Steven Pruzansky, the longtime rabbi of Teaneck’s largest Orthodox synagogue, Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, holds strong opinions and is not loathe to share them.
He has a blog, rabbipruzansky.com, where he posts his often strongly worded reactions to issues both inside and outside the Jewish world.
A recent post about the outcome of the presidential election has hit a tender enough nerve to prompt five of his congregants to distribute an email politely but firmly disagreeing with him.
On Nov. 7, the day after Election Day, Pruzansky posted a long commentary that he called “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire.” He had backed Mitt Romney for president wholeheartedly, as the post makes clear. It began this way: “The most charitable way of explaining the election results of 2012 is that Americans voted for the status quo – for the incumbent President and for a divided Congress. They must enjoy gridlock, partisanship, incompetence, economic stagnation, and avoidance of responsibility.”
Pruzansky explained Romney’s loss by saying that “the electorate is dumb – ignorant and uninformed. Indeed, it does not pay to be an informed voter, because most other voters – the clear majority – are unintelligent and easily swayed by emotion and raw populism.” (Pruzansky’s blog no longer includes these words; they have been replaced by a trenchant quote from Winston Churchill. The original blog post, as of this writing, still is up on Cross-Currents, a journal of Orthodox thought; it is at http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2012/11/07/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-american-empire/.)
President Barack Obama’s victory, the rabbi continued, is a result of changing demographics – “whites will soon be a minority in America (they’re already a minority in California) and that the new immigrants to the US are primarily from the third world and do not share the traditional American values that attracted immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries.”
Obama voters, he wrote, largely are looking for what he calls “free stuff”: “Obama’s America is one in which free stuff is given away: …those who – courtesy of Obama – receive two full years of unemployment benefits (which, of course, both disincentivizes looking for work and also motivates people to work off the books when collecting their windfall)…”
He concludes with a charge to readers: “This election should be a wake-up call to Jews. There is no permanent empire, nor is there an enduring haven for Jews anywhere in the exile…. We have about a decade, perhaps 15 years, to leave with dignity and without stress.”
In response to Pruzansky’s blog post, five members of Bnai Yeshurun signed their names to an email that was widely circulated among the shul’s members. (The Jewish Standard obtained copies of the email from various sources; once an email has been sent out, it no longer can be controlled by the sender.)
The email began with the acknowledgment that “Elections tend to be heated affairs.” It went on to say, “We do not question [Pruzansky’s] or anyone’s right to freedom of speech,” and defer offering an opinion on “the merits of a rabbi having a blog or how its content may or may not reflect on our shul. However, we are concerned when a blog post insults and denigrates members of our community and beyond.”
After quoting some of the blog, the letter-writers continued: “At least one of the signatories listed below has attempted to engage the Rabbi over the last two months to persuade him to soften the tone and stridency of his comments. While the Rabbi responded respectfully, nothing has really changed, as evidenced by the quotes above.”
The message ended with a call for unity rather than divisiveness: “Ridiculing Obama supporters, which of course includes some CBY members, is offensive, exclusionary, and counterproductive to what we are trying to create in our shul – an atmosphere of Shalom V’Re’ut (peace and friendship), where all Jews are warmly welcomed.”
Pruzansky did not return an emailed request for comment from this newspaper; when we called Bnai Yeshurun’s office, the receptionist said “nobody here is willing to talk to you about it” and then she hung up the phone.
There have been many comments, however, on the Internet, especially on the Cross-Currents site – there were nearly 100 by Wednesday morning. We are quoting them here under Creative Commons License. They may be read in full at http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2012/11/07/the-decline-and-fall-of-the-american-empire/#ixzz2CCtHLlqA.
While some of the comments support Pruzansky’s opinion – it is “spot on” according to one writer, “Ed Pro,” – many others are critical. One writer referred to the essay as “incendiary and insulting.”
Another, using the name “yankel,” reacted to Pruzansky’s comments about new immigrants to the United States. “I live in Lakewood and the Hispanics living here are hard-working, saving individuals who are true examples of the American dream, willing to sacrifice for a better life for themselves. I would not advance the racist canard that therefore all Hispanics are like that. But the xenophobic belief that this is impossible, and any other race must be lazy, as well as the basic idea of judging people by their race, stands in the way of acceptance of these facts.”
A third, “Reb Yid,” wrote: “We’ve heard this all before in America. We heard it when the Irish moved in, then the Italians, then from the German Jews when the Russians and Eastern European Jews came in. And so on. This is the gift of America – a nation of immigrants that continues to regenerate because of its ability to attract a diverse lot from around the world. Kein Yirbu [may they continue to multiply].”