Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, August 12, 2022 / 15 Av 5782
Addendum: In part one, I neglected to mention that Bob Horenstein was also present in the meeting with Archbishop Sample. Behind the scenes, Bob is a constant presence in confronting local incidents of antisemitism.
Reading Time: Four minutes
Leaders Make Mistakes. We Need to Forgive Them
Last week in this column, I passed along some information about a meeting that the Oregon Board of Rabbis held with Archbishop Sample, who had made a disturbing comparison between abortion and the Holocaust. The archbishop received our concerns and removed the offending statement from his YouTube video. This past week, he also indicated that he would offer a more formal apology in the press. I have been moved by his willingness to learn and make adjustments in real time.
Every leader makes mistakes; one of the difficulties of leadership is how our public roles can magnify our errors. When someone takes positive steps to correct these flaws in a genuine and substantive manner, we owe it to that person to accept and celebrate these actions. That is a Jewish value, for we believe in teshuvah—in the capacity of people to change and grow.
It is also a strategic approach, for if we are unwilling to forgive our leaders and politicians even after they have made meaningful corrections and changed course, then we disincentivize others from public apologies and growth. In fact, our unwillingness to forgive instructs other politicians that they should only harden their positions. That’s not good for society.
Why Comparing Abortion to the Holocaust Is Antisemitic
As Jews, we are sensitive when others make comparisons to the Holocaust or Nazis. At its most basic root, we have an emotional reaction when this preeminent act of hatred is used cheaply. But are we simply overly sensitive, or is something more significant at stake beyond the immediate hurt? Because, whether or not this is politic to say, I can imagine acts of barbarity that would match the Shoah. It shouldn’t be impermissible to make such a comparison, but the comparison ought to be made only rarely, and when it is clear that such an analogy is fair and accurate.
In an era when we are seeing rising levels of hate speech and hate crimes, I believe that Jews have an obligation to educate people about this. After all, we know too well the power that words have to damage others. Let’s examine why comparing abortion to the Holocaust is itself an antisemitic act that endangers Jewish lives.
First, it is worth noting that comparing the Shoah to abortion is now a half-century old argument that originated in 1970. As that belief developed, it deracialized Nazi murder, stripping Jewish victims of their identities—the very identities that made them a target in the first place.
One reason for the comparison of abortion to the Shoah was because of the scale of death—millions of Jews were killed, and millions of pregnancies have been terminated.
But this is a flawed analogy because it’s not about total numbers of “deaths.” If that were the main issue, a much better argument would be to compare abortion to the numbers of Soviets who died in WWII, as far more Russians died than Jews. That comparison, however, is not made by anti-abortion proponents because it doesn’t create the same emotional response in the listener.
The horror of the Shoah, as we all know, was the systematic and intentional effort to eliminate specific faiths, people (Blacks, Roma, Jews), and sexual orientations with total callous disregard, with machine-like efficiency, and with the technologies of the assembly line applied to murder.
Even for those who hold that abortion is murder, these fetuses come from all backgrounds, faiths, etc. There is no systematic genocide, nor is there centralized planning to that end.
No state apparatus or government actively murders fetuses in the United States. The state merely permits it (or permitted it) and individuals of good conscience aid in or have an abortion. Intent matters here.
The Germans’ act of genocide was done out of profound hatred for the Jews and the other groups they murdered. Women who have an abortion do not terminate their pregnancy out of hatred for the fetus, so the attempt to turn this into a utilitarian argument, as some antiabortion theorists have done, is wrong-headed at best.
There is no assembly line murder with abortions, which occur one by one, in countless small offices.
The Jews were often enslaved and dehumanized before their mass murder. Again, there is no equivalency here with abortion.
I could go on and on. What makes the comparison to the Holocaust particularly noxious is that it takes the least distinctive aspect of the Shoah (large scale murder, from a Catholic priest’s perspective), which sadly occurs again and again in human history, and ignores the most relevant, pertinent, and evil aspects of the Shoah, whose goal was the total genocide of the Jewish people. That is what makes the comparison so offensive and lacking in coherent thought.
When one understands how deeply flawed the comparison is, it is clear the analogy is only utilized for shock value. By comparing abortion to the Shoah, the Church (and anyone else who uses this argument) once again minimizes the value of Jewish life, a crime for which the Catholic Church bears long responsibility. While the Nazis bear primary culpability for the Holocaust, Christian antisemitism laid the groundwork. Whether the Church intends to or not, this horrific analogy continues the conditions that allow for anti-Jewish violence.
We are all entitled to our beliefs and our commitments. What is unacceptable is doing so by distorting the truth and diminishing the humanity of other victims to achieve one’s goals.
Shabbat Table Talk
- Do you find it easy or difficult to accept the apologies of a politician? Are some apologies easier to accept? What makes some apologies feel more genuine?
- Do you believe that it could ever be acceptable to compare one example of historical suffering with another? When would this be okay? When should it be avoided?
If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.