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Talking With a Venezuelan Rabbi About Chávez

And why Jews should hold their tongues about his death

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Within minutes of the announcement of the death of Hugo Chávez, the Twittersphere erupted with a scathing flurry of judgments of and commentary about the polarizing leader. Many of them were acrimonious. One particularly callous blogger called Chávez “mercurial, prickish, defiant, and brutal.”

Following the news, I spoke with Rabbi Pynchas Brener. Affiliated with the Unión Israelita de Caracas, Brener is extraordinarily familiar with Chávez’s rule, during which over 50% of Venezuela’s Jews fled the country. (For more on that, Matthew Fishbane’s indispensable story “The Dispossessed” is a must-read.) Naturally, I expected Rabbi Brener to express some relief about Chávez’s nascent absence.

“One should respect the dead,” Brener told me, adding “And, after a few days, we should evaluate his meaning of Chávez to the Jewish community.”

I told him that I thought this was a nice sentiment and that some people (not me, of course) seemed intent on casting judgment about Chávez’s actions during his tumultuous decade-plus of rule.

“Do you know the Torah?” he asked me.

After I gave something of a verbal shrug, Brener reminded me of the story of Aaron. He asked if I was familiar with the phrase: “And Aaron was silent…”

During Leviticus, Aaron was in grief following the death of his sons. While Moses sought to comfort him, the line reveals that Aaron’s reaction was to remain quiet. The idea here–and I’m not a rabbi–is that silence conveys a certain strength, especially in moments when one might be tempted to talk loosely or unnecessarily. Rabbi Brener explained:

When death occurs, maybe we should express condolence, especially his parents who are both living. For parents to lose a child is a terrible thing. Right now is a time to be silent and let time go by and then maybe think about the meaning of Chávez to the Jewish community.

Ladies and gentleman, this is what a rabbi should be.

Earlier: Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez Dies at 58
Related: The Dispossessed [Tablet]

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Jerry says:

It appears that the author of this article and the “particularly callous blogger” are one and the same ( see other Chavez article in Tablet). Which is correct?

    Adam_Chandler says:

    I was making fun of myself. Hopefully that’s still allowed.

Sorry Adam. When an anti-semitic despot kicks the bucket anywhere, I’m going to applaud. This guy didn’t just wreck his own nation. He worked hard to wreck his neighbors nations. Or do you really think Venezuela really needed the 200,000 AK-47s purchased from Russia.

    Nicole Bennett says:

    Emma. if you, thought Rose`s postlng is surprising, on wednesday I bought themselves a Dodge from earning $6646 this-last/month and more than ten thousand this past munth. this is actually the coolest work I’ve ever done. I started this five months/ago and almost immediately startad bringin home minimum $76… per-hour. I use this web-site,, jump15.comCHECK IT OUT

    He was one of those people who was enormously improved by death.

    Laila Rasheed says:


    Genesis 47:13-27

    New King James Version (NKJV)

    Joseph Deals with the Famine

    13 Now there was no bread in all the land; for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished because of the famine.14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, for the grain which they bought; and Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house.

    15 So when the money failed in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us bread, for why should we die in your presence? For the money has failed.”

    16 Then Joseph said, “Give your livestock, and I will give you bread for your livestock, if the money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them bread in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the cattle of the herds, and for the donkeys. Thus he fed them with bread in exchange for all their livestock that year.

    18 When that year had ended, they came to him the next year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is gone; my lord also has our herds of livestock. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our lands. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for bread, and we and our land will be servants of Pharaoh; give us seed, that we may live and not die, that the land may not be desolate.”

    20 Then Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh; for every man of the Egyptians sold his field, because the famine was severe upon them. So the land became Pharaoh’s. 21 And as for the people, he moved them into the cities,[a] from one end of the borders of Egypt to the other end. 22 Only the land of the priests he did not buy; for the priests had rationsallotted to them by Pharaoh, and they ate their rations which Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their lands.

    23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Indeed I have bought you and your land this day for Pharaoh. Look,here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land.24 And it shall come to pass in the harvest that you shall give one-fifth to Pharaoh. Four-fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and for your food, for those of your households and as food for your little ones.”

