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CAN WE DEFUND THE POLICE?

Thursday, 1 September, 2022 - 9:29 pm

Two lawyers arrive at the pub and ordered a couple of drinks. They then take sandwiches from their briefcases and began to eat.
Seeing this, the angry publican approaches them and says, 'Excuse me, but you cannot eat your own sandwiches in here!'
The two look at each other, shrug, and exchange sandwiches.
This week's Torah reading, Shoftim, commands us to appoint judges and police in the Land of Israel. As in any civil society, we need judges to tell us what the law is, and we also need police to ensure law and order are enforced.
Yet there is an interesting contrast.
The prophet Isaiah when predicting the future changes the language of the verse:
I will restore your magistrates as of old, And your counselors as of yore. After that, you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City.”
This verse mentions judges and counselors but deletes officers. Instead, the prophet inserts a new category not mentioned in the Torah—counselors, and advisors!
In fact, this text made it into the Amidah, recited thrice daily. The 11th blessing begins: “Restore our judges as of old, and our advisors as in the days of yore.”
The reason for this drastic distinction was explained by the Rebbe: Isaiah is addressing the time of Moshiach, we will no longer need officers to enforce the law. People on their own will want to obey the laws of the Torah, and the guidelines of the Torah judges. So, who needs police in an environment where everyone’s inner Divine holiness is burning aglow? At that time, we can, at last, defund the police…
But how do we reach such a space? Will it be a miracle? Maimonides says that the transition from exile to redemption will not require miracles.
On this prophet says we will also have counselors and advisors. That will make all the difference.
There are two contrasting kinds of authority: a judge, and a counselor, one speaks in the name of authority and objectivity; the other in the name of love and compassion.
When the judge tells a person to do something, he or she may well feel that the judge is only concerned with the Law, not with "me" as a person. Hence people often feel resentful against authority and sometimes rebel completely. So, police are necessary to ensure that people keep the law.
By contrast, a personal life coach is someone who has my very own interests at heart. My advisor and counselor are people I bring into my life because I trust them; I know they can understand me, they relate to me, and they help me crystalize for myself what I really want and need. His or her advice and life coaching are something I want to follow because he or she does not speak in the name of authority, but rather as a best friend advising me on what is best for me in a way that I can feel it.
Says the Rebbe: Before Moshiach comes we are going to have “coaches” who will allow us to internalize Judaism and Halacha in a way that is personal and relevant. The counselor will help us realize that the Torah directives of Torah judges are what we need and want.
The primary tool for education and communication must change from “officers” to “coaches” and “counselors.” Sure, discipline is at times vital and lifesaving. Children and students crave discipline and structure. Especially when a child is young, discipline with love and understanding is so important.
But our general MO today is not one of coercion, but one of persuasion; one in which I can show you and show me how the laws of the Torah are our tools for achieving our deepest freedom and serenity.
The late world-renowned novelist Herman Wouk once asked the Rebbe – this was back in the 50s – “Do you really believe that you can tell young American Jews what to do?”
And the Rebbe responded: “American youth can’t be told to do anything; they can be explained to do everything.”
Rabbi Ephraim Sturm, an executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, brought a turning point in the 1950s for Jewish university students when Rabbi Sturm championed the idea that students could practice their religion without hindrance and be able to obtain kosher food at universities whose respective dining facilities omitted kosher options.
 Here is the story, shared by Rabbi Sturm himself, a few years before his passing:
I first met the Rebbe when I visited him to discuss my mother’s illness. I was not a chasid. In fact, I was educated in the Yeshiva Chaim Berlin and I received rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner. But when my mother fell ill, I went to the Rebbe because everyone among the Orthodox Jewish public already knew – it was in the public domain, so to speak – that to get good advice, to get a compassionate answer to a difficult question, to glimpse a solution to a complex dilemma, you went to the Rebbe, and that the Rebbe’s door was never closed to anyone.
My mother’s doctors could not agree on whether they should operate or not. An operation offered the possibility of a cure, but it carried a risk. Yet doing nothing meant that things would go on as they were, with the inevitable ending.
As a son, I was torn. And my mother, may she rest in peace, couldn’t make the decision. So, I went to the Rebbe. I wanted to get his blessing and his advice.
Now, the Rebbe didn’t know me, didn’t know my mother, didn’t know anything about the family. But when I told him my dilemma, he looked at me and I saw tears in his eyes. He reacted as if he was my brother, and I felt as if I was discussing the problem with my brother.
His advice was that they should operate, but that’s not the point of the story. It was his reaction and his sensitivity that struck me. He had a holy look, such an air of compassion about him. I’d like to describe his expression and his intense blue eyes, but my words wouldn’t do justice. I felt an immediate heart connection – as they say, “words that come from the heart, enter the heart” – this was a man of truth, a man of G‑d.
Even if he had said nothing to me, I would have gone out with something, just having seen him.
