Do rabbis think the Bush administration has been good for Israel?
On this second installment of the Rabbis Roundtable, leading rabbis of different denominations and perspectives sit down together to discuss the the president’s impact on the American-Israel relationship and other provocative questions, including:
* Is the kosher supervision industry in need of ethical reform?
* Is there such a thing as the Jewish Values Vote?
* Should rabbis be allowed to make political endorsements?
Watch clips from this episode:
What Happens to Israel After Bush?
Moderator Rabbi Eliyahu Stern asks the panelists to speculate on what the America–Israel relationship will look like once Bush is out of office and either John McCain or Barack Obama is president. Will our choice of president make a difference to this relationship?
No matter who the president is, the U.S.-Israel relationship will be much the same, asserts Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of the Reform Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of the Orthodox Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, NJ sees a lot of his congregants worrying whether the next president will be loyal to the Israeli-American relationship, particularly if Barack Obama is elected.
The “politics of fear” is deeply concerning to Rabbi Alan Lucas of the Conservative Temple Beth Shalom in Roslyn Heights, NY, who says that some are using Jews’ concerns over Israel and Obama’s relative inexperience with foreign policy to generate fear in the community.
But has Bush’s presidency been good for Israel overall? Goldin is not sure that Bush’s foreign policies will actually have benefited Israel, but he and his congregants value the deep friendship Bush has shown to Israel. It’s “a beautiful thing,” he says, that, historically, every president that’s come into office has been “good for Israel.”
But the existence of the State of Israel has always been in the best interest of the U.S., Lucas is quick to point out, saying that’s why presidents have been able to embrace and support it. He does not believe, however, that Bush’s foreign policy has been good for Israel.
Rabbi David Lincoln of the Conservative Park Avenue Synagogue in New York agrees, saying that Bush’s uncritical support has hurt Israel, where maybe a little “tough love” would have been more beneficial. He jokes, however, that President Bush should make aliyah because he’s more popular in Israel than at home.
The Kosher Meat Controversy and Jewish Ethics.
After the largest American immigration raid ever targeted a kosher slaughterhouse, resulting in the arrest of 400 workers, many Jews are asking rabbis to step in, saying that kosher food producers should meet a code for workplace ethics, in addition to technical kosher laws. The Conservative movement has been at the forefront of this kosher reform movement, advocating a hechsher tzedek.
Many Conservative Jews who are concerned that food meet technical halachic requirements are equally concerned with the ethical laws “in the rest of the Torah,” Rabbi Alan Lucas explains.
“The general feeling” is that Orthodox communities are “more concerned with strict halacha” of how an animal is slaughtered, and “not really concerned” with workplace and other laws, says Rabbi David Lincoln.
Continuing in Lincoln’s vein, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch argues, “What one segment of the Jewish community does impacts the reputation of the totality of Jews.”
Defending his Orthodox congregants, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin says it’s not right to speak in generalities about other segments of the Jewish community and replies, “We need to be able to say that all areas of halacha are important: human laws, and ritual laws.”
Is there a Jewish Values Voter?
“Values Voters” have been a dominant element in recent elections, credited with voting based on “moral values” to keep many Republicans in office. Looking ahead to November, Rabbi Eliyahu Stern asks if there is such a thing as a “Jewish Values Voter,” and if so, what are the values by which they’re voting?
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin believes there are two different kinds of Jewish voters: those who simply vote for what they feel is best for Israel, and those who turn to that group and say, “That’s not right, you’re American, you should vote on American issues and Israel will take care of itself.”
Dismissing the idea of a Jewish values voter, Rabbi Alan Lucas says it would be a “terrible tragedy” if American Jews are defined as solely concerned about Israel.
Stern turns the conversation toward how congregations are generally feeling about about the presidential candidates. When fear of Obama and his “unknown” record is mentioned, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch jumps in: “I’ll tell you in my community there is none of that,” he says, “we are Upper West Side Liberal Jews and they aren’t falling for that.” In fact, he points out, “Barack Hussein Obama might have a Muslim middle name, but he has a very good Jewish first name, Barack! Anyone knows that that’s a classic Jewish name!”
Should rabbis be able to endorse political candidates?
“No,” says Rabbi David Lincoln, “unless the candidate is an anti-Semite—then we should speak out.” Being British, he says, has given him a different perspective on the separation of church and state.
Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch agrees that endorsing candidates is wrong, but says it’s important for rabbis to be knowledgeable and active in political affairs. Rabbi Shmuel Goldin agrees, saying one of the most significant recent changes in politics has been the increase of Jews involvement on both sides of the political spectrum.
Rabbi Alan Lucas notes that there is a difference between endorsing candidates and holding them accountable for the positions they hold — because of the values that are “near and dear to us.” Sharing a similar sentiment, Lincoln argues, “We don’t necessarily have to say our views, but we have to call for fairness; I’m not particularly a supporter of Obama — I don’t know how I’m going to vote — but I have said from the pulpit you don’t accuse this man of being a Muslim.”