Cancel Culture and Judaism

Dear Rabbi Fried,

We’ve always had a very loving family who enjoyed each other’s company. Unfortunately, my family was very divided over the recent election and some family members have stopped talking to others, including myself, because we voted for Trump. Even though the election is over we still are not talking, which is really upsetting my parents and grandparents. Is there something from the Torah that we can try to convey to them to try to get our family back together again?


Dear Saddened,

I’m also deeply saddened over what has happened to your family, and, unfortunately, to many other friends and families throughout the country. I consider this to be a tragic outcome of the divisive politics currently plaguing this country, to which, if we are to wait for the politics to change, I don’t see an end in sight any time soon.

The answer, obviously, is not to attempt to get all of our friends and families to concur with one political view, which, in the best case, would be an exercise in futility — and not even correct. There is nothing wrong, and it’s even a positive thing, for us to disagree. What we are seeing in today’s society and that has seeped into our culture as well, is the “Cancel Culture” attitude which ostracizes anyone who doesn’t agree with me. This harks back to darker times and societies which America was founded to emancipate us from!

This attitude of Cancel Culture deserves discussion in its own right and is the stuff of much conversation in the media and beyond. It is not my place in this column to discuss politics. I would, however, like to address what you asked — for a source in the Torah to put forward as a possible healing tool in this environment. 

The role of the Jewish people, as a Light unto the Nations, is to bring G-dliness into the world. Whatever one believes in as far as practice is concerned, from strict Torah observance to social justice, it’s about bringing G-d into the world and glorifying His Kingdom. 

How do we create G-d’s Kingdom in the world? The most well-known verse in the Torah is “Shema Yisrael Ad-o-nai E-lo-heinu Ad-o-nai Echad,” the “Shema” proclamation with which we affirm our belief in the Oneness of G-d. This is the most basic of our beliefs, this verse being on the lips of Jews throughout the millennia every morning and night, and countless Jews even as they were taken to be killed in the endless chain of pogroms, inquisitions and the Holocaust. 

Why does this verse, proclaiming the Oneness of G-d, begin with the words “Shema Yisrael,” “Hear O Israel”? 

The Midrash and commentaries explain that the Oneness of G-d and His Kingdom only exist in this world when there is a unified kingdom — when the subjects of that kingdom are united as one. When the Jewish people are united as one, then G-d reveals Himself with his Oneness. When we are fractured, when we separate from each other, there is no Kingdom of G-d. 

Throughout our turbulent history we have survived only because our togetherness, our love for each other, transcending the politics which has, often, divided us. Whenever it didn’t, the result was destruction, as in the time of the destruction of the Second Temple which came about due to baseless hatred among ourselves. 

Our enemies abound in the world; we need to have the moral strength and vision to not allow differences between us, which are transient, get in the way of our oneness, which is eternal. 

Let us allow the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta l’reaacha kamocha,” to love our brother as ourselves, be our guiding light to stay above the fray and remain connected, despite our differences, for eternity!

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