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More stupid white men

by: Rabbi Jeremy Rosen - Last updated: 2004-10-17

Jeremy Rosen

Jeremy Rosen

Judaism as never advocated poverty nor recommended it as a spiritually uplifting experience. Indeed the Talmud describes the feeling of poverty as akin to death.

Nor has it ever suggested that ‘money is the root of all evil’ or that ‘it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven than a camel can pass through the eye of a needle.’ On the contrary there are lots of indications that having money can be beneficial, to kings and high priests, for example, to keep them from being corruptible. I wonder if we should follow the example of the priests who were expected to contribute towards making sure the High Priest was richer than any of them. If only I believed that making all religious judges richer would ensure their incorruptibility!

Riches can be used to benefit both those in need and help society in general. They can help in every area of welfare. The drive to accumulate can be used to better human existence, not just selfishly, for conspicuous over consumption, self-indulgence or exhibitionism. However wealth does not automatically bestow wisdom, intelligence or even common sense. Indeed Jacques Maritain once said ‘You can tell what God thinks of money by the sort of people he gives it to!’

According to the Talmud wealth is more due to chance or Divine Intervention than to any personal qualities. Though it does seem to me that single-mindedness (with a dollop of opportunism) helps! So it is hard to understand the tendency to have rich men running communal or religious organisations simply on the basis of their wealth. Indeed I would say that my experience has proved to me beyond doubt that wealthy men in charge of communal or educational organisations invariably make a right mess and apply all the wrong methods. The successful institutions I can think of have all been run professionally by experts in the field. Yet we suckers continue to repeat our old mistakes. Indeed there is a well-known expression that Baal HaMeah Hu Baal HadEah; he with the hundred has the opinion! The Jewish version of he who pays the piper calls the tune

The amazing stupidity of Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress is a case in point. According to a thoroughly reliable journalist (I should point out that some journalists who write for the Jewish Chronicle seem incapable of getting it right) he declared in London recently that  ‘the whole concept of nationhood and the lines of being pure begins to sound like Nazism, meaning racism.’

A case could be made out that our conversion laws are too rigid. And it could be argued that Judaism ought to have different levels of association in addition to the religious. Indeed Israel’s Law of Return defines Jews in the loosest of possible ways, only one Jewish grandparent!  But to use the word ‘racist’ and the term ‘Naziism’ simply proves to my mind that the guy is mentally challenged and should be prevented from speaking in the name of any Jews (other than himself) immediately.

Racism is excluding or discriminating on the basis of race, not opinions. Opinions can be changed, race never can. Particularity is not necessarily racist. Neither are rules of citizenship. Anyone vaguely familiar with Jews knows that racial characteristics do not apply (unless you are an anti-Semite). These are the sort of remarks one expects from Islamic fundamentalists or members of the fascist British National Front (or Oxford academics).

What qualification does he have for representing Jews anyway?  Certainly not intelligence. And what is the World Jewish Congress itself that it should represent Jews either? It is just another one of those self-perpetuating, oligarchic inventions of a few rich men who think their wealth enables them to speak for anyone but himself or herself. Is it in any way remotely democratic? Are its criteria for membership noble or indeed transparent? Is expertise in any area of Jewish practice or knowledge or culture a criterion? I find it insulting that we Jews are represented by inconsequential puffed up incompetents simply because they have money and nothing better to do.

Indeed it is having men like that Bronfman in leadership positions that turns most Jews off having anything to do with communal organisations.

Anglo Jewry is typical, no better no worse. But over the fifty years of my knowledge of communal affairs it has been consistently beggared by having rich men put in positions of responsibility and supposed leadership only to have them disappoint and even betray and often through no fault of their own but simply because of their limitations.

Expertise in one field is no guarantee of success in another. The only mitigating argument is that alternatives have been even less inspiring or worse. Yes indeed a community, a people, gets the leadership it deserves and we must have done a really lousy job on ourselves to get to where we are today.