Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s Stunning Invocation

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Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s invocation this evening at the Republican National Convention masterfully and elegantly highlighted themes and values that resonate with both Torah Jews and with a probable majority of Americans. In a brief two minutes, he credited G-d and faith for what is great about America. He spoke of a national mission and purpose, embracing the American exceptionalism that so many yearn to see restored. He left room to ask Divine assistance for those in the path of the weather system that threatens to engulf them.

He spoke with pride and confidence, as one who wished to join with all assembled in building a better society, not as a diffident outsider. Convention planners should be complimented for bypassing senior rabbis of other denominations (who grumbled about the choice in advance of the invocation) in favor of one who would have something of substance to say, and still not embarrass them. And Rabbi Soloveichik should be saluted for delivering a kiddush Hashem.

Most significant, however, was Rabbi Soloveichik’s sense of Jewish responsibility, in sharp contrast to a different group of rabbis. Rabbi Soloveichik, with so little time allocated to him, and with the eyes of the world upon him, seized the opportunity to improve the lot of his coreligionists by placing Israel on a pedestal. At the very moment that he was called upon as a stand-in for all Americans, he insisted on also acting as a Jew. In doing so, he reaffirmed the commitment of these two countries to each other and to a commonality of values. He also reasserted the centrality of Israel in the hearts and minds of the majority of American Jews – a centrality that so many marginal and self-hating Jews work so assiduously to deny.

In one short address, Rabbi Soloveichik proudly proclaimed that Jewish particularism is not a sin. In doing so, he honorably countered the shameful irresponsibility of the 600 Rabbis For Obama, who recently included one of the most toxic and damaging haters of Israel in their group of signatories, as will be explained.

Listening to Rabbi Soloveichik was therapeutic. Just a few weeks ago, I sat through some of the most painful hours I had ever experienced in my professional capacity as an advocate for Jewish interests with the Simon Wiesenthal Center. I travelled to Pittsburgh to attend the biennial General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), as it mulled over a series of pro-Palestinian resolutions that called for divestment and boycott of Israel, as well as labeling her an apartheid state.

The anti-Israel forces did not have to fly in Palestinians to make their case. They were not needed, since the committee room was flooded with Jewish turncoats, who begged those assembled in the name of morality and their Christian obligation to punish Israel for its sins. Scores of them paraded around the convention with signs saying, “I’m young. I’m Jewish. And I want you to vote for divestment.”

Their rhetoric is still too painful to repeat. One example will suffice. A young woman urged them to disregard any fallout from the Jewish community for voting against Israel. Justice and Judaism itself demanded that they do so. The Torah writes, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart,” reading this in the Hebrew as lo sisaneh (sic) et achichah bilvavecha. Israel, she said, violated this daily by its brutal repression of our Palestinian brothers.

A magnificent group of Presbyterian friends had worked tirelessly to defeat the resolutions, and were successful in beating back most – but not all – of them. Even those who voted the right way conceded later that their view of Jewish support for Israel was changed by all of those young Jewish pro-Palestinians.

The entire erev rav was part of a small but noisy group of anti-Zionist Jews called Jewish Voices For Peace (JVP). They travel to lots of places where anti-Israel moves are contemplated, to provide cover for anti-Israel groups and genuine anti-Semites. The Jew-haters are able to point to them as proof that their measures are not aimed at the Jewish community, since so many Jews share their beliefs. They are also used as evidence that the Jewish community does not really support Israel, but is split on its support, with more and more listing to the Palestinian side. (In the case of the Presbyterian convention, even J-Street fiercely opposed the anti-Israel resolutions.)

In a word, JVP should be considered the equivalent of Neturei Karta, with an important exception. NK is seen by everyone else, Jew and non-Jew alike, as a bunch of clowns. They infuriate us, but the real damage they do is extremely limited. JVP is Neturei Karta on steroids. They can and do cause real damage to the authentic Jewish community, endangering the Jewish State and the lives of its inhabitants. If they can be included under the big tent of American Judaism, then everyone can. There are no bounds, no limits, no exceptions. You would think that any responsible group of Jews would detest, shun and anathematize them. You would think.

The leader of the pack at the Pittsburgh General Assembly was Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, a member of the Jewish Renewal movement, and part of the old hippie culture that led to her “ordination” as the first woman rabbi of the ‘70’s hippie group that has not yet recovered from ingesting too much bad acid. She led the charge, which is not surprising, since four years ago she led a mission of reconciliation to Iran. (Again, the parallel to Neturei Karta.) Despite this, those who signed on to the Rabbis For Obama statement saw nothing wrong with including her name.

