On Election Eve, A Rabbi Senses Anger

Differences Of Opinion Are Acceptable; Divisiveness Between People Is Not

Wed, 10/31/2012

I am not endorsing a candidate for the November 6 election.  I do have a strong opinion but that opinion is personal.

The reason for this message is because I sense a great deal of emotion – actually, anger – in the Jewish community as it faces a critical choice for America.  The anger is beneath the surface but every once in a while it reveals itself in vituperative and mean-spirited language that is expressed between otherwise well-meaning people.

A short time ago, a Middle School class at the Ramaz School was discussing how they would vote in the forthcoming election were they of age.  One of the children indicated that she and her parents would vote for President Obama.  Her announcement was greeted by a classmate who said: “No Jew should vote for Obama.”  A few minutes later, after the session was over, this same student was approached by another classmate who said: “Anyone who votes for Obama is not a good Jew.”

There are several problems with these exchanges.  First of all, the charge is not valid.  One can be a very good Jew and vote in favor of the President in his bid for re-election.  One might disagree about whether this choice is good for the Jewish people or not, but that disagreement is between people who are very concerned about the well-being of the Jewish people and the safety, not to mention survival, of the State of Israel.  Reasonable people can disagree strongly on who is the better candidate as far as the Jewish people – or for that matter, the American people – are concerned. 

These are honest disagreements that deserve to be treated with respect even when two parties have very different views.  Each party feels that its choice is for the good of America and for the benefit of Israel.  They simply disagree on which choice is better.

A second problem is the reverse of the first.  I have personally heard charges that voting for Romney is contrary to Jewish values.  It means support of the rich and indifference to the poor.  It is a sign of moral callousness that ill befits a follower of the prophetic message that God wants us "to do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with your God."  The unstated reason that a Jew would not vote for Obama, this view maintains, is that the voter is a racist - a ridiculous charge.  Both candidates express concern for the poor and the disadvantaged; they simply have different views about how to ensure that this concern should be realized in practice by creating a more robust economy. 

A final problem is the human one.  How does a child feel when confronted by a classmate and, in effect, told that she is not a good Jew.  This is very destructive and unacceptably demeaning for anybody, let alone a Middle School child.  What concerns me is that this is not just an unkind comment by a classmate; the classmate is picking this up from the anger in the adult community, an anger that is unfortunately expressed by both sides in this election. 

I would like to quote Rav Shlomo Chaim Ha-Cohen Aviner, a great talmid chacham in Israel, who is somewhat to the right of me both politically and religiously.  However, his ahavat Yisrael is absolutely uncompromising.  He spoke on Israel radio in October of 1995 about the hateful words being spoken about the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, of blessed memory, a man with whose views and policies Rav Aviner disagreed very strongly.  The title of his talk on the radio was “Chilukai de’ot – kein; chilukai levavot – lo” - differences of opinion are fine; divisiveness between people is not.  By all means, people should express to each other their disagreements, their concerns and their views on politics.  There should not be, however, hatred between us as Jews or as people.  When there is such anger and hatred, bad things happen.  Sometimes, very bad things happen.  One week after Rav Aviner’s radio talk, Rabin was assassinated. 

Thank God, we are not dealing with such destructive behavior.  It is important, however, to remember that as critical as the issues are in the forthcoming election, we should never let our differences of opinion divide us one from the other by the way in which we speak and behave.  “Chilukai de’ot – kein; chilukai levavot – lo”.

Let each of us make sure to vote his or her conscience and may we all feel passionately about the privilege that we have to vote in a democratic country and about the views we hold on the candidates running for election, but let us remain united as people who love each other and respect each other regardless of our differences. 

This message is important not only for our decisions on November 6, but for our relationships in the future.  

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein is the spiritual leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun.

 

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Comments

Once again Rabbi Lookstein is the voice of reason and represents the centrist, open-minded, inclusive Judaism that is becoming increasingly difficult to find anymore. It has become impossible to talk politics in my synagogue any longer without people jumping down your throat if you don't share the prevailing political views. It's disgraceful how intolerant We have become, which of course filters down to our children.

Finally, an editorial on the election that makes sense. Several months ago I attended a Jerusalem Post event where former Prime Minister Olmert was a featured speaker. When he praised President Obama, many in the audience booed. When he tried to defend his position, they booed louder. I was shocked. I haven't always been very happy with some of what the President has done (or hasn't done), however, as Jews we should be fair. I could talk about unhappiness with many former presidents, Democrats and Republicans alike. Vote as you think you should, but here in America, we've been very fortunate to have leaders that do support Israel and we shouldn't forget that. Being unhappy with a decision the President makes doesn't mean that the President is bad for the Jews.

I find this column insulting to the readers' intelligence. Rabbi Looksein claims not to be endorsing anyone, as though his opinion piece was neutral, but it is quite obvious he intends it in support of Obama. I dont even have to mention his failure to mention that he gave the benediction at Obama's inauguration, a not un-important detail the Rabbi conveniently ignores. That this is the subtext of his "mesasge", as he calls it, is clear from his well-known (liberal) politics, it's clear from it being published in the Jewish Week, and its painfully clear from the words he chooses. The old and tired "mean-spirited" cliche is a dead giveaway; its how those on the left respond to challenges from those on the right.

Rabbi Lookstein can vote for whomever he wants, obviously. He can even try to write thinly-disguised columns in support of one candidate or another. But what he should not try to do is pretend he has no dog in this fight, or that his message is a neutral one applicable to everyone. What his "message" says is simply this: Jews should not criticize Obama strongly. It would have had a lot more meaning had he written a similar message in 2004. Claiming neutraility when the writer is anything but, is an insult to our intelligence.

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