| Second Thoughts |

The Perils of Sloganeering

So much for shibboleths like “democracy” and “voice of the people”


The secular Israeli Left loves to use terms like democracy to defend their anti-religious stance. “We defend the rights of the people against the dictatorial demands and restrictions of the fanatically religious. This is a democracy, where the voice of the people is paramount.”

Then came the recent Israeli elections, in which the majority of the electorate — the people — voted the leftists out, and demonstrated their preference for a right wing, less bigoted government. This threw the left into a dizzying disarray. In a typical frenzied reaction, Yair Golan, a former Knesset member and Deputy Economics Minister, made the following declaration which could make him the poster boy for the Israeli left. “I realize this is what the people chose, but the people are in error….” In other words, democracy is fine, until the people vote for policies I do not like. At that point, goodbye democracy: we must struggle against the voice of the people.

He is not alone. Gadi Eizenkot, former military chief of staff, speaks of a million-man march on Jerusalem to protest the results of the election. And outgoing PM Lapid, instead of following the lead of Western democracies he so admires and graciously conceding to Netanyahu, demonizes the right wing and incites the country to reject the victory.

Of course, the media lackeys take up the cry. And in an apparent orchestrated attack together with the American Jewish left and leaders of the non-Orthodox movements, we hear echoing cries of  Fascism, so that  Abe Foxman, former head of the ADL, declares that he might sever his support for the Jewish state. Death of democracy, medievalism, fake election, are now the new buzzwords of choice.

So much for shibboleths like “democracy” and “voice of the people.” Democracy is a useful battle cry, but once the will of the electorate and your personal views do not coincide, exit democracy.

But pause for a moment, and think. It might give us some satisfaction to view the chicanery of the left,  but if we are to be honest, we cannot leave it at that. Their hypocrisy is a cautionary note to Jews who consider themselves observant and G-d fearing. If we declare our fealty to Torah and mitzvos, and nevertheless behave in ways that bring dishonor to G-d, Torah and mitzvos, we too can be held up as objects of derision — and rightfully so. It is not necessary to cross t’s and dot i’s: examples abound all around us: on the roads, in the shops, in public transportation and gatherings. Our noble cries mean nothing if our actions belie our words. Any behavior that brings dishonor to G-d and Torah — “see how badly this religious Jew behaves” — is a chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d’s Name, the most egregious of transgressions, the very opposite of kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of the Name, the most powerful of all the mitzvos.

The left’s mouthings of terms like democracy is nothing but empty rhetoric, but it is a useful object lesson, a living warning to adherents of G-d and Torah to beware of similar emptiness.

An honest look at the mantras that define our religious lives and how we relate to them might lead to some valuable results. Here is a representative handful that could easily become meaningless clichés unless we reexamine our relationship to them: adam lamakom v’lachaveiro, yiras and ahavas Hashem, ahavas habrios, kavanah b’tefillah, limud haTorah, dan lekaf zechus, shemiras halashon, brachos, gemilus chasadim, shomer mitzvos. To look with fresh eyes at these terms that so glibly roll off our tongues, and thereby to discover who we really are, would be a positive reaction to the sanctimony and mendacity of the Left.

One learns not only from teachers. One can learn from one’s antagonists as well.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 942)

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