The Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Black Civil Rights, 1880s to 1990s

By Mark K. Bauman; Berkley Kalin | Go to book overview

The Prophetic Voice: Rabbi James A. Wax

PATRICIA M. LAPOINTE

Several southern cities impacted by the civil rights movement had great hopes far gradual reform given recent alterations in municipal government structure. Memphis was one of these cities. Expectations were shattered, however, when a businessman/mayor refused to compromise on an issue that linked race with economic inequities. James Wax, sometimes fiery in temperament when faced with injustice, joined a line of rabbis willing to speak out. He, too, had role models of an independent, socially conscious rabbinate, and he, too, worked closely with other clergy in a leadership capacity. On 31 March 1995, Rabbi Harry K. Danziger, Wax's successor, commented at a conference in Memphis on southern rabbis and black civil rights:

People like Rabbi Wax saw the moments that brought them such public notice and eventually adulation as, in fact, tragedies. Rabbi Wax believed so deeply . . . that reasonable people of good faith could sit down and work out the very worst of society's problems. The fact that the situation had come to his standing up publicly before TV cameras and confronting the mayor of the city or that the clergy marched on the office of the mayor was no triumph for him. Anyone who thinks about the advocates of what they called prophetic Judaism knows that the great prophets of chastisement like Jeremiah and Rabbi Wax's role ideal, Amos, never wanted to get up before the people and say what they had to say. They only did it because there was no other choice and because God commanded it. I believe that Rabbi Wax would gladly have given up the public praise he received had people of good faith using reason sat down behind closed doors and worked things out.

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