Are We Jewish Rednecks?


By Rabbi Reuven Tradburks

[R. Tradburks is the rav of Kehillat Shaarei Torah in Toronto, the President of the Toronto Vaad Harabonim and former Director of its Beis Din, and a former Board member of AJOP]

Gary Rosenblatt addressed an issue in his column in the Jewish Week, which we don’t like to admit. In both the lead up to the election and the aftermath of the election of Barack Obama, orthodox Jews expressed opposition to Obama that had little to do with his policies or his political ability. He is a muslim, he will be terrible for Israel, he doesn’t like Jews, I am suspicious, who knows what he will do.

There is a tendency, I believe, in our world to paint the world in the paradigms of Yaakov and Esav – good versus evil. But we often paint the wrong people with the Esav label.

There are Esavs in the world. There are people who display principles and attitudes that are dark and evil. Arafat, Hamas, Hizbulla, Aryan Nation, Ahmenidijad.

But Obama is not one of them. He is an intelligent, liberal thinking man of integrity and great rhetorical ability. You may not like his attitudes or his platform. But that is a discussion in the realm of ideas not in the realm of good and evil. He is a good man, a man who wants good. The pursuit of universal health care, of helping the working poor, of raising the image of democracy and America in the world arena are all good ideas. Whether they will cost too much or whether his policies are the best way to help people receive health care, to increase their economic well being and whether his view of America in the world is the best way to bring freedoms to the world can be debated. But the pursuits are all good – and they are things that we, as Jews, believe in.

“I am concerned about a leader with insufficient experience”. That is a fair statement. “He will be terrible for Israel” is totally speculative and unjustified.

There is a simplicity of thinking that we should not fall prey to. And I think the paradigms of Yaakov and Esav may be the root cause – not the paradigms but how they are applied.

The Torah and Medrash paint pictures. Esav looks lovey dovey – but he is trying to bite Yaakov’s neck. Ephron looks magnanimous in offering Avraham Maarat Hamachpela to bury Sarah – but Avraham knows the truth – Ephron wants his money and he wants a lot of it. Don’t be fooled by what meets the eye – there is much more than meets the eye.

This is a great lesson. And dangerous. Sure, there are duplicitous people in the world. Tricksters. But the entire world is not populated by tricksters.

We have all heard kids come home from yeshivas talking of shvartses and of goyim and seeing the world as “us versus them”. There is plenty for us to avoid in our world. But the entire world is not good versus evil, is not “us versus them”. It is not us versus them within the frum and non frum and it is not us versus them in the Jewish and non Jewish world.

We live in a complex and nuanced world. There are tricksters and there are fine, principled non Jews. There are evil and there are educated, dedicated non Jews working for our good.

I often feel this picture of us versus them, of good versus evil, of Yaakovs and Esavs is the dominant picture of how to view the world. It is taught in our schools from the earliest age and is reinforced all the way through Yeshiva. But it is not tempered with nuance, with subtlety of application, with an appreciation of the complexity of life and of human beings. And part of this is the insularity of our world – we meet too few highly educated, kindhearted non-Jews who share many of our values.

But I don’t know how we can change this, how we can impact our system of education, of Jewish media, of teachers and influencers to adopt a more subtle, nuanced and accurate view of the world. And how we can become more worldly, more aware of the wonderful parts of the non-religious and non-Jewish worlds.

We should not become Jewish rednecks. It would be a great disservice to our Torah in the eyes of our fellow Jews and in the eyes of the world.

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Tammy B
7 years 9 days ago

I cannot believe what I am hearing from the Jewish Communities. First, I am not a Jew, but I am a Christian that loves the jewish race and every other race because we are suppose to love everyone. Second I am black and female. So I hope that you can already see the battles that I face here in America alone. (I live in the south) I do not agree with alot of Obamas’s views but pray for him because he is our president and will continue to need all the prayer that he can get and I pray that… Read more »

7 years 11 days ago

Unfortunately, far too many people are responding to valid criticism of Obama’s statements and positions with denouncements of racism.

And as for his positions on Israel, we’ve already had a heads up (and I don’t mean with Robert Malley).

From his own mouth, in a detailed interview with the Jerusalem Post, Obama’s answers on various questions regarding Israel give serious cause for concern, but more importantly, the way he chose to phrase his answers leaves no doubt in my mind that Israel is going to be in for a very rough ride with him.

