Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid. – Bernard Meltzer, Jewish radio personality
Meltzer’s remark above is inspired by the Jewish prohibition of lashon hara, or evil speech. Engaging in lashon hara has been said to be worse than even murder, and is considered to be responsible for various catastrophes in Jewish history. A statement can be lashon hara even if it is true, if it deliberately or negligently damages its object.
Consider the following statement. Try to guess its source:
Systemic racial oppression in the United States began four hundred years ago with the institution of slavery. Black families were ripped apart, Black individuals were subjected to sexual and other forms of violence, and Black children were kept deliberately uneducated and illiterate. Some early Jewish Americans were among slave traders and owners. (emphasis is mine)
No, it was not Louis Farrakhan. It was not The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, or even “civil rights activist” Al Sharpton. It is taken from a resolution passed at the 2019 Biennial Convention of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) advocating reparations to compensate black Americans for slavery and other injustices committed against them.
I don’t intend to comment on the question of reparations. I don’t live in the USA and it’s none of my business. But I am a Jew, and that leads me to ask the URJ: what the f___ were they thinking?
Yes, the statement is true in a mathematical sense. “Some” means “at least one.” And there was more than one Jew in the antebellum South that owned slaves. But the numbers of Jewish-owned slaves (and for that matter, Jews in the South) was tiny: “Eli Faber, a historian at New York City’s John Jay College reported that in 1790, Charleston’s Jews owned a total of 93 slaves…” That would be 93 out of the 51,000 slaves in Charleston County, 0.18%! It is also true that there were Jews involved in the slave trade. But multiple serious historians found that their role was minor.
The resolution is full of statistics and footnotes, but the statement in question did not have a footnote. That is probably because unless they cited Louis Farrakhan, David Duke, or this ranting black racist, a legitimate historical source would have held that the connection of Jews to black slavery was small enough to be negligible.
True, perhaps. Misleading, very much so. And because it lends support to one of the pillars of black antisemitism – at a time when this often violent phenomenon is burgeoning – it is neither helpful nor kind. It is lashon hara.
It is ironic that an organization that is much given to quoting Jewish sources, as it does in the reparations resolution, would fail to spot such an egregious violation of a fundamental concept in Jewish ethics.
But that is par for the course for the URJ, which is far more committed to its “social justice” agenda than to Jewish observance or ethics, or the welfare of Jews.