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Extremism is a Problem

Like you, I watched the Super Bowl. It was a great game: dramatic, close, wrought with emotion and subplots. Like you, I was disappointed by the outcome. We were so close! Now we Eagles fans wait until next year and hope we get another shot at glory. 

As always, there are lessons to take away, for us and for our kids. We could remind them about losing with grace and humility (which I believe the Eagles did). We could remind them that success often takes time. We could remind them about the virtues of teamwork: We are united in our moments of joy and united in our moments of sadness. We could remind them as well about leadership: Jalen Hurts set a tone not only in how he played the game but in how he responded to the loss, noting that we will grow as a result of this and get better from it. His approach was later echoed by teammates. If only all leaders came to their task with such grace and thoughtfulness. 

We could even learn from the commercials that we saw. Some were funny. Some were highly memorable. Some were thought-provoking. There was a commercial that I found problematic, however. Here I am referring to the “He Gets Us” commercials, which ostensibly promote a Christianity of inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance. On the surface, these commercials seem welcoming and refreshing yet, as many have pointed out, the commercials were funded in large part by Evangelical leaders, ardent anti-LGBTQ spokespeople and the many who would deny many of the values we hold to be true. Many backers are adherents of Billy Graham and others who, for generations, have sought to pull Christianity to a place of extremist ideology and practice. 

As one article noted after the Super Bowl: ‘While donors who support “He Gets Us” can choose to remain anonymous, Hobby Lobby co-founder David Green claims to be a big contributor to the campaign’s multi-million-dollar coffers. Hobby Lobby has famously been at the center of several legal controversies, including the support of anti-LGBTQ legislation and a successful years-long legal fight that eventually led to the Supreme Court allowing companies to deny medical coverage for contraception on the basis of religious beliefs.’

Like you, I am concerned about the grip that extremist thinking has not only on sectors of the Christian population, but on all religious peoples. We Jews indeed have no shortage of our own extremists. The rabbinic sages that preceded us were greatly aggrieved by the attraction to extremism and fundamentalism that existed even in their own time. They were weary of those who were overzealous in their practice, always seeking to go beyond the norms of the community, interpreting texts dangerously (and often inaccurately). They saw, as we do today, that extremism leads not only to overt judging of those whose religious observance is different, but violence against those who see God or Torah differently.

The rabbis of the Talmud outlawed the practice of the Nazirite, first described in the Book of Numbers, whereby one sought to position himself or herself closer to God. Rabbi Elazar HaKappar, seeing how this concept was being taken to the extreme, teaches in Tractate Nazir that it is in fact sinful to become a Nazarite. They expressed concern for those who placed themselves outside of or above the community, when they wrote, ‘Do not separate yourself from the community,’ in the Mishnah. Indeed, they knew then what we know now: There are only so many of us Jews on this planet; we need to do what we can to remain united as a people.

Next year, I hope the Eagles do just a bit better. I hope the same for the Super Bowl commercials. We are one people, with a shared destiny, and a shared past. I pray we find our way back to a Judaism that unites us and that all people of faith come to a place of understanding and lovingkindness.