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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


Blog #1:

Obviously, the lamentable events that followed the tragic death of George Floyd were very troubling. However, those events have passed and hopefully, if the issues they stemmed from are addressed, the violence will not be repeated. In the scheme of my concern for America’s future, I would like to categorize what happened as growing pains. 

What concerns me far more about the future of America is what transpired at the New York Times (see below). It is my understanding that a fundamental principle of American culture is to allow for different points of view to be expressed in deliberation to persuade fellow citizens of our ideas. Advocating an uncontested political ideology suggests a basic insecurity, as though one fears the result of diligent inquiry into that dogma’s logical underpinnings. 

To clarify what I’m referring to, I share with you the following article by R. Avi Shafran titled: “The Gray Lady Swoons.”

James Bennet, who served as the editorial page editor of the New York Times for the past five years, was recently walked to the journalistic guillotine by the powers-that-be at that once-venerable institution. His sin? A controversial idea appeared on the paper’s opinion page on his watch.

Mr. Bennet’s figurative head rolled out of the Times’ glass doors onto 8th Avenue because of two sets of riots — those on the streets of many American cities and a more genteel but no less disconcerting one in the paper’s newsroom.

The latter unrest followed the Times’ publication of the op-ed at issue, by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who made a case for the deployment of military forces and even, if necessary, the invocation of the Insurrection Act, to control attacks on police and looting of businesses that attended some of the recent public protests.

Mr. Cotton was, of course, echoing President Trump in that proposal. In his remarks at the White House before embarking on his trek across the street to pose with a Bible in front of a church, Mr. Trump called the street violence “domestic acts of terror” and pledged that “If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.”

One can find that threat, for its incendiary nature, entirely objectionable. One can find the very idea of using the military domestically entirely objectionable. One can find even the president himself entirely objectionable.

But no less objectionable should be the barring of a citizen, much less a sitting Senator, from expressing his feelings otherwise. And just as objectionable is wailing a post facto mea culpa for not having prevented the expression of that opinion.

But with a considerable number of the Times’ black staff expressing their feeling that publishing Mr. Cotton’s piece had endangered their lives — who knew that Times employees rampage and loot in their spare time? — and other staffers concurring that the op-ed was an odious and perilous thing, the swooning Gray Lady had to pop a pill, and her gentlemen-in-waiting dutifully beat their breasts in remorse.

Although Mr. Bennet and the paper’s publisher Arthur Sulzberger had initially, and sanely, defended the op-ed’s publication on the grounds that it was the paper’s duty to present views at odds with its own opinions, the swell of anger in the newsroom (and, reportedly, a number of cancelled subscriptions) quickly convinced them that Mr. Cotton’s words constituted a veritable call to fascism. Mr. Bennet admitted, or at least claimed, that he hadn’t read the piece before its publication, which an assistant had green-lighted, and thus he became the plumpest sheep to offer the angry snowflake gods. He quickly offered his resignation.

Leave aside whether the idea of calling on the military to quell domestic crimes is a good one. It is not. And leave aside whether threatening to do so was a good idea. It was not. Focus only on the right of someone to feel otherwise.

It’s always been an essential part of liberal philosophy to allow people to profess, and others to consider, their opinions. To be sure, an op-ed advocating armed insurrection or the shooting of protesters on sight would arguably be worthy of rejection by a responsible medium. A business is entitled to its standards, indeed obligated to have some.

But is the very idea of invoking an established federal law, in this case the Insurrection Act, which dates to 1807 but was amended as recently as 2007, that empowers a president to deploy military and National Guard troops domestically in limited circumstances, so beyond the pale?

Even conceding — though it deserves no concession — that such deployment here to stop violence on the streets would somehow endanger innocents, would an op-ed advocating, say, the deployment of the military in a hostile foreign country to protect Americans — an act that could much more easily result in casualties — be equally unworthy of publication and discussion?

Someone should introduce the Times’ editorial board to the Talmud, where the concept of presenting a misguided view of a law’s implications for a situation is essential to the ferreting out of the true approach. Putting forth something illogical or unreasonable isn’t merely a stylistic diversion, it is a vital part of the process of getting to truth.

And so, the paper could have best served the public by simply soliciting an op-ed countering Mr. Cotton’s point of view. (Hey, I was available.)

The irony here, for those, presumably including members of the Times’ editorial board, who consider the president himself a danger to American society, is that the paper’s action handed Mr. Trump a golden opportunity on a silver platter to reiterate his contempt for the “lamestream” media. Look, he could say (and did), the “fake media” are afraid to countenance any point of view that differs from their own.

And, at least this time, at least one medium could have no reasonable rejoinder.

Blog #2:

Sgt. Steve Riback is popularly referred to as the Kosher Cop. He authored a book three years ago titled, My Journey Home, about becoming an observant Orthodox Jewish officer and his struggle for the right to wear his beard and a yarmulke while on duty. Riback is a Detective Sergeant for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and has been with the police force for twenty-two years. In wake of current events he has chosen to take pen to paper and speak out – here’s what he has to say:

Change can be challenging. I know because it happened to me over 17 years ago. At the time, I was living my passion as crime-fighting police officer, yet struggling internally to find purpose. One Shabbat, the realization of how uneducated I was about Judaism engulfed me. The spark in my soul was lit and my quest began, leading to my eventual transformation of keeping kosher, the Sabbath, and wearing a yarmulke and beard. Although it was a challenge, my police department grew to accept my new appearance that came from my spiritual change. I saw firsthand the power of what working together could accomplish.

