Fear, Loathing and Orthodox Opportunity

Question: What’s the difference between American Jewish leaders and Donald Trump?

Answer: Trump will have Jewish grandchildren.

Ouch. Pithily makes the point, doesn’t it? Reminds them who the real Jews are! Really draws the line, positioning a well-deserved us-against-them relationship, right?

Probably not. The urge towards triumphalism might be understandable for a short while after the unexpected outcome of the presidential race. One of the reasons for the Trump victory was the backlash against the PC elite who shamed, silenced and suppressed the instincts, feelings and voices of tens of millions of Americans for the last eight years. Those people – traditional Jews among them – need to gloat for a while.

Gloating, however, won’t solve a single problem. More importantly, triumphalism will destroy what may be a window of opportunity for traditional Jews to connect with others. It would be tragic not to see the opening.

The losing side still doesn’t get it. Not the thousands in the streets, threatening continued civil disobedience. Certainly not Hillary, who blamed FBI Director Comey for calling attention to the lost emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer, rather than herself for her sloppy handling of them in the first place – as well as all the other weaknesses of her candidacy, her campaign, and the Democratic party’s perceived abandonment of the “little guy.” Neither does the Muslim who decried the President-elect’s narcissism in the New Republic, proceeded to list a good number of reasons nonetheless why reasonable people cast their votes for Trump, and then ignored them all. Instead, he insisted that America broke its “sacred promise” to Muslim-Americans who had played by the rules, and that “America had betrayed us, had repudiated who we were” – as if the rest of America was supposed to elevate concern for Muslims above all others. His self-centeredness was not indicative of the mindset of American Muslims, so much as it was a reflection of the mindset of a narcissistic, privileged Yalie.

In time, they will all get it. (Some already have, like this Muslim writer, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, who takes a position antipodal to her coreligionist in the previous paragraph.) They will cease their meaningless street-demonstrations, become a bit more realistic about their inability to obstruct the incoming administration, take more responsibility for their failures, and achieve greater insight into the thinking of their neighbors. Many will lose their arrogance, and eat plenty of organic, gluten-free faux-crow pie. But they will not be happy.

As a group, one of the least happy will be establishment Jews. Some 71% of Jews voted for Hillary. (Interesting number, that. It happens to exactly coincide with the percentage of non-Orthodox Jews who marry out. Related?) Having replaced mitzvos with social justice, and moshiach with utopianism, heterodox Jews see the Trump victory as a wrecker’s ball applied to the edifice they helped build. Having overwhelmingly picked the wrong candidate, they find themselves with less power than they ever had before. No wonder they’ve convened “shiva” sessions for the Manhattan politically-bereaved. The Democratic ship – the only one they ever considered seaworthy – has beached on a strange and inhospitable shore.

The Orthodox community did not support Hillary. It appears to have turned out for Trump by a large margin. Mr. Trump surely knows that Orthodox Jews were represented among his top advisors, let alone in his family. While other Jewish groups are calling themselves the opposition, Orthodox Jews are optimistic about being White House insiders in the coming years. We hope that we will be able to weigh in on important issues. Our agenda will include the strengthening of religious freedoms compromised by the present administration; favorable treatment of Israel, including US votes at the UN; the banishing of terrorist-linked CAIR from the White House; and the marginaliztion of JStreet and its corrosive effect on support for Israel.

So we are the new insiders, while the others are left looking. Right?

Wrong again. Everything in the previous paragraph is speculative. Some of it is wishful thinking. Much of it is out of our hands. One thing that is not is reaching out to the large numbers of Jews who feel that their universe has imploded. Some of them, groping to understand what has happened, might even be willing to listen to some of us.

Not all of them are shrill demagogues. So many exhibit what Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt z”l said of Vietnam-era protesters: they suffer from misplaced yetzer ha-tov! They are not the only ones who need to look more critically at their assumptions. We need to do that as well – at least to acknowledge that much of the vision of what they want for America and the world comes from a good place! It coincides with the demands of our own nevi’im. As they struggle to understand, they should hear from us that we validate their aspirations – even as we disagree about how and when.

