Ring Out the Old, Bring in the Older

One week is hardly enough time to digest the significance of the election. We cannot know which prognostications will turn out to be accurate. We can, however, discard some of the early commentary. Some of it was markedly wrong.

I spent very little time listening to results on election night, mostly while in the car at various points in the evening. Even before commentators would call the election a done deal – largely because polls were still open in many states – they thinly veiled their excitement by speaking, as Obama himself had, about change. This was, more than one claimed, the most momentous change in the mindset of the American electorate in decades. It was not just the return to a firm Democratic hold on the presidency and both houses of Congress, but a fundamental makeover of the American political mind. Americans had been for quite a while center-right; a new America had emerged which was center-left. Old ways had been discarded, swept out by new values.

Elections excite passions, and this election excited them in extra measure. People spoke with certainty about the outcome and its meaning. As those passions cool, we might all recognize that perhaps things are not as clear as some thought they were. Certitude, remarked Oliver Wendel Holmes, is not the test of certainty.

A sweeping rejection of the old did not happen, at least in California, one of the most liberal states in the country. In the second most watched race in the country, more money was spent than in any race besides the presidency. At stake was Proposition Eight, which restricted the legal definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman. When the dust settled, California’s voters most definitely did not spurn tradition and the old ways, but went the non-PC route, in a stunning disappointment for gay activists.

Years ago, California voters approved a proposition that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The California Supreme Court overruled them a few months ago, deciding that marriage was a right assured by the state constitution, and therefore could not be denied to gay people through a referendum. It would take nothing less than amending the constitution to do that. Supporters of traditional values quickly got the signatures to put Prop 8 on last week’s ballot, which sought to make just such a constitutional change.

Prop 8 was opposed by Barack Obama, the major newspapers, Gov. Schwarzenegger, and Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa. Organizers were cautiously optimistic. In the years since the first vote, many more voters had gotten comfortable with gay marriage, which was more out in the open and commonplace. Furthermore, they would be reluctant to deny people a right that, for whatever reason, had already been extended to them. Thousands had exercised that right, with great fanfare, after the state high court ordered government agencies to register gay marriages. The race was important to gays, because they figured that as California goes, eventually goes the benighted rest of the country that has not known the twin joys of avocadoes and beach volleyball.

Both sides were cagey. The anti-Prop 8 folks – the vanguard of progressive values – quoted the Bible a good deal. Their signs read “Love Thy Neighbor.” They talked not at all about moral values, but stressed equality. Why, they asked, would anyone want to deny the right to get married to anyone else? (This was only partially accurate. Some of the chief benefits of marriage were already available to gay couples since both government and private sectors recognized domestic partnerships without regard to gender.) Their supporters, although likely not encouraged by their leaders to do this, demonstrated their regard for free speech by trashing pro-Prop 8 posters by the hundreds of thousands. It was estimated that of the million posters that went up, over 300,000 were ripped down by the other side, so that in the weeks before the election, the anti-Prop 8 signs were ubiquitous, while you had to cruise for long distances before you could find one for the other position.

Regarding a different proposal, Californians acted the way the rest of the country expected them to. They approved a proposition that prohibits confining chickens in pens too small to move about. (One commenter reacted in surprise that Californians gave new rights to chickens, while taking them away from humans. I would prefer to see the irony as giving fowl more leg room than we get on American Airlines.) The upshot of this law, of course, is that egg producers will take their business across state lines, which will do no good at all to the chickens, but will raise the price of eggs for Californians. Go figure.

The pro-Prop 8 folks, meanwhile, put blinders on regarding the same elephant in the room. They, too, refused to address the moral issue of gay marriage, and ran a campaign about responsibility to children. The children of California would be better off if they had two parents of opposite gender, they claimed. (Since gays were both legally adopting children and having their own though some interesting fertilization options, the leaders of the effort sort of fudged on the question of whether those children would be better off with two gay parents who declared their commitment to each other, or with only one gay parent, since those were the real options available.)

Prop 8 was approved, causing a bit of rain to come down upon the Election Day Parade of Change. Voters listened not to the editorials, but to what they heard from – perish the thought! – religious leaders. A consortium of Catholic, Mormon, Protestant Evangelical and Orthodox Jewish groups took to phone trees, the pulpits, and the airwaves, to urge people to support traditional marriage. (At one point a group of heterodox rabbis realizing that over two hundred and fifty rabbis had signed on to a petition opposing Prop 8, calling on Jews to them in the name of Jewish values. After all, this huge number of rabbis had all joined to throw the weight of Jewish thought behind gay marriage. To their consternation, in the days just before the election, Orthodox Jews took out advertising space to announce that they held a better poker hand. They would meet the bet, and raise it by 150. Four hundred traditional rabbis urged Jews to support Prop 8. The buzz around LA continues to be that the heterodox rabbis are furious at this obvious distortion of Jewish values by the arrogant Orthodox! To the best of my knowledge, all stripes of Orthodoxy supported Prop 8, with only one Orthodox rabbi who identifies with the left margin of Orthodoxy opposing it.)

Ironically, the huge vote for Obama assured passage of Prop 8, because Black voters overwhelmingly supported it. Because they turned out in droves to cast their ballots for their favorite son, their votes accrued to the pro-Prop 8 side.

At least in California, then, change was not an absolute. (Some argue that it wasn’t about change at all, and nothing more than jitters about the economy and dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war in Iraq.) Whatever the progress of the Obama presidency – and we should graciously give him time to prove himself and deliver – we should not conclude that Americans have abandoned all of the past. Plenty of the past is alive and well, including the regard many Americans have for their religious leaders.

We in turn, should not abandon them. We should not lose ourselves in gloom and doom forecasts of the demise of America. If the general moral tenor of society is important to us – and our Torah leaders have told us that it is – we will look for opportunities to interact with our neighbors, whether individually or through the power of the pen, to help them understand that not every moral issue should be up for grabs. We should not slumber between elections, springing into action only in the panic of the few days before a major issue is decided at the ballot box.

As Mark Twain might put it, rumors of the demise of old values are greatly exaggerated.

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46 Responses

  1. Alice says:

    “They talked not at all about moral values, but stressed equality”.

    Equal rights is a moral value, and one that Jews have benefited from greatly in this country.

