The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism blasted conservative religious activists in a speech Saturday, calling them "zealots" who claim a "monopoly on God" while promoting anti-gay policies akin to Adolf Hitler's.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, said "religious right" leaders believe "unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person."
"What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God?" he said during the movement's national assembly in Houston, which runs through Sunday.
The audience of 5,000 responded to the speech with enthusiastic applause.
Yoffie did not mention evangelical Christians directly, using the term "religious right" instead. In a separate interview, he said the phrase encompassed conservative activists of all faiths, including within the Jewish community.
He used particularly strong language to condemn conservative attitudes toward homosexuals. He said he understood that traditionalists have concluded gay marriage violates Scripture, but he said that did not justify denying legal protections to same-sex partners and their children.
"We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations," Yoffie said. "Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry."
I should say that I think his "Hitler" analogy is being misinterpreted. I don't think he's saying that the policies of the religious right are "akin" to Hitler. Rather, he's reminding us that hatred is a slippery slope--each time society labels one of its members sub-human, it becomes that much easier to demonize another and another and justify all manner of atrocities. Jonathan Glover, Professor of Ethics at Kings College, put it best:
Respect for dignity is one of the great barriers against atrocity and cruelty. To acknowledge our shared moral status makes it harder for us to torture or kill each other. The erosion of the protective barrier creates danger. When one group tramples on the dignity of another, it tramples on its own inhibitions, and [a] massacre may not be far off.
AmericaBlog may be slightly hyperbolic, but it's also right: America's human rights history does not come near to inspiring the confidence that "it could never happen here."
In any event, I agree with Cafe Politico:
This was long overdue but better late than never. More people of faith need to speak out against attempts by some evangelical Christians to paint every political/moral issue within their narrow, often bigoted framework. I am tired of the public falling for the talking point that the GOP is the God's Own Party.
If Christianity wants to represent itself as the sole province of hyper-conservatives, I suppose that's its business. But I'll damned if I let them drag my religion down with them.
Balloon Juice also reminds us that Rabbi Yoffie is not the first major Jewish figure to sound this theme recently. Foxman took some flack from, well, Jewish conservative flacks who haven't quite managed to distinguish our religion from Christianity. One can perhaps cherry-pick a few cases where Jewish organizations have gone over the top (although I'd assert that in the current environment, it's best to err on the side of caution). But the world the Christian Right seeks to create is not one that includes our religious message. It is not a Jewish world. And with all due respect to my dear friend Dennis Prager, the more I read about Jewish theology and ethics, the more I turn to the left, not right. When it comes down to it, Judaism is a force for progressivism and change, not maintaining status quo injustices, and I've yet to see anyone persuade me otherwise. And for the record, Jews have other interests beyond just Israel (although to be clear, Foxman is a vocal advocate for Israeli interests as well).