Waving the Confederate Flag – As Refracted by the Jewish American Lens

by: Jay Lavine, M.D.

The controversy surrounding the displaying of the Confederate flag on government property has come to a head and is not likely to resolve spontaneously. Proponents for and against are putting forth their cases. How do we as Jews view what is being said and what is not being said?

We repeatedly hear that the flag is a source of pride to those who seek to preserve the memory of their ancestors and their Southern heritage. Pride is hard for Jews to relate to. It is considered a negative trait, something to be avoided: “Pride precedes destruction” {Proverbs 16:18) and “A person’s pride will debase him” (Proverbs 29:23). Pride has a negative connotation, most notably a feeling of superiority. Jews cherish their spiritual heritage, but it does not make them proud in the negative sense of the word. They see their way of life as an obligation they take on, not as something to make them feel superior. They may feel a sense of satisfaction (nachat ruach) but not pride.

Those who advocate taking down the flag and relegating it to a museum point to the racist connotation the flag has taken on. Indeed, there is no question that many racist groups and individuals have made the flag symbolic of their ideology, so there is no need to belabor the point.

Rarely expressed in the current debate is that the Confederate flag is a symbol of rebellion; many would say disloyalty or even treason. It certainly does not symbolize “allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America … one Nation … indivisible.” If a Communist flag were to be displayed, unquestionably there would be no silence or acquiescence.

This loyalty aspect of the Confederate flag issue may bring to mind the accusation of divided loyalties sometimes levied against Jews because of the latter’s support for Israel. Yet love for Israel reflects a spiritual heritage and in no way symbolizes disloyalty to the United States or a desire for separateness. Indeed, non-Jews who claim the same Biblical heritage often manifest a similar support for and love for Israel. One block from my own doorstep is a Christian church that erected a huge flagpole with American flag right in front of the entrance. Inside, easily visible through the window, are intersecting American and Israeli flags.

Those who join together in their love for Israel are not seeking divisiveness or engaging in disloyalty. Rather, their goal is to remember and keep alive their spiritual heritage: “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my dominant hand forget itself!” (Psalms 137:5).