On Motzei Shabbat, January 5, The Fleetwood Synagogue located in Mount Vernon, held its 15th Annual Charles Sidlow Memorial Lecture Program. This year’s theme was Judaism, America and Our Era of Civic Breakdown. The featured speakers this year were Rabbi Shay Schachter and Rabbi Ari Lamm. These young rabbis are the son and grandson, respectively, of American rabbinic leaders who have established themselves as future stars of Modern Orthodoxy.
Dr. Robert Sidlow opened the lecture program with a description of his father, Charles Sidlow’s life. Born in Berlin, Germany, he fled to Santiago de Chile as a child and then raised his family in Los Angeles. His children always remember his curiosity and passion for academic Jewish topics, and therefore sponsor this tribute in his memory around his yahrzeit.
Rabbi Schachter’s presentation was titled ‘The Faces of Anti-Semitism and our Complicated Relationship with God.’ Noting how anti-Semites do not always act alone, he detailed the characters of the Purim story, as found in the tractate Megilla 14A. Schachter explained how he views Haman and King Achashverosh as partners in the attempted crime against the Jewish nation. “The gemara compares them to two fields; one has a large ditch, while the other has a large dirt mound. By using one’s dirt to fill the other’s hole, each landowner repairs his field in a symbiotic way. Both had a common genocidal goal,” explained Schachter.
Schachter then listed a timeline of historical figures who ‘learned’ from the failures of their predecessors and tried to ‘improve’ on their dastardly plans. Kayin killed his brother, but Adam and Chava had another son. Esav waited till his father died, but Yaakov already had a large established family of his own. Pharoah only killed the male babies, but Judaism is perpetuated by matrilineal descent. Finally, he added that Haman’s plan was to kill everyone.
In light of recent tragic events, he then spoke about questions of faith, especially among victims. Schachter explained that he spent the evening after the shooting at the Pittsburgh Synagogue, with former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.. Rabbi Lau, a child survivor of the Holocaust, commented that even after 70 years of living in Israel, he has not seen one day without actual or fear of anti-Semitic events. Schachter then added how in recent summers he has served as Rabbi at Camp Simcha. “Each day, I met with many sick children who had good reasons to question God,” revealed Schachter. In both situations, Schachter suggested it is acceptable to question God’s actions while still remaining faithful.
Rabbi Ari Lamm followed with his presentation: ‘The Jews, The Greeks and the Battle for Western Civilization.’ Using multiple biblical citations, he highlighted the concept of a chosen people whose faith was based on biblical divine law. He added selections from Greco-Roman philosophers who reiterated the basis of divine law. Cicero called true law “in agreement with nature” and “universal, unchanging and everlasting,” whether in Athens, Rome or elsewhere. Centuries earlier, Plato wrote, “No law has the right to sovereignty over true knowledge.” In the absence of such true knowledge, Plato concluded, “we have to choose the second best: ordinance and law.”
Lamm then discussed the founding of the United States, based on natural law. This concept is based on a set of rights derived from reasoning and morality. Yet slavery existed in early America. “The American Civil War was a long and deadly battle between divine law and natural law,” explained Lamm. In describing the overall conflict, Lamm reminded the audience that the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC has two famous quotations from President Abraham Lincoln engraved on either side of the Lincoln statue. “Everyone is familiar with the Gettysburg address on the southern wall, but the opposite wall contains Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865, weeks before his assassination. That speech is entirely based on biblical concepts of divine law with no mention of natural law.” Lamm concluded “that divine law trumps natural law and that is what sustains western civilization, as we know it.”
The Sidlow program is hosted each year by The Fleetwood Synagogue.
By Judy Berger