The Author

So as much as I condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo and support the right of this magazine to publish the cartoons that it does, I am still not Charlie Hebdo.

There is no doubt — can be no doubt — that the attack upon Charlie Hebdo was horrendous without any justification. But was the response of Je suis Charlie Hebdo still the proper one? The greatest proponents of free speech all declared that they would go to the furthest extremes possible to defend the right of another to voice an opinion with which they disagreed, even strongly disagreed. But they still did not declare that if another opinion was so condemned in an attack on freedom of speech that they then felt an obligation to adopt this opinion. Of course, what happened at Charlie Hebdo was not just a condemnation of freedom of speech. It was an attack upon humanity. But does this mean that we must now agree with the views of Charlie Hebdo?

There is no doubt that Charlie Hebdo has an absolute right, pursuant to the value of freedom of speech, to mock the entities it mocks. (We should perhaps note that it mocks all religions, including Judaism.) Arguing that they have this right, however, still does not mean that I have to accept this behavior as proper. I should be able to maintain that, while I believe that freedom of speech allows one to mock religions and that while, most vociferously, violent attacks on those who so mock are horrendous and unjustifiable, such mocking is still inappropriate. For a variety of reasons, this is a position that needs to also be clearly articulated.

It is within the nature of our society that conflicts necessarily must exist. This is the reality of a world of freedoms and rights for these values often collide. The promotion of freedom of religion, for example, is usually accompanied with a respect for variant religions. It is this respect for other religious views that actually fosters the tolerance inherent in freedom of religion. Freedom of speech, however, argues that one can express views that do not reflect this respect. This was the case with Charlie Hebdo. Freedom of speech gave them the right to present their material. In response, though, I also have the right to be offended, to call for respect for my, and other people’s, faith(s). This is an expected conflict within our society. There are, though, clear parameters on how this conflict is to then find expression. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was clearly, vastly, beyond these parameters. A further challenge must be how to respond in consideration of the proper and necessary reality of the original conflict that must be inherent in our society.

So as much as I condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo and maintain the right, under freedom of speech, for this magazine to publish the cartoons that it does, I am still not Charlie Hebdo. I am personally offended by their cartoons against Judaism. I call for respect for religions under the banner of freedom of religion. The fact that I can disagree with Charlie Hebdo’s views – and that the staff of Charlie Hebdo can disagree with mine – within the framework of our society, is actually an important element of our society. What I, thus, also cannot let the terrorist do is cause me to forego my own values. I stand for freedom of speech and freedom of, including respect for, religion. Terrorism should not be allowed to defeat this. It should not force me to forego any of my values.

When I think of Israel, I think of how the world has constantly praised the country for its respect of variant religions. Freedom of religion is a basic axiom of the country and it has done so much to protect the religious shrines of all religions within its boundaries. In its battles against those who have no respect for freedom and human rights, as evidenced by their attacks on freedom of speech, Israel has not let such attacks lessen their stance on freedom of religion, even as the country promotes freedom of speech. The country advocates for living within the proper parameters of the conflicts inherent in a free society. This is a value and a challenge that we must also consider and internalize.

Article by Benjamin Hecht

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht is the founding director of Nishma, which fosters the critical investigation of contemporary issues. For further info, see and You can follow Rabbi Hecht on Twitter @NishmaTorah.