One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor

Recently, Rabbi Avi Shafran wrote in these pages that it is important to avoid partisanship, or what he called the “political sports team mentality.” He correctly criticized those who stick to political positions until they “bend over backward to justify the unjustifiable.”

What he did not say, however, is that observant Jews will be deemed “partisan” simply for following the Torah. One political party has now staked out positions on moral issues so grievously divergent from our own that we cannot avoid being described as “taking sides.”

This was not necessarily the case in the past. But to be a mainstream Democrat today, one must support the public celebration of forbidden relationships and the redefinition of marriage, and oppose reserving school bathrooms for the use of a single biological gender. To an increasing extent, one must also believe that Jews in Israel are stealing “Palestinian land,” a notion derived directly from the ancient canards of anti-Semitism, and employed once again to justify atrocities. This is why Lakewood, NJ provided the widest point spread in favor of the President of any New Jersey town last November.

With tremendous respect to organizations like Agudath Israel which carefully lobby state legislators hostile to our basic beliefs, the vibrant and growing Orthodox community is also obligated to respond to the ongoing chilul Hashem created by the leaders of American liberal Jewish movements, who declare that “Judaism” requires support for the aforementioned violations of Torah and “political” positions that threaten the safety of our brethren in Eretz Yisrael.

Consider, as well, that were today’s version of the Nazi boycott spearheaded by neo-Nazis, no one would join. It is leftist groups that are stirring hatred on campus under the guise of an “Israel” boycott. This being the case, criticism of a President willing to condemn bigotry on “many sides” after the riots in Charlottesville was wrongheaded and counterproductive — in fact, he deserved our gratitude.

It is worth dwelling on this example. Rabbi Shafran asserts the following:

An actual fact is that, at the “Unite the Right” rally earlier this month in Charlottesville, one side was entirely composed of white supremacists of varied stripes but the other was mostly comprised of non-radical, non-violent opponents of white supremacy. And that the former group contained no very fine people.

Eyewitnesses, however, tell a very different story. The New York Times reported the comments of Michelle Piercy, who “drove all night with a conservative group that opposed the planned removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.” The Times, hardly a right-wing news outlet, described Piercy’s feeling that she and others are subjected to “a harsh double standard that demands they answer for the sins of a radical, racist fringe.” These mainstream conservatives were the “very fine people” to whom President Trump referred and contrasted with the “neo-Nazis and white nationalists.”

The claim that “the other [side] was mostly comprised of non-radical, non-violent opponents” fares no better under critical examination. Isabella Ciambotti, a student at the University of Virginia, observed multiple acts of violence against the “white supremacist crowd,” including an older man beaten with a stick while already down until she “screamed and ran over with several other strangers to help him to his feet.”

The report of Charlottesville resident Rebekah Manning is still more illustrative:

I stood with a group of interfaith clergy and other people of faith in a nonviolent direct action meant to keep the white nationalists from entering the park to their hate rally. We had far fewer people holding the line than we had hoped for, and frankly, it wasn’t enough… we were prepared to be beaten to a bloody pulp… But we didn’t have to, because the anarchists and anti-fascists got to them before they could get to us. I’ve never felt more grateful and more ashamed at the same time.

From Boston to Berkeley, Antifa used the following weeks to prove the President correct about the bigotry and violence “on many sides.” Thus while it was true, politically, that the President should have specifically called out groups that supported him in the election, his comments were both accurate and helpful to our interests.

So we must question: from where did Rabbi Shafran receive his distorted picture of the reality in Charlottesville? This is not difficult to discern.

Just days after a neo-Nazi drove his car into counter protesters in Charlottesville, there was a much more massive and planned vehicle-ramming attack committed by Muslim terrorists in Barcelona, Spain. Two CNN broadcasters immediately suggested a “copycat” relationship between the attacks — apparently unaware that Charlottesville was the eighth vehicle-ramming attack of 2017, and all of the previous seven were committed by Muslim extremists, all but one in Europe. The idea that Charlottesville provided the model for Barcelona was and remains patently ludicrous, but the media itself has become so partisan that it often cannot report neutral facts.

A nonpartisan stance does not balance objective reality against partisan falsehoods. The fact that Israel attempts to avoid civilian casualties while its enemies celebrate the murder of children is not a partisan, pro-Israel position. Support of comments that call out bigotry and violence on “many sides” is not partisan, either.

And as mentioned earlier, our self-identification as “conservatives” on a host of issues is not, in actuality, partisan, but the unavoidable consequence of being shomrei Torah U’Mitzvos. If we acknowledge that Torah ideas are now understood to be the underpinnings of a first-world society, then stating our true beliefs is valuable shtadlanus as well, good for America and for its millions of Jewish citizens.

This article was first published in Hamodia.

