Since I posted my blog (Should Trump’s Mental Condition disqualify Him as President – link below) there has been a great deal of discussion, commentary, and criticism among rabbis from around the world about the ethics of my having written such a piece. That discussion takes place on the restricted and confidential Reform Rabbi List Serve called RAVKAV where all kinds of issues are debated and discussed. Some have admonished me (and others who have done the same as I did) for committing L’shon Ha-ra and Rehilut  (Evil speech and Slander).

One particularly thoughtful posting was written by Rabbi Steven Ballaban, a Chaplain in the United States Navy stationed in Atsugi Japan. Rabbi Ballaban gave me permission to reprint his posting here (I have edited his original piece for brevity and included within his post in brackets explanations and definitions of Hebrew terms and concepts. The bolded passages are mine for emphasis).

I reprint his piece with gratitude:

Our colleague Rabbi ­­__ has admonished us, explaining that questioning the mental stability of President Trump constitutes both Lashon haRa and Rechilut. … Generally, the gold standard [concerning the ethics of speech]… for Jewish professionals in these matters is the Chofetz Chaim [Rabbi Israel Meir HaKohen Kagan. 1839 –1933] and his Sefer Chafetz Chaim [the most authoritative book on the ethics of speech written in the past 300 years]

In Jewish law there is an explicit duty to warn others in the case of one who is mesit et harabim [“one who would lead the multitude astray”]. Within this context, we find condemnations of specific individuals within the texts of Chazal [Acronym – “Our Sages, may their memory be blessed.”].

Two come to mind and apply here. The first is Acher [Rabbi Elisha ben Abuyah – First century CE rabbi who served in the Sanhedrin but became a heretic and was ostracized by the rabbinic authorities of his era], who deliberately destroyed the minds of the young and set out to poison them against Jewish values and, if necessary, assist the Romans in killing those who refused to relinquish their attachment to Judaism.

In the case of our President, he has encouraged Jewish youth to engage in xenophobia, nationalism, discrimination against the disabled, and racist populism in direct contradiction of the laws of our sacred Torah. Sadly, as has been the subject of a number of editorials recently, many of his staunch allies have been recruited from the ranks of young, financially successful, and nationalistic observant Jews.

The nomination of David Friedman as Ambassador, who has referred to his fellow Jews of J-Street as “Kapos” is an example of the type of nationalist “observant” Jew who seeks to threaten his own people. This clearly falls under the heading of mesit et harabim – one who would lead the multitude astray.

The second case, which applies here, is Ben Zoma [an exceptionally brilliant 2nd century CE rabbinic student who died before ordination]. In the Babylonian Talmud Hagiga 14b it states of Ben Zoma [one of four sages who ventured into the ‘garden of mystical speculation’]: “One looked and became mad.” In short, Ben Zoma is considered to have lost his mind because he taught traditions that contradicted accepted Jewish thought. The Talmud is not bashful in challenging the sanity of one of the sages of [the] Mishna once he taught heterodox opinions.

A president who teaches our people that persecution of minorities is kosher, that an ultra-nationalism that risks the future of the state of Israel is kosher, that humiliating a Jewish reporter and calling him a liar in public is kosher, is pushing a heterodox understanding of all that we hold sacred as Jews. I believe that the case of Ben Zoma [applies] here.

Modern responsa [questions to and answers by rabbinic authorities] in Israel have supported the idea that there is an explicit duty to warn others when life or limb are at risk. In the case of suspending the license of drivers with epilepsy, or poor eyesight, the rabbinic authorities have taught that the duty to warn supersedes the laws of Lashon haRa and Rechilut [evil speech and slander].

In the case of a nation at risk of war or infiltration by foreign agents of a government with a history of persecuting and murdering Jews, it should be clear that this is a case of al-achat-kama-v’chama [“so much the more so is this!”].

In short, questioning the sanity or stability of our President is not just NOT a violation of Jewish law, for some colleagues, it might very well be considered an affirmative duty.

Speaking personally, I am grateful for Rabbi Ballaban’s justification of the ethics of my having posted the offending blog in the first place. Based on his analysis in doing so, the dozens of psychiatrists and mental health professions who have called Trump mentally unbalanced and in one case a “malignant narcissist” are within the acceptable ethical bounds of speech according to Jewish law and tradition.

see “Should Trump’s Mental Condition disqualify Him as President” https://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/should-trumps-mental-condition-disqualify-him-as-president/

 

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