There is a story told about the saintly Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, also known as the Alter (The Old One) of Slobodka (1849-1927), whose students at the famed Slobodka Yeshiva in Lithuania eventually became some of the most important leaders of Torah Judaism in the United States and throughout the world. There was a certain priest in the town that – although he had never actively harmed any Jews – was notoriously anti-Semitic and one day word spread that he had died. The students of the Yeshiva excitedly rushed in to tell the news to R. Nosson Tzvi. Much to their surprise, he sadly shook his head and said in Yiddish, Oy, Nebach (Oy, what a shame). The students, to say the least, were quite surprised by his reaction. “Rebbe,” they said, “This man hated Jews, why would you say Nebach?” The Alter, who almost never raised his voice but with a sharp look could make one’s blood run cold, stared intensely at his students, “You start off by celebrating the death of an anti-Semitic priest, in the end you’ll celebrate when your next door neighbor dies, because he offended you in some petty way.”
Although I certainly had no intention of celebrating the recent death of Christopher Hitchens, I was inclined to write a rather nasty, biting obituary with a nasty, biting title, but I remembered this story and decided against it. I can’t say with absolute certainty that Hitchens deserves such consideration, though. He did not exhibit much consideration when ripping into those whom he chose to excoriate. Even one of his admirers admitted that he had a tendency to “bully” and “shout down” his opponents, rather than stick to the high road and win on pure reason and logic. His book about Mother Teresa was obscenely entitled The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. When asked about the title, Hitchens replied, “It was either that or Sacred Cow, and I thought that Sacred Cow was in bad taste.” How clever, Mr. Hitchens, how clever…and how gratuitously coarse and foul.
His antipathy towards religion in general and Judaism in particular bordered on the pathological. How else does one explain his comparison of Jewish ritual circumcision to the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation that is practiced in Africa and parts of the Arab and Muslim world? How else does one explain his implicit accusation that there is a component of sexual molestation in the bris ceremony? How else does one explain his glib declaration that “Orthodox Jews conduct congress by means of a hole in the sheet?” Ten minutes of research would have revealed that this is an utter lie; ten minutes of research he obviously never bothered doing. On the other hand, perhaps we should be thankful he did not accuse us of murdering Christian children to use their blood in baking matzos for Passover. Enough! I’m starting to work myself up into that nasty article I promised I would not write. For a more comprehensive treatment of the egregious errors in his writings please see the first chapter of my book which can be viewed on my website, and my article entitled “Christopher Hitchens: The Elmer Gantry of Modern Atheism.”
Despite all of the above, I can’t help but admit that he had a charm, charisma, and an eminent likeability about him. After imbibing a forcefully administered dose of self-reflection, what finally came to mind was a passage from Ulysses S. Grant’s account of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox:
“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
Christopher Hitchens – 1949-2011, journalist, author, and Jewish atheist: While an undeniably gifted, passionate, and extraordinarily talented individual, he devoted that talent and passion to a cause that I believe was “one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”
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