Thank You, R’ Avrohom

Thank you, R’ Avrohom, for responding to my question. (Hey, we might as well address each other directly, and just let others “listen in,” no?)

I understand why you feel that my point #2, in my recent posting here — that sometimes we must vote for candidates who are of unsavory character — was missing, at least the precise words I used, from the “Open Letter” that several people and I signed.

But while our letter’s main thrust was that Jews should not become reflexive fan-boys of any party or candidate, it did clearly declare: “Nothing stated above is intended to address anyone’s voting choices.”

That implies — actually, says outright — that our expression of concern about Jews becoming enthusiastic acolytes of parties or candidates, many of whom are less than morally or ethically stellar, is in no way intended to influence anyone’s — anyone’s — voting decision. We stated clearly, too, that moral degradation is not limited to any party or political philosophy, that it “infects… the camps of both liberals and conservatives.”

You explain further that there are times when you feel we can “be partisan for the sake of our community and important goals.”

If by “being partisan” you mean “supporting a party because, at any particular time, one judges its positions to be proper,” then I am in full agreement. Our letter’s first paragraph states as much: “Our interest may dovetail with a particular party or politician in one or another situation.”

What we decried, and I hope you don’t mean, was a knee-jerk embrace of any party qua party (and, I might personally add here, although the letter didn’t address it, the attendant vilification of the “other” party that is so sadly de rigueur these days). What pains us is the depressing sight of Torah-dedicated Jews acting like cheering, chanting fans at the societal boxing match that politics in the U.S. has become.

I was surprised to read that you feel that “No one politician, movement or party is going to observe Orthodox Jews supporting the opposition and decide that “the Jews have now withdrawn their support from us,” and that “the ramifications of Orthodox Jews appearing to be partisan are pretty negligible in the present landscape and the broader scheme of things.”

I don’t think any askan would agree with you on that. Most elections are on the state or local levels, and Orthodox Jews’s sympathies and votes are carefully noted by state and local authorities — and the states where we live tend to be overwhelming “blue” ones. Our elected officials are very, very much aware of the political choices, from the media that reflect our community’s choices.

What is more, and more important, the “ramifications” of our hurrahs are not only political but personal; we must be keenly aware of, and consider, their effect on our children… and, klapei Shmaya, on ourselves.

As to the contention that our letter — despite its express declaration that it was “not intended to influence anyone’s voting choices” — was in fact so intended, all I can do is reiterate strongly that it was not. I can understand equally why a frum Jew would want to vote for Mr. Trump and why one would want to vote for Mr. Biden. What I cannot understand — or, better, wish were not the case — is the rhapsodic embrace of either, or any, candidate, or any party.

As to President Trump, to be sure, I don’t think that anyone can seriously claim that the state of political discourse and behavior hasn’t deteriorated greatly in the past few years, and that he hasn’t been a major factor. It is that deterioration, though, not he, that our letter was addressing. (And, for the record, Mr. Biden, too, in recent weeks, has in fact been accused of all sorts of nefarious doings by his opponents.)

The reason we didn’t choose to allude to the anti-Semitic or anti-Israel comments of members of the so-called “Squad” was… well, because we didn’t know of any frum Jews who were falling at those ladies’ feet in adulation. The letter was intended for our community. (Not to mention that the prejudiced Congresswomen do not have 80 million followers hanging on their daily tweets.)

Forgive me for repeating myself, but I must, because it is what I want you to know above all else” It is the deterioration of political discourse and behavior, not any particular personality, that our letter addressed.

There was, in other words, no “coin” whose other side needed to be included in our letter.

We simply wanted to plead with our fellow Torah Jews that, while they have an obligation to vote for whoever they feel they should, they remember that they are, above all, Torah Jews, and not allow themselves to become cheerleaders for any — any —  political party or person.


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