  2. Bruce says:

    American civil law is very different than halacha, not just for marriage but for many things. A Jewish marriage requires a ketubot, kiddushin, etc., but a civil marriage (even for Jews) does not. A Jewish divorce requires a get, but a civil marriage (even for Jews) does not. So one can be Jewishly married, civilly marriage, both, or neither. They are of course largely overlapping, but certainly not co-extensive.

    Similarly, defamation law is not based on the rules of l’shon hara, and I think most religious Jews would agree that it should not be. In fact, much of l’shon hara is firmly protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

    Even Noachide laws are not enforced by American law, and in fact their violation in some cases is constitutionally protected. Blasphemy is protected by the Free Speech Clause, and idol worship is protected by the Free Exercise Clause. I don’t think anyone would favor carving out an exception to these broad constitutional protections — outlawing blasphemy and idol worshiping — based on halacha.

    I do not understand why same-sex (civil) marriage should be any different.

    So it seems that there are 3 logical options regarding civil laws for Jews committed to halacha.

    1. Adopt a (lower-case l) libertarian position on all these issues. Oppose laws that would outlaw or restrict same-sex marriage, non-Jewish marriages for Jews, l’shon hara, blasphemy, and idol-worshipping. This position simply requires that one recognize that we live in a pluralistic society and we should extend freedom broadly. Opposition to such things should come from the power of persuasion and the standards of religious community, not enforced as a matter of secular civil law.

    2. Oppose same-sex marriage, but oppose laws restricting the other things. This position requires an compelling explanation (both civilly and halachicly) as to why same-sex marriage is different than (say) idol worshiping and blasphemy.

    3. Oppose all these things. This position would essentially make American law as congruent with halacha as possible. This approach requires an explanation of why American society, much of which does not agree with halacha (for better or worse), should be forced to live under halachic rules. And it requires the frank recognition that this is a dangerous path for Jews to travel. The majority culture may turn the tables and impose its own beliefs, many of which are not halachic. Sunday closing laws, restrictions on kosher slaughter, etc.

    I think the libertarian approach in category 1 is the only one that makes sense. R. Adlerstein — I assume from your position that you are in category 2 or 3. Could you explain how you deal with the problems I note?

  3. shmuel says:

    The excitement that has surrounded the current election and the “change” that it is said to mark, has much less to do with politics than with race. Mr Obama has excited many to vote for him it is more likely because he is the first black (African-) American to run for a major party. Voting for him was seen as a display of the open mindedness of the electorate and the “end of racism in America” rather than an endorsement of his left of center policies. Had he run against a republican who shared his ethnicity, but not his politics the results may well have been different provided the candidate were not tainted with guilt by association with the current administration.

  4. YM says:

    In 1964, Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in a landslide victory, with the Democrats winning, I believe, two thirds of the seats in the House and Senate. Four years later, Richard Nixon was elected President.

    In 1972, Richard Nixon was re-elected in a landslide over George McGovern. Four years later, Jimmy Carter was elected.

    In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected and two years later, the Republicans took control of both houses of congress.

    You never know what is going to happen.

  5. Chaim Fisher says:

    Outstanding. The first person on this site to focus on what is really a remarkable event: the sea walls of tradition standing up to the tsunami of toeva.

    Lost in the sauce of the commentaries was Obama’s careful pushing the Democratic party into the center. I know people don’t remember far back, but in the late 90’s the Democratic party was all Jesse Jackson “Rainbow Coalition” weirdos introducing “Hair” as the new national anthem.

    It took Obama to realize that was just not going to go. He actually got less votes than Kerry from only one leftist group: the toeva people. They were right to abandon him, because he refused to support all there garbage. He openly told them he was religiously opposed to an amendment supporting marriage for them–regardless of how he opined on Prop 8.

    On abortion, he famously nudged off the far left also: he said, “I think I’m smart enough to be President of the United States, but not smart enough to know when life begins…” The old Rainbow Democrats held abortion as a deorisa period.

    Rav Kanievsky said maybe he’ll be one of the blacks that’s good to Jews…

  6. Dave Weinstein says:

    Within 10 years, I expect same-sex marriage to be explicitly legal in California.

    Within 20 years, I expect it to be legal in most of the states of the United States.

    If you look at the voting demographics split according to age, the trend line is abundantly clear.

  7. Tal Benschar says:


    The reason “same-sex” marriage is different is because for centuries, indeed millenia, it has been taken as a given by the Western world that marriage is between a man and a woman. When I was younger (and I am not that old — only 41), if you had said that there would be a serious debate about adopting same-sex marriage, you would have been regarded as completely loony. That the issue is now a matter of debate indicates a degradation in society’s moral fiber — and that is the case notwithstanding the fact that we are in any event far from adopting halakha (with Noahide law for non-Jews) as the law of the land.

    Chazal recognized this. The gemara in Chullin (92a-b)enumerates three things the goyim do which are considered meritorious. One of which is that they do not recognize homosexual marriage. Now Chazal were well aware that the gentile society of their time was far from ideal– plenty of idolatry and sexual immorality. Yet this minimal recognition of what is right and wrong was considered a merit. One hopes that our moral fiber has not become so degraded that even this meager merit has been lost.

    (Rashi’s comment there is particularly striking. On the words “That they do not write a kesubah for males” Rashi comments: “that even though they are suspect on homosexuality and they set aside a male for sexual purposes, they do not act with such frivolity (kalus rosh) with regards to this mitzvah to such an extent that they write for them a marriage contract (kesubah).)

  8. anonymous says:

    Looking at the voting results, it seems that the country (those who voted) was split almost 50 50. This does not suggest a wonderful outpouring of acceptance for Obama. Some presidential races have been landslides for one candidate- this one I don’t believe was.
    It is what it is though. We have to work with what we are given. There are extreme issues on the table: Israel’s security, Iran and the nuclear threat it throws out to Israel and the rest of the world, American security, Iraq, financial crisis, you name it-the list goes on.
    This presidential race as some see it is the race that ends “race.” I do not believe this to be true.
    As for the president elect, more people voted for Obama….ok…..so this ends the “race issue?’ I don’t think so. Almost 50% of the country does not feel or think they could have voted for Obama. Many of those who voted for Obama were African Americans- not all but many. This would suggest that the issue of race is over? I believe that those-like myself who did not vote for Obama did not vote for him due to political reasons as well as experience (lack of) and other issues that are important-not racial.
    Have we come a long way? I don’t know. I don’t think the race issue that many Obama supporters’ claim is over is really overor ever really existed-or at least not on the level of intensity that his supporters think it did. I don’t really honestly think it was an issue. I am not a racist, I just couldn’t vote for someone who earlier said that,”Iran poses no threat.” Maybe the issue of race was a big issue and I am just ignorant to this.
    I prefer to see this in a totally differnt way- I am not a racist and cannot see how others can be.

