I’m reluctant to continue my debate with my valued friend Rabbi Yaakov Menken – he’s the one who invited me at Cross-Currents’ inception to post here! – but his most recent posting about my bemoaning of what I see as an unhealthy politicization of part of the Orthodox world contains, I believe, some inaccuracies in need of correction.
Each of Rabbi Menken’s points deserves a substantive response, but it’s a busy time of Jewish year for us all, so I’ll suffice with a few brief correctives of several. Anyone in doubt about their accuracy is encouraged to do independent research.
- While Hillary Clinton remains a favorite target of abuse by many, she is far from the only person – in both her party and the Republican one – whose attitude toward gay marriage has “evolved.” Unfortunately, it is Western society that has “evolved.”
- In 2000, in fact, Donald Trump told a gay newspaper that “I like the idea of amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation. It would be simple. It would be straightforward.” During the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump made direct, overtures to gay voters, but contradictory statements in front of conservative audiences.
- The Pew Research Center reported earlier this year that 40% of Republicans (and 41% of conservatives!) favor gay marriage. Does the fact that the percentage of Democrats is higher mean that there’s a right and wrong party for observant Jews?
- Gay marriage is indeed a settled legal issue, lamentable as that may be. The issue of a religious right to refuse to help others celebrate such unions is an entirely different one topic. And it is one in which Agudath Israel – which has filed a powerful brief supporting the baker in the “Masterpiece” case currently before the High Court – and I as an individual, come down squarely on the side of religious rights.
- That there are more Democrats than Republicans who oppose current Israeli settlement policy does not mean the former party is (or, for that matter, those opponents are) “anti-Israel.”
- A “Washington lobbyist who asked for anonymity” is not a conclusive source for any contention.
- That “most ‘pro-life’ politicians would draw lines similar to our own [italics mine],” regarding abortion is irrelevant. Various federal and state “life begins at conception” bills have in fact been introduced by Republicans, and should be totally objectionable to any observant Jew, as they would outlaw even halachically required early abortions.)
- President Trump’s comments about Charlottesville quoted by Rabbi Menken are from the president’s second set of comments on the issue – a prepared statement read from a teleprompter. His earlier and later impromptu ones rightly deserved, and received, criticism. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/08/23/trumps-angry-dishonest-defense-of-his-charlottesville-comments-broken-down/?utm_term=.7341762dc222
- The fact that “antifa” thugs “organized” themselves has nothing to do with the anti-white supremacist rally’s organizers. There is, in other words, no “organize-organize” gezera shava. The opposition rally was organized and overwhelmingly attended, as I detailed, by good people. And there were no good people among the supremacists.
Finally, Rabbi Menken writes that, sure, an observant Jew “can support government welfare programs that end up encouraging single motherhood… [and] can favor unfettered immigration, even from countries where hatred for the West, for individual liberty, and for Jews are all part of the school curriculum….”
Those lines, to me, illustrate the precise problem I perceive in the Orthodox world. Too many of us see the world in stark black and white. That approach is what makes talk radio popular with masses. But is it really befitting a thinking Jew?
Can one, in other words, support welfare programs that assist a wide variety of innocent poor (including many in our own community) but also single mothers? And are all single mothers irresponsible? Did most of them, or any of them, choose to be single mothers because they wanted government assistance? Did any of them think that their children’s father would stick around but, sadly, discovered otherwise?
Is immigration from friendly countries (like Mexico or India, two of the main sources of immigration to the U.S.) inherently objectionable? Are DACA beneficiaries unworthy of remaining here? Are people fleeing hostile countries but who meet strict vetting standards (which, in fact, have been in place for years) to be shunned?
Any one of us can feel that, regarding those last three questions, in fact, it is, they are and they should be – and that single mothers and their children are undeserving of government help. But are those necessarily Torah-informed conclusions?
And does the fact that one political party seems at present more in line with most observant Jews’ feelings about moral or Israel issues mean that there is some imperative to embrace the entirety of that party’s convictions – even in issues like law enforcement standards or reasonable gun control or public religious displays…?
You likely know my answer to those last two question, so I won’t belabor things further. Other than to declare, without hesitation or reservation, my sincere, heartfelt birchas hedyot to Rabbi Menken and all Cross-Currents’ readers for a gmar chasima tova and a year of only berachos!