A new Washington Post poll revealed that 90% of Native Americans are NOT offended by the name of Washington DC’s professional football team – the Redskins.  I have to admit that I was pretty shocked to read that.  I have long thought that the team should change its name.  Although I haven’t had enough time to really digest the results of this national poll, I guess I will have to re-think my position.

In truth, I shouldn’t be surprised that the perception of this term has changed.  After all, it was once considered an appropriate name for Native Americans.  Later, it was considered an offensive term.  Apparently, now, it is once again an acceptable word.  It’s hard to keep it all straight!

In this week’s Torah portion, we read:  “If anyone kills any human being, he shall be put to death.  One who kills a beast shall make restitution for it: life for life.  If anyone maims his fellow, as he has done, so shall it be done to him:  fracture for fracture, eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.  The injury he inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him (Leviticus 24:17-20).”

By the time of the Talmud, though, the rabbis were uncomfortable with the idea of capital punishment.

We read: “A court that orders an execution once in seven years is branded a murderous court.  Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah says:  Or even once in seventy years.  Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva said:  Had we been members of the Sanhedrin, no person would ever have been put to death (Misnah Makkot 1:10).”

There were also uncomfortable with the idea of poking people’s eyes out.

We read: “One who injures a fellow man becomes liable to him for five payments: Depreciation; Pain; Healing; Loss of Time; and Healing (Mishna Bava Kama 8:1).”

They took the words of the Torah which called for killing those who killed or maiming those who maimed and changed the meaning.  I – for one – am grateful that they did.

So, I recognize that we humans have the power and the ability to change the meanings of words.  We can take something that we find distasteful and re-interpret it in a positive way.  Perhaps, that can be happening with a term that had previously considered racist – such as “Redskins.”  But, that doesn’t mean I have to like Daniel Snyder.



About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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