I have seen many other significant changes through the years from my police department in areas such as transparency, accountability, and training – all to improve and strengthen relationships with the community.

This is why I truly cannot help but be deeply saddened by recent events in our country and the shockwaves felt through the law enforcement community. Every human being should be outraged and disgusted at the horrific actions of Derek Chauvin towards George Floyd and his resulting death. The oath taken by Chauvin to protect and serve was completely disregarded, and thankfully justice through the legal system is ongoing. These are undoubtedly challenging times ahead, but Fred DeVito may have said it best, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!”

These past couple of weeks have caused me to deeply reflect on my more than 22 years in law enforcement. I have had many conversations with fellow officers, and we are astonished at how our profession is getting skewered by the media with blatant disregard for facts or accuracy in reporting. We collectively feel we try to protect and serve the community that currently seems to hate us. Make no mistake about it, I will never stand for or justify racism, illegal acts, brutality, or excessive force by police officers. Those who operate in that fashion have no business working as police officers and deserve to be held accountable for their actions.

It is one thing to hear about the pervasive negativity towards police officers in the media, but it is quite another to live it. I stood side-by-side with fellow officers for several days last week at supposed peaceful protests reading signs displaying slogans of death and physical harm for cops, while listening to chants for violence on the police. I vividly recall the crowd spitting on officers, as well as throwing frozen water bottles, chunks of concrete, flaming glass bottles, and large rocks at us. Numerous officers received broken bones, lacerations, and the unimaginable outcome for fellow Officer Shay Mikalonis, who was shot in the face and currently lies in critical condition on a ventilator.

To categorize every protester as wanting death or injury to the police would be wrong and grossly inaccurate. To lump all police officers as evil and the root cause of many problems in this country would also be wrong and grossly inaccurate. For those citizens throughout the country wanting change and reform for police departments, your input, ideas, and suggestions are very much welcomed – your violence is not. As someone who fought firsthand against Civil Rights infractions, I am an advocate of attempting to solve disagreements peacefully in hopes everyone can come to the table and be heard. Meaningful discussions and positive change are outcomes the police want as well. We want your trust, we want your support, and we want to work together with the community.

It seems as of late that the focus and scrutiny with police-related incidents has shifted to what races the officer and suspect are, as opposed to the details, facts, and circumstances. Although it has been the center of attention, uses of force by police officers are extremely rare in comparison to the amount of citizen interactions that occur. Police officers know this fact, but I often wonder if the communities we serve are aware of it.

When discussing police uses of force, statistical facts and evidence for officers must be explored. To start, I wholeheartedly believe in the sanctity and preciousness of every human being’s life. In 2019, according to the Washington Post, 1003 people in the United States were shot and killed by police. The U.S Census stated the population in America was 329,131,338 people (on 12/31/19), equating to an individual residing in the U.S having a 0.00000305% chance of dying in a police-related incident. This statistic is irrespective of suspect race and/or gender as well as if the suspect used a weapon, harmed someone, attacked an officer, etc.

But what about statistics regarding non-deadly uses of force, excessive force, and brutality at the hands of the police? These are harder to find nationwide. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) 2019 Annual Report reported that the police responded to 874,510 calls from citizens for emergency and non-emergency assistance. The same Annual Report states 773 total officer use of force incidents, to include 4 officer-involved shooting deaths. This amounts to an overall use of force rate of 0.000883% (once again without knowing details of each use of force encounter and without regard to any race). For those departments with abnormal or high statistics, further investigation should be conducted to find out why. If any wrongdoing is uncovered, they must be held accountable.

Uses of force is undoubtedly one of the most controversial areas for law enforcement, and their scrutiny is imperative for ensuring police departments operate within the parameters of the law, while striving to maintain the public’s trust. But to claim or categorize ALL officers as racist or using excessive force, or even engaging in deadly force in systemic or epidemic levels is not supportable by facts. Contrary to what some in the media would lead you to believe, there is no evidence police officers are singling out any race over another en masse. We are either responding to calls for service or using crime trends and statistics to position resources in areas affected by crime (and specifically towards those committing the crimes).

Are there cops who take advantage of their position, are terrible at their jobs, and/or engage in illegal behaviors? Certainly. And every one of them deserve intense scrutiny, to be removed from the profession, and brought up on charges if applicable.

What can be done to improve the relationship with police officers as the national conversation turns to police reform? One call to action gaining traction is the “8 Can’t Wait” movement (see image below). Until more research and studies are done, it is difficult to know if this can be universally adopted throughout the country, but it certainly is a starting point for meaningful discussion and positive changes to occur.

Graphic from Campaign Zero

The LVMPD may be a department to emulate since for years our policies have encompassed almost all 8 areas with success. Furthermore, in Las Vegas we have a strong bond with our community, evidenced by the outpouring of community support for Officer Mikalonis. Police departments can create or strengthen community bonds by operating with high levels of accountability, sincerity in building and maintaining relationships, and a genuine love for serving the community.