When Images of Mohammed Showed Up in My Facebook Feed

Today has been a frustrating day on many levels, and surprisingly, at the top of my frustration is two Conservative rabbis who are Facebook friends of mine who have chosen to share an Islamophobic cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed. I’m not going to link to it here because I don’t want to have a hand in further distributing the cartoon.

I wrote to each of them

I am disappointed to see the rabbis of my generation circulating a cartoon that flagrantly disrespects someone else’s religion, not to mention perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Is this the spirit in which you hope to enter 5773?

And to my surprise, instead of saying something like, “You’re right, I got carried away. I’m frustrated but this wasn’t the right way to express it,” both dug their heels in and defended their right to mock Islam in a way they both know specifically insults Muslims.

One of these rabbis is a chaplain with the US armed forces. The other holds a significant post in the Conservative Movement in the United States.

I have spent too much time and far too much emotional energy engaging with them and their followers, pointing out over and over again that both our tradition and common sense says that one does not achieve anything by inflaming the fires of hate or provoking those with whom we disagree. They refuse to hear me. Part of me wants to just unfriend them and be done with it, but I don’t want to contribute to my own retreat further into a bubble of people who share all my opinions. But I won’t back down because I believe this is an important discussion to have, and I know Jewish tradition expects us vigorously pursue justice. The quote from Mishnah that I’ve plastered on my social media channels today sums it up for me: “In a place where no one is behaving like a human being, be the human being.”

I have long since disavowed any affiliation with the Conservative movement that was once my home, but incidents like this confirm for me that I’ve made the right choice. I know, I shouldn’t judge an entire stream of a religion based on a couple of vocal leaders, but, well, you see the irony there.

19 Responses to “When Images of Mohammed Showed Up in My Facebook Feed”

  1. But the movement needs YOU!!! Seriously, there are some awesome Conservative rabbis and Conservative shuls out there. We’re a stronger movement with you as part of it…


    E · September 19th, 2012 at 8:27 pm
  2. Not sure which branch of Judaism now has a ‘Prophet Mohammed’ as you refer to him. I’m guessing Reconstructionism, but I may be wrong.

    If someone here used the ‘C’ word after the name ‘Jesus’ I’m sure someone here would mention some sort of Judaism-based objection. But apparently there’s a new Meccan version of Judaism I’m not familiar with.

    Do elaborate.


    Dave Boxthorn · September 19th, 2012 at 9:04 pm
  3. Good for you! Shkoyach. Lots of us out here agree with you! But since I know you fancy American musical theatre, I gotta ask, would you say the same thing about the Book of Mormon?
    I’m asking because this happened within my own family. I told my sister I wouldn’t ever see it and she seemed incredulous. When I explained that as a person of faith, I couldn’t be a party to something that would mock someone else’s– and she kind of nodded blankly but I don’t think she understood.


    Sof Maarav · September 19th, 2012 at 10:35 pm
  4. Good for you for standing up to the hate in this way.
    And, jesus christ, what the fuck would the Rambam say about endangering Jews by mocking a gentile faith in this way?


    Jew Guevara · September 19th, 2012 at 10:49 pm
  5. I’m mixed on naming an individual rabbi who said something flawed on a personal Facebook post, but a significant Conservative movement leader whose personal Facebook posts are probably shared with 1000+ other movement leaders is a different story.

    Also, as someone who still considers himself a (disgruntled) Conservative Jew, I’ll second E that the movement still needs you. More vocal, disgruntled Conservative Jews will either lead to change or a quicker collapse of the movement’s worst institutions and more space to build better institutions with better leaders.


    Dan Ab · September 19th, 2012 at 11:44 pm
  6. E – are you kidding? That’s like saying to a battered woman, “but your abusive husband will be a better person if you stick around to be his conscience!” Regardless, my parting from the Conservative Movement is largely because I don’t buy into their theological/halachic outlook. The movement needs more members who believe in their approach to Judaism. They don’t need me.

