Friday, July 24, 2015


In a recent opinion piece in Tablet Magazine, commentator Lee Smith offered an excellent definition of the "Court Jew:"
"The term refers to a particular class of Jews who’ve existed throughout modern history, people who obtain privilege with the ruling authorities and who then take on a dual role: to convince the Jewish community of the beneficence of the ruling authorities, and also to intercede with those authorities on behalf of the community." (emphasis added)
Smith's definition was then applied to the Jews in the Obama Administration. In Jewish communal life, we have got our own...and we all know whom they are, don't we? They probably helped to write that feeble response to the Administration's Iran "deal,"...and...

...and here is what our own Court Jews do -- they "kiss up" to those who are in power at our communal, Continental and international institutions, ignore the values they have been taught through their own experiences and believe that only by their acquiescence to the powers in place, will they achieve higher office. Then having convinced themselves that all is well, they believe that it is their duty, their obligation, to convince others that black is white and that the fiction they have bought into lock, stock and barrel is truth. 

One affect of all of this is the ostracizing of anyone and everyone who pushes back -- it makes no difference whether they are lay persons or federation CEOs. All of us know lay leaders who have been pushed away from the table because they spoke out against some inane act at their own federation or at JFNA. Many of us are aware of federation professionals seeking new positions who have been, for lack of a better descriptive word, "blackballed" by a JFNA CEO because they may have legitimately questioned a judgment or ten, pushing back in some way. (The fact that any federation would be influenced by [or even seek] the opinion of a proven know-nothing is further commentary on the state of the federation system.)

At other places in other times, dissent was tolerated, often even honored. There was value placed on real debate and discourse in the public arena. Even before this Blog began (was there ever such a time?), after privately offering what I believed to be constructive criticism of an inane JFNA restructuring I was told by the then "powers that be" to "get on the team" or be pushed aside. Later, a once good friend told me that my criticism was unwelcome and that if I persisted not only would I be "punished" but that I should "immediately resign" any and all positions I held at JFNA. Just a Court Jew doing the "job" -- and, no doubt, immediately running to those above him in the food chain to report on the great job he had done.

We have been warned in our Pirke Avot " wary of those in power." This admonition would serve us well, it is at the very heart of full disclosure, of transparency and open debate -- three things that we are denied by a succession of leaders, lay and professional, at JFNA and elsewhere. Those who seek higher office and know better...those who know that speaking truth to power will disqualify them from those higher positions...still set their/our values aside in pursuit of the holy grail of a committee chair, or a subsidiary chair, or...praise the Lord...Board Chair. That's why there were such high hopes for change when Michael Siegal took that position -- he parachuted in in a coup of sorts (Cleveland gets Board Chair, NY gets JA Chair, Chicago gets Chair of the Executive [and would have but for one small problem -- an actual Nominating Committee revolt]) without owing anyone but his federation CEO for the office, then deferred to any pushback he received from the Court Jews whose support he believed he "needed" to accomplish his/the organization's goals. One can only hope that Michael's successor will have the strength that Michael lacked.

Sure, our own Court Jews also appear in the public political realm. Have you heard a word from JFNA or JCPA "leaders" -- such frequent visitors to the White House over the past 7 years -- in opposition to the Administration's attacks on Israel, or urging the Administration to oppose the invidious BDS efforts? No, we're not going to risk those West Wing invites by taking any position, are we? We'll leave that to others.

Just as we leave everything to others.



Anonymous said...

For shame, Richard. You claim to celebrate dissent yet you attack those who don't share your views on the Iran agreement. Don't you think you're being hypocritical?

Anonymous said...


This is shameless. You attack Jewish leaders who may support the Administration. Are they traitors, in your mind? You seem to think so. Calling people names isn't going to help our federations. Are you sure you want to go down this path of sinat chinam?

Anonymous said...

Is this what you intend to do now, Richard? Name-calling? Don't your loyal readers deserve better than this? You have so much to say that's valuable and necessary. Don't stoop to this level. You're better than that.

Anonymous said...


You say that the “Court Jews … probably helped to write that feeble response to the Administration's Iran ‘deal’ …”

And yet those who didn't rush to attack the Administration are the ones who represent the values of a federation system – inclusivity, thoughtfulness, dialogue, consultation.
And what do you represent? Netanyahu? AIPAC? A minority of the American Jewish public? Richard, what is the practical effect of what you demand? A narrow-minded and exclusive leadership that ignores the American Jewish public and makes, in effect, a statement to the next generation that their voices and votes don’t count.
Are you sure you’re portraying the values we need in our system?

paul jeser said...

Where to begin...

Anon 3:09 - you need to learn to read English. Richard NEVER attacked Jewish leaders who support the Administration.

Anon 3:20 - you, too, need to read more carefully. Richard went out of his way to keep his comments at the level they should be.

Anon 3:47: Yikes! Richard has always said that he represents only himself, no one else.

As an aside - although the LAJJ poll does show that the majority of American Jews support the Iran deal (as of today), there is another set of facts that, actually, should be more important: Not only the Israeli PM, but the OPPOSITION, and 78% of the Jewish Israeli public, and EVEN liberal and well respected Ari Shavit, are against the deal.

This is THEIR lives we're talking about. It is more than absurd for us, in the diaspora, to think we know better than they do. As I said, it is THEIR lives at stake - we can do nothing less than support them. Anything less than that would be a shanda.

Shabbat Shalom!