Question: Please tell me why Jewish people as a whole seem not to defend their civil rights in America? I have noticed this in my experience with fellow Jews at our town meetings. I won’t go into the details, but I have tried to involve the organizations that claim to protect civil rights, but there is only so much they can do as non-profits.
I understand that Israel is important, but for me the United States is important as well. I feel I am a fighter, a Maccabee, and I will continue but I truly desire to understand why I seem to be alone in this endeavor.
Answer: You have raised a very important question. I applaud your passion for protecting the rights of the Jewish people. Indeed, we are privileged to live in a land, which provides Jews equal protection under the law, and we should certainly strive to safeguard the civil liberties granted us. I cannot comment on the specific issue that you note, as I am not completely familiar with all the details. I will only comment on the hesitancy you notice among some (or many) Jews not to stick up for our rights.
In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this reluctance. The first relates to the very unique nature of our current situation in America. Never, ever, in the history of the Jewish people have we been afforded such equal protection under the law as we are in the USA. Even in the best days of the golden age of Spain, the Jews were regarded at best as second class citizens. Embedded deep in the Jewish psyche is the notion that speaking out results only in more trouble and more problems. Silence became the only true answer to authority. Thus, even in our unique station in history, the Jewish consciousness remains reluctant to speak up.
The second reason, I believe is the fear of “crying wolf.” I believe Jews are concerned that if we speak out against every injustice, after a while, we will be disregarded entirely, even if the cause is truly just and vital. Whether or not such concerns are warranted, I believe such concerns do exist.
Of course, every issue should be examined in its own right to determine the prudence of speaking out. But there is no question that we should not remain silent where the situation demands our voices be heard, for indeed, a right not defended is a right forfeited.
Rabbi Yoel Spotts