Response from Professor Howard N. Lupovitch to SAPIR’s Cancellation Issue

[Since the launch of SAPIR, we have received a number of letters to the editor, and have decided to begin publishing a select few on this page. Although we cannot publish every letter, please know we read and appreciate all that we receive. Letters may be submitted to letters@sapirjournal.org. —Editor.]

To the Editors:

I have enjoyed reading the articles in the Cancellation issue (as I have enjoyed all of the issues to date) with one caveat: while presenting accurately the problems with “wokeness” and “cancel culture,” I think the essays underplay or outright ignore that both, while at times overreaction, began as a necessary response to language and demeanor that were hateful, hurtful, and inconsiderate.  Anyone who grew up before the 1990s is well aware of the words and language we used routinely, unselfconsciously, and unapologetically (the n-word, the k-word, the f-word, etc.).  Eliminating this vocabulary from our day-to-day lexicon has been a major step forward for decency and menschlichkeit. In this sense, it is important, while criticizing the over-reaction, not to dismiss or wallpaper over the vital importance of the initial reaction. In retrospect, the over-correction, in so far as it was necessary to correct a wholly unacceptable use of language, was well worth it. Personally, the privilege of not being called a kike anymore (and my children never having to endure this humiliation) is more than worth the, at worst, minor inconvenience of thinking in terms of multiple gender identities and, in general, using language with more sensitivity.

Moreover, to the extent to which these articles try to root their arguments in Jewish sources and Jewish ideas, I would emphasize that, above all, Judaism places a premium on the power of language (and its destructive potential) and on the overarching importance of treating others with kindness and compassion — notions glaringly absent from all of these essays. (There is no way the Rambam or the Baal Shemtov would go along with these critiques) Finally, if we are being honest: if wokeness and cancel culture were not interwoven so tightly and seemingly inextricably with (often unfair) criticisms of the State of Israel and Zionism, would we be as concerned about their impact?

Thank you again for providing this important forum for exchange and debate.  I look forward to reading the rest of this issue and, of course, any and all future issues.

Howard N. Lupovitch

Director, Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI