A Letter to Fellow Jews on Open Discourse, Rigorous Inquiry, and Generosity of Spirit

We are Jews of a variety of political, religious, and ideological stripes. We hold diverse views but we unite in affirming the indispensable need for rigorous, open discourse in all aspects of Jewish communal life.

We write to note our concern that, in many key contexts and several critical moments, significant portions of our community have not successfully lived up to these values when assessing contemporary social justice movements. Too many Jewish public figures have engendered discussions of concepts like “intersectionality”, “critical race theory”, “white privilege” (or “white supremacy”), and other like terms where they are painted in simplistic, even glib, forms that bear little to no relationship to what proponents of these theories actually advocate. It is especially alarming that these bad faith critiques have accelerated alongside the growing recognition of the impacts of racism in America, including inside our Jewish community.

Unfortunately, we have regularly seen Jewish organizations, public figures, and media outlets level “critiques” of social justice concepts that are almost entirely unmoored from any engagement with their actual content. We have read with dismay too many articles that purport to speak authoritatively on social justice without ever citing or even referencing crucial primary source material, leading to a marked gap between what these concepts are alleged to assert about Jews (and others) compared to what they actually say. Nuance is swept aside to support uncharitable or outright hostile interpretations, and obvious absurdities are presented so that these concepts can be dismissed without further thought. The result is an impoverishment of Jewish communal discourse and a failure of our thought leaders to fulfill the basic obligations of an honest interlocutor.

Ironically, while those who criticize these social justice terms (and their associated political movements) often level their concerns in language of free speech and liberal discourse, they frequently do not display the generosity of spirit and commitment to fair, impartial, and rigorous reading that makes genuine inquiry and debate possible.

Just as Jews can reasonably insist that those who speak about, e.g., Zionism, antisemitism, Orthodoxy, “chosenness”, or other weighted terms avoid strawman caricatures of such concepts, basic respect should compel Jewish speakers to seek out genuine knowledge of social justice theories grounded in actual, reputable primary source texts. Sweeping statements that such theories (for example) make crude divisions of the world into “oppressor” and “oppressed” classes, or explicitly identify Jews as White supremacist dominators, must be supported with evidence, not simply stated as if fact. Indeed, it seems apparent that the purpose of framing social justice concepts in such obviously farcical fashion is to avoid a reasoned discourse which might have to engage seriously with the significant normative, analytical, and observational insights such concepts bring to bear on crucial issues of equity. Such evasion is fundamentally incompatible with principles of open inquiry and fearless engagement that characterize Jewish communal discourse in its most robust and authentic form.

The signatories to this letter may take differing views as to the degree to which concepts like intersectionality and critical race theory aid in improving our understanding of Jewish experience. But we agree that any discussion about these concepts must take them seriously and read them fairly, and we are concerned that the attempt by some in the Jewish community to present such theories as inherently offensive, dangerous, or (paradoxically) censorial is in effect demanding the suppression or dismissal of important conversations the Jewish community should be having.

Many inside and outside of the Jewish community, including but not limited to Jews of Color, have been intimately involved in the creation, development, and application of social justice concepts — to the Jewish case and beyond. We urge that the Jewish community commit to including these voices as part of developing our collective understanding of what these concepts actually mean; and avoid speaking on these subjects based on rumor, innuendo, or hyperbolic sentiment. A commitment to such inclusion and to fair readings does not compel any particular conclusion; it does not demand either blind acceptance or knee-jerk criticism. Rather, it is the indispensable foundation on which any informed position on these matters must rest.

We, again, reiterate our view that liberal deliberative values are absolutely essential to the health and vitality of the Jewish community — values which include openness to challenging ideas and refusal to indulge in strawmanning, hyperbole, or other tools of dismissal. Precisely because we commit to these values, we are insistent that we live these values out in all contexts — including when engaging with theories of social justice that may be discomforting or controversial. We are confident that a recommitment to these values in the social justice context will help promote free, sophisticated, generous, and charitable engagement with all those who care about securing an equitable world.

We invite you to sign onto this open letter to add your voice to this call for open discourse, rigorous inquiry and generosity of spirit.

(Affiliations for informational purposes only)

Rabbi Ruth Abusch-Magder

Rabbi Ruth Adar, HaMaqom, The Place

William Adler, Associate Professor, Northeastern Illinois University Department of Political Science

Ruth Alcabes

Emma Ruth Anderson

Dr. Dan Aviv, ADRABA

Rabbi Ruven Barkan

Susie Berg

Amanda Berman, Zioness

David Bocarsly, Activist

Harold Braswell, Associate Professor of Health Care Ethics, Faculty Co-Advisor to Jewish Student Association, Saint Louis University; Programming Board

Isaac Bresnick

Dr. Mia Brett

Ariel Brickman

Bradley Burston, Ha’aretz

Bill Chomsky, JewishColumbus

Rabbi Dr. Geoffrey Claussen, Elon University

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Cohen, American Jewish University

Rabbi Emily Cohen

Andrea Beth Damsky

Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan

Barry Deutsch, Author, “Hereville”

