by Rabbi Yaakov Menken, in The Jewish Press
Mary Miller is a new member of Congress. An Illinoisan since birth, she ran on a platform of supporting farming and bringing manufacturing jobs back to her district. She won.
And then, two weeks ago, she quoted Hitler. Specifically, she said, “Hitler was right about one thing: Whoever has the youth has the future.”
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A brouhaha of criticism followed, and my high-school age son asked me what the fuss was all about. I told him what she said, and he immediately declared, “That’s not anti-Semitic!”
When I explained that she wasn’t accused of being anti-Semitic per se, but of admiring Hitler, he dismissed the charge: “Saying that someone got one thing right doesn’t mean you admire that person.”
He’s correct, of course. In fact, it implies the opposite. Saying that Hitler got one thing right indicates that he got everything else wrong.
Once the full video of Miller’s remarks was released, it became apparent that those accusing her of “admiring Hitler” are guilty of nothing less than malicious slander. Miller quoted Hitler’s words to scare her audience and help them understand the danger of indoctrination – a subject Hitler understood well and exploited. If she and her audience didn’t regard Hitler as the paragon of evil, his actions wouldn’t have provided a potent example of the danger she was attempting to highlight.
Was it ill-advised for her to use Hitler to make her point? Yes. There were many better, less inflammatory examples she could have used.
Nonetheless, Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, once did something very similar. He took the leadership of Aish HaTorah on a tour of Nazi death camps to learn what one person with a single-minded focus and determination could do for evil, which only teaches us how much could be accomplished if we used that same single-minded focus for good.
Of course no one in his right mind would accuse an Orthodox rabbi like Rav Weinberg of admiring Hitler or even his “single-minded focus.”
Actually, that’s not correct. The Coalition for Jewish Values – the organization I serve as managing director – rejected calls for Rep. Miller’s resignation after the story broke and, as a result, we were called “Rabbis for Hitler.” This, despite the fact that the organization represents over 1,500 Orthodox rabbis.
Learning from history – including its paragons of evil – has always been the Jewish approach. We learn from Laban, Pharaoh, Haman, and the Roman general Titus who destroyed the Holy Temple and exiled us from our homeland. To learn how Hitler brought his evil plans to fruition – and the tactics he used to convince ordinary Germans that murdering of Jews was moral – is not merely commendable, but obligatory.
As George Santayana famously put it, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”
Some people told us that they agreed with our stance but believed that a public statement from the Coalition of Jewish Values in support of Miller was unnecessary. We disagree. We considered sending her only a private letter of support, but then we saw an increasing number of Jewish organizations and legislators calling for her resignation. These calls were both wrong and – considering the silence of these same people in response to disturbing statements from such people as Rep. Ilhan Omar – clearly partisan.
Defending Miller was the right thing to do. We were obligated to defend her, even if that meant entering a firestorm.
Those who find our statement disturbing will soon forget this entire episode. Rep. Miller, though, never will, which should go a long way to deepen her friendship with the Jewish community.