Some are too wounded or too insecure to talk or reason. But some are already looking to understand how their neighbors could disagree with what they took for granted. While we, the Orthodox, often lacked both the incentive and the vocabulary with which to communicate in the past, we should now look for opportunities to speak to our Jewish coworkers and neighbors, at least those who want to hear. We should reassure them that their hearts are in the right place, and we respect that. There will be time later to explain why many of us can agree in principal, but part company in application. We can defer the details of the conversations about the intrusiveness of big government, about the counter-productivity of entitlement programs, about our abhorrence of social engineering – particularly when it discards and obliterates anything good and refined from the past.

There will be time for that. Right now, we have a chance to let some of them know about us, including that neither we nor our beliefs are deplorable.

The elections ought to firm up a relationship with another group: Evangelicals. Some 80% of white Evangelicals voted for Trump. The percentage was smaller among Latino and African-American evangelicals (can you blame them?), but many of them also denied Hillary the votes she expected.

I spent the two days just prior to the election in Tulsa, in the Trump heartland. It was the third year in a row that I have taught at Oral Roberts University, where they love G-d, Scripture, and the Jews. At an evening SRO event for the campus community, I spoke about Evangelical fears about the government leading the way in restricting religious liberties when they advance positions deemed to be at odds with its ideas about personal happiness. 

I argued that the government coming after bakers and florists was the smaller of the two problems they faced. Lawsuits brought by the government and private agencies could be and will be countered by religious defense agencies. The larger challenge for them, I said, was (paraphrasing the subtitle of R. Yehudah HaLevi’s Kuzari) that for the first time since the Mayflower landed, Christian believers were not only a minority, but a despised minority. Contemporary culture had ruled in favor of the abolition of rules and tradition, at least when they got in the way of what its shapers and spokespeople thought were happiness and fulfillment. Surviving as a cultural minority was a much more difficult prospect than warding off unfavorable lawsuits and legislation. (I told them about Pharoah’s telling Egyptians clamoring for food that they should go to Yosef and do anything he asked of them – which according to Chazal meant circumcising themselves. Now, why would Yosef want the Egyptians to do that? I gave them R. Dessler’s insight. Yosef was preparing for the exile of his descendants, who would have to live as a minority among the Egyptians. If they would be the only circumcised males, the cultural pressure would drive many away from their roots – just as many such locker-room encounters did for Jews in the opening decades of 20th century America.)

I told, them, though, to relax. Orthodox Jews demonstrate that people can live as a cultural minority. They can survive and even thrive. They were free to figure out how to do it, or they could learn from our achievements and our failures. I told them that they are safe speaking with us, because we don’t proselytize. . (As Jews, we have to take issue with parts of their theology. But we encourage all people to take G-d seriously, for their own good, and for the survival of society.) We don’t need or want them to become Jewish or practice mitzvos. Their Seven Noahide commandments are just fine. But there are aspects of our success that can work to keep belief in G-d alive in their children and grandchildren: education, replacement of popular culture with a home-grown one, the incorporation of a sense of holiness in everyday life, and joy in the study of G-d’s Word. 

Evangelicals are breathing a sigh of relief after the election about hostile legislation, which they assume will abate. But they know that, despite the highest retention rate for Christians – 69% – they are losing many people. They know that we Orthodox do, B”H, better than that. For some two thousand years, our influence on those outside our faith was very indirect. We taught by tenaciously surviving. We are now in a position that we can inch forward – slowly, and with trepidation, to be sure – to more directly share with those who wish to hear what it means to be in a close relationship with HKBH.

As Torah Jews, we prefer a world of imperfect understanding of G-d to one of atheism. We also know that the Palestinians are working overtime to sever any relationship between Christians and their Jewish roots. They are attempting to do to history what UNESCO did to Har HaBayis. Many Evangelicals know that Orthodox Jews voted the way they did, and it was largely for similar reasons. This creates opportunity for us to create a new strategic alliance – in support of Israel, and in the other battle, the one to put G-d back in America.

You may also like...

27 Responses

  1. Dan says:

    “Instead, he insisted that America broke its “sacred promise” to Muslim-Americans who had played by the rules, and that “America had betrayed us, had repudiated who we were” – as if the rest of America was supposed to elevate concern for Muslims above all others. His self-centeredness was not indicative of the mindset of American Muslims, so much as it was a reflection of the mindset of a narcissistic, privileged Yalie.”