Mady Deutsch

Dr. Samuel N. Dorf, University of Dayton

Marie Duncan

Ruth Egherman

Tori Egherman, Oy Vey Acts

Rabbi Amy Eilberg

Louis Evans

Keshira HaLev Fife, Kesher Pittsburgh

Carli Fink

Ziv Finkelstein

Dennis Fischman, Temple B’nai Brith, Somerville MA

Sam Fleischacker, LAS Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of Illinois at Chicago

Peter Fox, American Jewish Committee ACCESS NY Board

Shai Franklin, Senior Fellow, The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute

Rabbi Eli Freedman, Congregation Rodeph Shalom

Rabbi Jonathan Freirich, Open Door Judaism

Rabbi Jonah Geffen

Todd Gitlin, Columbia University

Daryn Glassbrook

Stefani Goerlich, LMSW-Clinical, LISW, LCSW, CST, Author, Educator, & Clinician

Rebekka Gold, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah

Daniel S. Goldberg, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Erica Goldman, MA/MBA

Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman

Eric Greene, Jewish Multiracial Network

Rachel Hall

Shawn C Harris

Kate and Ailsa Hermann-Wu

Jonathan Horowitz

Rabbi Michael Howald, Temple Israel (Staten Island, NY)

Sylvia Izzo Hunter

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, T’ruah

Jonathan Jacoby

Rabbi Marisa James, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah

Robert Johnston, University of Illinois at Chicago

Rabbi Justin S. Kerber, BCC, Congregation Beth Shalom

Aaron Keyak, Jewish Engagement Director, Biden for President

Vlad Khaykin

Rabbi Jeremy Kridel, Machar, the Washington Congregation for Secular Humanistic Judaism

Rabbi Gail Labovitz, American Jewish University

Rabbi Michael Adam Latz

Rabbi Esther Lederman, URJ

Libby Lenkinsky

Larry Lennhoff

Rebecca Lesses, Ph.D., Ithaca College

Gabriel Levin

Dr. Jamie Levine Daniel, IUPUI

Renan Levine, University of Toronto

Marion I. Lipshutz, MA, MSLIS,

Joe Lockard, Arizona State University

Analucía Lopezrevoredo, Founder & ED, Jewtina y Co.

Andy Lulka

Amanda Lynn

Andrew Mandel, Tzedek Box

Liviya Mendelsohn

Julia Métraux

Dr. Seth J Meyer

Laura Janine Mintz, MD, PhD, MetroHealth Medical Center, Case Western Reserve Univeristy

Yaël Mizrahi-Arnaud, Forum For Regional Thinking/NYU

Dr. Karen R Mock, C.M., JSpaceCanada

Susan Morais

Dr. Betsy More, Jewish Women’s Archive

David S. Moskowitz

Stephanie Moss

David N. Myers, UCLA

Stan Nadel, U of Portland — Salzburg Austria Center

David Naftulin

Elad Nehorai

Sydney Nestel

Richard Jeffrey Newman, Nassau Community College

Louis E. Newman, John M. and Elizabeth W. Musser Professor of Religious Studies, Emeritus, Carleton College

Matt Nosanchuk, President, New York Jewish Agenda

Sharonna Pearl, Drexel University

Carly Pildis

Lauren Post

Jeremy F. Price, Assistant Professor of Technology, Innovation and Pedagogy in Urban Education, IU School of Education-Indianapolis at IUPUI

Nigel Quartey

Rabbi Ruti Regan

Harry Reis

Jill Rodde, Tzedek Box

Judith Rosenbaum, Ph.D., Jewish Women’s Archive

Rifky Rosensweig

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg

Jeffrey Adam Sachs, Acadia University

Joel Sanchez, LCSW, Jews In All Hues

Harry Sanders

Rabbi Michael Satz, Temple B’nai Or

Professor Paul Scham, University of Maryland

David Schraub, Lewis & Clark Law School

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller

Eli Sennesh

Allison Siegelman, Jewish Community Foundation of Central PA

Abe Silberstein

Yoshi Silverstein, Mitsui Collective

Eliana Sisman, UCLA student

Tema Smith, The Forward

Daniel Sokatch, New Israel Fund

Gregg Solkovits, President, Democrats for Israel — LA

Ken Sperber, MD

Devon Spier, Rabbinical Student

Liz Spikol

Rabbi Joshua Stanton, East End Temple

Justin B. Stein, Ph.D.

Jacob Stutzman, Ph.D., University of Kansas

Dr. Ezra Temko, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Stephen Michael Tow, Temple Oakland Sinai, Temple Beth Shalom, San Leandro Coalition for Racial Justice

Professor Irene Tucker, University of California, Irvine

Dr. Sarah Waisvisz, Queen’s University

Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study

Dr. Kenneth Waltzer, Michigan State University

Dov Waxman, University of California, Los Angeles

Alan Jay Weisbard, University of Wisconsin Law School (Retired)

Diane Winston

Cantor Cheryl Wunch

Rabbi Adir Yolkut

Alex Zeldin, The Forward

Jelle Simcha Zijlstra, Oy Vey Acts

Rabbi Sara Zober

Add your name.

Jews of a variety of political, religious, and ideological stripes, united in affirming the indispensable need for rigorous, open discourse.