Yesterday, in response to a federal executive order, Rabbi Robert Levine and Rabbi Ben Spratt sent this message in an email blast to our congregation.
December 12, 2019
14 Kislev 5780
Dear Rodeph Sholom Family,
We see and feel the rising rage of hate again. As Jewish families mourn in Jersey City, as violence against Jews grows in New York City and around the world, as we continue to grieve the terror that struck Tree of Life and Poway synagogues, we feel the fear and fragility wrought by anti-Semitism. Our college campuses experience anti-Zionism and anti-Israel vitriol, and a rising generation grapples with how to navigate legitimate criticism from insidious bigotry. It is against this backdrop that yesterday an Executive Order was signed in the White House intending to place American Jewry within the bounds of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Order makes explicit that discrimination against Jews based on “race, color, or national identity” will indeed be in violation of Title VI, and any institution engaging in or supporting such rhetoric would lose federal funding. In the words of the Executive Order itself, “while Title VI does not cover discrimination based on religion, individuals who face discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices.”
As numerous legal experts and writers have made clear, this Executive Order ratifies language and practice that was already in place. It expands and clarifies the definition of anti-Semitism, not the definition of Judaism nor the Jewish people. A number of organizations have also raised concern about whether this Executive Order will limit First Amendment rights. The language of the Executive Order goes out of its way to say “agencies shall not diminish or infringe upon any right protected under Federal law or under the First Amendment.”
Our rabbinic forebearers believed that all opinion and perspective in pursuit of Truth should be heard and studied, which differs from the opinions and perspectives in pursuit of destruction. We celebrate a multitude of voices and perspectives on all matters, including Judaism and the policies of the State of Israel. Our hope is that this Executive Order will ensure that criticism of Israel on college campuses will focus on policy and position, rather than expressing thinly-veiled anti-Semitism and hate.
We would like to thank our members Marc Rowan and Rick Press who have worked tirelessly on legal protections for Jews and Judaism in America. As we see more and more minority groups living in fear and fragility, our hope is that this Executive Order also will lead to larger and more wide-sweeping positions that will further ratify the protections intended to afford each and every person life, liberty, and the pursuit of freedom.
Robert N. Levine, D.D. Benjamin H. Spratt Senior Rabbi Senior Associate Rabbi