In so doing, they exhibited poor judgment, irresponsibility, and showed American Jews – whether supporters of the President or Mitt Romney – how confused are their priorities.

Fortunately, a young Orthodox rabbi this evening stood up to them, and demonstrated genuine Jewish responsibility.

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33 Responses

  1. Phil says:

    L. Oberstein:

    So Obama “made some errors that he’s trying to overcome” and “his love for Israel is not as deep as he proclaims” but your true criticism is directed at your brethren who are quite shocked at his alarming behavior, especially as of late. The only “hook, line and sinker” consumers here are those who so outspokenly supported him in 2008, continue to apologize for him even today and then profess to worry about “retribution”. Thou doth protest too much, methinks.

  2. A.Schreiber says:

    In his best-selling book, Yehuda Avner – who as an ambassador and part of more than five Israeli adminstrations, actually knows something – describes Regan as, in fact, a true friend of Israel. It was Regan, he notes, that was the first to describe Israel as an “ally” of the US, and not just a “strategi asset” in the middle east

  3. A.Schreiber says:

    “The revisionist effort to turn Ronald Reagan (who may or may not have been a fine President for other reasons ) into a gaeat friend of Israel requires ignoring a stunning litany of painful facts…”

    In his best selling book, Yehuda Avner – who actually knows something, unlike internet commenters, did in fact describe Regan as a great friend of Israel. It was Regan, in fact, who was proud to describe Israel as an “ally”, rather than just a strategic asset in the middle East.

  4. Phil says:

    Chardal,

    While R. Herzog’s opinion of the White Paper wasn’t immoderate, his public protest of it was quite dramatic. After leading a large procession through the streets of Jerusalem to the steps of the Hurva Synagogue he turned and said, “We cannot agree to the White Paper. Just as the prophets did before me, I hereby rip it in two” and proceeded to do so.

  5. L. Oberstein says:

    There are very valid reasons to support Romney over Obama and Israel is at the top of my list. Obama has made some errors that he is trying to overcome and there is valid reason to suspect that his love for Israel is not as deep as he proclaims. I don’t know what is in his heart. Thus,I undertand why a frum Jew would vote for Romney and I may do so myself this time. That does not mean we have to buy hook ,line and sinker, the hyperbole and vicious personal attacks on Obama. It makes us look so rediculous and sets up our community for retribution after the election. Our great rabbis were always in favor of quiet diplomacy and not antagonizing the ruling authorities. Why should orthodox Jews be in the forefront of personal attacks on the President, not political arguments. I think we are endangering our community by stooping to that level. I admire Rabbi Avi Shafran for expressing this common sense approach,which is the way of our sages down through the ages. It is a crying shame that Ami and Mishpacha and other mouthpieces of the chareidi community are so openly partisan,especially the arguments set forth by Ami’s editor, which show an amazing lack of sophistication and understanding of the American political system .I pray that the One Above protects Am Yisrael from such inapropriate and misguided partisanship.

  6. david says:

    Raymond, Pat Moynihan used to note that “you are entitled to your own opinion , but you are not entitled to your own facts” The revisionist effort to turn Ronald Reagan (who may or may not have been a fine President for other reasons ) into a gaeat friend of Israel requires ignoring a stunning litany of painful facts ,including : his sale of AWACS to the Saudis telling Senators that the choice was “Reagen or Begin” as his Chief of Staff Jim Baker boasted of “breaking the back of the Israel lobby”; tearing up Carter’s agreement to share intelligence with Israel (in exchange for leaving Sinai) in a fury when Israel had the temerity to bomb the Iraqi reactor(an action which forced Israel to hire Pollard to steal the very data they had been promised)voting to comdemn Israel at the UN for that raid (over J Kirkpatrick’s objections),saving Arafat in Beirut, recognizing the PLO and taking them off the terrorist list., etc,,. And I didn’t even mention Bittburg.

  7. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    “The gentile world seems a whole lot more open to a more modern approach to Judaism.” This explains the expulsion from Spain, a highly acculturated Jewish society, or the rise of Nazism in Germany, the most “modern” Jewish society of our times. It explains the rise of modern anti-Semitism in Europe that followed the emancipation of the 19th century. It explains the relative tolerance shown most of the backward Jewish communities of the Middle East until the 20th century, or the relative tolerance shown to the Jews of Poland for 200 years until Chelmnicki came along.

