Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 21 May 2005 / 12 Iyyar 5765

Freedom and Assimilation

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
Become a Supporter Library Library

From: Zev Schwartz

Dear Rabbi,

Many Jews heap praises on America as being "A country where Jews can live free from daily fear of persecution. A country where the constitution protects us with freedom of speech, press and religion. The safest country, except for Israel, for Jews to reside in. Without this country most of us would not be alive today." My response is, "What if the United States of America was an evil empire by Jewish standards? What if the USA was comparable to Rome in the days of our forefathers? What if American foreign policy would cause the destruction of Israel, or the metamorphosis of Israel from a Jewish State into a Democratic Multi-ethnic Entity? What if American culture caused the loss of more than 51% of America's Jews every generation? Would it then be permissible for Jews to lavish such praise on a country that does us such devastating harm, just because it lets us worship our religion, and make a few bucks?" What is your opinion?

Dear Zev Schwartz,

Comparing the United States to ancient Rome seems a bit of a stretch of the imagination. Rome was an extremely evil empire that tortured our Rabbis to death, murdered, plundered, destroyed our people, country and our Temple and sent us into the exile we are still in until today.

Regarding assimilation, is the United States to blame? While it is true that many sectors of the Jewish population are sadly assimilating in America, others are thriving. For example, Torah institutions, Yeshivot, Jewish day schools and centers for outreach and Torah study have burgeoned in the U.S. over the last 50 years. So blaming the U.S. for those who assimilate is simply an attempt to shift the burden of guilt.

But to answer your question: Yes, you are allowed to praise even an evil country for its good acts. As an extreme example, Rabbi Yehuda B'rabbi Ilai in the Talmud (Shabbat 33b) praised the Romans for all their beneficial deeds, such as building roads, bridges, sanitation facilities, and markets, even though ancient Rome was an extremely evil empire. If this is so regarding a vicious, antagonistic government such as Rome, all the more so one should appreciate and praise a country like America for its liberties and opportunities, while resisting its tendency toward assimilation and permissiveness.

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