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12 Responses

  1. Yehoshua Duker says:

    R’ Menken writes: “To be a mainstream Democrat today, one must support the public celebration of forbidden relationships and the redefinition of marriage.”

    There is no real difference between Republicans and Democrats today on the issue of single-sex marriage.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    If one were to list the hot political and cultural issues in America today, objective Torah Jews would be on the conservative side of most, even though American conservatism itself is often way too secular in outlook. If Jews have a phobia for American conservatism or the Republican Party based on our real or imagined history with these groups, a reassessment is long overdue. To be a responsible citizen in our exile calls for a close, objective look at politicians and policy options.

    Or we can haughtily float above it all and let mobs rule.

  3. DF says:

    Clearly no party will ever be entirely aligned with the Torah, in part because there will never be complete agreement as to what the Torah prescribes. But that the Republican party is far closer to that ideal than the other is today not even a point of debate, if it ever was. With exceptions and gadflies duly noted, one has to look very hard to find an orthodox Jew under the age of 65 who identifies with the democrats. As for those older than that age – nothing is likely to change. For such individuals, the belief in a fair and impartial media is too deeply embedded, such that shifting their paradigms at this point is a practical impossibility. Given that belief, they can only see a grotesquely distorted view of the right (while simultaneously seeing the left portrayed only in glowing tones.) It is not fair to expect such individuals to be able to fairly assess the true state of affairs. It is enough simply to (as the Judges say) give their opinions the weight it deserves.

  4. Mycroft says:

    Rav Soloveitchik had an interesting thought that using similar phraseology to Rabbi Menken’s title. Halacha is the floor of proper behavior, it is not the ceiling.

  5. Yehoshua Duker says:

    To DF: Blindly asserting your beliefs as facts, without supporting them at all, is not a very effective rhetorical device. I, for one, do not see why lowering taxes on corporations and the wealthy, strict immigration policy, lax gun-control laws, a limited social safety net, minimal public health care, mass incarceration, etc. etc., are what the Torah prescribes. True, on a few issues, the Republican position (or at least what had been the Republican position until this past election) is more aligned with what the Torah has to say, but I do not believe that to be so concerning the vast majority of the issues.
    And if you have a hard time finding Orthodox Democrats under the age of 65, you need to broaden your social circles.

    • DF says:

      We can debate it all day long, but we can’t debate this: Orthodox Jews today vote Republican. (You need look no further than RY Adlerstein’s article in the current Hakirah for corroboration.) You might think we’re all wrong, and some people (mostly older) would agree with you too, but its a position fewer and fewer people subscribe to.

      • Yehoshua Duker says:

        That was not the issue I was addressing. I was addressing your assertion that “the Republican party is far closer [to what the Torah prescribes] than the other is today not even a point of debate, if it ever was.”
        I am fully aware that most Orthodox Jews today vote Republican

  6. Shimshon says:

    “So we must question: from where did Rabbi Shafran receive his distorted picture of the reality in Charlottesville? This is not difficult to discern.”

    I agree with the need to question, but not with the conclusion.

    I think that Rabbi Shafran’s distorted picture of reality comes from being a lobbyist in DC. To say it has not affected his views is to deny what’s in front of you.

    I am a long-time reader of a blog that has a large alt-right readership and following, along with being a focal point of alt-right discussion and debate, and Rabbi Shafran’s characterizing of the alt-right is grossly unfair and misinformed, at best. He continues to do so, even when corrected by you or me. It was even in the news recently that the government declared Antifa a domestic terrorist organization back in APRIL. This is not just from imbibing too much CNN. He’s a lobbyist in DC. He inhabits the same world CNN does, and shares their world view.

    • Yaakov Menken says:

      Yes, but he’s not a lobbyist in DC. There are some people where you can say that they are college professors and thus tainted, but no, he is not among them. He is among the experts at pushing back against the lies told by the liberal movements. I don’t think it’s our place to speculate upon motivations or why he’s always had a soft spot for Obama, just address the reality. I agree with you about his mischaracterization of the right wing.

      • DF says:

        Agreed with your response to commenter Shimshon, but one must still reflect – all of halacha, and everything we have ever learned, recognizes the influence (“hashpah”) our surroundings have upon us. When one spends his life surrounded only by the same type of groupthink, where even the token house conservatives are not very different at all from the left, it cannot but have an effect on a man.

      • Shimshon says:

        I would NEVER use the word tainted. He is affected by the world around him, as DF described. Even if “lobbyist in DC” isn’t strictly true, rhetorically it describes well the problem.

        I don’t have a problem with his “soft spot for Obama.” I didn’t mention it. I even agree with him that Obama was not the unmitigated disaster for Israel that many conservatives wailed on about.

        Would that Rabbi Shafran apply the same degree of skepticism on ALL reporting, which is as manipulative and deceitful on the alt-right as that on Israel.

  7. David z says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I have been so disappointed.

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