    I’m staring at this paragraph in disbelief. A Muslim fears what will happen now that America has elected as President someone who had called for a ban on Muslims’ entry into the country, and you think he’s being self-centered? You’re stunned that he would have expected others to care for his plight? Do me a favor — you and anyone who nodded their heads in approval when they read that — don’t ever wonder how the world could have let the Holocaust happen. You have your answer. You would have watched it too.

    • YEA says:

      You think that, in a world in which radical Islamic terror is a major problem, “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on,” is like “let[ting] the Holocaust happen”? I’m staring at YOUR paragraph in disbelief.

      • Lawrence M. Reisman says:

        Actually, it’s not that far off the mark.  During World War II, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson called for banning the immigration of all German nationals.  That logic kept plenty of Jews out of the US who might have been saved.  It was the same logic that prompted Great Britain to keep Jews out of Eretz Yisroel after World War II, out of fear that letting Jews in would flood the area with Communists.

        As for the Holocaust, it was said that the Revisionist Zionists did not support Hitler was his anti-Semitism.


        In any case,

      • Raymond says:

        I do not understand Dan’s mindset either.  Is he reading his own words, thinking that he is making any sense?  How is keeping moslem terrorists out of this country, compared to expelling Jews from Europe?  So innocent Jews who have hurt nobody, but are nevertheless fleeing for their lives, are somehow no different than islamoNazi murderers?  Am I missing something here?


      • Benyamin says:

        I believe the connection he is drawing is the way Trump repeatedly made the Muslim immigrant the “other” at fault for our problems. Since 9/11, the vast majority of terror attacks in the U.S. have been by angry white Christian men. The great threat to Americans is violence from someone in their own family, car wrecks and a terrible diet.

        The great threat to America is looking for vulnerable minorities to blame for the problems of the majority. It is that mindset that led to the

        It is that mindset that Trump exploited with his Jewish bankers ad (the elites standing in the background keeping US from getting our due)  attacks on the ability of a judge to be impartial because his parents were from Mexico (dual loyalty.)

        Underneath it all is a message that only some Americans are real Americans. Mexicans, Muslims, women, the disabled: he attacked them all in a way that displayed no personal or public virtues.

        Finally, while i disagree with a great deal in this article, I appreciate the section calling for outreach to non-orthodox jews. We should all approach our brothers and sisters with humility and welcome if we want a stronger Jewish community. And we should. The rise of antisemitic attacks is disturbing for all of us.

      • Charles Hall says:

        The problem is that the Muslims trying to get out of Syria and Iraq are FLEEING the Islamist terrorists.

        In 1940, one of the reasons many opposed allowing Jews from Europe entry into the US was that the Nazis would sneak in some of their operatives. In fact, refugees today get more vetting than anyone coming to the US so it would be difficult to sneak such people in through that program — but OTOH visitors from visa waiver program countries get almost no vetting at all. Remember that the 19 9/11 hijackers entered the US legally on temporary visas.

    • Avi Levin says:

      I don’t think Godwin’s Law needed to be invoked here, but I was also surprised by this paragraph. The writer is not making up a “sacred promise” to Muslims specifically; he’s invoking the promise America gives to every ethnic and religious group to not single them out for hatred.

      Rabbi Adlerstein, in your role as the Interfaith Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, you’ve commented on the effects of nationalism on Christian communities in the Middle East. I presume the SWC gets involved in these not only because the lessons of the Holocaust are universal, but because nationalist marginalization of any minority eventually will eventually affect us too.

      The often-anti-Semitic “alt-right” had a not insignificant part in Trump’s victory, and Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon signals that he’s OK with their support; it’s not unreasonable to fear that Trump won’t care much about harassing Jews. While we have an opportunity to work with evangelicals to safeguard religious freedom of one sort, we should stand with Muslims (and the other groups targeted by Trump and/or white nationalists) to defend other sorts of freedom as well.