  8. lacosta says:

    to raymond—

    just as in israel itself , haredi voters are encouraged to vote for parties that advocate their particularist interests as opposed to strictly security [ although one supposes that the Torah parties would see massive financial support for them and their followers/mosdot as a security issue], so too in Chu”l , it would be legitimate to vote for the party that would advocate great financial largesse to the underclasses, the poor, the un- and under-employed. the fact that chssidishe communities have voted thusly at the behest of their rebbes indicates there is rabbinic sanction for such an approach. and in Europe , i don’t doubt that there would be countries with an anti-apartheid tone across all party lines, and would by your criterion leave the jewish citizen no one to vote for…..

  9. Raymond says:

    So that I do not become too overwhelmed here, I will make my comments first, and only afterward read what other people wrote here. And, while I want to write so much in response, I will try to keep my comments brief.

    First of all, for the life of me, I do not understand how any Jew anywhere, does not make Israel his or her first priority, when it comes to political matters. I long ago chose the political party I chose, based on the sharply contrasting stances toward Israel that were taken by Jimmy Carter on one side, and Richard Nixon/Ronald Reagan on the other side. And since then, my choice has been demonstrated to be right on a highly consistent basis, for example, George W Bush in contrast to the current inhabitant in the White House regarding that same subject. But how can any Jew NOT think like this? I can understand trying to deny the painful, ongoing phenomenon of antisemitism, but denying reality does not make it go away. I think of the many Jews of Germany in the early-to-mid 20th century, who thought of themselves not as Jews, but as Germans. How shocked they were when they found out that the nazis (correctly!) see all Jews as Jews, regardless of the attempt by some Jews to deny who they are.

    The other point I want to make here, is probably more controversial, plus I am not sure I am qualified to adequately express what I want to say. But when I see and hear a man like Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik given such a tremendous honor at the Republican National Convention, to me it makes a strong case for the Modern Orthodox movement, or at least points to the importance of traditional, religious Jews not turning their collective backs on the world, but fully engaging in it without compromising their religious values. I do not mean to offend anybody here, but the Chareidi world is largely unknown and irrelevant to the world at large. The gentile world seems a whole lot more open to a more modern approach to Judaism. A lot more people know Senator Joseph Lieberman than Rav Elyashev. This goes back even centuries, as evidenced by the popularity of the Rambam, even in the gentile world.

  10. Nachum says:

    They don’t deserve a blessing too?

  11. mycroft says:

    “Nachum
    August 31, 2012 at 1:30 am
    mycroft: There really isn’t anything political in asking God to bless someone. Many shuls say a tefillah every Shabbat asking God to bless the American and/or Israeli leadership, whether they support them or not.”

    Fortunately I have not heard a blessing for candidates or individuals by names yet-I have heard blessings for those occupying the offices.
    Rabbi Soloveichik did not ask for a blessing for those who rule the US-he asked a blessing for those running for office.

  12. Chardal says:

    There was nothing immoderate re Rav Herzog’s opinion on the white paper, etc. it was a near unanimous opinion in the yeshuv!

  13. Nachum says:

    mycroft: There really isn’t anything political in asking God to bless someone. Many shuls say a tefillah every Shabbat asking God to bless the American and/or Israeli leadership, whether they support them or not.

    L. Oberstein: Sadly, yes. It’s reached that point.

  14. david says:

    Forgive me, but if one -or ten -of 600 folk who sign a petition supporting a candidate are noisome jerks does that make the candidate , or the group, ipso facto unacceptable? Thoughtful people can disagree about the wisdom of this political invocation, but Lynn Gottlieb (whose views I find utterly offensive) is a red herring.That being said, I like Rav Meir-I am probably one of the few non-family members to have been at his wedding and his parent’s wedding, but I think his paen to “freedom uber alles” was not what my Rebbe, his grandfather Z”Tl , would have said …

    [YA – Sorry, Reb Dovid. We all love ya, but you are seriously undervaluing the damage she and her ilk do. She (and a few more stridently anti-Zionist signatories) cannot be dismissed as noisome jerks – although that they are. They work with some success to undermine the standing and security of the State of Israel and the largest yishuv of Jews in the world. Would you sign a petition along with the noisome jerks from Neturei Karta?

    I am not going to guess what his grandfather zt”l would or would not have said, but I wouldn’t hang on every word of this invocation as if it were a Tosafos (or, more to the point, a passage in Grach al haRambam). Any overemphasis on the blessing of freedom has to be taken in the context of his very forceful evocation of responsiblity to G-d. That’s all the limitation on freedom that we need in a two minute presentation. (Sorta like the juxtaposition of the command to Adam of vekivshuha, immediately followed by a reminder that meat was off limits to him.)