  9. David N. Friedman says:

    Bruce, if you will allow me to comment–it is best for Jews to live in a land where civil laws contain strong influence of Jewish law. It is easy to argue that this is why Jews worked so hard to come to America in the first place since Early America had a very strong fidelity to Biblical precepts and Biblical law and this influence continues to the present day.

    The libertarian position you have articulated that allows for freedom ignores the fact that we want life-affirming freedoms and not simply any freedom. America is not dominated by idol-worshipers and blasphemers and if atheists came to dominate the social order, it would be a much more chilly place for the Jewish people than one dominated by Christians.

    Our community does not exist in a vacuum and if marriage was extended to same-sex couples, it would directly affect our marriages. Live and let live is perfectly fine while stating that all behavior is equal is not benign. This is why people rightly object to law regarding imminent domain– such thievery affects us all. To argue that any two people can form a marriage denies the complimentary nature of the genders and the reason we are made male and female. The Canaanites were bad, we are told, because they wrote marriage contracts for men and it is one thing to live in the diaspora and another to live in states that honor fundamental practices at odds with Jewish morality. We understand that only Jews keep the Sabbath and it does not stop us from being shomer Shabbot. By contrast, the legalized theft Pres-Elect Obama will bring forward with greater “progressive” taxation coarsens public morality. Gay marriage threatens to weaken not only the fragile state of marriage but other morality as well.

    You raise the specter of laws requiring business to be closed on Sunday as if this could actually happen in America today. In fact, it was the law of the land in a few states in Early America. There is no incompatibility between fundamentalist Christians and their laws and Orthodox Jews and our laws in an American context since both communities allow for tolerance.

    Therefore, the status quo on homosexual marriage is a blend of both those American traditions; both tolerance and morality. Changing the definition of marriage is no greater statement of tolerance and involves state-sponsored immorality.

  10. Charlie Hall says:

    Almost no publicity was given to two other referenda:

    (1) A proposal in Connecticut to hold a constitutional convention that could overturn that state’s legalization of same sex marriage lost — badly. (The largest Protestant church in Connecticut, the United Church of Christ, supports same sex marraige; so this may also be a case of voters listening to religious leaders.)

    (2) A proposal in Washington (state) to legalize physician assisted suicide won. My wife is a physician and I teach medical students; I am horrified at this one.

  11. Benjamin E. says:

    David – you state that “Our community does not exist in a vacuum and if marriage was extended to same-sex couples, it would directly affect our marriages.” Would you like to very clearly and descriptively explain how permitting same-sex marriage would affect any man’s right to marry a woman or the relationship any other man might have with a woman?

    And Tal, just because things once taken as a given are now up for debate certainly does not necessarily indicate “a degradation in society’s moral fiber.” Not long ago (relatively), the question about whether it was ok to own other people was not questioned. Now, we’ve passed way through questioning that into the firm “no.” Similarly, it used to be firmly believed that those of other races (e.g., African-Americans) were mentally and in other ways inferior to those of European stock. We certainly question that belief now. Does that indicate “a degradation in society’s moral fiber”? So why does the fact that it has been taken as a given for millenia mean anything? Would you care to clarify?

  12. Reb Yid says:

    On post #9:

    Jews have been attracted to, and prospered in, places that are tolerant and pluralistic (relative to other locations). Amsterdam is a good example.

    In the American context, it is most certainly NOT the case that Jews were attracted to–let alone even allowed into–particular colonies or states where “Biblical precepts/laws” were most strongly upheld. Those places that were the most “machmir” on many of these issues were among the last to allow Jews full rights and freedoms.

    On the general post:

    The Obama vote was a resounding vote for change. The relatively few counties in the country that voted more Republican than in 2004 were predominately white, non-college educated and located in the South or Appalachia.

    Change can mean many things, however. For some, it was very much about policy.

    For others (and perhaps in addition to the first reason), it was about style, tone, intelligent, wisdom, trustworthiness, and accountability–even if one agreed with the policy. I also believe it was about vision–the willingness to engage internally and externally, to listen to opinions from differing perspectives before arriving at an ultimate decision. As opposed to a narrow tunnel vision that did not allow for objective, verifiable data that would trump a preordained decision.

  13. Howard Katz says:

    It is to be expected, of course, that any article discussing Obama’s election on an Orthodox Jewish website would minimize the desire for political change and emphasize the rejection of gay marriage in California. Orthodox Judaism and its’ representatives – especially of the haredi variety, as represented here – are politically right-wing, and minimizing the popular tidal wave demanding ‘no!’ to more imperial wars, corporate bail-outs, etc is to be expected.

    I would like, however, to comment on one particualr sentence in this article: ” Whatever the progress of the Obama presidency – and we should graciously give him time to prove himself and deliver – we should not conclude that Americans have abandoned all of the past. ” This is notable for the phrase “graciously give him time”. An interesting and worthy sentiment indeed.

    What I miss, though – and what I have not seen on any Orthodox (let alone haredi) websites – is a forthright repudiation of and apology for the extremely ugly and racist anti-Obama propaganda that proliferated during this campaign. Obama was and is not “the new Hitler”, his campaign is not “Nazism” he is not a terrorist, etc.

    You don’t have to like either Obama or his politics. And R. Adlerstein’s comment about “graciously giving him time” is good – but it is also woefully inadequate. The frum anti-Obama campaign during this campaign reached new levels of racial ugliness. Are any of you willing to offer an apology?

  14. Ori says:

    Howard Katz: What I miss, though – and what I have not seen on any Orthodox (let alone haredi) websites – is a forthright repudiation of and apology for the extremely ugly and racist anti-Obama propaganda that proliferated during this campaign.

    Ori: Does the term “slanderous rumor” constitute repudiation? You can find it here.

    BTW, Obama got, IIRC, 52% of the popular vote. Does that constitute a tidal wave, or just a regular majority?