    25 So they said, “You have saved our lives; let us find favor in the sight of my lord, and we will be Pharaoh’s servants.” 26 And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt to this day, that Pharaoh should have one-fifth, except for the land of the priests only, which did not become Pharaoh’s.

    Joseph’s Vow to Jacob

    27 So Israel dwelt in the land of Egypt, in the country of Goshen; and they had possessions there and grew and multiplied exceedingly.


    Genesis 47:21 Following Masoretic Text and Targum; Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint, and Vulgate read made the people virtual slaves.

herbcaen says:

this rabbi has to be silent because Chavez will be followed by Manureo, another anti-semite. We in the free world can rejoice, like we did over the death of haman

Rich Ross says:

The ‘rabbi’ is a fool. Chavez was an enemy to Venezuela’s Jewish population. Half of the country’s Jewish population left after he came to power. He gave his presidential blessing to those who terrorized the jewish community and vandalized their synagogues and meeting places. All of which took place while he was cozying up to Iran.

Hershl says:

OK. I stayed silent for two seconds.

Now I will just say that Chavez was a Jew hater to his core.

He did his best to cultivate our enemies.

The only thing I regret is that he was not suitably punished for his destructive ways.

The cancer that felled him was just a forshpayz of what is awaiting him.

May he burn in hell.

Other than that, I have nothing to say about the mamzer.

    Ellen Popper says:

    Hershl, we jews don´t have the concept of hell. What you wish him is a christian wish. We just wish him ” in dredr daran ! and its enough.

It amazes me how many people on the left glorified this man who was not just anti-Israel he was a Jew hater. What congressman or woman, Jewish or not Jewish, spoke up about his anti Semitic remarks? Or what so-called Jewish leaders in the United States spoke up against him? The only thing that I heard them saying is that he gave heating oil to the needy.

    He was not a jew hater at all you fool.

    He admired the Jew Salvador Allende and even said that “we respect and love the Jews”.

      Allende was a Jew?? Mazeltov!

      Was that before or after he let Hezbollah into his country?

        Laila Rasheed says:

        Salvador Allende Gossens (1908-1973) was President of Chile from 1970 to 1973. He died in the Presidential Palace during the brutal military coup which installed a military dictatorship in Chile
        in 1973. Allende dedicated his life to the cause of socialism in Chile, serving as a congressman, senator, and government minister during his long public career.

        Salvador Allende Gossens was born in Valparaíso, Chile, on July
        26, 1908. Allende’s family had a long tradition of political involvement in progressive and liberal causes. His father and uncles participated in the reformist efforts of the Radical Party in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
        His grandfather founded one of the first lay schools in Chile when the Catholic Church claimed hegemony over education.

        The family also had roots in Chilean freemasonry, with Allende’s grandfather serving as a Most Serene Grand Master of the Masonic Order

        From 1945 until his election as president of Chile, Salvador Allende served in the Chilean senate as a leading member of the
        Socialist Party. He served five years as vice-president of the Senate and two years as its president. In 1952, 1958, and 1964 Allende was the presidential candidate of leftist coalitions; in 1958 Allende barely lost the presidency to Jorge Alessandri. Shortly thereafter he visited Cuba in the first month of Fidel Castro’s new government and enjoyed close contacts with Fidel, Raul Castro, and Che Guevara. Allende cherished a copy of Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare inscribed “To Salvador Allende, who is trying to obtain the same result by other means, Affectionately, Che.”


Am Yisroel Chai!

Fuferfi says:

I’m sure Venezuela’s Jewish community is rejoicing…silently. This is not a country where one can voice his opinion, and I’m sure this rabbi is protecting himself and his community by remaining silent, since he knows that he’s surrounded by virulent anti-semites who barely need an excuse to start another round of “pogroms” from which 50% of Venezuela’s Jews fled!

dick justice says:

wow…straight looking down the barrel of evil…


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Talking With a Venezuelan Rabbi About Chávez

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