My Dear Rabbi Column for December 2014: Facebook Political Blamer

Dear Rabbi,

After the recent attack in Jerusalem, where terrorists killed four men in a synagogue, I saw posts on my Facebook newsfeed blaming the policies of President Obama for the terrible incident. That disturbs me because I don’t see how someone can connect him to violence in another country.

Baffled by the Blamers

Dear Baffled,

Hmm. I stubbed my toe the other night while I was walking in a dark room and I exclaimed, “Oh Jesus” even though I’m a good Jew and Jesus had nothing to do with my mishap.

Seriously, let’s be clear. First of all Obama is the president of the United States, not the prime minister of Israel. His job is to take care of Americans, not protect Israelis from terrorists. And second, he is in no way responsible for causing attacks anywhere in the world. Those who heap blame on Obama for the ills of our globe do that because they don’t like him to begin with. They think they can besmirch him by arbitrarily piling fault upon him. It is bad rhetoric and nothing more.

Benjamin Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel and is much more the right person to charge for bad policies that lead to terrorist attacks in his country. But in reality, terrorism is not at all a result of flawed strategies of our leaders or of our governments. It is evil activity planned and carried out by those of our enemies who want to harm us and disrupt our lives. So if you must, blame our enemies, not our leaders.

But if you insist on blaming our own leaders, then you might argue that the ultimate questions about the death of those four innocent people in synagogue remains primarily a theological issue that you ought to direct to the leader of leaders — God. For those of us who believe that God cares about our everyday lives, it is fair to ask how a just God allows terrorists to kill saintly Jews who devoted their lives to Torah and, on top of it, while they were engaged in prayer in the synagogue.

Hence I agree with you that it makes no sense for people on Facebook or anywhere else to blame Obama for terrorist murders in Jerusalem. My advice for you is as follows. On Facebook, if you don’t want to see nonsensical posts, you can unfriend the people who send them, or suppress their posts from your news feed.

In real life, however, I’m sorry to say I have no bright advice for you. We have no way to pull down a menu and turn off or suppress from confronting every day the age-old baffling questions of theodicy, of why God lets such bad things happen to such good people.

There is a story in the Talmud (Menahot 29b) that depicts Moses asking God why he allowed the Romans to torture the great Torah scholar Rabbi Akiva. In that narrative Moses demanded to know from God, “This is the Torah and this is its reward!?” And in that text God gave Moses no effective answer or explanation.

I can advise you not to tolerate those who blame Obama for terrorist evil. But, sorry if this disappoints you, I can’t offer in this column any better response than the Talmud does about the accountability of God.

The Dear Rabbi column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Send your questions to DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his Ph.D. from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author of “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi: The Greatest Talmudic Advice” — which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays — all available as Kindle Edition books at Amazon.com.

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