  15. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    #13 The frum anti-Obama campaign during this campaign reached new levels of racial ugliness. Are any of you willing to offer an apology?
    There was no “frum anti-Obama campaign” that I am aware of. Individuals offered their opinions, which is what Americans are supposed to do. Most people I ran into supported McCain, but everywhere I turned there were some Obama supporters in the same shuls. I suspect that the same held true on the Upper West Side, although there the numbers were reversed.

    There were some people who stooped to primitive and hateful racism in making the case for their candidate. No one can apologize for those actions other than those who committed them. I didn’t, so I can’t. Frankly, I find their thinking so beneath contempt that I’m not so interested to hear what they now have to say.

    Like many others, I am concerned about the course of a presidency in the hands of a leader without a proven track record, and without a regard for Israel that inheres in his political philosophy. Nonetheless, I can remember passing through Selma Alabama as a teen, quickly aware of the fact that those who hate black people usually hate Jews as well. Whatever happens in the future – and I wish the President-elect well – I believe that getting America to the point of electing a black President was one of America’s finest hours.

  16. Bruce says:

    A few responses on the same-sex marriage issue.

    Tal Benschar and David N. Friedman both note that halacha not only opposes homosexual sexual activity and same-sex marriage, but also opposes secular societies permitting such activities. One could reasonably argue that (1) the secular societies of those times are different in many ways than the tolerant, pluralistic, democratic society we live in now, and (2) homosexual sexual relations and same-sex unions are different now than then. But put those arguments aside. Let’s assume that the halacha is as you describe.

    My libertarian position on civil law is that we should maximize freedom and only restrict it where it causes direct physical (and occasionally economic) harms to other people or property. Moral opposition to another’s behavior or activities or relationships is not a sufficient reason to restrict it by law (although it certainly is a good reason for discussing it with others).

    Your response to that is that this is not just a moral and halachic position that we are trying to impose on others who disagree, but we also have a moral and halachic position that tells us that it is appropriate in this instance to impose this belief on others who disagree.

    My response to that is that this is still a moral claim made to impose a halachic view of things on people who disagree. And that is an extra-ordinarily dangerous path to tread, especially for Jews in America.

    Suppose a majority of Americans decide that kosher slaughter is inhumane. Or (considerably more likely) that kapporos with live chickens is inhumane and cruel. (PETA has already taken this on.) On that the Torah teaches dangerous and illegal and barbaric ideas about (take your pick here) slavery, or homosexuality, or animal sacrifices, or genocide, and the Torah should be taught about in public schools as an ancient and outmoded and dangerous text. Or that the Talmud teaches really bad things, including — well, that list is too long here.

    And then suppose that this majority wants to ban these practices, or restrict them, or zone them out of cities, or criticize and ridicule them in public schools, or revoke tax-exempt status for groups that advocate or practice them, or ….

    Our first response is the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. But that only gets us so far, especially if a majority or super-majority of people oppose these practices.

    Ultimately, the strongest bulwark against these attacks is my libertarian principal. You go practice your religion, or practice no religion, and leave us free to practice our religion!

    But once we weaken this position or carve out exceptions, especially exceptions based on our own moral view of things, we all are in trouble. After all, the claim that “well, this one example is special or different” is made about everyone and everything. (A friend Steve Kurtz once wrote an article making this point regarding the Free Speech Clause called “The Ubiquity of Uniquity”.) Animal sacrifices are different because animals are living creatures. Slavery is different because of our terrible American experience with slavery. Genocide is different because it really is different, and Jews of all people should know that. Etc.

    The far better course is for Jews to recognize that we are a small minority in America, and vote to extend civil rights to other minorities, even ones that we think are engaging in really bad immoral behavior. That moral disagreement should be the subject of public and private persuasion, not the subject of civil laws imposed on people who disagree.

  17. Bruce says:

    I don’t think civil marriage is a moral institution. It is a civil institution. Some of us impose a moral dimension to it (certainly if we have a religious marriage as well).

    If we were serious about treating civil marriage as a moral institution, we would impose some moral regulations on it. For example, spouses convicted of serious spousal abuse should be forced to divorce; they certainly are not acting with any kind of holiness within their marriage. But we don’t, and I don’t think anyone would advocate this mandatory divorce as a remedy.

    I think my spousal-abusing spouses damage the institution of civil marriage much more than a committed, loving, and kind same-sex couple does. But many people seem to support the former and oppose the latter, and do so on the ground that permitting the latter would taint the institution of civil marriage. Could someone who believes this explain this? In particular, how does some other same-sex civilly married couple damage your opposite-sex civil marriage?

  18. Bruce says:

    A sociological question.

    I understand that people may disagree with my libertarian position. But I am surprised at the monolithic opposition to same-sex civil marriage in the Orthodox community. Why doesn’t some Orthodox rabbi argue that this is terrible and immoral behavior, but we live in a pluralistic society, others disagree with us, and we need a live-and-let-live attitude. That’s not such a wacky position that no one in the Orthodox world could advocate it.

  19. Tal Benschar says:

    And Tal, just because things once taken as a given are now up for debate certainly does not necessarily indicate “a degradation in society’s moral fiber.”

    Benjamin: the moral status of these issues is determined by the Torah, not by the longevity of the belief in one thing or another. The longevity of belief does indicate how ingrained or not a particular moral stance is.

    The fact is that the Torah condemns homosexuality in the harshest terms. Furthermore, as one of my friends once pointed out, this is not only for Jews but for non-Jews as well — which means that the Torah considers it contrary to proper HUMAN existence, not only Jewish existence.

    That society (at least Western society) has in one generation changed from accepting the Torah’s view on the matter to seriously considering a level of debauchery unknown even in Chazal’s time does indicate a serious level of moral degradation.

  20. Reb Yid says:

    Those who claim that it was not an ugly campaign–and that a disproportionate amount of the ugliness against Obama came from the political and religious right wing of the Jewish community–are fooling themselves. It will be easy enough for historians to demonstrate this in the years to come, given all of the printed and cyber material that has been collected.

