Takes issue with Boteach’s rhetoric
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Takes issue with Boteach’s rhetoric

Even Charles Barkley, the former NBA star who pointedly eschewed the “role model” mantle that society foists on athletes, would surely concede that for a spiritual leader, responsibility is a key part of the job description. So it puzzles me that Shmuley Boteach, who prominently sports the honorific of “rabbi,” cannot find a more measured and dignified way of expressing his disagreements with his co-religionists. From the very first sentence of his Sept. 18 diatribe against the pro-Israel lobby J Street, where he accuses the lobby of seeing all who disagree with its stance as “knuckle-draggers who see an anti-Semite behind every corner,” one cannot escape the ominous feeling that a person who is supposed to hold himself to a lofty standard of human intercourse and kindness is about to behave in a manner far, far below the requirements of his office. And, sure enough, the rest of the essay makes use of the nastiest and commonest propaganda techniques, such as quoting the adversary and then, subtly, dropping the quotation marks while still claiming to speak in the adversary’s voice. The object is to mock and to delegitimize, with one of two possible outcomes: either the reader succumbs to the argument and, in this case, a fellow Jew is seen as vile and despicable, or, more often, the reader feels embarrassment at the debasement of the writer’s religious office. Since neither of these reactions is particularly “good for the Jews,” I would respectfully suggest that it might be better for anyone choosing to play the role of spiritual guide to accept the constraints that come with the title and to argue one’s point in a reasonable, measured, and charitable manner. When posited in this way, one’s arguments, paradoxically, take on power and achieve a lasting impact, perhaps because in this case the reader senses a pleasing and inspiring congruence between the writer’s words and her/his title.

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