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The Words of a Tragedy

Words matter. If they didn't, if there were no consequences to our utterances - good and bad - Jewish literature would not be chockablock with cautionary tales from Talmud to midrash to watch what we say. Those stories of the rabbi and the feather pillow and the broken mirror did not come out of a vacuum; they were written for a reason.

Let's be honest: politicians love rhetoric and television/radio pundits need inflammatory language the way an active alcoholic needs booze. No political party has been innocent, yet the right wing has taken the cake lately. An American president accused of not being an American, "don't retreat, reload," the "2nd amendment remedies," Nazi, Hitler (briefly abused by the left against VP Cheney but taken to the nth degree by Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and others), death panels, a Sarah Palin map of the US with gun cross hair sights over names and places of politicians who were on a political hit list and a politician hosting an M16 shooting fest for his followers who are urged to take down the opponent.

To those who think these things are just absurdities that no one really pays attention to ... guess again, folks.

When it all hit the fan after a probably severely mentally damaged young man opened fire at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, seriously wounding her and killing 6 others (including a 9 year old girl) at Giffords' meet-and-greet in Tuscon, one would have thought that all those brave and outspoken politicians and pundits would at least have the decency to take stock, do some self reflection and keep quiet. Take the inevitable backlash that would come their way because of their inflammatory rhetoric. Just say, "this is a tragedy, I know my language has been harsh, let's work this out, America."

But that is exactly the opposite of what they did, to the extent that Sarah Palin has now made herself the victim, obscenely referring to the way people are accusing her an her ilk of directly/indirectly causing the shootings as "blood libel." Really, Ms. Palin (and your defenders)? Are you that far gone in your bid to be simultaneously the world's victim and champion?

Why are people defending her by downplaying the meaning of the term? Have we become so desensitized to words that they no longer have meaning? When "Nazi" refers to anyone you don't like, gun sights on a map are just political terminology, shooting off M16's is just hyperbole ... friends, we are in serious trouble. We Jews used to take language seriously. What's happened to us?

"Blood libel" refers to the accusation against Jews that they were using childrens' blood to make wine and matzah; it is still used about Jews by Muslim extremists. When "blood libel" can be appropriated away from its generally accepted usage to refer to anyone who can't take the rhetoric they so richly bestowed on everyone else, then we have descended into a place of madness. And worse: when JEWS are defending the usage for anything other than what it is (the overwhelming defense is that Sarah loves the Jews and Israel so we should put up with whatever she has to say), we have truly gone off the rails.

Let's not forget something that Ms. Palin and her friends seem to have overlooked: 6 people - including a child born on 9/11/2001 - are dead, and a brave woman is fighting for her life in the hospital. No matter what she would have us believe, Ms. Palin is not the victim. Indeed, Ms. Palin's juicy language and refusal to just shut up is creating even more chaos.

Those feathers are running away from us and the shards of the mirror are getting sharper and uglier.


Judith Ovadia said…
Penny is fired-up! Nice post.
Alan C said…
Eilene and I agree with you. The feathers are out of the pillow; Ms. Palin can't put them back in.
Reb Deb said…
Yasher koach, Penny!

Not only can cantors talk, they can *think*. Which is more than I can say about the people you're writing about.

(From a rabbi who can sing)

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