    Many of us have been saying this for the past year. Now you can add Gary Rosenblatt, who has seen it all, to that list:

    During the past year, I have received so many virulent and false anti-Obama e-mails from Jewish individuals or entities that I’ve lost track. The Republican Jewish Coalition should also be ashamed of its ads, especially in cases like Pennsylvania…where Jewish McCain supporters were forced to backtrack and disavow the RJC ads and robocalls (Obama is now elected, so I guess that means we’re going to have another Shoah, folks) that clearly crossed the line.

  21. Sabba Hillel says:

    There were some people who stooped to primitive and hateful racism in making the case for their candidate. No one can apologize for those actions other than those who committed them.

    Actually, many of the people of this ilk were on the Obama side. I stayed away from places that tried to be racist and went to places that gave measured and reasoned discussions on why they were on one side or another. As A result, I found myself reading conservative websites. The left tended to just call anyone who disagreed with them in any way RAAAAAAAAACIIIIST

  22. lacosta says:

    i fear that the h. katzes of the world will now give reign to allowing any obama excess, and declaring opposition to him racist. the way i see it republicans SHOULD have voted for the leader of their party. any racism is undoubtedly democratic. and using a race club to foment dissent will prove the Totalitarian left tendencies we all fear,,,,

  23. Reb Yid says:

    For some reason in my post #20, the link I included to Gary Rosenblatt’s editorial in the JEWISH WEEK was not posted.

    I post it here again (and if for some reason the link does not appear in this post, go to the JEWISH WEEK from last week and read his excellent piece entitled “What Obama needs from Us”.

    Better yet, for those still in total denial, read his column this week about some Modern Orthodox schools–we’re not even talking Centrist, Haredi or Hasidic, mind you– and the racist comments in Orthodox schools and synagogues post-election that have greatly disturbed principals and rabbis:

    (If this link is not posted, go to the article entitled, “Racial Comments ‘Shock’ Principals”).

  24. YM says:

    The most racist aspect of this election was that 97% of blacks supported Obama.

  25. Steve Brizel says:

    Howard Katz-asking hard questions about a candidate whose entire written record from college through his teaching career are literally under lock and key , whose record on Israel is equivocal at best , whose record on every major issue was redolent with flip-flops and a lack of any scrutiny by the mainstream media IMO deserved careful scrutiny,rather than voting blindly for or against a candidate.

  26. Reb Yid says:

    To YM:

    African-Americans are the most reliable Democratic voting bloc–it’s hardly racist that they’d be voting for Obama.

    In recent times, the Democratic Party has been the party of civil rights, more expanded opportunities for minority groups. Did you know that Lyndon Johnson got 94% of the African-American vote in 1964? Or that John Kerry got 88% in 2004?

    So no, it’s not shocking at all that they would vote overwhelmingly for someone who has spent extensive time grappling with these and other issues central to their community.

    What is shocking, on the other hand, is your post’s amazing contention that the African American vote was “the most racist aspect of this election”.

  27. Steve Brizel says:

    Bruce-Look at it this way. I have long subscribed to the view that the Torah and Halacha condemn the sin, and not the sinner and that for the Orthodox world to align itself with the religious right is a mistake both in communal priorities and in confusing how Torah and Halacha stand on such issues. Yet, those who opposed Prop 8 clearly oppose such a view as homophobic or worse.

    Legalizing that which the Talmud views as the cause for the demise of Egypt strikes me as yet another example of how marriage has been devalued from a committment by a man and woman to raise a family according to a basic moral code into an entitlement to live any lifestyle, providing that the state provides the same needs to same sex partners as it does to a husband and wife. I would suggest that anyone interested in the dumbing down of marriage that has occurred as a result of the sexual revolution take a look at CR Jonathan Sacks’ excellent column on this week’s weekly Torah portion.

  28. Steve Brizel says:

    Bruce-With respect to your libertarian POV, unless you agree that the Orthodox community has the full right to a state funded education of its youth with no questions asked as to the curriculum , the right to build a halachically acceptable eruv, shuls and mikvaos and agree that the Orthodox world is the best qualified to deal with issues of kashrus, then you are in effect taking a very clear road towards suppression of a religious faith whose constitutional rights are guaranteed under the Free Exercise Clause and federal legislation. IMO, it is obvious that what you call a libertarian agenda depends greatly on whether one supports or opposes what you have billed as the same. One person’s civil liberties cannot and should not be used as a means of suppressing the civil liberties of others.

    That being the case, I do think that the Orthodox world should consider the following question. Although the Noachide Laws, which include basic laws of sexual immorality apply to Gentiles, do they include a commandment of marriage? Take a look at Rambam Ishus 1:1 and R Asher Weiss on Parshas Noach. One can argue that Chupah Al Yidei Edus vKiddushin, as a religious act which requires communal approval, is strictly limited to the Jewish People since Matan Torah. Thus, the question of whether the Orthodox world should have been so prominent in the Prop 8 debate IMO requires further inquiry.

  29. LOberstein says:

    In his book “Promises To Keep” Je Biden details his conversations with President Bush and how we got into Iraq. He says “It wasn’t hard to see why an optimistic, ambitious, but woefully unprepared and uninformed president could get swept away by the vision (of the neo-cons).He just didn’t know enough to know how hard tht would be.” I pray we never have as inadequate President again as George W. Bush.
    He has left the US and the world in an awful mess.
    Time will tell if Obama surrounds himself with better advisors than the ones who led the US into the quagmire we are now in.
    The whole world is cheering for the USA, they want to respect us again and admire what our democracy has allowed to take place. Unlike other countries, the losing candidate is not arrested, shot or exiled. Mc Cain is an honorable man but he couldn’t have won with Bush on his back.
    Now is the time to unite behind our new leaders and give them the opportunity to fix the multiple messes. I hope they let Joe Lieberman stay in the game, he is a good man.

  30. One Christian's perspective says:

    “They talked not at all about moral values, but stressed equality”.

    Equal rights is a moral value, and one that Jews have benefited from greatly in this country. – Comment by Alice

    The ultimate standard for morality is G-d’s character. To disobey His expressed will is to do evil. Society can champion causes and issues so as to create a man-made value system that strives for equality but that does not mean that those values are moral. In the 1950’s, a certain tribe in Ecuador deemed it their equal right to kill as a method of settling disputes between tribal members of differing family groups. Morally, they’re not be too different than some gangs today. Both are morally wrong. On the other hand, the Amish communities in Pennsylvania seem to give up individual rights for the good of the community and for a neighbor in need. I see many similarities between them and some Orthodox communities. Helping another in need and expecting the same in return is a type of equal right. You might call this doing a good deed or a moral good. In the United States, every woman had an equal right to obtain an abortion. Is that choice always a moral one ? Equal rights is only an attempt to achieve some measure of equality but it is never always moral.