Gershon Seif
7 years 11 days ago

Rabbi Tradburks,

After reading the comments, including yours, it seems the intention of your article: to appreciate nuance and shades of gray, was missed by many readers. Those critical of your article who assumed it was all about the elections, proved your point. Pity. It was a refreshing piece to read. I remember you from the old days at OS as always thinking and not getting led by the crowd. Seems you’re still at it 27 years later!

Bob Miller
7 years 11 days ago

The article is a fantasia of wishful thinking, and I reject its rosy rendition of Obama categorically. Too many facts are known that point in the opposite direction.

7 years 12 days ago

Re. the author’s comment, #16, let me first repeat the gist of my first note,#4:

“That you want to encourage us to give him a chance to prove himself – Sure. %100. That we should be particularly careful to not err on the side of superficial, skin associations – Absolutely. But all this is a far cry from guilt-tripping us into lusting after the worldliness that you find so ennobling!”

Now – I appreciate that you’ve clarified your thesis, since your post came accross much more shallow and provacative. You now say you merely want “to identify the goodness in the world… Read more »

7 years 12 days ago

A couple of years ago, my wife and I had the zchus to share a Shabbes meal with Reb. Ruchoma Shain. During the meal, I asked her what the German students who were studying at the Mirrer Yeshiva during her time living in Mir (1931-1938) thought of their nation’s leader (yemach shemo). She said that their response was “at least he is good for Germany”.

At that moment, I think that I reached political maturity.

Mike S.
7 years 12 days ago

It is usually very easy to distinguish between concerns about a candidate’s experience or positions, whether on Israel or any other issue, from racism and paranoia. In the first place, the former does not mention the candidate’s race or religion or supposed descent from Cham. And the former recognizes that, even if one disagrees, the candidate usually has some sensible reason for the policy one disagree’s with. And that there are constraints on what US presidents can do, and how fast and how far American policy can change. I heard plenty of both kinds of comments during… Read more »

sima ir kodesh
7 years 12 days ago

“Someone who lives in Canada has a lot of chutzpah to tell Americans how they should feel about their politicians”
We Americans do it to the Israelis all the time, by Lawrence M. Reisman

Since Israel is my DIVINE INHERITANCE, each and every Jew has the right and obligation to secure and oversee their inheritance, with words and actions to all involved. Canada is my neighbor and what transpairs in my neighbors house is not my business.

Reuven Tradburks
7 years 12 days ago

The point of my article was only tangentially about Obama. It was more about the tone and texture of differences.

Once a person is identified as not being on my team – because he is black or not frum or not jewish or is modern or is haredi – once he is not on my team, I check my civility at the door and proceed to level whatever types of criticisms i like. This is what i meant by redneck. Having lived in Alabama, there is a colloquial use of that term – people who lack… Read more »

David Berger
7 years 12 days ago

The assertion that Obama “will be terrible for Israel” may or may not be correct. I agree with Rabbi Tradburks that it is speculative and—in its unqualified form—unjustified. Nonetheless, because there are substantial grounds for making this assertion (though there is also evidence to the contrary), it is an inappropriate example to support the thesis that many Orthodox Jews are rednecks.
Regrettably, the phenomenon that Rabbi Tradburks laments can be supported by other evidence. He notes, to take but one example, the use of the term “shvartzer” by a significant number of English speaking… Read more »

Dovid Zauderer
7 years 12 days ago

As a pulpit rabbi, i think Rabbi Tradburks can appreciate the power of the position, as well as the impact a charismatic spiritual leader can have on his congregants over a long period of time. This alone is enough to cause great concern for any thinking Jew … for Barack Obama has been sitting in Pastor Wright’s congregation and listening to his vitriolic, hate-filled – and, yes, anti-semitic – “derashos” for many years. My only hope is that Mr. Obama was talking during the “davening” and speeches, and none of the Pastor’s “torah” sunk in. G-d help us.

7 years 13 days ago

The tendency to understand world issues as either BLACK or WHITE is part and parcel of today’s education. The color ‘GREY’ takes strength of character to teach and even more so to be understood.

Steve Brizel
7 years 13 days ago

Yasher Koach on a finely nuanced article on an important issue. One should certainly be able to support or oppose any candidate’s POV with using the political equivalents of expletives deleted.OTOH, considering the questionnable nature of the sources of such comments as well as the less than stellar nature of the publication cited in the article, IMO, a few inappropriate comments have now been utilized to point fingers and allege that a problem exists when in fact, no such problem exists. WADR, I also reject the Esau analogy. Regardless of the fact that we read Parshas Zachor twice a year,… Read more »

7 years 13 days ago

This is a breath of fresh air.

I voted for McCain. Both for McCain, and against Obama.

