Blind Rabbis Leading the Blind

What the four hundred Rabbis who attacked Glenn Beck achieved.

At the battle of Thermopylae (translation: the Hot Gates) in 480 B.C., as Herodotus tells it, 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians and 400 Thebans held up the advance of over a million Persians, an act of heroism that led in the course of time to the victory of the Greek alliance over the armies of King Xerxes I. The historian notes that the Spartan and Thespian contingents at Thermopylae did not flinch before the advancing hordes, but the Thebans “stayed against their will,” reluctant to face the enormous odds arrayed against them.

Nevertheless, there is every reason to believe that the Greek force under Leonidas might have kept the Persians indefinitely at bay had they not been betrayed by a certain Ephialtes of Trachis. This Ephialtes, says Herodotus, “stirred by the hope of receiving a rich reward at the king’s hands, had come to tell him of a pathway which led across the mountain to Thermopylae, by which disclosure he brought destruction on the band of Greeks who had there withstood the barbarians.”

Flash forward to 2011 to a different, yet in some ways comparable scenario: the state of Israel surrounded by enemies and defending its own Hot Gates at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, and the Persians in their millions once again armed to the teeth, threatening to “block out the sun” not with arrows, as in the original battle, but with missiles. Mutatis mutandis, instead of 400 Thebans assembled at the pass, we have 400 rabbis, mainly Reconstructionists with a smattering of Conservative and Orthodox hangers-on, prepared to surrender the gates to the enemy—or, in effect, 400 Ephialtes’ poised to betray the faith and give succour to those who would rejoice in their misfortune. Their words and actions make it plain that their purported defense of Israel and ostensible support for the country’s friends and allies are problematic, wavering, and perhaps even disingenuous.

The sordid story of the 400 rabbis is common knowledge by now. Taking exception to Glenn Beck’s demolition of the apostate Jewish billionaire George Soros, the 400 took out a $100,000 ad in the Wall Street Journal accusing Beck and Fox News of cheapening the memory of the Holocaust, of making “literally hundreds of on-air references to the Holocaust and Nazis when characterizing people,” and for drawing attention to Soros’ self-serving behavior as a teenager in Nazi-dominated Hungary.

It would appear, however, that most of these rabbis have never or rarely watched Glenn Beck or Fox News since their allegations are inaccurate and seem almost wholly based on hearsay. As Bill Narvey writes in his Open Reply to the rabbis, “I have not heard Fox News use the term Nazi ‘hundreds of times’ as you allege,” and wonders whether “any of you 400 Rabbis ever watch Beck or Fox News.” Moreover, they are plainly unaware that Beck has often encouraged his readers not to take his word but to investigate the issues for themselves. Nor have the good rabbis seen fit to disclose that the Jewish Fund for Justice, which paid for the ad, is partially bankrolled by Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Soros, ever the magician, has no trouble pulling rabbis out of a hat—or rather, hucksters posing as rabbis.

Obviously, they are not impressed by the fact that Beck is a “righteous Gentile” with enormous influence for good, a stalwart defender of the Jewish state and a scourge against anti-Semites while Soros is an undoubted apikoros, or “wicked son,” who funds unsavory venues like Media Matters and backs the disreputable advocacy group J Street, an outfit that regards Israel with suspicion and works to further the interests of Palestinian Arabs at the Jewish state’s expense. Soros targets Israel as contributing to anti-Semitism, scapegoats the Jewish state for the turbulence in Egypt and as an obstacle to peace and democracy in the Middle East—“The main stumbling block is Israel,” he writes in The Washington Post—, seeks to discredit The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), believes “the pro-Israel lobby” is invested in “suppressing divergent views,” blames Israel for “refus[ing] to recognize the democratically elected Hamas government”! and for pursuing “military escalation,” and has subsidized terrorist-defending lawyers like the infamous Lynne Stewart—one could go on. No matter. The 400, whether through ignorance or perfidy or both, proceed to vilify their protectors and champion their adversaries. Beck bad, Soros good.

But the 400 rabbis should not be seen as a merely insignificant rabble protesting against what they do not understand. Such truancy of conscience is only an instance of a far more comprehensive attitude to the Zionist experiment and the welfare of the beleaguered nation where it has taken root. There is little in the way of kiruv, the Hebrew term for “coming near,” the practice of drawing Jews closer to Judaism (usually, but not necessarily, Orthodox Judaism). Quite the reverse. As often as not, we observe a sense of radical estrangement from the yishuv, the Jewish community in the Holy Land, whose survival is constantly under threat.

Undeterred by existential peril, our Theban rabbis go their alienating way. These reverend shufflers speak in large measure for the Reform/ Reconstructionist denominations, liberal-minded and left-leaning Jews, and social pressure groups that purport to be reasonable and even-handed, sponsor debates and colloquia weighted toward the Palestinian cause in the interests of “openness” and “fairness,” and treat their declared enemies with forbearance. It’s called, variously, “interfaith dialogue” or “peace activism” or “social justice,” but what it really amounts to is shilling for the other side.

Indeed—to adjust my Herodotean metaphor—if our troop of rabbis had been the 400 men who rode with Esau to meet Jacob at Peniel, as we learn in Genesis 33, they would not have experienced a change of heart and reconciled with the patriarch. They would have accused Jacob of deceit, aggression, self-aggrandizement, unfairness to the surrounding tribes and who knows what other transgressions, and Israel would have been nipped in the bud.

Thus it is not just a question of Glenn Beck or any other particular individual who may be the object of communal resentment. Ultimately, the 400 rabbis are no less inimical to Israel and to authentic Jewish concerns than the 400 Thebans, who would have preferred not to fight the enemy massing against them, were delinquent to their own cause. More so, actually, since the rabbis have, as it were, fled their post. In this way, they abet the growing international conviction that Israel is a historical mistake and a pariah state to be boycotted, sanctioned and eventually erased from the map or folded into a Palestinian-dominated bi-national entity.

Interestingly, diffidence did not spare the Thebans from the fate that befell their more courageous compatriots. Those who do not have their heart in the fight go under just like those who are ready to stand and deliver—except that bravery and clear-sightedness will sometimes prevail, absent betrayal. This is a lesson the good rabbis and their communicants might keep in mind. But if worse should ever come to worst, what form of penance or contrition they will exhibit when it is too late does not bear much consideration.

And what, I wonder, would be the Hebrew name for Ephialtes?