There have been a lot of accusations of anti-Semitism lately, and an equal number of excuses.
First, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Jews, rather than Russians, might be behind US election tampering. This was generally accepted as an unfounded attack on a minority group, though defenders pointed out that Putin was responding to a journalist’s question and that cultural differences between the US and Russia keep us from appreciating the innocuous nature of his reply. Draw your own conclusions.
Then, jaw-droppingly, Washington, DC, council member Trayon White, Sr., actually blamed the Jews for the weather, specifically, “the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities.” He later apologized, saying, “I did not intend to be anti-Semitic, and I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues.” (Really? You needed to be told that?) And, of course, there were defenders who said that he was never anti-Semitic in the first place, speaking about the Rothschilds in particular (their religion apparently irrelevant, centuries of anti-Semitic conspiracy theory notwithstanding) and not Jews in general (because, you know, the Rothschilds are such a relevant force in our daily lives).
No discussion of anti-Semitic canards would be complete without Minister Louis Farrakhan, Sr. Farrakhan called Judaism a “gutter religion” in 1984 and things haven’t gotten any better since. (Some people – including Farrakhan – have claimed that Farrakhan never actually said that but the Chicago Sun-Times caught it on tape.) Nevertheless, there are those who justify Farrakhan’s hate speech, saying, “It’s just his brand; nobody takes his words seriously.”
As hateful, ignorant or, in some cases, silly as we might see comments such as these, there was one recent canard that offended me more than any of them. And I was shocked that it didn’t get more coverage. The comment in question came from Henryk Zielinski, a Polish priest and the editor-in-chief of a weekly Catholic publication called Idziemy. Speaking on Polish national television TVP about the flap surrounding the recent Holocaust legislation, Zielinski asserted that Jews have “a completely different system of values, a different concept of truth.”
“For us,” he said, “the truth corresponds to facts.” (I’m not clear to whom the pronoun “us” refers. Catholics? Christians in general? Poles? Everyone but Jews?) “For the Jew, truth means something that conforms to his understanding of what’s beneficial. If a Jew is religious, then truth means something God wants.”
The justification that “truth means something God wants” might almost be a defensible statement – almost – if Zielinski had stopped there. But he didn’t. Rather, he continued that, for irreligious Jews, “the truth is subjective or whatever serves Israel’s interests.”
This is such a dangerous statement it’s not even funny. It purports that Jews regularly perpetrate a “pious fraud” to justify whatever they want. It goes so far as to paint this as a religious duty, when it is, in fact, the exact opposite.
The truth is of paramount importance in Judaism. The Torah tells us to “keep far away from a false matter” (Exodus 23:7) and the Talmud in Shevuos (31a) shows us the lengths to which one must take that. Specifically, one is not even permitted to lie even in order to secure a just outcome in a court case. For example, let’s say that John, Paul and George are each owed $1,000 by Ringo. If they each take Ringo to court separately, they might win and they might lose. But let’s say that George takes Ringo to court saying that he owes him $3,000. If John and Paul act as witnesses, they’ll win in a slam-dunk and then each can take the $1,000 they’re owed. This would be an equitable outcome because each litigant recoups the amount he is owed. Nevertheless, it is completely prohibited because, equity notwithstanding, it’s just not true.
That’s how seriously we take truth. Father Zielinski would have the world believe otherwise. So who’s the one twisting the truth to suit his purposes?
There are entire web site devoted to “exposing” Jews because of “horrible” things the Talmud says. They claim that we see non-Jews as sub-human (we don’t) and that it’s permitted for us to rob and kill them (it isn’t). They claim that our religion permits sex with toddlers. (It doesn’t. Discussing the legal impact of an act does not mean that the act is permitted, just that we need to know the implications should it occur!) Sometimes these claims are actual quotes taken out of context and other times they’re fabricated out of whole cloth. Once, someone contacted me with a handful of such quotes that an anti-Talmud web site attributed to a completely non-existent tractate of Talmud. When I told this person that, not only were the quotes fraudulent, no such tractate of that name existed, his response was along the lines of, “Of course you’d say that!” It has become a “pious fraud” that we perpetrate “pious frauds!”
While it doesn’t help us if Putin throws Jews under the bus with idle speculation or if White says we control the weather (if only that were true!), I think the damage in such statements is limited even if they are not immediately called out. What Zielinski said is far more dangerous! We believe that “the seal of God is truth” (Shabbos 55a – an actual Talmudic quote!).
Integrity is the most important thing we have. Sometimes it’s the only thing we have! Do individuals fall short on occasion? Of course. We’re only human. But fallible as humans are, we should never let it go unchallenged if someone should charge that the Torah is ever for anything less than truthful conduct. This is so even if a lie is a more expedient path to the same outcome.
In Judaism, a just goal accomplished through falsehood ceases to be just. If our detractors would follow the same principle instead of smearing us with unfounded accusations, imagine what could actually be accomplished!
Rabbi Jack Abramowitz is Torah Content Editor at the Orthodox Union. He is the author of six books, including The Tzniyus Book and The Taryag Companion. His latest work, The God Book, is available from OU Press as well as on Amazon.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.