  31. lacosta says:

    1– the passage of Prop 8 was only because the ethnics [blacks ,latinos ] that swarmed for Obama are still culturally conservative.
    2– the Mormons are already paying the price in calif and elsewhere.
    the frum jews who put full page ads may soon find their shuls surrrounded on shabbos by demonstrating cross-dressers, transvestites etc ….
    3– as soon as two liberals more are on the supreme court , in about 2-3 yrs, it will become the law of the land
    4– the overwhelming youth vote for both liberality and libertinity don’t bode well for the Republican party, a now religious regional anti-intellectual party of aging white people…
    5–and this bodes poorly for israel, for people of the left support the one state [final] solution to the Palestinische Judenfrage,,,,

  32. Howard Katz says:

    Steve – Asking “hard questions” and “careful scrutiny” are, of course, fine; a drumbeat of slanders referring to Obama as a “Muslim terrorist”, “Hitler”, “a Nazi” and – of course – a “shvartze” is not.

    Lacosta – The “h katzes of the world” have not the slightest intention of stifling dissent by shouting racism;indeed, I intend to be every bit as critical of President Obama as conservative and Orthodox critics – from the Left, not the Right. What I strongly object to is detailed in my brief response to Steve above.

    Finally, a parting comment about American Orthodoxy. The celebration that took place the night of the election was truly a historic and uplifting event. Many of the most intransigent crtics of Obama were genuinely moved by the sight of an oppressed people celebrating what was truly a historic and amazing event. It is likely that these critics will – or already have – resumed their criticism, but they were able to genuinely celebrate a historic victory over the toxic legacy of American racism.

    Unfortunately, this was not so with most American Orthodox Jews. The majority reaction – as gleaned from the Jewish Week article cited by Reb Yid above, an especially toxic article in The Yeshiva World and anecdotal evidence, American Orthodoxy was unable to particapte in this transformational moment, still seeing in Obama “the shvartze”. This points to what I believe to be contemporary Orthodoxy’s greatest problem – a sourness of spirit, a suspiciousness/hostility towards everything outside of its’ own boundaries, and more than a tinge of racism. I leave it to members of this community to figure out, if they care to, why this is the case.

    Finally, in response to Rabbi Adlerstein, he is technically correct: there was no formal Orthodox “Committee to Defame Obama”. However, neither is it true that the ugly racist smears were limited to a handful (the old “a few rotten apples”). As the Jewish Week article makes clear, the racist attitudes towards Obama are widespread within Orthodoxy. Rabbi Adlerstein, to his immense credit, was able to appreciate the historic nature of this moment, despite his political misgivings about Obama. Better still would be if his attitude were shared by more than a few other isolated individuals within Orthodoxy.

  33. Michael says:

    I would be interested in knowing whether Bruce would make a distinction between the notion that many individual halachicly-minded Jews voted for Proposition 8 and the notion that the rabbis publicly advertised their support. Certainly one can see the position that Jewish thought would oppose the idea of gay marriage in secular society. Additionally, despite the fact that Proposition 8 takes away a right, the fundamental issue of gay marriage had certainly not acheived a hegemony in America. That is, the concept of gay marriage was so new in California that I imagine many voters didn’t quite see the issue as “restricting the rights of others” but rather “changing things back to the way they were before the Supreme Court decision.” So I would think that for the individual frum voter, support for Prop. 8 need not be tempered by the fear that the next step might be to declare Shechita as immoral. At the same time, one _might_ be more inclined to make that argument against visible public rabbinic support.
    On the other hand, I suppose that someone holding that the libertarian position is definitionally better for protecting the rights of minorities would argue that even the individual frum voter should have voted no.

  34. Bruce says:

    Steve Brizel notes that this is another example of how marriage has been devalued from a committment by a man and woman to raise a family according to a basic moral code into an entitlement to live any lifestyle, providing that the state provides the same needs to same sex partners as it does to a husband and wife.

    That’s exactly my point. The government has no business trying to encourage people to act “according to a basic moral code”. Different people have different views of moral issues, and the government should stay out. Of course, the government should act to prevent people from harming each other (or each other’s property), and thus we have laws against murder, stealing, etc.

    Rabbi Sack’s d’var torah was quite good. I agree with his and your understanding of marriage. I am happily married (to a woman, even), have children, and view my marriage as holy. But those values flow from my role as a Jew, not my role as a citizen of California. I recognize that others in California have a different understanding of marriage, and a civil marriage should be as inclusive as possible.

    The government licenses drivers, but in doing so does not in any way indicate that we approve of where they are going. It charters corporations, but in doing so does not indicate that it approves of the products being sold. I think civil marriage is the same. It should simply provide a bundle of legal rights and responsibilities, and (like driver’s licenses and corporate charters) should be as widely available as possible. Some of us will also have a religious marriage; others will not.

    Steve also wrote With respect to your libertarian POV, unless you agree that the Orthodox community has the full right to a state funded education of its youth with no questions asked as to the curriculum , the right to build a halachically acceptable eruv, shuls and mikvaos and agree that the Orthodox world is the best qualified to deal with issues of kashrus, then you are in effect taking a very clear road towards suppression of a religious faith whose constitutional rights are guaranteed under the Free Exercise Clause and federal legislation. IMO, it is obvious that what you call a libertarian agenda depends greatly on whether one supports or opposes what you have billed as the same. One person’s civil liberties cannot and should not be used as a means of suppressing the civil liberties of others.

    I’m not sure I understand why this is objection to my position.

    My libertarian position is to maximize freedom to the greatest degree possible. (This is not to be confused with the formal positions of the Libertarian Party, which goes well beyond where I would go.)

    I strongly believe in religious freedom, including all the things you mentioned, except public funding of Orthodox day schools with no questions asked. (Side note: I strongly support school vouchers and debated extensively in favor of both Prop 174 in 1993 and Prop 38 in 2000. However, I do favor a fixed amount, voucher not necessarily full funding, and some minimal strings attached. But this is a side point.) My point here is that abandoning this libertarian position — as Prop 8 supporters have done — and using the civil law to impose a religious viewpoint on others who do not agree with that viewpoint, is unjust, bad public policy, dangerous (because others may use it against Jews), and moves moral issues that should be the subject of persuasion into the area of a government restriction or mandate.

