Impious Leadership and the Ethics of Critique
Should leaders criticize their opponents and detractors? When is reprimanding other people legitimate — or even necessary — and when should castigating others be viewed as an impious act? This question weighed heavily on my mind after hearing Donald Trump’s insensitive criticism of Khizr Khan, a Muslim father of a slain U.S. soldier. In my recently published book, Pious Irreverence: Confronting God in Rabbinic Judaism, I discuss one such Jewish response to this complex question. A fifth-century Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 49:9) distinguishes between the critiques of Abraham and the critiques of Job. Critiques that are leveled in order for the challenger to further his or her own knowledge or, alternatively, critiques embarked on with the stated purpose of educating the one being challenged should be praised. These critiques were brought by Abraham. Conversely, critiques that are produced merely to defend one’s ego or to find fault in others should be avoided. These were the types of critiques brought by Job. Echoing this Midrash, let us support leaders who embody the Abrahamic ethic of critique rather than the impious Joban one.
Dov Weiss, WGF Alum (Class 8) is an Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies in the Department of Religion at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He completed his PhD at the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2011 and was the Alan M. Stock Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for Jewish Studies in 2012. After receiving rabbinic ordination from RIETS (Yeshiva University) in 1999 as a Wexner Graduate Fellow, Dov helped found Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rabbinic School where he served as Director of Operations and instructor of Talmud and Jewish Law. His just completed monograph Pious Irreverence: Confronting God in Rabbinic Judaism (University of Pennsylvania Press) is now available. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.