Now, on this visit, I didn’t go representing Young Israel. I said nothing about being the chief executive officer of Young Israel – I was just a Jew asking for his blessing and advice for a personal reason. And for him to show such empathy, such emotion, such care, such concern … that was remarkable.
It’s strange how he could relate to every individual, to every community, with the same intensity. I’m sure that decisions made on the world scene by the Rebbe were made by him with the same depth of understanding that he showed to every individual that came to see him about a minor issue, and with the same depth of caring that he showed me.
This brings me to my second visit with him.
It was the early 1960s, and I had discovered that too many Orthodox men and women who were going to out-of-town colleges were dropping Judaism and intermarrying. At first, the number was three percent, but this number was going up rapidly, and this alarmed me.
I called together the officers of Young Israel and I said, “We have a problem!” We agonized over it, and we decided to ask several Jewish leaders what to do.
I remember that one of them said we must make sure that there are more Orthodox college professors. Well, that was not in our power. Another said that we must make sure that the Jewish high schools imbue Judaism in their students so that they are able to withstand the pressures of college. How could we do that? Another said that we in Young Israel should issue a proclamation that nobody is allowed to go to an out-of-town college. But we did not have that kind of clout.
And then we went to the Rebbe. The Rebbe was the most fascinating of them all because he had the ability to speak to the individual but consider the whole. He had the ability to look past the symptoms and go to the heart of the problem.
The Rebbe analyzed for us what was really happening here. He said, “In Berlin, if you were a religious Jew, or if you were a member of any other religion, you had to defend your religion; you had to be able to answer people who challenged you; you had to know the philosophy of your religion to defend it. But Americans are not interested in defending religious philosophies. They are more interested in consistency. If a person is religious consistently, the average American will respect him.”
“So, let’s look at what consistency means.
“A religious boy or girl goes to an out-of-town college and says to the parents: ‘Don’t worry, I’ll observe Shabbat and I’ll keep kosher. I’ll have cottage cheese every day for lunch, I’ll have a salad every day for dinner, and I’ll have cornflakes every day for breakfast … I’ll manage for four years.’ Maybe they mean it, maybe they don’t mean it. Let’s assume they mean it. But can they, do it?”
“Imagine a young man sitting in a college dining room with his non-Jewish peers,” the Rebbe continued. “How long is he going to put on his kippah and eat cottage cheese every single day? And what is he going to do when a girl says to him, ‘Take a taste of my lunch, it’s delicious!’ How can he deny her? After a while, the peer group will pressure him – not because they mean to pressure him, not because they are opposed to what he is doing, but because that’s just how life is. And in the liberal atmosphere of the college campus, how can he not yield to that pressure?”
And then the Rebbe gave us his advice: “What you must do is create a program to bring together all the young Jewish men and women in one place at the most vulnerable time. That most vulnerable time is not in the classroom when they are each interested in their own notes or their own marks, but in the non-classroom area. The best thing is to establish kosher ‘dining clubs’ on college campuses.”
This was his practical solution, and this was something we could, and did, do. Young Israel started kosher dining clubs, which were hugely successful. These clubs became places where Jewish men and women could eat, meet and be friends with one another, and be protected from outside influences.
Of all the advice that we were given, the only one that we found practical was Rebbe’s suggestion. And it worked.
It became a turning point in American Jewish history. Tens of thousands of Jewish students who grew up with Judaism, in wonderful Jewish homes, could go to college for four years out of town, and maintain to some degree or another their Jewish life and feel.
So let me ask you, what was the difference between the advice of the others and the Rebbe advice? They all shared fine ideas: have more religious professors, give more to the kids in high school; don’t send them out of town. All fine and good, but not practical, not doable, and not in touch with the sobering reality of these kids. The Rebbe had his finger on the pulse! He understands and saw what each and every one of those students is enduring. He understood the culture, the ambiance, the schedule, the café culture, the social norms, the social pressure, the openness, and the liberal atmosphere. He did not judge it, condemn it, and rant about it. He turned into the reality of tens of thousands of Jewish boys and girls going off to college and then went on to present what we can do right here, right now, to help these beautiful kids remain connected to their souls, their heritage, to their faith and to their people.
And this must be true for each of us—because each of us is a leader, mentor, and teacher—for ourselves, our children, our pupils, and all those under our influence. We judge our children and students all the time.
Yet, to be an effective judge according to Torah, I must not be living in a different time! I need to be in-tuned with each of my children, grandchildren, students, friends, and constituents. I need to understand them—their struggles, emotional life, fears, concerns, dilemmas, challenges, doubts, and internal experiences—emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. I need to speak to their truth, not only to my truth. I need to speak to their hearts, not only my heart. I need to get off my high horse and look them in the eyes and bond, heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul.
 
 Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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