Newsweek magazine called Marvin Hier the most powerful rabbi in America. “Hier is one phone call away from almost every world leader, journalist and Hollywood studio head.”
As Rabbi Hier heads towards retirement, what is his legacy?
Here are some random thoughts.
* As far as Judaism goes, he doesn’t have any legacy. He doesn’t leave any Torah commentaries or any Torah community behind.
* I asked various leading Orthodox rabbis (in Israel and in the US) about Marvin Hier’s legacy and none of them had anything to say, meaning they did not believe he has any Jewish legacy.
* Everything he’s done has been done beautifully. The Museum of Tolerance is a beautiful building. The museum tours are done beautifully. Special events hosted there are done beautifully. The movies Rabbi Hier produces are superb. My every experience with the Museum of Tolerance is first-rate.
* If you know anything about Judaism, you know it is a highly intolerant religion devoted to the one true God and that it regards all other religions as nonsense (see the Aleinu prayer, “For they worship vanity and emptiness, and pray to a god who cannot save”), and yet Marvin Hier is this authentic Orthodox rabbi who’s tapped into fundraising for the greatest virtue of the cool crowd — tolerance — all the while devoting his efforts principally to the welfare of Jews (a tribal approach to life that most Westerners would regard as primitive).
* The 1995 Shabbos we found out in California that Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot by an Orthodox nationalist, I went to daven at Aish HaTorah, down Pico Blvd from the MOT, and there was no sadness and some joy at the news.
In my two decades in LA Orthodox Judaism, both of the modern and traditional varieties, I’ve found that a majority of those Orthodox Jews who talk about Meir Kahane (whose view on expelling Arabs from Israel has much support in Torah literature) and Baruch Goldstein do so positively (I understand that is different in New York). You can buy a copy of Baruch HaGever at the 613 Mitzvah store, a quarter mile down Pico Blvd from the MOT.
* Rabbi Marvin Hier created one of the premier locations in all of California for a Jew to do business with a Gentile. (Chaim Amalek)
* The more meritocratic America becomes, the more disproportionately successful American Jews will become, and the more pressing the need to keep the goyim from resenting us as we continually outstrip them.
* Rabbi Hier completely avoided shanda (scandal). Many men in his position get out of control sexually, financially or with drugs and alcohol. He’s avoided this.
* I fail to see any need for his Museum of Tolerance (it’s really a Holocaust museum with a nod to other genocides) or any more Holocaust museums by anyone (when compared to the Jewish need for Torah education).
* Rabbi Hier rarely, if ever, made stupid public pronouncements. I do agree, however, with Ami Eden’s Ami Eden’s op-ed critique in the NYT called “Playing the Holocaust Card:”
Jewish organizations and advocates of Israel fail to grasp that they are no longer viewed as the voice of the disenfranchised. Rather, they are seen as a global Goliath, close to the seats of power and capable of influencing policies and damaging reputations. As such, their efforts to raise the alarm increasingly appear as bullying.
The most recent example came earlier this month, after Prince Harry of Britain was photographed attending a private masquerade party in a World War II-era German uniform and Nazi armband. His appearance touched off a frenzy in the news media. The prince was called insensitive to Jewish suffering, with some suggesting that he was infected with anti-Jewish bigotry lurking in the genes of the royal family. One protester, Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, called on the prince to make amends by traveling to Poland for the Auschwitz ceremony.
This is exactly the wrong approach. By playing the Holocaust card against Harry, Jewish critics deflected attention from how Harry had insulted the memory of the millions of Britons who suffered during World War II; they also risked squandering a diminishing supply of hard-won moral capital better spent in the fight against terrorism and the rise in Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism…
* As far as being a Jewish leader, I don’t see Rabbi Hier having significance. I’ve never heard someone say, “I wonder what Rabbi Hier thinks about this.” Rabbi Hier is an organizer, not an intellectual. He has excelled at reminding the non-Jewish world about how Jews have suffered but he does it from Orthodox Judaism, unlike his secular deracinated peers such Abraham Foxman and Morris Dees and their low-rent race hustler counterparts in black life such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. From where I sit, Rabbi Hier’s hustle is good for the Jews and for the world (while Jackson and Sharpton are definitely bad for blacks and for the world), but who knows. Perhaps Steve Sailer is more prescient than I am: “…Jews need to realize that people like Abe Foxman and Morris Dees are not on their sides. They are on the sides of Abe Foxman and Morris Dees, respectively. They make a very nice living scaring the bejeebers out of elderly affluent Jews with nightmare stories about how the New Cossacks are ready to ride, and then extracting big donations.”
