I have, over the last few days, been critical of Rabbi David Lau’s words/response to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. I think this JTA article (link at the end of this blog) adds something substantial to the unfortunate “did he call it a Synagogue or not?” debate and whilst I still have a sense of some ‘word play’ in all of this, it does seem that my criticism might have been premature and unfair, that I might have been reading Rabbi Lau’s words out of context, that my judgement was, at best, harsh, at worst, wrong.
‘According to the full interview with Lau, however, he appeared at pains to separate the Pittsburgh tragedy from that ongoing controversy. In response to the interviewer’s question about the fact that the site of the shooting was a Conservative synagogue, Lau said, heatedly, “What bearing does that have on this? That is irrelevant. We are talking about Jews who were killed just for being Jews. What is the question? There is nothing to discuss about their affiliation. They were killed because they were Jews! Does it matter in which synagogue they pray in or what text they use?”
(In Hebrew, the last phrase is “Zeh m’shaneh b’eizeh beit knesset o nusach hem mitpalelim?” Beit knesset, or “house of assembly,” is the standard Hebrew word for a synagogue.)’
In these words by Rabbi Lau:
“Does it matter in which synagogue they pray in or what text they use?”,
he does appear to be acknowledging that there is more than one type of Synagogue, that there are non-Orthodox Synagogues. Furthermore, contrary to what I’ve been saying, that he was, on principle, refusing to call the Tree of Life Synagogue a Synagogue, he was, perhaps – perhaps – saying that it is, for him, so unimportant a matter, the whole “Is it a Synagogue or isn’t it” debate, that, in the context of this massacre and tragedy, he wasn’t even prepared to debate it.
What IS important and seems to be unarguable is that both Rabbi David Lau and Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef have expressed undiluted grief and horror and that they, leaving aside the issue of their definition of Synagogue, have not judged or been in any way disrespectful to the victims of/congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue.