23 Tevet 5781 | January 7, 2021
Like all Americans of good faith, the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis is horrified and appalled by the acts of insurrection in Washington, DC on Wednesday. We urge the members of our rabbinic council, and all the members of our communities, to renew the call for justice and decency in our country in accordance with our Jewish and American values:
- The perpetrators of Wednesday’s violence and their enablers are criminals and enemies of American democracy.
As Jews, we cherish dissent, differences of opinion, and the precious freedom to question authority and express unpopular opinions. Wednesday’s events, which included vandalizing the Capitol building, invading the offices of national representatives, and the clear threat of violence, violate each of these principles.
The Mishnah enjoins us: “Pray for the welfare of the government, for if it does not inspire respect, people will devour one another” (Pirkei Avot 3:2). Today we pray for those who defend the nation’s laws and maintain order with integrity and evenhandedness, especially those who have been put in harm’s way.
- Wednesday’s violence was predictable and, considering the history of incitement, sadly inevitable. We demand accountability from President Donald Trump and his enablers.
One resounding lesson from Jewish history is that violent words directly lead to violent actions. The President’s winks and nods to alt-right and white supremacist groups—from his refusal to disavow neo-Nazis at Charlottesville in 2017, to his encouragement of the racist Proud Boys to “stand by”, to his feeble and cynical words of “We love you” for Wednesday’s insurrectionists—implicitly endorsed the assault on the Capitol.
We have no doubt that the President’s words incited Wednesday’s violence. Prior to the election, the President refused to indicate if he would support a peaceful transfer of power in the event that he lost. Earlier this week, the President encouraged his followers to go to Washington to protest the election that he lost, insisting that the protest on January 6 would be “wild.” The President’s counsel, Rudy Giuliani, likewise encouraged violence when he insisted the demonstrations would be “trial by combat.”
The President’s insistence that November’s election, which he decisively lost, was rigged and invalid has been proven unequivocally to be a lie. Over sixty court cases, and the affirmations of the election results by governors and election officials all over the country, have demonstrated that the elections were valid. The President’s public refusal to accept the results is not only a demonstration of his low character, but it also is an assault on the democratic institutions of our country, which directly led to Wednesday’s violence.
- We demand clarity about the clear racial disparity in the use of force by the authorities in responding to the attack on the Capitol.
Why were the responses of the Capitol Police and law enforcement so disproportionately mild compared to similar events of the past year, when Black Lives Matter protesters and other left-leaning protests were met with much more severe displays of force? MBR’s continued commitments to racial justice and our partnerships with our neighbors compel us to call attention, yet again, the unfair and unequal application of the law.
Our Torah insists: You shall have one law for stranger and citizen alike (Leviticus 24:22). We call for official investigations into the disparity of the applications of the force of law, and the apparent lack of security preparations, given the size and toxic incitement of the crowd.
We call upon our Rabbis and other leaders to name the transgressions that led to this moment. Rabbis should not engage in partisan politics from their pulpits, of course, but rabbis often feel constrained in voicing moral truths so as not to upset some members of their communities. But this is not a partisan moment: Democrats and Republicans, left-leaning and right-leaning constituents alike must be able to identify the profound offenses that have taken place in order to move our country forward.
Jewish tradition warns of “righteous people who had the power to protest the actions of others, but did not” (Talmud, Shabbat 55a). American democracy is resilient, and we are confident that the potential for national healing exists. But our shared future is in our own hands; we have much work to do.
This is not a time for self-righteous pieties or genteel calls for peace. This is a moment to reclaim the integrity of our democratic institutions from those who would pervert them, and to demand accountability, even unto the highest office in the land.
Massachusetts Board of Rabbis Executive Committee
Rabbi Neal Gold, President (email@example.com)
Rabbi Neal Gold, President (firstname.lastname@example.org)