The day before he was indicted I tweeted that Derek Chauvin should be charged with murder in the death of George Floyd.
A friend of 56 years tweeted angrily in reaction: “It is unbecoming for a religious leader to interfere in a matter in the temporal world …you are not the prosecutor, and you don’t know all of the facts…Judaism has absolutely nothing to do with what happened in Minneapolis.”
“Judaism has EVERYTHING to do with what happened in Minneapolis … and as for the facts: Three cops looked on while one of their number pressed his knee into the neck of a handcuffed man until he died. If Mr. Floyd did anything to mandate his arrest, the manpower was clearly there to do it without killing him. This is murder.”
In the days following Mr. Floyd’s murder, Jews around the world celebrated the Festival of Shavuot, which marks the anniversary of when God transmitted the Torah to our people on Mt. Sinai.
Our tradition teaches that all Jews everywhere and all future generations miraculously were there to take part in that singly important moment in our religious journey.
To stand at Sinai does not mean simply to worship, give charity and to study.
To stand at Sinai means to pledge our utmost to fill the world, as God charged Abraham, “with righteousness and justice.” (Genesis 18:19)
To stand at Sinai means among many other things:
To worship no other gods, not to swear falsely, not to bear false witness, to treat the stranger with dignity and respect, to care for the widowed and the orphaned and not to follow the crowd to do what is wrong.
To stand at Sinai means to have special consideration for the minorities and the disadvantaged.
On Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, one of the sins we ask forgiveness for is “abuse of power.” There is no more intimidating symbol of power than a uniformed officer of the law. And there is no group of people abused by that power more frequently in our country than those who are Black .
Unless we protest injustice especially when perpetrated against minorities and the disadvantaged, then we Jews today deserve the indictment hurled by the prophet Amos at the Jews of Samaria in the name of God almost 3000 years ago:
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21)
Unless we raise our voices to protest the murders of people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arberry, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin and countless other Black men and women murdered for the “crime of being black” then all of our Sabbath, Holy Day and Festival observances are abominations in the sight of God.
Make no mistake. I do not condone violent protests that burn buildings, damage property and inflict bodily harm. But I am violently opposed to the callousness of a system that allows the abuse of minorities to continue unchecked until anger and frustration boil over.
Though none of us can bring this scourge to an end singlehandedly, each of us can raise our voices in protest. Each of us can reach out to those we know in the African American community to acknowledge the pain they feel and express our support.
No, none of us can end oppression by ourselves, but with understanding and compassion we can move the world just a bit closer to another time of which the prophet Amos dreamed: “When justice will well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)