Members of Congress who took the unprecedented step this week of removing Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees in the House of Representatives also took a page from the Bible — which specifically counsels distancing oneself from lies.
“From a lying word stay far away, and the guiltless and innocent do not kill, for I will not acquit the guilty,” Exodus 23:7 reads in Robert Alter’s translation.
In a particularly poignant twist, or perhaps Biblical-poetic justice, that passage happens to come from this coming week’s Torah portion, Parashat Mishpatim.
It will be read out loud in synagogue, loud and proud.
It’s interesting to note that the importance of staying “far away” from lies and liars is expressed in two ways in the Torah—as a mitzvat aseh, or a positive command, as in “do this,” as well as a mitzvat lo ta’aseh, a negative command, a “don’t do this.” It’s doubly important.
“You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully or falsely with one another,” Leviticus 19:11 reads in The Jewish Publication Society translation, published in 1985 in a clear “don’t do.”
Kentucky is part of the Bible belt, and it stands to reason that its senators are familiar with the text.
Could Mitch McConnell have had Leviticus in mind when he commented on lies this week?
“Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said after being questioned about Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
It’s worth noting that lies and antisemitism often go together. That’s especially true for “loony lies,” which is Greene’s specialty — as seen in her claim that the California wildfires were caused by secret Jewish space lasers, a nice twist on the ancient canard that Jews control the world.
Many commentators have noted the deep, centuries-long, warm and fuzzy connection between antisemites and loony conspiracy theories.
“There’s a reason Jews are so often the targets of conspiracy theories, even mainstream ones,” Zack Beauchamp observed on Vox.com. “Much of conspiracy theorizing as we know it — the enterprise of explaining the world’s woes by positing that a shadowy, all-powerful elite is behind them — arose out of the European anti-Semitic tradition. The influence of that tradition is inescapable; its language and conceptual architecture are inherently linked to longstanding and deadly stereotypes about Jews.”
So perhaps the Torah was clairvoyant in its insistence on planning ahead to avoid lies and liars. This stance is also relevant to this week’s Greene drama; Congress was pro-active, in the lingo of “The Habits of Highly Effective People.”
Consider the wisdom of Proverbs 2:11-13, here in The Jewish Publication Society translation:
Foresight will protect you
And discernment will guard you.
It will save you from the way of evil men,
From men who speak duplicity,
Who leave the paths of rectitude
To follow the ways of darkness
Many Jewish texts insist that students of the Torah devote themselves to truth and avoid lies, and sometimes the language is dramatic in its insistence. A talmid chacham must “chase after the truth and not after lies,” Masechet Derech Eretz counsels.
And it’s chilling to contemplate the tremendous danger of leaders who do the opposite—who chase after lies and run from truth. The image of Greene chasing a survivor of a high-school shooting comes to mind.
The lies keep coming, and so does the chasing after the innocent. And if that’s what Greene would do to a teenager, who knows what she would do to Nancy Pelosi, who she has called to be executed?
Though the move to remove Greene from committee assignments made headlines — surely the absurdity of a Q-Anon believer on the Education Committee got pundits going — the real question is the direction of the Republican Party, and the broader American public’s tolerance of outright lies. Jewish history details the terror of what happens when a lie takes over; in distancing Greene from power, Congress is protecting us all.
Aviya Kushner is The Forward’s language columnist and the author of “The Grammar of God” as well as “Wolf Lamb Bomb,” forthcoming in June from Orison Books. Follow her on Twitter @AviyaKushner