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The rabbis vs. the Redskins: A religious case against offensive nicknames
Some religious leaders say that the Washington Redskins should drop their nickname.
November 6th, 2013
12:01 PM ET

The rabbis vs. the Redskins: A religious case against offensive nicknames

Opinion by Rabbi Aaron Frank and Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Should religious leaders care about a football team’s name? We believe the answer is yes.

Religious leaders have a mandate to inspire their communities to come closer to God. Sometimes this requires speaking out about even something as secular as a football team’s name.

We are so concerned about the name of Washington's National Football League team that we are encouraging our synagogues and our schools to become Redskins-free zones.

Synagogues and religious schools are places where we strive toward a broader awareness of the godly nature of all humanity. That's why the Redskins name has no place in our halls and walls.

The name represents a derogatory term and recalls a brutal history of genocide and torture - a past of racist dehumanization inflicted upon the American Indians of the United States.

The Bible's Book of Proverbs states: “Death and life are in the hand of the tongue.”

This means that the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” is simply not true. Words are words and deeds are deeds, but words lead to deeds. That's why words are so dangerous.

When a name conjures up imagery of violence, oppression, and hurtful behavior, it is time for the name to go.

True, there is history and nostalgia in the name and history of the team.

Rabbi Frank's father has had tickets since the 1960s and has taken him to games since he was a child. They are part of his family history. He has fond memories of football moments and loves the generational bonding that takes place on NFL Sundays.

But after countless letters to The Washington Post and to Redskins ownership with no response, he now refuses to wear any clothing with the team logo or the team name.

When nostalgia and correcting past wrongdoing come in conflict, there is no doubt as to which side one must be on.

The Jewish Talmud attributes the blessing of a long life to those who are sensitive about the use of a nickname in referring to other people.

So too, the Talmud teaches that one who is not sensitive about the use of a derogatory nickname will never have the ability to ascend from the depths of gehennim - or hell, as Gentiles might call it.

We don’t believe that these statements are literal. But we do believe that they are here to remind us of the importance of being sensitive to the dangers of seemingly harmless nicknames.

These statements by our sages are meant to allow us to try to stand in the shoes of others and listen to those who are offended by insensitive language.

Dan Snyder, the owner of Washington's football team, knows this better than anyone.

In 2010, Snyder filed suit against the Washington City Paper. The suit claimed that the City Paper "featured an anti-Semitic depiction of Mr. Snyder with horns on his head, bushy eyebrows, and surrounded by dollar signs." The suit also claimed that no reasonable person would “tolerate an anti-Semitic caricature of himself.”

Now, the shoe is on the other foot.

This reminds us of another teaching from the Talmud: "That which is hateful to you do not do onto others. That is the basis of the Torah.”

We are calling upon rabbis and clergy of all faiths to join us and commit to the following actions:

1) Work to make our religious institutions Redskins-free zones. Refrain from using or displaying the name or derogatory logo in any public areas, public discussions, forums or institutional programs.

2) Teach our students in the classroom about why we have taken this position on a matter that doesn’t immediately present itself as Jewish.

3) Do not purchase any Redskins merchandise that displays the name or derogatory logo.

We look forward to the time when the name of the Washington football team will be changed and thus the sports team can again bring our city to a beautiful place, a place that represents the best of what a sports team can offer a city, a unifying force that brings us together and brings joy to our lives.

Until the team drops its logo and changes its name, we will watch with sadness as the potential for unity and harmony is blocked by a symbol of bigotry.

Rabbi Aaron Frank is high school principal of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore. Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld is rabbi of Ohev Sholom, the National Synagogue in Washington. The views expressed in this column belong to them.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Discrimination • Ethics • Judaism • Sports

soundoff (77 Responses)
  1. Guest

    This is getting old and ridiculous. GET OVER IT. This name has been around for what? 80+ years and NOW you are offended. PLEASE! Your 15 minutes of fame are over and done with. Now they are just grabbing for scraps to keep this ridiculousness alive. There are more important things to worry about then the name of a long standing team with no intention of changing it. Clearly the owner is not budging nor are 100% of the fans so stop waisting your time and breath and find another cause that has meaning behind it.

    November 8, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • Negative Creep

      So long as we dwell on the past we'll be stuck in neutral while attempting to drive into a better future.

