JTS Statement on Events at Capitol
Yesterday’s Events in Washington Are a Stain on Our Civilization
The rabbinic tradition created the concept of Seven Noahide Commandments, a set of standards deemed to be incumbent on all of humanity, constituting a minimal set of laws that defined civilized societies. These commandments included such obvious prohibitions as those on murder, incest, and theft, but they also included one positive obligation: the requirement that every human society must establish institutions through which justice is administered fairly and consistently, and not left to demagogues in the streets. Like our American founders, the Rabbis understood that one of the signature elements of an uncivilized society is one in which “justice” is pursued outside the supervision of its authorized institutions.
What Americans saw in Washington on Wednesday has thus created a stain on our civilization that our children will be hard-pressed to explain to their children and grandchildren when they read about it in school. And as Jews, to whom America’s democratic institutions have been kinder and more generous than any authority under which we have lived for two millennia, this should feel particularly personal and hard to endure. We will be able to begin to remove this stain only if all citizens of good will recognize how a gradual but relentless tolerance of falsity has led us to this moment. Psalm 85 reassures us that “Truth springs up from the earth.” That is, the civilizing power of truth can grow back from its ravaged roots. But only if we have the fortitude to insist that those who stand in the way of truth are challenged and held to account.