Today marks two anniversaries: The anniversary of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and the anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. As to the latter, you might not be aware that both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were drafted in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism building in Washington, D.C., under the aegis of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (which for decades was housed in the Center). That historic connection creates a strong, and, to my mind, an inexhaustible commitment by Reform Jews to both the overarching issues and the specifics of civil rights in this country and a pledge to be vigilant that those rights are strong and protected for all and for all time.
How is this important and serious association between the Civil Rights Movement and Reform Judaism connected to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima? First, I should tell you that my personal relationship with that fateful event comes from opposite poles. During World War II, my uncles were stationed in the Pacific Arena. As the secret mission to bomb Hiroshima (and, three days later, Nagasaki) was taking place, my uncles along with hundreds of thousands of others were preparing for the invasion of Japan. The estimated casualties of that invasion were so enormous as to border on the obscene. Had the bombs not been dropped, I probably would have grown up without uncles.
On the other hand, I began protesting nuclear proliferation in rabbinical school. The destruction and human tragedy that was wrought by those weapons were beyond the border of obscenity and those weapons not only should never be used again, but they should not even be in existence to be used as a threat. As Albert Einstein is memorably quoted: “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. The very prevention of war requires more faith, courage and resolution than are needed to prepare for war.” ( In a letter to Congressman Robert Hale, 1946; later published in Einstein on Peace, 1988).
The connection between the anniversaries of the Voting Rights Act and the bombing of Hiroshima boils down to an important distinction in the way in which Judaism frames the “Golden Rule”. While many traditions say “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” Judaism (in the words of Hillel, Talmud Shabbat 31a) inverts the idea: “That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.”
In other words, no one in this country wants to be the victim of the racial and ethnic bigotry and the very real hatred and divisiveness that lie behind any and all attempts to infringe upon their voting rights. No one wants the skin of their children melted off their bodies or to be incinerated or radiated or blinded by a nuclear weapon. We must remember that we cannot prevent nuclear war from happening by rattling sabers and missiles of our own.
The convergence of these two anniversaries teaches us what is truly important in life: freedom, mutual and empathetic caring, love and peace. These are goals that can only be reached actively and with a vigor that outmatches and outlasts those who would seek to block the way.
- “…that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.”
- “The very prevention of war requires more faith, courage and resolution than are needed to prepare for war.”
Make sure you and all your friends, families and neighbors are registered to vote and they engage in their civil right to vote on November 6. Make sure everyone studies the issues and the candidates profiles.
Let’s bring into the voting booth the values of “refusing to do to others what we wouldn’t want to be done to us and our families” and may we “beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.”