      November 9, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  2. Dan Foster

    Colorful solution: "White–y" won't change the team name. Like all "red–necks", he celebrates their tradition of hate. But, what about the "black–ies" on the team? They of all people should be ashamed of selling out for a spot on the team. If the "black–ies" on the team decided they could no longer play under the name "red–skins", and ensured that the "red–skins" don't win another game, then the "red–neck" owner might give in. This crap about tradition went out the window when the "Senators" changed to the "Nationals", although the label "senator", these days, is far less benign than "red–skin". Just as with iniquities against blacks didn't start to change until many whites were as outraged about it, so too should "black–ie" outrage over the use of "redskins" help move "white–y" to act appropriately.

    November 8, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  3. Chris

    I'm a Giants fan, but I'm only 5-11, no where hear the size of a Giant. I would like the name changed to "NY Average sized people"

    November 8, 2013 at 9:03 am |
  4. budclay

    It must make for such a sad life to be so easily offended.

    November 8, 2013 at 5:33 am |
  5. REDSKINS4life

    How sad depressing and pathetic is it that these "religious" people judge a simple name with a long standing history...this world has WAY more important issues! Let the REDSKINS continue to entertain and provide relief to the many people that need and appreciate it! HTTR!!

    November 8, 2013 at 2:42 am |
  6. alhubb49

    With all the problems in the world the name Redskins rates pretty low on my radar screen. My take on it is if you are not a Native American Indian you have no dog in this hunt and really have no right to be offended.

    November 7, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • Dan Foster

      Injustice, no matter how small, won't be fixed until the "majority" is outraged by it, as well. This country was founded on the principles of protection of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Your suggestion of mob rule is un-American.

      November 8, 2013 at 10:06 am |
  7. Shepherd

    I find the Cowboys name to be overly misogynistic. Why's it gotta be the Cow-BOYS? It should be the CowPeople! The NFL commissioner stated that if even one person is offended by a teams name, they should listen. Well, I'm offended by the Cowboys name!

    November 7, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  8. Randall Bart

    Life must be pretty good if this is all you can find to complain about.

    November 7, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  9. Richard Cranium

    "THE WASHINGTON ATHEISTS"

    November 7, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  10. Richard Cranium

    change the name. simple.

    November 7, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      "THE WASHINGTON XTARD HATE"

      November 7, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
  11. Semore

    Redskins name is awesome. Reminds me how we are superior to the injuns. The injun story is funny cause white man destroyed them so easily. Hahahaha, dumb lazy injuns.

    November 7, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • Dan Foster

      Colorful solution: "White–y" won't change the team name. Like all "red–necks", he celebrates their tradition of hate. But, what about the "black–ies" on the team? They of all people should be ashamed of selling out for a spot on the team. If the "black–ies" on the team decided they could no longer play under the name "red–skins", and ensured that the "red–skins" don't win another game, then the "red–neck" owner might give in. This crap about tradition went out the window when the "Senators" changed to the "Nationals", although the label "senator", these days, is far less benign than "red–skin". Just as with iniquities against blacks didn't start to change until many whites were as outraged about it, so too should "black–ie" outrage over the use of "redskins" help move "white–y" to act appropriately.

      November 8, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  12. redacted

    If you look hard enough, you can probably find something offensive in every professional sport's team name.

    November 7, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  13. Kimberly Henning

    OMG PEOPLE GET OVER IT!!!!!!

    November 7, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  14. DANIEL SMALL

    WITH ALL THE PEOPLE DOING TRUE HARM TO OTHERS INCLUDING OUR GOVERMENT TRASHING OUR COUNTRY AND YOUR WASTING YOUR TIME WITH THIS!!!!! FIND A BETTER CAUSE TO FIGHT

    November 7, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
  15. Joshua Luce

    This name thing is a bunch of garbage. These people are trying to make a name for themselves and get in the public eye for their 10 minutes of fame. Keep the Redskins name. You are talking about stuff that happened hundreds of years ago. My generation didnt do anything to the Indians. Why dont we change the name of white bread or wheat bread as well. Im offended being called a piece of bread. You will always have two sides no matter what. No matter what someone is always offended. Suck it up....

    November 7, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  16. Name*guest

    Rednecks, problem solved!

    November 7, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  17. Rynomite

    We should get rid of mascots like the Padres and the Angels. We should not use mascots that recall "a brutal history of genocide and torture" perpetrated by religions.

    November 7, 2013 at 10:48 am |
  18. Bumboclot

    So why don't they change their name to The Shylocks? They would "honor" the owner's Jewish heritage much like the current name "honors" native Americans!

    November 7, 2013 at 10:41 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.