Keep Criticism Constructive – When faulting Israel, one should deliver the message “lovingly”
October 4, 1991
A Column from “A Modern Orthodox Life.”
by Emanuel Rackman
Of the many international meetings of import held in Israel this summer, perhaps those of Tikkun magazine received the most media attention. Michael Lerner, the editor, brought together almost all the parties and movements that have been bashing either Israel or its present government or both.
Ostensibly, it was a get-together of the liberals, progressives and peace-seekers. To most observers of the Israeli scene, it was a get-together of those in the opposition, the dispossessed, the disenfranchised, the malcontents.
Many writers in the Jerusalem Post dealt with the conference, some with respect, others with derision, still others with malice. Lerner was personally attacked for his affiliation with the Communist Party several decades ago and for his bitter attacks on Jews for persecuting blacks. He was defended by a Reform rabbi and portrayed as one who atoned for the sins of his youth.
Participants who had an Ashkenazic background discovered that like those in the Israeli establishment, they were guilty of discrimination against the Sephardim their alleged liberalism was hardly what they professed it to be. And the Sephardim seemed to be less interested in the universal values of the progressives than they were in gaining recognition for themselves in the ranks of the objectors.
My problem is with Lerner and with the constituents of his conference, whether they represented organized parties and movements or only themselves. As much as any one of them, I want to make changes in Israel’s political democracy, religious situation, economic system, manners and values. But I cannot possibly identify with the anger simple, rudimentary anger that comes through in the approach of so many of those who were part of the conference. And I ask myself: What prevents me from joining hands with most of those who engaged in the deliberations of the Tikkun conference, despite my agreement with so much of what they would like to achieve?
Anger by itself would not keep me distant. One should be angry when things are done badly or cause hurt to others.
To join anyone in an attempt to make Israel a more perfect state and Jews a more perfect society, I must detect in those I join the capacity to be “lovingly critical.” This is basic to me.
Perhaps I err. However, I have been guided by one rule all my life: The best way to judge whether one likes or dislikes the object of one’s criticism is to see whether the criticism is preceded by a complimentary comment and the complimentary comment is truly and deeply felt. Everyone knows the criticism of a child by a parent will achieve the best results when the child senses the criticism is born of love. This also applies to the criticism of spouses by each other.
I am very critical of the state of Jewish family law today, but even those who fault me for being so critical know that I love Jewish family law and sing its praises even when I fault it. I admire its millennial development and only regret that somehow that development stopped at the wrong time and in the wrong place. And anyone who speaks of the faults of Israel with no expression of love and admiration for its achievements in every area makes me hesitate to be at one with him.
I feel that way even more bitterly when Orthodox or non-Orthodox rabbis are critical of Israel. Are they “lovingly critical” or angry men? Rabbis who cherished the Zionist dream all their lives and were privileged to see it fulfilled in so few years in their own lifetimes could not possibly express themselves as some rabbis now do. Of course, it is the privilege of every Jew not to admire the government, despite the great things it accomplishes. One may focus only on the wrongs. But from a beloved, one expects a different tone, unless one feels that, like Jeremiah, God has given the mandate to blast.
Every day in Israel I see one achievement after another. Because of the failures or even the inequities, should I bury my love and my enthusiasm and harp only on what is bad?
Thus, I am allergic to anyone who is not “lovingly critical” of Israel. And I pray they will learn to appreciate the miracles God has wrought for us and bless Him daily for them.