    Sof Maarav, I haven’t seen The Book of Mormon. I do know that much of what I’ve read about it says that it’s actually got a fairly pro-religion bent (the punchline to the entire show is basically “all religions are ridiculous, but if they inspire people to do good in the world, why get bent out of shape about it?”). I think it’s an imperfect analogy here, but one worth considering.


    dlevy · September 20th, 2012 at 12:19 am
  7. I really want to know what the cartoon is now!


    justin · September 20th, 2012 at 3:28 pm
  8. RE: Book of Mormon
    One of the challenges of comedy and satire about those groups who are subject to persecution lies in trying to determine the author’s intentions. Take the whole sh*t that _________s say from a few months back; some were funny and inoffensive, some funny and offensive, some unfunny and inoffensive, some unfunny and offensive. The vast majority, though, were clearly made without an intent to generate hate towards or distrust of the group that was the subject of the video.

    I think there is a difference between comedy/satire with the intention to generate hatred and comedy/satire that just ends up offensive because it is either (a) not funny at all or (b) just utterly clueless. A third category, of course, is often found in the work of Trey and Matt (South Park, Book of Mormon) – comedy/satire that SHOULD be offensive and yet somehow is not, in no small part due to the fact that the writers seem to bear either no ill will or equal ill will towards all the groups being spoofed.

    The source of a piece of satire is also incredibly important. In the hands of South Park’s writers a shtick about every Jew carrying a bag of gold on us at all times ends up being incredibly funny (If you have not seen the episode please trust me on this); in the hands of a neo-Nazi or white supremacist group I suspect that a similar shtick, even possibly using the same script, would end up much darker and more offensive.

    I think that identifying satire/comedy that is meant to promote hate may be in some ways similar to what Justice Potter said about obscenity in 1964: I may not be able to define exactly what it is, but I think I know it when I see it.

    Either way, Jews should never be spreading anything meant to promote hatred against another.


    Eitan · September 20th, 2012 at 3:42 pm
  9. @dlevy
    “Regardless, my parting from the Conservative Movement is largely because I don’t buy into their theological/halachic outlook.”

    Which is the exact RIGHT reason to choose a different path. Kol HaKavod on making your own Jewish choices.


    Eitan · September 20th, 2012 at 3:47 pm
  10. @DanAb- The tweet was a thoughtless act, emblematic of just one reason many young people have walked from the big C, and the response given defending it a reason those same folks feel many C pulpit are out of touch with their values and those that their Judaism represents.

    As for being more vocal, many disgruntled Conservative Jews spent the better part of the last decade doing just that in some fashion or another. The older leaders and clergy simply aren’t interested in our ideas or our voices being at the table. When we are invited to the table, it is motivated by a desire to bolster coffers or subvert complaints, not to fix the problems.

    So why keep trying to fix what is so utterly and clearly broken on so many levels? When donations of time and expertise are thanked by the same sort of Rabbis as made these tweets with smug comments, unending institutional resistance to change and insulting attitudes, why should we?


    Adam · September 20th, 2012 at 3:51 pm
  11. BTW was this the cartoon:?
    www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=444074645635810&set=a.128024363907508.10539.125342830842328&type=1&ref=nf


    Adam · September 20th, 2012 at 5:20 pm
  12. @Adam, I agree that the original action might have been thoughtless, but the refusal to admit error was the problem.
    As for continuing to be vocal and disgruntled, everywhere I’ve lived post-undergrad, I’ve found synagogues and leaders that identify as Conservative who I greatly respect. I spend a portion of my volunteer time and my money improving those synagogues and learning from those leaders. If they dropped the Conservative label, they’d still be good synagogues, but with the label, they represent what the Conservative movement could be.

    My interactions at the Conservative national level have been in the form of personal conversations/emails with leaders, Jewschool posts, and one critical article in the movement magazine. On Jewschool, I tend to criticize what’s wrong and try to highlight some of the few things the national movement is trying to do right. Some of my actions have contributed to real changes, but I realize much of the movement’s institutions are stubbornly broken and I won’t devote excessive time or mental energy to disfunctional organizations. I have a half-formed post on why I bother at all, which may get posted here at some point. If nothing else, I want to keep what is good in the movement around so that when the really bad parts eventually collapse there will be the seeds of new institutions to grow in their place (whether or not they call themselves Conservative).


