Re’eh August 17, 2017

Parashat Re’eh begins with the commandment:  “You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshipped their gods, … Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to the fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site. ” (Deut. 12:2–3) What a week to encounter this verse!  The controversy swirling around events in Charlottesville, VA this week has raised, among other crucial issues, the question of the removal of Confederate statues in the American South.  The statues in question are not representations of foreign gods, as in the Torah portion.  Rather, they are symbols of a way of life that our nation abandoned after the Civil War:   The institution of slavery.  When we read this verse in the Torah portion, we may bristle at its harshness and its insensitivity to the other religions. Or we may view it a necessary step in the perpetuation of our people’s values.  Does the effort to tear down statues of Confederate leaders on public land represent insensitivity?  Or is it justified as a statement of our values as a nation today?  I come down on the side of the latter, and I will share my thoughts on this subject at Kabbalat Shabbat services this Friday at 5:45pm.