Rosh Hashanah Is a Time To Renew Our American Covenant | Opinion

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is not greeted with loud parties, countdowns or open bars. It is the Day of Judgment, when we are expected to ponder the ways we veered off course during the previous year. It is also as opportune a time as any to contemplate how we, as the American people, have recently strayed from our own covenant—specifically, our united dedication to the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In particular, three behaviors have significantly—and always negatively—impacted our dialogue and character over the past year: imagining people with different ideas to be inherently sinister, distorting language itself to invert good and evil, and openly suppressing free speech.

As a rabbi, I have seen all three employed against Jews, and can easily identify historical models to tell us where such alarming trends often lead. All three have been used in concert, and we must all resolve to do better—because America finds itself at risk of collapse into open anarchy or a new civil war.

First, calling people "Nazis" is an effective way to avoid grappling with their ideas and is, therefore, destructive to the maintenance of a peaceful society. It prevents free and open debate and encourages those on one's own side to perceive those who disagree as the pinnacle of all evil. Not incidentally, it also minimizes the nefariousness of the Third Reich. "Nazi" is a term best reserved for, at the very least, those who demonstrate the same pathological hatred of Jews held by Hitler and his ilk.

This sort of armchair name-calling in lieu of debate is, of course, not new. It was an obvious feature of the leftist response to President Donald Trump, for example. The avid promoter of women throughout his corporation was deemed a "sexist," and the man who integrated Palm Beach country clubs was dubbed a "racist."

But my personal favorite? The man with a Jewish daughter, who made his Jewish son-in-law a close senior advisor, dotes upon his Jewish grandchildren, recognized Jerusalem's historic connection to the Jewish people and the right of the Jewish people to live in Judea, was somehow an "anti-Semite." This invective was as deplorable as it was devoid of intelligence.

The past year brought us many academics preaching the ludicrous notion that all white people are inherently racist. Many of them further categorized Jews as having "white privilege," demonstrating stunning ignorance of European history, American history and the ethnic makeup of international Jewry with one phrase. Those who believe the Bible has something to say about marriage and gender were denounced as "homophobic" or "transphobic," while those promoting progressive views were lionized as "social justice warriors."

Close-up of High holidays prayer book for
Close-up of High holidays prayer book for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year in the religion Judaism, San Ramon, California, September 21, 2020. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Distortion of language itself served as a tool for demonization. Removing words from their commonly understood definitions helps paint good people as evil and minimizes genuine atrocities. Admittedly, this too has gone on for years, and has often targeted Jews. Many have heard the lie that the only country in the Middle East with both Jewish and Arab legislators is an "apartheid" state, with false charges of "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" tossed in to divert attention from the explicit genocidal agenda of Hamas' founding charter—and the behavior of every Arab state that once had a significant Jewish population.

But this year, the American Booksellers Association called its inclusion of an "anti-transgender" title in a mailing not merely worthy of apology, but a "violent incident." In another story, terrorists launching bombs attached to brightly colored balloons were recently described by the Associated Press as "pro-Hamas activists." Put together, these statements suggest that exposing adults to uncomfortable ideas is more barbaric and dangerous than trying to blow up Jewish children.

This year, Big Tech also realized that having created platforms for so-called "open" dialogue, it can exploit its dominance to arbitrarily curate the content that most Americans are allowed to see. The leader of the free world was banned from Twitter both before and after the election, while both the Taliban and the ayatollahs of Iran use the platform as often as they desire. The fact that Twitter thus became America's de facto foremost promoter of terrorism and genocide passed almost without notice.

Similarly, Amazon refuses to carry When Harry Became Sally, a book on the downsides of widespread social endorsement and irreversible physiology-altering surgery for those suffering from gender dysphoria, but sells Mein Kampf in both German and English. The New York Post was prevented from using Twitter for having the audacity to publish accurate information found on a hard drive left with a computer repair shop by Hunter Biden. And, after all of the above, Apple, Google and Amazon worked in concert to prevent us from receiving content on Parler, which permitted the very free speech the other platforms had censored.

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish people are judged for our actions. Demonization, distortion and suppression of opposing views lead to ruin. If we cannot improve as a nation as well as individuals, we will soon have to answer to ourselves.

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, the largest rabbinic public policy organization in America.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.