“So Tell Me, Rabbi, When Can I Criticize?” by J.J. Goldberg

Reference: Jewish Daily Forward

January 27, 2010

You probably know this one: Yankel the beggar goes to the rabbi and pleads for a handout. “Please, Rabbi,” he says, “I haven’t eaten in days.”

“Poor fellow,” the rabbi replies. “Here’s a ruble. Go buy yourself a meal.”

An hour later, the rabbi is walking past the tavern and sees Yankel eating a big slice of cake. Indignant, the rabbi rushes up and rebukes him: “You should be ashamed of yourself! I gave you a ruble in good faith because you were hungry! How dare you eat cake?!”

“Excuse me,” Yankel replies. “Yesterday I was broke and I couldn’t eat cake. Now I have a ruble and I shouldn’t eat cake. So tell me, Rabbi, when can I eat cake?”

The story was brought to mind by a recent Jerusalem Post blog entry from David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. Harris is distressed over a January 22 New York Times report by Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner, “For Israelis, Mixed Feelings on Aid Effort,” about responses to the Israeli medical team in Haiti.

Israelis have been watching with a range of emotions,” Bronner wrote, “as if the Haitian relief effort were a Rorschach test through which the nation examines itself. The left has complained that there is no reason to travel thousands of miles to help those in need — Gaza is an hour away. The right has argued that those who accuse Israel of inhumanity should take note of its selfless efforts and achievements in Haiti.”

Bronner quoted four observers from the left, including columnists at The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz and two former aides to Yitzhak Rabin. In fact, not one said anything like “there is no reason” to help Haiti. What they all expressed was sadness at Israel’s situation vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

Here’s the most biting of them: “The remarkable identification with the victims of the terrible tragedy in distant Haiti only underscores the indifference to the ongoing suffering of the people of Gaza,” wrote Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar.

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