  2. tzippi says:

    I think Mr. Aziz is entitled to vent. I don’t see buy the coming Holocaust rhetoric – and neither does a Trump-voting survivor I’ve spoken to – but I do not see his article as narcissistic at all. There a few things I take issue with:

    We who have been unjustly forced to take responsibility for every crime committed by our kinsmen—Muslims having to address “radical Islamic terror,” to employ the right’s fetishized term—know that white voters who put Trump into office will never take responsibility for what he and his supporters will do to us.

    Uh oh. I’m Caucasian, though my family has only been here for 120 years. So if I don’t  immediately, constantly and loudly apologize I will be responsible for anything the fringe does? I wouldn’t put that burden on Mr. Aziz either. (And is it just the white voters or anyone who voted for Mr. Trump?)

    The old Democratic Party is done, too, as is the myth, which President Barack Obama believed and propagated, that America had somehow made progress against the shadows of racism and hatred of the Other.

    I am heartened that Mr. Obama believed and propagated “the myth.” I never got that memo though.

    I have been in Istanbul after an ISIS attack, Jerusalem after knife attacks, and northern Iraq as ISIS was surging, and yet I felt the vulnerability of my existence in New England on election night 2016.

    Interesting list. One of those attacks is not like the other one, and that is the one in which he would have been protected by the police, and treated promptly and without question should he have needed medical treatment, G-d forbid.

    Now, from Rabbi Adlerstein:

     Many Evangelicals know that Orthodox Jews voted the way they did, and it was largely for similar reasons.

    You bet that people voted against Hillary and for a Republican congress out of concern for hostile legislation and an inhospitable environment for religion to flourish. But I would like to think that Orthodox Trump voters were more in line with the most reluctant Evangelical Trump voters, not the ones who endorsed Mr. Trump early enough in the primaries that other candidates still had a chance.

    Note that I am taking pains to write Mr. Trump. I am optimistic. I give him credit that he will appreciate his new role and act with whatever insight and strength G-d grants him. I will respect the office.  And I will try not to lose sight for even a second of the verse in Proverbs, “The heart of the king is in the hands of G-d.”



  3. Avraham Bronstein says:

    “So many exhibit what Rabbi Joseph Grunblatt z”l said of Vietnam-era protesters: they suffer from misplaced yetzer ha-tov!”

    Like Rav Aharon Soloveitchik?

  4. Steve brizel says:

    I don’t see the comparison between the victims of the Holocaust and the perpetrators of acts of terrror on a mass level

  5. Bob Miller says:

    “We need to do that as well – at least to acknowledge that much of the vision of what they want for America and the world comes from a good place! It coincides with the demands of our own nevi’im.”

    Some of us cut communists, past and present, way too much slack.   Marx despised Judaism and HaShem and fellow Jews, too.  His successors and followers did whatever they could, sometimes peacefully and more often brutally, to create their secular utopia on earth.   We’re talking of tens of millions of human beings killed because of a perverted dream wrapped in deceitful marketing. The Soviet Union was not a perversion of Marxism; it was a pure expression.  The leadership clique always found ways to escape the grim equality of everyone else.


  6. Daniel Shain says:

    I am disappointed with the condescending tone this article takes towards those of us orthodox Jews who did not support Trump.  While we can be happy with a more religious-friendly administration, and one that will be more supportive of Israel (although time will tell if a more “right wing” approach will stabilize or destabilize the region), the other important issues of the campaign are much more debatable  – how much / how little government regulation is ideal, what model of healthcare is the best, what trade deals are the best for the U.S. and how to bring back jobs to middle America, how to defeat Isis and Islamic terrorism, how to deal with illegal immigrants who are already established in the US – these are legit questions that liberals and conservatives can debate, and there is room in the orthodox community for different views on these issues.   The “liberal” views on these issues are not simply “misplaced yetzer tov” as this article suggests.

    There are many many valid reasons why some orthodox Jews and the majority of the population did not vote for Trump.  Mitt Romney and the Bushes  gave their reasons as did many others and there is no reason to repeat them all now.    For a more balanced Orthodox approach than what Rabbi Adlerstein presents here, I suggest the readers take a look at the excellent blog posts on this topic by Rabbi  Maryles at his Emes Ve-Emunah blog.

