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Sermon: Addressing Mayor Buttigieg's issue with "Pharisees"

A few days ago from this writing, Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana and Democratic Presidential hopeful, confronted Vice President Mike Pence for the latter’s apparent lack of morals. Mayor Buttigieg referred to Vice President Pence as a hypocrite that espouses Christian values and yet engages in dishonest conduct not becoming the label. Mayor Buttigieg referred to Vice President Pence as a “Pharisee”.

Most Christians are familiar with the term “Pharisee” from the Gospels of the New Testament. In reality, this was a sect of Judaism that would give way to the modern Judaism that we practice today and these were the first rabbis that oversaw the morphing of the Temple practices to how we worship today in synagogues all over the world after the Temple was destroyed. In the context of the New Testament, the Pharisees were seen as “hypocrites, fools…full of extortion and greed”, according to Amy-Jill Levine, a professor at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School who was quoted for an article in the Jerusalem Post on April 16, 2019.

This term is an anti-Semitic trope that describes a stereotype. It is another “trope” to demean Jews. Some Jewish leaders have called on Mayor Buttigieg to stop using the term. In response, the Mayor’s national press secretary stated that the term “Pharisee” is a common expression for “hypocrite”.

Years ago, my wife and I went to a local hotel conference center where they were selling paintings. We had moved into our first house and were in the process of decorating. I went to the counter to pay for the paintings and as the clerk and I were talking , she mentioned that some people came in, thought the prices were too high and tried to “Jew her down”.

I politely and calmly told her I was Jewish and that this was really a slur. At first, she started to apologize but then, in the parlance of today, doubled down and insisted that this was a valid slang term that could be found in the dictionary to describe someone who’s cheap. Her lack of remorse prompted me to contact the directors of the operation who did apologize profusely.

It is interesting that Mayor Buttigieg clings to such a trite term and uses it as a derogatory description. What he doesn’t really understand is that regardless of what he may have read or heard from whatever sources, we Jews invented charity. Jewish charities have been in place for years and given not just to Jews but non-Jews as well. It is commanded in our Torah to give to those less fortunate, specifically the widow and the orphan. Our system of tithes is set up to help needy people. We are also commanded to “love the stranger”; the modern-day application would be to befriend the new person at school or work. These Jewish values are what the Mayor embraces and yet is completely ignorant that they were Jewish values almost 2000 years before Christianity came into existence.

Regardless of how the Mayor meant the term, it is nevertheless an anti-Semitic trope. Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more prominent in political circles to the extreme sides of mainstream political values. It also seems to be more prominent among liberal social Democrats. It is true that there have been fringe groups—White Nationalists—on the right that have proclaimed themselves anti-Semitic.

This phenomenon of ultra-liberals using similar slurs seems to be growing in an environment which sees more and more attacks on Jews. We are familiar with Ilhan Omar, a sitting US Congresswoman, one the first Muslims to be elected, using anti-Semitic language. She has used similar tropes about how Jews run the world, control Congress and how “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby”. A resolution proposed in Congress recently to address the rising number of attacks of Jews had to be changed to include all groups due to the insistence of this ultra-liberal group.

One would think that these two people ought to know better. Ms. Omar is a Somali refugee and knows what it’s like to be oppressed. Mr. Buttigieg is gay and also understands being on the fringes of society.

Unfortunately, they are not alone. Both politicians and media have demeaned Israel for its persecution of Palestinians and use of excessive force in responding to protests. They all ignore that Hamas, the government of Gaza has instigated violent action by firing thousands (not an exaggeration) of missile at Israel and Israel has responded by doing their best to target only the leaders. These “peaceful” protests have included balloons with incendiary devices and rock throwing at Israel, which had their soldiers do their best to just maim and not kill.

But these people dismiss bigoted allegations by stating that they just criticizing the government, not the people.

Does this mean that this new movement of Liberal, Social Democrats have adopted an anti-Semitic stance in their ideology? It would almost seem so. It’s getting worse, not better.

It is important that we stand up to this hypocrisy of espousing social justice while berating a people with slander and libel. We need to call attention to this and call it out among the leaders of both parties letting them know that we will not tolerate injustice in any form.

#Sermon #AntiSemitism

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