Religious Life

Dual Loyalty – A Weekly Letter from Rabbi Davis – March 8, 2019

Shalom Chaverim

Once again, Jews are being charged with dual loyalty. Over the years, other groups in the US have faced similar charges: German and Japanese Americans during WWII, JFK running for president accused of being loyal to the church. For Jews, this antisemitic canard goes back millennia.

The first example appears in the Book of Esther. After Mordechai refuses to bow down, Haman tells King Achashveros that Jews do not respect his rule: “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the other peoples whose laws are different from those of any other people, and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them” (3:8).

In reality, some of what Haman said was true. That needs to be acknowledged even as his lies need to be refuted.

Jews were scattered among other people. Haman was right. When the Temple was destroyed, Jews were forced to scatter across the lands.

Jews were different. That’s true too. Jews had different holidays, religious practices, diet (kashrut), etc. But this was not unusual nor should it have been problematic. The Persian empire contained diverse people with distinctive customs.

Jews don’t obey the king’s law. Here is where Haman goes too far. The JPS Commentary explains that on a superficial level this could refer to Mordechai’s refusal to obey mitzvat hamelekh, the royal edict to bow. But Haman couches his accusation in broader terms suggesting that Jews do not accept dat hamelekh, Imperial Law. That is to say, they do not acknowledge the sovereignty of the king which constitutes treason. Haman makes this claim stating that Jews refuse to pay taxes. And lest the king thinks he could find a way to collect this lost revenue, Haman bribes him with 10,000 talents of silver for right to destroy the Jews (3:9).

There is nothing in the story to indicate whether Jews paid taxes to the Persian empire. But the charge that Jews were not loyal subjects is absurd. Just a few verses earlier we read that Mordechai saved the king’s life from two assassins.

The charge of dual loyalty is dangerous. Singling out Jews is part of a longstanding stereotype that fuels antisemitism. When people accuse Jews of dual loyalty, they are really saying that Jews demonstrate true loyalty to Israel and false loyalty to America. But we can love both countries.

Given the current climate in the US, we would do well to recall the words of Louis Brandeis, a leader of American Zionism, who eloquently refuted the charge of dual loyalty. Here is an excerpt from a speech he gave in 1915 (before he was a Supreme Court Judge):

Let no American imagine that Zionism is inconsistent with Patriotism. Multiple loyalties are objectionable only if they are inconsistent. A man is a better citizen of the United States for being also a loyal citizen of his state, and of his city; for being loyal to his family, and to his profession or trade. Every Irish American who contributed towards advancing home rule was a better man and a better American for the sacrifice he made. Every American Jew who aids in advancing the Jewish settlement in Palestine, though he feels that neither he nor his descendants will ever live there, will likewise be a better man and a better American for doing so.

There is no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry. The Jewish spirit, the product of our religion and experiences, is essentially modern and essentially American. Not since the destruction of the Temple have the Jews in spirit and in ideals been so fully in harmony with the noblest aspiration so of the country in which they lived.

Indeed, loyalty to America demands rather that each American Jew become a Zionist. For only through the ennobling effect of its strivings can we develop the best that is in us and give to this country the full benefit of our great inheritance.

Rabbi Alexander Davis