  7. DF says:

    One minor quibble, in an article with which I otherwise agree:  Believing Christians may not be the “despised minority” they or others may think them to be. This election has proven definitively that nothing is what it seems to be. From pre-election polling to the President’s supposed approval rating, you simply cannot believe anything you read. We have no idea what “public opinion” is, on anything. There are millions of people either (as you wrote) shamed or silenced into expressing their opinions, or (as I think) so disgusted and disinterested  that they no longer bother participating in public discussions at all. These millions, along with millions of others who aren’t so silenced or disinterested, don’t hate Christians at all. They are simply drowned out by the noisy haters and the media. Like we orthodox Jews, Christians should know how to ignore them.

    The rest of the article is spot on.

  8. dr. bill says:

    while i appreciate your view of the dangers that religion(s) face in a PC world, you underestimate the opposition Trump received from a number of serious orthodox rabbis who felt his lifestyle/behavior was even more objectionable than his opponent.  perhaps they underestimated the consequences you attach to a continued liberal agenda, but these are issues about which reasonable people can disagree.  I remember how the Rav ztl and his brother ztl disagreed min hakatzeh el hakatzeh on a number of political issues including the return of any part of Israel and the Vietnam war.   btw my wife and I did not vote the same way.

  9. Aaron says:

    Unfortunately what appears to be Orthodox opportunity might actually be a possible case of short term gain at the expense of serious long term loss.

    A Trump presidency has shattered the norms of civilized discourse in this country. Comments and positions that were once considered beyond the pale have now been legitimized. True, Trump who has Jewish grandchildren and many Jewish advisers is most probably not an anti-Semite. He could quite possibly be unabashedly pro Israel. But once the genie is out of the bottle it will be difficult to get it back in. When the next race baiting candidate comes along who says that our Jewish minority will be in his graces.

    A resounding Trump defeat would have lead to a rebirth of the Republican party with level headed leaders like Paul Ryan and John Kasich at the helm. A Trump victory will inevitable embolden fringe elements on both sides of the political debate. In four years from now we will likely see a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren type candidate at the helm of the Democratic party. The reality is that a majority of American’s have voted for the Democratic candidate for president for 6 out of the past 7 presidential elections. A candidate of the extreme left could quite possibly be our next president and seriously jeopardize America’s relationship with Israel.

    Trump has shown a complete lack of grasp of policy  during his campaign. Giving a free hand to Israel with settlement construction, and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem might be perceived as being helpful to Israel. However if it serves to incite Arab violence it will ultimately cause more pain than gain. Israel and the world gain from a stable and predictable force at the helm of the worlds only superpower.

    Trump has pandered to the fears and paranoia of the masses. He has peddled conspiracy theories to his followers. Quoting the National Enquirer and Drudge report polls as factual news is nonsense. Foolishness is not a virtue. Our country does not gain from it.

    I pray that the Orthodox opportunity provided by Trump actually materializes. However I fear that we might be better off being forced to bake cakes for a same gender weddings than to have to deal with the collateral damage of a Trump presidency.



  10. newyorker says:

    It is certainly true that religious rights are given less weight than other fundamental rights, and are expected to give way when the two conflict. Put that together with the growth of the regulatory state, and there is more than ample reason for religious minorities to work together to protect religious liberty.That said, it is a mistake to identify the legal challenges to religious rights as a recent trend.   Forty years ago, the United States Supreme Court held ‎in TWA v. Hardison that even a de minimis cost to an employer would be sufficient to defeat a request for accommodation of a work schedule for religious reasons. More than 20 years ago, in Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court ruled that neutral state laws that inhibit religious practices were legal.  Those two decisions are surely more (negatively) impactful than anything we have seen over the past ten years.  

    Rabbi Adlerstein’s note of caution at being too quick to predict from whence our challenges and solutions might arise is bolstered by the fact that those two decisions were authored by conservative Justice Byron White and Justice Antonin Scalia, respectively.  That liberal Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall dissented in both of those cases only confirms the point.

  11. David Ohsie says:

    (Disclosure: I’m a #nevertrump Republican voter who didn’t vote the presidential line on the ballot.)

