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A bully is a Shanda

Recently the Jewish Journal published an article by the ever controversial Dennis Prager who wrote a mean-spirited article about transgender people and in particular Rabbi Becky Silverstein- a transgender rabbi. He serves a Conservative congregation in Pasadena, CA and is an extraordinary role model to adults and children alike for his courage and Torah.  I wrote the following letter to the editor below:
To the Editor:
I am absolutely ashamed of the Jewish Journal for allowing the publication of Dennis Prager’s attack on a rabbinic colleague and his synagogue. Sadly the Jewish Journal has a long history of publishing Prager’s vitriol and personal attacks on hard working and devoted rabbis. His hurtful words belie his bigotry which used to be reserved for gay and lesbian rabbis and now continues to expand to transgender rabbis. Haven’t we enough bullying? It is precisely this kind of immoral attack that Prager is known for. Words like his have been responsible for pain and suffering.  He tries to use the Torah as yet a way to ridicule not just liberal Jews but trans men and trans women.
The Torah has many interpretations. Not just his and in my reading of Talmud and Torah our sages recognized that we didn’t live in a binary world. They recognized that there were lots of God’s creations in human form the androgynous and the tumtum as well. How sad that Prager picks up the radicalized right wing old bathroom arguments like those used in the city of Houston by Christian extremists to defeat an equal rights amendment.  Are we to fear Transgendered people because they are predators? Is that what he is implying?  More likely Trans men and women have the most to fear because statistics show that they are the ones who are victims of violence and murder most often at the hands of white men like Prager.
Ironically just a few months ago you covered in depth this very topic in the pages of the Journal, giving voice to the Jewish community’s often hidden Trans community. And featuring the outstanding example and role model of Rabbi Becky Silverstein who Prager mentions without saying his name. (Another cowardly swipe? Or just so Prager doesn’t have to use pronouns? or was he afraid of getting sued?) Is Dennis Prager’s column of ignorance your so called “fair and balanced” reporting?

Shame on you for publishing such an attack on a rabbinic colleague who has demonstrated true Torah by teaching values of Chesed, Talmud Torah and the meaning of B’tzelem Elohim

Liberal Jews use Torah as it was intended as our covenant and document of our relationship with the Divine One. It is our guide for living life. And as our sages recognized Torah is a living document interpreted in every generation in different ways. That’s why we have so many volumes of commentary.  I am proud to be a Reform Rabbi whose movement has passed the most comprehensive transgender inclusion resolutions by our youth Movement NFTY, our Rabbis: the CCAR and our congregational communities: the URJ

Perhaps Prager ought to reread our tradition’s take on character assassination because he isn’t living by the words of our Torah. In Pirke Avot 4:11 Rabbi Eliezer says that when a person embarrasses another in public, he loses his share in the world to come. Rabbi Eliezer emphasizes that even though the perpetrator might be a fully observant Jew and a kind and generous person, if he is abusive, offends or embarrasses  someone else publicly, he loses his part in the next world.   Our  rabbis teach us that embarrassing, offending or bullying a person in public, is not a small thing. They actually compare this type of abusive behavior with murder. Maimonides (Hilkhot Teshuva 3:14) explains that in order to prevent these destructive behaviors, the rabbis warned us that embarrassing or offending someone else, carries the maximum possible penalty, no share in the Olam habah.
Perhaps it is time for a public apology from the Jewish Journal for engaging in such abusive behavior and most especially from Mr. Prager for this and so many times he has bullied others through twisting of Torah.
Rabbi Denise L. Eger,  D.D.
Congregation Kol Ami
1200 N. La Brea Avenue West Hollywood 90038

Central Conference of American Rabbis
355 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10017

323-606-0997 fax

1 thought on “A bully is a Shanda”

  1. Thanks so much for writing this, Denise. In the wake of our movement’s resolutions on transgender rights and inclusion, some have asked, “how do we put the words into action, practically speaking.” For starters…by taking a stand in moments such as this one. The outpouring of support for Rabbi Silverstein and the swift and strong reaction to Prager from so many in our movement (and beyond, for sure) will surely make a difference to folks who’ve been marginalized for too long.

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