* Jews were better off in the mildly anti-Semitic America that didn’t allow them into all hotels and country clubs and colleges and jobs in proportion to their talents because that bias promoted group cohesion and discouraged assimilation. I don’t think that Jews are better off that groups such as the ADL and Bnai Brith and the MOT have made it impossible for any public figure to get away with critical remarks about Jews as a group and to publicly analyze typical weaknesses (and strengths) of Jewish thinking and organization. I think Jews would be better off if we were to be as open a target to group criticism and evaluation as Christians and Mexicans.
* Jews such as Marvin Hier, Abraham Foxman, Dennis Prager, et al, men with high IQs and great ambition excel at presenting to the world its greatest problem and then developing a solution. It helps your productivity and gravitas when you’re convinced you are fighting on God’s side.
* Marvin Hier is a “court Jew.” He doesn’t shape Jewish life, but his stature as an authentic Jew who can convey absolution to public figures accused of anti-Semitism is immense.
According to Wikipedia: “In return for their services, court Jews gained social privileges, including in some cases being granted noble status for themselves.”
* Only in traditional Orthodox Judaism do we freely admit this basic Judaic dismissal of other religions. In Modern Orthodoxy and the more liberal streams, we misrepresent Judaism to make it more acceptable to the wider world we mix in.
Meir Kahane’s approach was basic elementary Torah, popular with Orthodox Jews but the opposite of the ostensible MOT approach (depending on whether or not you view the MOT as primarily about promoting Jewish interests or universal interests, as the Jews’ interests in Israel are best served by minimizing the presence of Arabs, who have low IQs on average and sympathize with the enemy).
* I am certain that whoever replaces Marvin Hier will do a dramatically inferior job (unless it is one of his sons).
I remember when Hier moved to Los Angeles. He was a nothing Rabbi in Vancouver and befriended the Belzbergs who are one of the richest Jewish families in Canada. It’s pretty clear that Hier wanted a bigger stage than Vancouver and the Belzbergs were willing to finance his transition to Los Angeles. He didn’t come here to run a synagogue. He came here because he wanted to compete with the ADL as a spokesman against Anti Semitism and his vehicle to do that was to create the museum of the shoa (deliberately mistranslated as the museum of tolerance as a way to gain acceptance in diverse city of Los Angeles.) The ADL had always been an East Coast organization (even though a number of its national Chairs in the past twenty years have been from L.A., the executive director is out of New York) and Hier realized that with his penchant for publicity and the Belzbergs’ money and with the large numbers of wealthy Jews, particularly in the entertainment business, that he could tap for dough in exchange for carved letters on the marble walls of his museum, he could go places. If Hier is thought highly of by traditional Jewish leaders (traditional in the sense that they were leaders of existing Jewish organizations whose mission was duplicated by Hier and whose fund raising base was raided by Hier) or by any learned Rabbis, they have kept that praise to themselves. When Hier first moved here up through the opening of the museum, I heard plenty of disparaging remarks about Hier, many apparently fueled by resentment that he could come in and gain such a high profile, but others based on the belief that he created a solution for a problem that didn’t exist, to his (and his family’s) enormous benefit. Take a look at the salaries and expenses paid to Hier and his family members who are employed by the museum.
Did you read the Times’ 1990 article? My recollection is that it was well researched, sourced and accurately reflected how Hier was thought of at the time. Now it’s 23 years later, and Hier is a respected elder statesman, not a climber.
It seems to me that in every area where Rabbi Hier competes with existing Jewish institutions, he does that area better than they do.
This Forward article of Dec. 15, 2013, names Marvin Hier the most overpaid Jewish charity chief.