Sunday, April 25, 2010

Who is this Glenn Beck, and WHY DO WE CARE? - A retraction and correction

Shortly after publication of the below column last night, I received a barrage of e-mails, many of them unsubscribing to this Column due to my error in not better explaining myself, leaving readers with the idea that I somehow championed Glenn Beck and his notable anti-Semitic broadcasts. My intention was nothing of the sort, and my citation of Mr. Beck's latest broadcast was only to show that I believe that times such as ours call for a return to our own individual faith.

My intent was not to be perceived as bigoted, or anti anyone. Please re-read below and specifically take note of my reply to Mr. Cesca.

It often seems that whatever the Weekly portion of Torah that we read, something is going on around us that makes that week's Parasha that more meaningful. Such it was this week as well, with our reading of a combined section, Acharei Mot (After the Death of Aaron's sons) and Kedoshim (Holies).

The second sentence in Kedoshim speaks to me like almost no other in the Torah. With G-d speaking to Moshe (Moses), he says: Go tell all of the Tribes of the Children of Israel YOU ARE HOLY BECAUSE I AM HOLY. This, is a huge statement. This statement, above all others to me, gives us the desire to perform Mitzvot. Please allow me to digress.

I have a friend who enjoys discussing Halakha. As it is one of my favorite subjects to discuss, I too enjoy these conversations, but only to a certain point. I only find it fun when we are able to debate (we seldom agree) certain parts of Halakhic wisdom with answers that do not include the words "because haShem says so". My response is generally something like "WHERE DOES haSHEM SAY SO?" The answer is usually the conversation ender. More often than not, I am asked if I have ever studied Talmud, and without any Talmudic back-up or citation, we each sign off, or hang up the phone. Most often, I am thoroughly exhausted from the last five minutes of the conversation (read: debate) as I find it difficult to discuss a topic where one of the parties claims a fact that I know to be false, yet has no back up; i.e. G-d states in Talmud that it is against Halakha to use Facebook Instant Messenger on Shabbat. First, to my knowledge, G-d doesn't state anything in Talmud, and secondly, I am pretty sure that Facebook's Instant Messenger was not around in Talmudic times.

This past week, we got into a discussion over what it means to be "Observant". My friend stated over five times that to be an Observant Jew, one must fear G-d. One must perform Mitzvot because G-d is watching and will confront us with our transgressions, so we must follow the Mitzvot out of fear of being seen and fear of being caught.

I, however, see the performances in an entirely different light. I see the performance of Mitzvot as acts of love of G-d and for G-d's blessing and pleasure. Today's Parsha explains this to us in one sentence: YOU are holy, because I am holy. As we are created in the image of G-d, we must have G-d in us, and, if we have G-d in us, we, by definition, MUST be holy. To me, there is no better reason to perform Mitzvot.

The second most powerful Commandment, to me, is given to us sixteen verses later, when G-d commands us to love our fellow man, as we do ourselves. Midrash teaches that upon a request of a potential Convert to learn Torah while standing on one leg, The Sage Hillel replied with this verse,and told him that this verse is all of Torah. I ask then, does it matter who of us is Jewish or Christian or whatever? Is this Commandment not universal; and at the same time, does it not just make perfect sense?

Lately, I have heard the name Glenn Beck often. I have never taken the time to google Mr. Beck, or investigate his radio or television show; nor have I read any of his writings, and could not even begin to speak of him with any opinion whatsoever. Earlier this evening, however, I came across an article written by a gentleman by the name of Bob Cesca. I had never heard of Mr. Cesca, but my attention was grabbed by reading his headline attacking Glenn Beck. I must admit to having no knowledge of Beck either prior to reading Cesca's column, other than having heard Glenn Beck's name. After reading the column, and listening to a recording from Beck's show, and, with this week's Parasha so clearly in my mind, I felt compelled to write the following letter that I sent to Bob Cesca, with a copy sent to Beck:

Dear Mr. Cesca.

First, I must say that prior to ten minutes ago I had never heard of you, nor had I any idea who Glenn Beck is. That I may be burying my head in the sand and not paying attention to the various pundits, critics, broadcasters and so forth, might be an understatement, but it is not from lack of interest; it is more from lack of time to listen to so many varying opinions, yet, seemingly, nobody doing anything other than talking.

