Why Justice Thomas’s Friendship with Harlan Crow is Good for American Justice

There are some sad truths that have become blatantly clear in the hate-filled public forum of the 21st century.  Public figures are often attacked in the media.  Conservatives even more so.  And if you’re a high-profile conservative, then the left has no compunctions in their attacks on you, and everyone you may interact with.  These truths have truly become self-evident in the 21st-century chaos that is Biden’s America.

Enter Justice Clarence Thomas and businessman Harlan Crow, two men who are being incessantly attacked and lied about not because of their actions, but because of their longstanding friendship.

Let’s start with the relationship itself, and whether it is appropriate for a judge.  According to reports, the men and their wives have been social friends for close to three decades.  Like all friends, they share common interests and meals and even may vacation together.  But Mr. Crow is a businessman and donor to conservative organizations, so the question arises whether a social friendship like this is a good or bad thing for a justice, and as a result, for our nation.

If we look at the history of judges going all the way back to the bible, the answer is that this type of relationship is not only appropriate for a judge but necessary.

The modern concept and practices of judges go back to biblical times, even to Moses.  At Jethro’s recommendation (Exodus 18:13-26), Moses appoints judges that render judgment over the ancient Hebrews while still being active members of the community.  They are not to be separated from the community, but to be active participants within it.  Enjoined to be men of “wisdom, discernment, and knowledge” (Deut. 1:13); later commentaries from Talmud to Rashi and Maimonides require that judges be part of the community they judge, and have the seven qualities of “wisdom, humility, fear of God, disdain of gain, love of truth, love of people, and a good reputation”.  As Rabbi Hillel said 2000 years ago, “Do not separate yourself from the community”.

The idea of judges having friendships within the community is possibly best expressed in the text of Pirkei Avot, one of Judaism’s most sacred texts written over 2000 years ago.  “Make for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend” is a famous quote that recognizes the importance of friends and teachers, and the truth that we often learn most deeply from our friends.  It is mandatory that judges have personal friendships that deepen their humanity and wisdom without entering into the judicial decision-making process.

Based on these primary religious concepts, it is vitally important for a judge to have friendships such as the one between the Thomas and Crow families.  Their relationship, like any longstanding friendship, deepens the Justice’s wisdom and appreciation of life.  By biblical standards, this type of relationship is not only beneficial to a judge, but necessary.  It is a religious requirement that Justice Thomas has deep personal relationships like this one with the Crows to help him be a balanced individual…making him a more discerning and wiser judge with a “love of people”.  A judge with real friends remains steeped in the human condition, and it keeps his judgments from becoming edicts emanating from an ivory tower.

But should anyone, let alone a Justice, be a friend with a Nazi lover?  This is what is what so many leftist media outlets are now additionally accusing Mr. Crow of being; and simultaneously attacking the Justice for their friendship.

But these lies about Mr. Crow being a Hitler lover were started years ago by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a woman who betrayed all Jewish values in perpetuating fallacious vitriol about Mr. Crow.

I addressed Rep. Schultz’s despicable behavior almost eight years ago in an article for the Jewish Journal, the nation’s largest weekly Jewish periodical outside of New York City.  Simply put, her accusations are not only disgusting, but antithetical to Jewish theology.

Jewish holidays are often based around historical occurrences, especially Jewish persecutions.  The holiday of Tisha b’Av is entirely devoted to remembering those who persecuted Jews throughout the ages, going back to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem over 2500 years ago through the medieval expulsion from Spain and all the way to the 20th century Holocaust by the Nazis.  It is a core practice in Judaism to remember those persecutors so that we never let men like that come to power again.  As Holocaust survivors become fewer and fewer, it is vitally important that we never let the world forget the real history of the evil persecutors of history:  Hitler, Stalin, Mao, et al.

And this is why, as a Jewish leader, I thank God for men like Harlan Crow, who keep the memory of these men and their atrocities alive so that they are not repeated.

I have never been to Mr. Crow’s library, but much of its content are well known.  A patriot and historian, his library apparently contains more than 10,000 books and 8500 manuscripts spanning five centuries.  The vast majority of it is said to be focused on the historical development of the United States, with documents from Columbus, Vespucci, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and every signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution among others.  His collection demonstrates a respect for history and an understanding of how history is necessary for navigating the present.  Given the political historical focus of the library, it is also clear that Mr. Crow is committed to keeping alive the values of Western culture and this nation.

There are many collections of writings and items from great political leaders.  But as a Jew, I am deeply appreciative not only of the depth of the Crow collection of the work of historical heroes, but also of his understanding the importance of remembering the villains of history so that their evils are never repeated.

Part of the Crow library is a consistent reminder of those personifications of evil through a "rogue’s gallery”.  Substantially less than one percent of the library’s collection, this small area is dedicated to remembering the villains of history so that they are never forgotten nor glorified in a rewriting of actual history.  Statues of Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Castro and Mao are accompanied by lesser known villains such as Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police, and Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, which led to World War I.

Mr. Crow’s library also apparently contains artwork by Hitler, as well as a signed copy of Mein Kampf.  And thank God he has these items of proof of the evil of Hitler.  Without this proof, the evils of Hitler might be forgotten, and God forbid, repeated.

But Justice Thomas is considered an “enemy” by those who disagree with his judicial opinions, and so he and any of his friends are targets for a political elite and leftist media that seek to persecute rather than to learn from the history that Mr. Crow seeks to preserve in order to avoid exactly what they are doing.

The attacks on Mr. Crow are disgusting, fallacious, and despicable.  Calling him an anti-Semite is contradictory to Jewish practices, theology, and history.  He is in fact the exact opposite.  But he is targeted because of the conservative philanthropies he donates to; and because these same attackers really would rather repeat the horrors of history rather than learn from them.  And he is being used as a weapon against one of the great legal minds of the last century because of their personal friendship...a friendship that is exemplary of what all good judges need to be:  wise and discerning.

One of the greatest Jewish leaders in history was Rabbi Judah HaNasi, who lived almost two thousand years ago and was the chief redactor and editor of the Mishnah, one of the most important texts in Judaism.  He was also famous for his friendship with Emperor Antoninus Pius, the fourth of the “Five Good Emperors of Rome”.  Their ancient relationship resulted in Antoninus leading Rome into a time of “good government, good lives, and the good will of his subjects”.  Most notably, Antoninus’ reign was the longest period of peace without military conflict in the history of the Roman Empire.  The personal friendship of Antoninus and Rabbi Judah HaNasi resulted in a great and long peace.

If that type of friendship created peace in the ancient violence of Rome, then shouldn’t we encourage this deep relationship between the Crow and Thomas families in the hope of achieving similar wisdom and peace in our chaotic times?

In the upside-down world of a biased media, Harlan Crow has been attacked as an anti-Semite and Hitler-phile for demonstrating authentic Jewish values.  Justice Thomas has been attacked for staying true to a friendship that brings wisdom, discernment, and a deep love of people.

Deuteronomy 16:20 enjoins us to pursue justice.  In so doing, we must call out the vitriol being thrust upon both these men and their families.  It is the responsibility of all good men and women to support them as individuals and as friends.  In so doing, we may be able to manifest the blessings of peace that came from the relationship between Judah HaNasi and Antoninus into a blessing of peace in our troubled and divisive times.

May we all be blessed to see a time of peace in our nation coming through this friendship, and through all friendships that support wisdom, discernment, and a true love of people.

Rabbi Michael Barclay is the Spiritual Leader of Temple Ner Simcha (www.NerSimcha.org) and the author of “Sacred Relationships:  Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together”.  He can be reached directly at Rabbi@NerSimcha.org

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