First, it turned up that Herschel Schachter, a rabbinic dean at Yeshiva University, made comments last month that some found offensive. Rabbis, he said, should refrain from carelessly reporting Jews to the police who are accused of sexually abusing minors. Otherwise, said Rabbi Schachter, a Jew could end up in a cell with a "schvartze…a black Muslim who wants to kill him." In one sentence, the distinguished Torah scholar betrayed (a) casual racism (b) tolerance of child abuse and (c) open religious prejudice. I didn't think that was possible.
Rabbi Schachter is a revered scholar among Modern Orthodox Jews. In the rush to defend his comments, he has been called a "Torah giant" and a brilliant Talmud scholar. With respect to kashruth—Jewish dietary law—he wields tremendous influence with his legal thinking. If you ask him, Rabbi Schachter will give you exactly the right answer about bread that has milk in it.
Ecch. In my book, and I hope in God's, that counts for next to nothing. I once taught Plato to a toad, but he still ate crickets whole and peed on my hand.
The uplifting, surprising opposite of Schachter's comments came from the Catholic Church. It's Holy Week, and this year Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, didn't spend his time cloistered in an ornate church. Dolan celebrated mass with inmates at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in the Hudson Valley. "I want you to know that I love you very much," said Dolan in his sermon. "I mean that. I respect you, I love you, I wanted to pray with you, and I wanted to know that you're not alone; that you're not forgotten."
Dolan is no New York liberal: just ask him what he thinks about abortion and gay marriage, and you'll get a very different answer than you will at any Reform synagogue. Which goes to show that for all his conservative, moralizing political positions, Dolan knows what religion is for: to love the widow and the orphan, and not to shy from breaking bread with outcasts.
Funnily enough, that phrase comes from the Old Testament. Someone call Yeshiva University with the news.