    Dan Ab · September 20th, 2012 at 10:37 pm
  13. Good question Jew Guevara, what would the Rambam say? Maybe something like this, which is what he actually did say in his Iggeret Teiman en.wikisource.org/wiki/Epistle_to_Yemen/IV:

    (After him arose the Madman who emulated his precursor since he paved the way for him. But he added the further objective of procuring rule and submission, and he invented his well known religion. All of these men purposed to place their teachings on the same level with our divine religion. But only a simpleton who lacks knowledge of both would liken divine institutions to human practices. Our religion differs as much from other religions for which there are alleged resemblances as a living man endowed with the faculty of reason is unlike a statue which is ever so well carved out of marble, wood, bronze or silver.”


    Mas · September 20th, 2012 at 11:43 pm
  14. Or this:

    “There is no question that the Divine assurance to Abraham to bless his descendants, to reveal the Torah to them, and to make them the Chosen People, refers only to the offspring of Isaac. For Ishmael is mentioned as an adjunct and appendage in the blessing of Isaac, which reads “and also of the son of the bond-woman will I make a nation.” (Genesis 21:13). This verse suggests that Isaac holds a primary position and Ishmael a subordinate place. This point is made even more explicit in the blessing which ignores Ishmael entirely. “For in Isaac shall seed be called in thee.” (Genesis 21:12). The meaning of God’s promise to Abraham is that the issue of Ishmael will be vast in numbers but neither pre-eminent nor the object of divine favor, nor distinguished for the attainment of excellence. Not because of them will Abraham be famed or celebrated, but by the noted and illustrious scions of Isaac.”


    Mas · September 20th, 2012 at 11:44 pm
  15. Now, I am not saying that we should take these words literally and apply them today. But I do think that you need to find some other authority than the Rambam to quote…


    Mas · September 20th, 2012 at 11:47 pm
  16. One more quote, just to drive it home:

    “Remember, my co-religionists, that on account of the vast number of our sins, God has hurled us in the midst of this people, the Arabs, who have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us, as Scripture has forewarned us, “Our enemies themselves shall judge us” (Deuteronomy 32:31). Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase and hate us as much as they. Therefore when David, of blessed memory, inspired by the holy spirit, envisaged the future tribulations of Israel, he bewailed and lamented their lot only in the Kingdom of Ishmael, and prayed in their behalf, for their deliverance, as is implied in the verse, “Woe is me, that I sojourn with Meschech, that I dwell beside the tents of Kedar.” (Psalms 120:5). Note the distinction between Kedar and the children of Ishmael, for the Madman and imbecile is of the lineage of the children of Kedar as they readily admit.”


    Mas · September 20th, 2012 at 11:50 pm
  17. Just t be fair, the person who you say is a major CJ rabbi – well, I don’t know that I’d say he is, in fact, I’d say he’s not. But I would say that a great number of Jewschool contributors have been or are, and that a lot of the most interesting social justice work in the AmJew community is coming from current CJ rabbis who are doing things other than pulpit work (and even some who are). Saying that that particular rabbi is representative of the movement – yep, what you said: oh, the irony.


    KRG · September 21st, 2012 at 5:55 pm
  18. >>”who have chosen to share an Islamophobic cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed.”

    What makes something “Islamophobic” or (“n-phobic”) as compared to asking a sharp question? Political cartoons generally deal with generalization and overall patterns, not the subtle nuances of a Press Release issued after the fourth revision by a PR office. That’s their strength.

    So is the cartoon in fact “phobic” about Islam…..or is it just implying things that are uncomfortable?

    >>”But I won’t back down because I believe this is an important discussion to have, and I know Jewish tradition expects us vigorously pursue justice.”

    What does this have to do with “justice”? Is something begging for adjudication? Anyway IMO if we don’t know what the cartoon is, there’s no way we can make any judgment about it or about your position.


    Eric · September 24th, 2012 at 3:27 pm
  19. [...] Originally published on Jewschool.com.  [...]


    Jewschool.com: When Images of Mohammed Showed Up in My Facebook Feed | untitled itsdlevy project · December 27th, 2013 at 11:10 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik