Is it Ethical to Post an Unethical Question?


I hate to draw attention to something that I think should never have surfaced,  but I was outraged by something I read in the New York Jewish Week.  Rabbi Joshua Hammerman writes an ethics column for the Jewish Week and he posted a reader’s question under the title “Should I be concerned about my kid’s non-Jewish friend?” To me, this question is so troubling that I think it should have been an ethical dilemma to the editors of the newspaper whether to give it attention by publishing it.

Some people have told me, “Well, that’s how traditional Jews think.” But the Jewish Week isn’t just for traditional Jews. While there are people out there who do seriously consider this an issue, it’s not OK to give credence to this thinking and a public forum for these hurtful biases.

I cannot imagine how I would feel if the “friend” in the story was my nephew.  How painful would it be to my husband to know that the religion he has agreed to raise his children in and the culture that his wife holds so dear, would insult and shun his family by allowing these concerns to be voiced so publicly.

Can you imagine the reaction if the ethics columnist for the New York Times published the same column and the “friend” in question was Jewish? How many Jews would be up in arms? The paper, the columnist, and the reader who asked the question, would all be called anti-Semitic. Letters would be written. Press releases would be sent. Why do the editors of a Jewish newspaper consider it OK to publish such a question?

5 thoughts on “Is it Ethical to Post an Unethical Question?”

  • The truth is, that until we allow people to openly ask non-PC questions that we can address their prejudices and biases head on.  It’s not unethical to post if the columnist’s answer is one that challenges that view and shows how it is wrong, intolerant and based in fear.  I talk to high school kids about Judaism and Jews in our area.  (My kids are the only jews in the whole district.)  Some of my most illuminating discussions have come when I’ve allowed it to be safe for them to ask “Why don’t Jews believe in Christ?”  “Why did Jews kill Christ?”  “Why are Jews cheap?”  “Why are all Jews lawyers, doctors and bankers?”  These thought are rolling around their head, and until I can really challenge it can they start to question those assumptions and turn away from them.

    A great book to read here is “Why do all the blacks sit together in the caffeteria?”  A central theme of this book is the importance of creating safe arenas to really discuss our assumptions without being labeled racist.  Although I don’t agree with everything in her book, Beverly Daniel Tatum made some fantastic points.

  • This conversation is absurd.  Study, learning, asking questions — these are the very basis of Judaism.  The idea that a question should be suppressed instead of answered, even if the answer seems obvious, makes no sense.  Why would it be better to ignore that parent (and others reading the article who might have similar questions) than to assuage his fears?

  • Dear Sara, Heather and Debbie,

    Thank you for your thoughtful responses to my posting and for pointing out how it might have offended some readers. I apologize to those I might have offended.  I am in full agreement that inclusiveness and love are at the core of our ethical traditions and that the last thing we want to do is teach our kids to hate those different from themselves – or those with similar backgrounds, for that matter.  I’m proud, in fact, to have contributed to that ongoing conversation through my article and postings, including those in the Jewish Week – some of which have been widely praised by organizations such as the Jewish Outreach Institute (see “The Way Jews Look” and, “No Longer Mourning Intermarriage.”)

    When I received that question from my editor, I too wondered whether it was “fit to print,” but decided that it was important to respond to the concerns of the the confused questioner, hoping that my response would help that person understand that his concerns were unwarranted.  The side issue I brought up made no assumptions regarding that friendship, but I felt it was important also to discuss how not only is it wrong to teach the hated of others, but also to have an educational environment fostering negative images of Jews and Judaism, as I’ve seen is some day schools.

  • In a word: No. It is neither ethical nor spiritual to post that question. Living a spiritual life means being welcoming, kind, and altruistic, treating others as we want to be treated, and not judging people over superficial differences. If people think Judaism says it’s okay to treat people badly because they don’t adhere to the same beliefs, I think they’re confused. If someone is worried outside influences will turn their child against tradition, maybe that’s because they have their own doubts? People need to return to the core of our ethical traditions and realize it’s more important to visit a sick person in the hospital on shabbat than it is to make a minyan at a certain time of day. It’s more important for your children to have good friendships with nice kids than that those kids share your religious beliefs.  When I hear stuff like this, I think No wonder people are abandoning synagogue life. Who wants to be taught to be a hater?

  • I agree that the question is disturbing given the implication that there is something inherently negative about a Jewish child having a non-Jewish friend.

    I am also puzzled by Rabbi Hammerman’s assumption that having a non-Jewish best friend suggested that the girl didn’t want to socialize with Jewish children or had negative views of Judaism. Unless there was more to the letter that was not printed, I don’t think there is justification to jump to those conclusions. I am surprised that a Conservative rabbi would make those kind of assumptions given that unlike some right-wing Orthodox groups, Conservative Judaism does not favor separatism from the non-Jewish world or tend to view all non-Jews with suspicion.

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