Torah demands we see every color in the spectrum of human interaction.

To paint over the color-spectrum of life with simplicity-masks of Black and White is to reject the elegance of Creation.

kol hakavod.

Lawrence M. Reisman
7 years 13 days ago

“Someone who lives in Canada has a lot of chutzpah to tell Americans how they should feel about their politicians”

We Americans do it to the Israelis all the time.

David N. Friedman
7 years 13 days ago

Rabbi Tradburks offers his apologies for us as supposed rednecks when we are certainly not. This whole line of reasoning demonstrates the power of accusation we have allowed the left to wield against us, to define our values. In truth, this is a contrast of values and a contrast which paints a very positive picture of *us* in competition with their own. It is not “us vs. them” as a means to destroy them from our perspective–this is THEIR stand against us.

Therefore, to highlight why we are different, why we are set apart has always been the… Read more »

Joel Rich
7 years 13 days ago

Kach mkublani mbeit avi abba:
“Do not say things. What you are stands over you
and thunders so I cannot hear what you say
to the contrary.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Only time will tell what President Elect Obama is, until now all we really have is a lot of words.
Joel Rich

The Contarian
7 years 13 days ago


Are you sure that Rabbi Tradburks is a Canadian?

Secondly, I was born and brought up in Canada and have lived in the US for almost 40 years.

It is not that Canadians are Tzadikim. It is just that we did not grow up with US racism with our mother’s milk nor did we live in an enviroment of black-jewish competition. We can thereforw be more objective when it comes to the anti-back feelings held by our co-religionists.

The Canadian divide is not race but langauge. The paranoia and anti-French sentiment exhibited by Montreal Jews when The Parti Quebecois won the provincial… Read more »

Tal Benschar
7 years 13 days ago

“There is a simplicity of thinking that we should not fall prey to.”

What I find curious is that there is no consideration of the simplicity of thinking on the pro-Obama side. I cannot remember a shallower level of campaigning than we saw in the last election.

What did Obama stand for? “Change.” Change to what? No one knows and no one in the campaign made much effort to explain or define it. There was a distinct lack of discussion of policy positions from the Obama campaign and his supporters. Ask ten Obama supporters what “change”… Read more »

7 years 13 days ago

Someone who lives in Canada has a lot of chutzpah to tell Americans how they should feel about their politicians.

It’s not the first time I’ve encountered self-righteous Canadian Orthodox Jews telling us in the US that we’re a bunch of racists, but it’s still troubling.

And I say this as someone who, while strongly opposing Obama from day one, recognizes that there’s a lot of racism out there. But there are boundaries, just because many frum Jews seem not to recognize them. I don’t tell Canadian Jews about their Muslim problem…

7 years 13 days ago

I agree with the first commentor that it is far from unjustified to fearfully balk at O’s attitude towards the M.East politics. That this format is being used for flinging out such an unfounded accusation seems highly provacative.

I also find it curious that the writer is constantly equating “educated” with the forces of light. This is classic liberal thinking but far from grounded in solid evidence. In fact we find some of the most educated people today are heading virulent anti-zionist campaigns! Let alone all those wonderfully educated Nazis…

Similarly I’m taken aback at how easily you determine… Read more »

7 years 14 days ago

Obama stood at the platform of the potential Oregon voters and declared, ” Iran does not pose a threat to us.” ?! Is this man kidding? that’s just it- he was not. Obama has also voiced his opinion that the major checkpoints in Israel should be dismantled! His non repentent friend and speculated ghost writer for his “Dreams of my Father” book is Bill Ayers. The last time I checked Louis Farrakhan wasn’t exactly exactly happy to have us Jews around.

Our comments-which I have never heard, yet so many people have said they have heard… Read more »

7 years 14 days ago

Thank you for this piece. I pray that it will help to stop much of the baseless slander of Mr. Obama that has been occurring. Realistic critiques of Obama are fine of course, but many that have been raised by the orthodox community are xenophobic. These irrational critiques have helped to make frum Jews look insane and racist in the eyes of potential baalei teshuva.

Bruce Epstein
7 years 14 days ago

You paint Jewish opposition to Obama as having “little to do with his policies or his political ability”. You are correct that this opposition is not based on Obama’s policies, since he has never done anything. Therefore, determining his positions on Israel is speculative. However, it is far from “unjustified”. Based on his associations, his own statements, his advisors, and his supporters, it is quite justified for all those who support Israel to worry about an Obama administration and to have opposed his candidacy. I hardly think that Jewish opposition to Obama is based on a simplistic view of good… Read more »