    There’s nothing wrong with not making it illegal for people to do things that you disagree with. To take a trivial example (but one that illustrates the point nicely), I think that people should have cake on their birthday. But I would not favor a law that required this. Same-sex marriage (l’havdil) is obviously much more important in numerous respects, but the basic principal is the same.

    Michael makes a distinction between public rabbinic support for Prop 8 and private voting for it. As a practical matter, I agree that the former runs a greater risk of some of my practical objections than then latter. But even as voters, I think we should oppose laws that impose our moral beliefs on others who disagree, where there is no physical harm involved.

  35. Steve Brizel says:

    I would seriously look at any commentary by Gary Rosenblatt with a large dose of skepticism. His editorials and coverage of Orthodoxy other than LW MO and Chabad are well known for their antipathy to a committed MO world and hostility to the Charedi community. I believe that he has attempted to accuse with at best anecdotal proof that an entire MO community was infected with a racist perspective, when in fact, none of the hard questions about the President elect’s record were ever raised or discussed by the mainstream media.

  36. Steve Brizel says:

    Perhaps I am dating myself with this post, but I am not sure how many posters remember the events of the 1960s and the civil rights movement, which clearly made it more fashionable along with the momentous events of the Six-Day War in 1967 for Jews to publicly and positively identify as Jews. More importantly, many of my contemporaries marched for civil rights and mourned the loss of Dr ML King, Jr., who was a huge Ohev Yisrael, both before and after 1967, despite his public opposition to the Vietnam War. However, whem civil rights segued into quotas, and community control , etc, the movement clearly changed in focus. The African American caucus in Congress, with a few exceptions, remained steadfast friends of Israel. IMO, the notion that the mainsream Orthodox community is redolent with racism is a figment of an editor’s imagination interested only in showing how imaginative he can be in Ortho-bashing.

  37. The Contarian says:

    Rabbi Adlertsterin: There was no “frum anti-Obama campaign” that I am aware of. Individuals offered their opinions, which is what Americans are supposed to do. Most people I ran into supported McCain, but everywhere I turned there were some Obama supporters in the same shuls. I suspect that the same held true on the Upper West Side, although there the numbers were reversed.


    1. The MOs were as dead set against Mr. Obama as those in the Chareidi world. Thus the anguished letter from the principal of Moriah to the parents and today’s proclamation by the Agudas Yisroel MGH.

    2. The paranoia and lack of civility to those who held opposing views was appalling. I voted for Mr. Obama. People rushed up to me in shul screaming that I was votomg for Adolf Hitler and I would drive all the Jews out of the country. People threatened to break my legs.

    3. When I discussed the issue privately with several individuals the veneer (anti-israel, left wing politcies) melted away. The simply did not want a Africam Amarican in charge.

  38. YM says:

    So, Reb Yid, when the percentage of the black vote for the democratic candidate went up from 88% in 2004 to 97% in 2008, a gain of 9%, that is not racist, but when the percentage of the white vote that went to McCain in Alabama went up by 9% from what Bush got in 2004, it was racist?
    Michael, the right to gay marriage that was supposedly taken away with the victory for proposition 8 was only given by the California Supreme Court six months earlier. And that court gave this as a right by overturning a referrendum that passed in 2004 or 2006.

  39. YM says:

    Bruce, why is it that if someones ‘moral’ beliefs come from the secular world, they are ok for imposing laws, but when they come from ‘religious’ beliefs, they should not be used to impose laws?

    I truly believe that secularism is a set of beliefs and values, even rituals, just like any other religion, and that everyone votes based on their beliefs. If I believe that homosexual marriage is bad, why should I not vote for a candidate who is against it, and for ballot issues like Prop 8? The people who voted against Prop 8 certainly voted against it because of their beliefs and values.

  40. David N. Friedman says:

    There is much to say. Note first we have elected a man whose views (to the extent that we know them)would invalidate any other candidate and yet Mr. Obama has been not only elected–he has been hailed as our redeemer. His solutions to the governmental failure which enabled him to become President appear to be more of the same failed policies and yet everyone is impressed by the fact that a certain person who carries those policies will make all the difference in the world. Why might we expect a different result? Further, Rabbi Alderstein has observed that Prop 8 not only passed in California but in 3 others states as well making gay marriage a continued loser in a world of political correctness. Moreover, such events highlight the public’s ability to distinguish between tolerance and support for homosexuals vs. support for the further destruction of marriage which would come with a changed definition of marriage. Too many people cannot take cognizance of the fact that we might be very fond of homosexuals but we are not at all willing to change marriage so that it conforms to the standards of gay coupling.

    It seems the Jewish community in its zeal to promote all things homosexual has ignored the fact that a marriage license involves a LICENSE and that is to say it is a regulated enterprise and no right. The government has a justifiable interest in marriage and will deny individuals a license to marry for a variety of reasons and this is because the state has an interest in the institution at large. Such law infers planned discrimination and this is the very nature of all civil law. If you want a license to hunt, the state will require specific weaponry, specific times, specific animals and they will grant you the license and reject others the same license for a wide variety of reasons. One’s license to drive a car can be revoked by the state or denied simply by token of age or alleged physical handicap or for a variety of alleged offenses. Whether or not one acquires a license from the state is never a right and always at the discretion of the state.

    Regarding the standard of tolerance and the goal of to live and let live, it is patently unfair that the conservative side of the country is so accused given the fact that the left often refuses to live and let live and they do so with gusto. As we now approach another X-mas season, the left is out again to ban any expression of religious speech or even a mild derivative in strict contradiction of America’s first amendment rights. If someone asks how someone else could be harmed by such speech–no one on the left can ever offer an answer since the problem is self-evident in their own warped world-view and the X-tians be damned. This is not live and let live. Live and let live for the homosexuals means that it is fine for homosexuals to lobby for marriage rights even though there is no such right and it is fine for homosexuals to stand at our highest positions of power without reference to the fact that they are gay–do I have to name names? Sarah Palin, by contrast, must stand for ridicule since she believes in God and feels that her actions would be helped with God’s blessing–this is an obvious example of a failure of live and let live. The fact that there are almost no examples of ridicule of homosexuals is ample evidence that homosexuals require no “Human Rights Campaign.” Homosexuals in need of housing are not banned in some communities, as the Jews were– they are not discriminated against in academia as the Jews were–they do not lack any right as Americans as every other American now enjoys. The left must face the fact that their “civil rights” campaign was defeated specifically in California by black Americans (a friend of mine who is black has told me never to call him a black American, he is merely an “American.” By contrast, we should never give another citizen a special title or special rights because of one’s behavior so the fad to call homosexuals “homosexual Americans” is an attempt to falsely link them to other groups who justifiably command protection under the Constitution).

