my view

You’re in my seat

By RABBI LAWRENCE S. ZIERLER
Posted 1/13/21

I happen to be in Washington, D.C. this week on personal business not at all related to politics or a desire to witness the anticipated violence and riots. We happen to be staying in Northeast …

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my view

You’re in my seat

Posted

I happen to be in Washington, D.C. this week on personal business not at all related to politics or a desire to witness the anticipated violence and riots. We happen to be staying in Northeast Washington, a historic district currently going through the experience of gentrification. The row houses in the H and 8th area, with their neatly done rehabilitation and redesign—signs of a certain kind of progress and smart investment—are something of a contrasting backdrop to what occurred yesterday, but one mile away from our lodgings.

There is much to say and many lessons to parse from the sad events of January 6, some more profound and compelling than others. For sure, people are lining up their sentiments in response to this unprecedented occurrence in a place that bears a special sanctity in terms of political tradition and our country’s embrace of Ethical Monotheism and the Social Gospel plank.

I am, however, drawn to one sight from that day, and that is the image of the rioters sitting in the seats of certain people and places of leadership—in particular, the person sitting in the Senate President’s chair and another insurrectionist sitting in Speaker Pelosi’s chair in her ceremonial office. These might seem minor in light of the gravity of that moment when the otherwise secured People’s House was breached and overrun. Yet, it says much about people’s values. One’s assigned seat in these contexts speaks to an element of order. In various contexts, we are told and know to “take our proper places.” In Jewish law, as specifically related to the experience of prayer, one is enjoined to maintain a special “set place,” referred to in Hebrew as a “makom kavu’a” in the synagogue or study hall. It is a means of grounding ourselves in that moment, with focus and concentration to the task assumed in that locus. Additionally, the Jewish legal texts speak of an inherent right that we all possess in the four square cubits that we are told we naturally own and occupy either while moving or in a sedentary position.

This fact of the law underscores a sense of useful private space even in the midst of a public space. It is a means to prevent people from invading our space and modest comfort zone. Hence, the less than delicate use of the phrase, “Will you get out of my face?”

On a more sentimental note, in Jewish law, the “Halakha” forbids us from sitting in the seat of a parent or teacher.

Protests gone bad, I dare say, are not only a violation of and threat to our commonweal—to our agreed-upon safety through the social contract of Democracy. They are also a blatant affront to social boundaries, revered traditions and common concerns for the wellbeing and needs of the “other” in our lives.

Taking the assigned and earned seat of another is but one casualty of those who paint wildly outside of the lines of society.

Such actions defy the notion of the situated self. It adds to the deterioration of social norms and human dignity.

We might all take heed not only to not fight in the streets but also to respect each other’s place, which is their rightful space.

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