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"What are you so afraid of?" A nuclear-option response to questioning a SCOTUS decision.

"What are you so afraid of?"

That's one reaction American Jews hear from some Jewish leaders when they get antsy about perceived over-intrusion of the US majority religion into the public sphere. It got airtime when American Jews expressed disgust with Mel Gibson's sado-masochistic atrocity, "Passion of the Christ" and his maniacal anti-Jewish ramblings when he was picked up for drunk driving. Then when American Jews reacted with disgust to Pat Robertson's off-handed "joke" - with a rabbi who seemed to agree with him no less - that Jews hire people to wash their cars on Sundays so they can better spend their time serving the people by polishing their diamonds. Then when a state chief justice insisted that the only deity worth constitutional protection is his specific deity. And then when a hot mic picked up anti-Semitic ramblings from a retired upper echelon military official.

The "what are you so afraid of" Jewish-leadership response is making the rounds again over the recent SCOTUS decision declaring that religion-specific prayers preceding town meetings in a town in upstate New York had not crossed constitutional boundaries.

The problem is that "what are you afraid of" assumes that discomfort equals fear: fear of being proselytized, fear of not being able to commit equally in their own (lack of, so the argument goes) religious observance and knowledge, fear of being lost in some cosmic game of religious shuffleboard.

In fact, when Jewish leaders use "what are you so afraid of," it becomes an unintended boomerang. It assumes that a minority population's concern of being swallowed up with legal approval by a majority is an insult to the majority. And since it assumes that minority populations in the US live and prosper only "by the leave" of the majority, to question that ethos is dangerous and slippery slope territory. When used by Jewish leaders, it speaks to a paranoia that fears speaking truth (lower-case or upper-case) to power because "they" will be angry and then we'll be back in trouble again.

To be blunt, for Jewish leaders to use "what are you so afraid of" to dismiss Jewish concerns, it's provocative (and not in a good way) and sublimely unhelpful.

Next time: and yet another unhelpful nuclear-option response.


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