Torah For Today! This week: Toppling statues 
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Torah For Today! This week: Toppling statues 

Rabbi Daniel Friedman takes a topical issue and looks at Jewish texts for a response

A worker sits down as they take down a statue of slave owner Robert Milligan at West India Quay, east London (Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire)
A worker sits down as they take down a statue of slave owner Robert Milligan at West India Quay, east London (Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

It’s time to tear down great-granddaddy’s statue.  Sadly, I must confess: He was a slave owner.  I’m talking, of course, about Abraham, who had
a manservant, Eliezer, and a maidservant, Hagar.

Actually, there is no statue to Abraham as the Torah declares: “Thou shall not make thee a statue.”

Why are statues problematic?  First, no mortal man is perfect.  Abraham owned slaves. Noah had a drinking problem. Solomon was a polygamist.

The rock-hitting incident shows even Moses wasn’t perfect, which may be the irony of Michelangelo’s horned statue.

This brings us to the second reason statues are bad. Michelangelo depicted Moses through the lens of his value system.  Statues set in stone the values of a particular era.  But values change.

That’s why statues should come down if they don’t reflect contemporary values. We are blessed to live in a democratic society and such re-evaluation must be conducted peacefully and democratically.

Shifting to the personal level, our sages tell us: “Who is wise?  One who sees the future.” Ask yourself: Which values do I hold today that one day may be deemed sinful?

Every day, children spend hours on their screens killing people.  Does on-screen murder sound like a timeless value?

In another example, we were once invited to the rodeo. It was shocking seeing how the animals were mistreated. One member of our group left in disgust.

But ironically, the following week he returned to watch the hockey, an activity that is synonymous with sports violence. It’s up there with the NFL (American football), boxing and mixed martial arts.

Given the statistics on injuries, concussion and permanent brain damage, it’s astonishing these sports are still legal. We’ve come a long way since gladiators fought to the death, but we’re not there yet. We still have many idols to tear down.

We’re living in calamitous times and dealing with major issues. May God shine His countenance upon us all and may we see peace and justice very soon.

  • Rabbi Daniel Friedman serves Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue

 

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