I must apologize for this, as you and Mr. Beck and whomever else is out there has a message and an opinion, and since the part of the Constitution that protects free speech is still in effect, I applaud your efforts, albeit it cautiously.

I learned of you from an article that I somehow came across entitled “Glenn Beck: the Televangelist Con Man Selling God's Plan for America”. As I frankly had never heard or seen anything that either you or Mr. Beck has said, I was curious, so I decided to read your column and listen to his tape as linked from your story.

I thank you for writing your column, and I thank you for posting the link to Mr. Beck’s broadcast.

I am not going to take sides, as the above mentioned Constitutional right continues to exist (for now), and personally, I am happy that we all have this right to speak our peace. You both are fortunate, very fortunate to have such large audiences to which you are able to proliferate.

I do, however, take issue with your attitude toward Mr. Beck’s opinions in general, and I must ask you with all due respect, do you have a personal knowledge of Mr. Beck’s relationship with G-d? I can certainly tell you that I do not, nor do I have personal knowledge of your relationship with Him; nor do you or Mr. Beck have personal knowledge of my relationship with G-d. That being said, I was surprised to see a man of your integrity call another names in a manner that is both highly prejudicial, and usurps his rights under not just the Constitution, but rights given to us by G-d.

Sir, I do not know your religious background, nor will I ever attempt to convince you that any one way to pray is better than another, but I will go so far as to ask you if you believe that it is acceptable to treat another or speak of another in a way which would be hateful to you?

I believe, as do you, as does Mr. Beck, as I would hope does most of the world, that we are living in very difficult times. As a Rabbi, I would agree with Mr. Beck that in times like these, seeking our individual faith to help us to guide ourselves is most beneficial. Whether Mr. Beck was spoken to by G-d directly or not, I have no way of knowing, nor does anyone. Whether or not I agree with his political opinion(s) is of no importance.

I have now heard back from Mr. Cesca. He wrote as follows:

Hello Rabbi Abrams,

I appreciate your thoughtful email. A couple of thoughts in response.

First, the Constitution only protects "freedom of speech" with regards to government lawmaking. In other words, the first amendment protects speech from government encroachment. As a citizen, I'm well within the permission of the founding documents to take issue with a commentator -- and even to call for him or her to be removed from the airwaves (though that's not what I'm suggesting for Mr. Beck).

Secondly, I am not questioning Mr. Beck's religion (Mormonism) or his right to practice it. In fact, I'm suggesting that by injecting religion into government, government will be more capable of interfering with religion. Hence, the purpose of separating church and state.

Thanks again, Rabbi.


I will reply now in this public forum:

After doing much more research into Mr. Beck, I can honestly say, Bob, that you appear to have been quite kind and generous with your words toward him. I have not met him, and since a mere twenty-four hours ago, I literally had no idea what the man stood for, or stands for, I was errant in my judgment to put myself in any position to defend him. For this I apologize.

My question now turns to ask again, Who is this Glenn Beck, and WHY DO WE CARE?

If you were to surf to his web page, you would find that Mr. Beck is a Talking Head on, I believe both radio and Cable television that seems to find fault with about anyone and everyone who is not, well, Glenn Beck. He seems to use these air waves to spew hatred and bigotry with Anti-American and Anti-Jewish rhetoric, and via PayPal, he appears to gain monetarily on a daily if not hourly basis.

Why do we care? We must care. For to be as I have been, with my head in the sand is at least as dangerous as Mr. Beck is to not just our society, but to the world.

We are holy, because G-d is holy. We do the right thing because G-d would want us to do the right thing. Last night, in agreeing with Glenn Beck, even if just barely and on the surface, I did not do the right thing. I believe that I am now.

I remind you that today is day 1,401 since the capture of our Brother, Gilad ben Noam v'Aviva Shalit by Terrorists in Gaza. Please remember him in your prayers.

In addition, we continue to pray for my Colleague and friend, Rabbi Bramly during this very difficult time. May G-d continue to bring him and his family strength blessings.

From the Emek in the Midbar that we call Arizona, I wish you Ahavah u'Vrachot, Love and Blessings...

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

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