    Jews have wrongly joined a human rights campaign on behalf of gay marriage without reference to either civil or religious imperatives. Jews in our community–almost all leftists–wrongly believe that America will be enhanced by changing the definition of marriage and eradicating any defining attribute of a male/female marital bond. The belief that any two people can form a marital unit and serve as models to raise children contradicts the lives of all married Americans.

  41. David N. Friedman says:

    Bruce, your libertarian stand is one that cannot exist for gay marriage and be absent for everything else. Therefore, would you also include prostitution?

    You ask me how broadening a “right” to marry would harm my right to marry and the answer is that my ability to marry would not change–the standing of marriage would change and the changed standards of marriage would change my marriage. If you demand specifics, the question fails to acknowledge the harm that follows altered and lowered standards. Our children are being told on a daily basis that it does not matter if they are raised by a mother and a father to cover for the fact that some are the products of single women and the hope that the number of homosexual couples with children will expand. What kind of message does this give to the children raised by a mother and a father? When they are told that same-sex love is just as good as the marital love they observe and model from their parents–how do they interpret such a message? These are difficult questions and we must use some common sense in this regard. Children can understand the reality of homosexuality and that is one matter. To preach to them that Heather has Two Mommies and that we need to value and respect Heather’s “parents” as equal to their own, we are creating a social experiment that is simply ill-suited and problematic. When a boy is told that he can be brought up to be a man without a father and with two mothers– or a daughter (or son) without a mother in the case of two men raising a child–our civil society is declaring that parental roles based on gender are not relevant. Is this true? It is fine to embrace a child from a broken home to try to make him feel as good as he can. Indeed, our last two Dem Presidents were raised without the benefit of a father in the house (which made them famously narcissistic and paranoid). To go to the extreme of making a normal home merely equivalent to a home with two men or two women diminishes the norm by killing the standard and gives the “abnormal” home a phony good housekeeping seal of approval. No one wants to hammer children with the fact that they come from “broken” homes and no one wants to stigmatize a child who is living with two women. It is warped morality and bad public policy to celebrate their circumstance because we don’t want to demean them.

    We have terms of marriage for specific reasons. If a group of three is considered a marital unit, we cannot hold the norm responsible for the consequences. The state works with religious institutions in the interests of marriage and the majority fail to acknowledge same-sex coupling.

    Even in the age of the most radical President ever, America is not going to say that two men can be married so that their marriage is equivalent to the marriage they seek to protect and promote. So the answer here must stand with the people. The courts cannot over rule the will of the people on a matter so fundamental to how we organize our society.

    Concerning Larry Y’s objection to my observation that Jews came to America for religious and economic freedoms, the economic freedom they sought was founded in Biblical dictates. The fact that some Jews in the early 20th C brought with them a preference for socialism is a mark of shame and not an argument for America as a socialist entity. America with its freedom and capitalism has worked for Jews based upon the reality of Jewish life in America and not upon some fantasy about socialist ideals carried from life in Russia.

    Right-leaning Jews have a huge and very valid list of arguments that opposed the Obama candidacy.

  42. Shira Schmidt says:

    Howard KAtz #32 wrote:”The majority reaction – as gleaned from the Jewish Week article cited by Reb Yid above, an especially toxic article in The Yeshiva World and anecdotal evidence, American Orthodoxy was unable to particapte in this transformational moment, still seeing in Obama ‘the shvartze’.”
    How does Katz measure “the majority” ? What I saw was that the popular chareidi Mishpacha Magazine had Obama on the cover and had a respectful article about him. Perhaps that is more representative of the average Orthodox Jew. See issue #233 at http://mishpacha.com/ or http://mishpacha.com/backissuesLarge/1/233/ for Nov.12 (14 bHeshvan)

  43. Charlie Hall says:

    Regarding Sen. Obama’s alleged lack of support from Orthodox Jews, Sen. Obama had a lot of supporters, perhaps even the majority of shomer Shabat Jews, in my neighborhood. It is impossible to tell without a properly designed survey, but the margins by which Obama carried the election districts in Riverdale ranged from 68% to 86%, and the local state assemblyman pointed out in a recent interview that such margins would be impossible without a lot of support from religious Jews. Obama carried the Bronx as a whole with 88% of the vote.

  44. anonymous says:

    Hmmmmm…..gay marriage does not harm anyone….hmmmmm……… I do believe that the first time gay marriage was accepted and certificates were given out, Hashem- HKBH destroyed the whole world with a flood. It appears as though it DOES harm others.
    Whether or not gentiles know this to be the case is irrelevant – we Jews know it.
    As Jews we need to educate others to this fact. Tolerating this type of mockery of Hashem’s world IMO should not be tolerated. Yes, I hear some people on the free speech and human rights, yet at what point do we stand in the center of abomination and say, “I gues we really can’t say anything?” I believe Hashem’s response to this millenia old sin is very telling and some sins need to be eradicated.

  45. Steve Brizel says:

    FWIW, on my block, which AFAIK, was fairly pro McCain, there was a young professional/yeshivishe family that posted an Obamma poster on their front door. Aside from an initial quizzical reaction, none of us even asked why this family was voting in this manner-perhaps, as I was instructed by my parents years ago-voting is an individual’s very important right, privilege and means of registering one’s opinion. It is fine to discuss issues-but to cast doubts on why pulls a voting machine strikes me as patently improper and inappropriate to checking on the halachic norms of a family that has invited you as their Shabbos guest.

  1. November 15, 2008

    […] Jewish Week (”Racial Comments ‘Shock’ Principals“), so approvingly cited by “Reb Yid” in the comments to Rabbi Adlerstein’s recent […]

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