Halakhic works
Halakhic worksצילום: ישי קרוב

We Jews have always been an opinionated people. And this past week a few of our more prominent Jews have seen fit to share their opinions with the entire world.

Chuck Schumer Majority Leader of the United States Senate, the first Jew to hold that position, and the highest-ranking elected Jewish official in US history, saw fit to share his views on the current situation in Israel in a speech to the Senate on March 14, 2024. He made sure that his Jewish credentials were firmly established, mentioning (not for the first time) that his last name is derived from the Hebrew word "shomer," or guardian.

He then went on to claim that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “no longer fit” to lead Israel. He then called him an “obstacle to peace.” Not content with simply attacking the leader of a foreign ally, he continued his tirade, making policy decisions for him by urging him to “Disavow Ministers Smotrich and Ben Gvir, and kick them out of his governing coalition.”

Not content to limit his attacks to the world leader, Schumer went on to equate Israelis with their murderers, claiming: “Extremist Palestinians and extremist Israelis seek the same goal: from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, they aim to push the other from the land.”

Most disturbing of all, he called for Netanyahu to be removed from office and for new elections to be held. He seemed shocked at the swift backlash that came from Israel and the Jewish world. He seemed genuinely surprised that his attempts as a world leader to overturn the democratically elected leadership of an ally were met with resistance.

His comments come off the heels of equally deplorable statements made by Jewish director Jonathan Glazer. Glazer accepting an Academy Award for his Holocaust film, “The Zone of Interest” chose to use his once-in-a-lifetime platform to attack the Jewish state. During his acceptance speech, he claimed that “Right now we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims, this humanization, how do we resist?”

Like Schumer, Glazer rationalized his attacks against the Jewish homeland by being a Jew himself. It was his “Jewishness” he argued that not only urged him to speak up but gave them the seeming right to.

And he’s hardly alone in using his Jewishness as a prop whenever it becomes a handy way to support otherwise insupportable statements.

Hate groups like Jewish Voices for Peace and Peace Now base their entire arguments on the “As a Jew” defense. It's the popular defense that usually starts with “As a Jew” and then uses their Jewishness to go on to justify the most un-Jewish things imaginable. Whatever awful or fabricated claims they make, they expect to be given a credence they otherwise never would have had because the speaker is a Jew, and therefore speaking on behalf of the very group in question. The “As A Jew” argument is all too readily lapped up by Israel’s enemies, only too happy to have willing sheep lead the rest of the flock to the slaughter.

I won’t go into the absurdity of the claims made by various anti-Israel groups, or to the claims of either of my two Jewish brothers. Instead, I would like to ask them some questions.

What are the six orders of the Mishna?

What are the seven fruits of Eretz Israel?

What year was the Second Temple destroyed?

What is the bracha on a banana?

Who wrote the Shulchan Aruch?

Do you in fact have any Jewish knowledge beyond the basics you might have managed to remember from before you left Hebrew school? You are acting as ambassadors of the Jewish people. It’s reasonable to ask if you have even the basic knowledge required to act in such a role. Do you know anything about the Judaism you claim to represent?

To be fair, it’s a very Jewish idea that doing is more important than learning. Jewish thought is replete with the idea that a simple Jew without any learning is not only a precious soul but capable of reaching great spiritual heights in their divine service. In that spirit I ask the following:

Do you put on tefillin?

Do you keep Shabbat?

Do you keep kosher?

Do you fast on Yom Kippur?

Do you have any connection at all to Jewish practice, or is your only relationship to your heritage only using it as a way to validate your own sensibilities? Does your Judaism have any effect on your life at all when you’re not using it to attack your fellow Jews?

Again, I don’t mean to shame or embarrass you. Everyone is on their own level and it’s not for me to judge you for your personal challenges and tests. But I do have a right to ask since after all, you have declared yourselves the public face of our people. Therefore, It’s only fair to ask for your Jewish credentials.

All too often the answer is the same. These “As a Jew” Jews are completely divorced from their own Jewishness. They are proud to be secular, only daring to admit to their background when doing so will make them look attractive to the rest of the world. Then, and only then will they admit to being Jews. When being a Jew gives them the authority to undermine everything that they are. While they justify their opinions by their Jewish identity, they seem much less willing to justify themselves as Jews.

I want to end with one more question. To all the “As a Jews” out there. Before you give an opinion “as a Jew”, don’t you owe it to yourself to discover what being Jewish really means?

Ilan Goodmanis a museum collections professional and exhibition curator. He also serves as a rabbi and educator. He made Aliyah to Israel in 2011 and lives with his wife and children in Beit Shemesh.