    “As a group, one of the least happy will be establishment Jews. Some 71% of Jews voted for Hillary. (Interesting number, that. It happens to exactly coincide with the percentage of non-Orthodox Jews who marry out. Related?)”

    Jews have been voting Democratic since at least the 1920’s.  Did the 72% of Jews who voted for Democrat Al Smith in 1928 “marry out”?  http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/jewvote.html

    “Having replaced mitzvos with social justice, and moshiach with utopianism, heterodox Jews see the Trump victory as a wrecker’s ball applied to the edifice they helped build.”

    Does one need to turn in mitzvos and moshiach to see the edifice of the emancipation of African-Americans to be a good thing?   You don’t need to be a secular Jew to see Trump’s winks to David Duke and white supremacists as anything less then horrifying (setting aside his admitted instances of sexual assault).

    I am sure that the vast majority of Trump voters did so despite Trump’s comments and immorality, and not because of them.  Nevertheless, those who opposed him because they prioritized civil rights were not being “utopian”.

    “Contemporary culture had ruled in favor of the abolition of rules and tradition, at least when they got in the way of what its shapers and spokespeople thought were happiness and fulfillment.”

    To begin with, this is a false choice: liberty and pursuit of happiness *are* inalienable God-given rights in American rules and tradition.  Second, liberty in America has always meant happiness, religious belief, political belief, etc. as defined by the individual, even if you disagree with them; this precedes contemporary culture by centuries.   Finally, entrance into marriage is the desire to have rules and tradition applied to your relationship, not to abolish them.   Marriage is voluntary.  I know that this is my hobby horse, but the resort to euphemism again hides the weakness of the argument.

  12. David Barg says:

    The author conveniently neglects to mention that the Rebbes of Satmar and Skvere (others, I don’t know?) supported Hillary.  These groups represent a not insignificant portion of Orthodox Judaism.

    If you are going to pat yourself on the back for recognizing good and bad in the world you should call out those who are willing to overlook it for reasons of legal protection or anti Zionism.

  13. Charles Hall says:

    “The Orthodox community did not support Hillary. It appears to have turned out for Trump by a large margin. ”

    The only exit poll to be published with a breakdown by Jewish observance showed Clinton defeating Trump among Orthodox Jews by 56 to 39.

    Looking at actual election results, Teaneck voted Clinton over Trump by 76 to 21, and Riverdale was about the same. My own election district in Riverdale voted Clinton over Trump by 85 to 12 and the neighboring ones in the most frum part of Riverdale were only slightly better for Trump.


    Trump did clean up in the charedi areas of Brooklyn.




  14. Raymond says:

    While I agree that it is important to reach out to those American Jews who are alienated enough from their Judaism that they voted overwhelmingly for Hillary, I frankly do not understand them at all.  I recently had a direct, personal encounter with such an individual.  I had just met her under random circumstances, found out she is Jewish, and right away asked her who she was supporting for President.  Her being a secular Jew, her vote was naturally for Hillary.  When I told her that I was supporting Donald, she surprisingly did not seem to mind that at all…that is, until she found out that I was supporting him because he is so strongly pro-Israel.  That made her furious with anger.  She said that Jerusalem should be internationalized.   When I pointed out how Catholics have their Vatican City and the moslems have their Mecca and so why can’t we Jews have our Jerusalem, she had no response other than to say that she did not care.  And since then, she has ceased to acknowledge my existence.  I have to say, that although I am an American Jew who has lived in America virtually my entire life, that I just do not understand how any Jew could possibly vote against our own best interests, which of course means Israel.  How is it that most American Jews consistently support candidates who are, at best, lukewarm to Israel, while at the same time they have no tolerance for truly strong supporters of Israel, Ted Cruz being only the most recent example of that?  Maybe the answer to my own question, is that I just do not fully realize how lucky I am, to have access to, and interact fairly often with, my local Orthodox Jewish community.  Maybe those secular Jews have been so easily brainwashed by Leftist thought, because they simply do not know any better.  I just do not know.  They are so tragically ignorant about our beautiful, magnificent Torah, while I am ignorant about the inner workings of their secular minds.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This