbi Michael Lerner, the one-time “politics of meaning” guru to the pre-presidential Clintons until he became politically inexpedient, is now blasting away at the Obama Administration. Lerner recently convened his Network of Spiritual Progressives in Washington, D.C. for a Religious Left gabfest. And much of it was gripping [I’m glad they thought so–or did they mean griping?] about President Obama’s spiritual failure to remain ideologically pure, in the eyes of leftist clerics and activists.

Lerner’s D.C. visitation included a protest in Lafayette Park imploring the President “To Be the Obama Americans Thought They Were Voting For.” Whatever enthusiasm the Religious Left rally may have cherished for Obama seems to be dissolving into anxiety, disappointment and betrayal.

“One thing Obama has not done: tell the truth. Tell us what’s going on!” a “shattered” Lerner demanded to presumably nodding heads at the rally, according to an on-site report by my assistant Connor Ewing. Lerner’s Washington jamboree for about 500 followers was called “Strategies for Liberals and Progressives in the Obama Years,” and subtitled “Creating ‘The Caring Society’: A Progressive Alternative to Tea Party Extremism and Corporate Domination of American Politics and Culture.”

… Besides Lafayette Park, Lerner’s activists rallied in a Lutheran church and in the United Methodist lobby office on Capitol Hill, where they were joined by the United Methodist Church’s chief lobbyist, Jim Winkler. Although Lerner himself is a somewhat faded star since the Clintons dissed him in the early 90s, his rally was graced by a somewhat more ascendant Brian McLaren, chief poobah of the Emerging Church, the amorphous community for left-leaning, post-modern evangelicals. A more therapeutic antidote to Lerner’s polemics, McLaren touted his New Kind of Christianity and platitudinously appealed for common ground and new narratives while not so indirectly lobbing condemnation at the supposed “visions for social suicide” of conservative evangelicals who have not yet bent the knee to global warming activism or, presumably, McLaren’s own latest crusade against Israeli occupation.

… Less somberly, and almost magically, Marianne Williamson, the almost forgotten mystic who famously helped then First Lady Hillary Clinton channel the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt, also appeared. She helped bring “people to their feet in cheering and excitement” for the “depth of insight, wisdom and vision of what we could do together.” Congressman Dennis Kucinich even took the stage to tout an Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which Lerner straight-facedly insists is politically plausible and not utopian.

The comments included these:

  1. Mr Lerner is no more a Rabbi than any of us. He is self-ordained.
  2. Don’t dismiss these folks so quickly. They are actually helping Obama to further his agenda. By criticizing Obama from the left they make him seem moderate by comparison. Obama can wear the cloak of compromise as he marches us down the road to serfdom… Lerner may be crazy but he’s crazy like a fox. Beware!

Here is the response I posted on their website:

I usually ignore the slurs against liberals and progressives on this site, and the consistent calumny directed against me through the years. But this time, I want to correct two of the dozen distortions or more in this article [I should have added “and comments” since that is where the slurs about my ordination appear, not in the article itself].

First, the claim that I am not really a legitimate rabbi. Throughout most of Jewish history, and in all of the Hasidic world to this very day, the way a rabbi received “smicha” or rabbinic ordination was through a “Beyt Din” (a religious court) which investigated the person’s knowledge of Jewish law and texts and then when they decided he was ready, they convened a court to give him smicha. This is the way I received my smicha. After studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary in the early 60s, I began a private study under the tutelage of Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi, who received his smicha from the Lubavitcher Rebbe and who subsequently was a “shaliach” (representative) of that Hasidic movement for many years, before deciding that he could not accept the refusal to grant women equal rights in Judaism. The second rabbi on my Beyt Din was Rabbi David Wolfe Blank (z’l) who received his smicha from the Habad movement in Israel. The third rabbi on my smicha committee was Rabbi Leibowitz who received his smicha from the Yeshiva University rabbinic training program. All three were, according to Jewish law, ordained orthodox rabbis. They granted me rabbinic ordination, smicha, in 1995. It was after examining this process and the evidence of my training that I was accepted as a member of the Northern California Board of Rabbis, where I am an active member and have my own synagogue where I conduct weekly Shabbat services and Torah study. I say all this just to show the lengths which people on this list and in the right-wing of the Methodist movement will go to lie and distort about someone who disagrees with their politics.

Second, there is the calumny in the headline–rabbi of hate. This takes a particular stretch, since the fundamental position of the Network of Spiritual Progressives is articulated in our call for a NEW BOTTOM LINE so that institutions, social practices, corporations, government policies and individual behavior should be judged “efficient, rational, and productive” to the extent that they contribute to maximizing our human capacities for love, caring, kindness, generosity, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and awe and wonder at the grandeur of the universe. You can read all about our positions at How this gets translated into “rabbi of hate” is a mystery–particularly since I consistently preach that people on the Left should always try to recognize that people with whom we disagree on the Right are equally created in the image of God and deserve to be respected even when we strongly disagree with the content of their views. For that reason, when others on the Left were putting down President Bush for being stupid and not knowing how to speak English correctly and other personal defaults, we at Tikkun Magazine which I edit always refused to publish any such put-downs. We don’t believe that it is appropriate to bring into politics the personal failures of individuals, but only their public positions. For that reason we also demand that no one write criticisms of anyone on the Left except in a way that the person being criticized would acknowledge that the perspective attributed to her or him is in fact what they really believe, and only then to criticize it. We don’t believe in the kind of misrepresentation of people’s ideas that you find all the time on this website, but also on some left wing websites as well. We believe in respect for others, even if we strongly critique their views and their public (but not private) actions. In short, this is not a rabbi of hate, but a rabbi of love doing my best to serve God and humanity, certainly likely to be mistaken on some issues and open to criticism, but not open to the distortions about me that this website frequently embraces.


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