    Including a few evil fruitcakes certainly does not reflect on the candidate. It does illuminate the state of mind and the priorities of the gang of 600 (Some of them are friends, but I still despise those priorities and values.)]

  15. L. Oberstein says:

    Nachum, do you really believe that there is room for only one political party, the one you agree with?
    Hashem Yeracheim. Whenever someone like myself asks for moderation and balance, there are those who feel this is contemptible. When Avi Shafran points out that it isn’t all good vs bad in our political system , he is castigated. As a great Hebrew writer once said, if only the Am Chachom Vdenovon had a little sechel.

  16. mycroft says:

    “Churches and synagogues are supposed to be non-political but Rabbis have a right to express their opinions just as all Americans do. Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb spoke at the Democratic National Convention back in 2008. Did you have a problem with that?”

    IMO it would be better if Rabbis did not bless political party rallies which is what the conventions are. One can distinguish Rabbi Weinreb’s speech which I don’t remember but read
    a few minutes ago at who doesn’t ask for a blessing for any political candidates to R Soloveichik who asks for a blessing for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. Rabbi Weinreb’s speech could have been given in any democcracy without changing a word.

  17. Mr. Cohen says:

    What is the URL of this video?

    [http://youtu.be/0q7oLSHv-bs]

  18. Dovid says:

    Like (mostly) what he said, but I thought that the insertion of applause lines was a bit crass.

    Clearly, the audience, which (based on the video) had their eyes closed, were not expecting it and likely felt a bit taken aback.

    Was their reaction: “Just another super-smart, aggressive NY Jew”?

    Don’t know

  19. A.Schreiber says:

    “Why don’t we have a Rabbi Herzog or a Rabbi JB Soloveitchik today, someone whom everyone has to admit is a Godol.”

    Great portions of orthodox jewry – the very ones, in fact, who promoted the concept of “Gedolim” you have used – would never admit the figures you mentioned were Gedolim. It is purely a political term, used to describe the rabbinic figures at the head of one particular faction to which these figures did not belong. Unless you share that ideology, and I know you dont, it is not wise to let them “frame the debate”, so to speak, by adopting their terminology and the worldview it implies.

  20. Phil says:

    L. Oberstein:

    Churches and synagogues are supposed to be non-political but Rabbis have a right to express their opinions just as all Americans do. Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb spoke at the Democratic National Convention back in 2008. Did you have a problem with that?

    “What Klal Yisroel needs are Gedolim who espouse a moderate position”. Do you mean moderate positions like the Rav’s withering criticism of FDR or his hawkish support of the Vietnam war? Or perhaps Rav Herzog’s criticisms of the British and the White Paper?

  21. Yoel B says:

    ” With his emphasis that mortal men cannot limit the gifts God has bestowed on us, with his emphasis that the liberties and rights we have is a consequence of God’s gifts, there is the implication that reason, common sense, spirit of compromise, opinions of the people expressed freely and other principles of social justice either don’t exist or are subservient to these God gifted rights and liberties. Think for example about the issue of gun control.”

    Rabbi Soloveichik was reading the Declaration correctly. As some are wont to say, gun control isn’t about guns, it’s about control. If the right to life and liberty inalienably inhere, by the nature of Man’s creation itself, in the individual, then the individual must also have the right to defend that life and liberty. Therefore, citizens must have a right to possess and use effective means of self defense. The State’s right to limit either is intrinsically limited; the law must be limited in scope, primarily serving to balance competing rights claims by individuals. Any attempt by the State to overstep its bounds is an offense against God’s design for the world.

    If there are no such intrinsic rights, if the right to liberty, or to life itself, is granted by the State, then the State may alienate, may remove those rights. Most jurisdictions which prohibit civilians from owning and using firearms also restrict other means of self defense, even going to the point of virtually forbidding it. At that point, when the State arrogates all power to defend life and liberty, or to decide not to, when the State grants liberty and life itself or withholds them at its own discretion, then there are few other limits to what the State may do.

    Consider: In a well-ordered society, citizens must have the ability to know that they are being law abiding. In the former Soviet Union, it was impossible to obey the laws; the State could always come for you. Unfortunately, this is now the case in the USA, too. Boston lawyer Harvey Silvergate, author of “Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent,” estimates that the average American now unknowingly commits three felonies a day, thanks to an overabundance of vague laws that render otherwise innocent activity illegal and an inclination on the part of prosecutors to reject the idea that there can’t be a crime without criminal intent.

    In our liturgy for this season, we state that even angelic beings, who cannot err as we can, fear Yom HaDin. This sounds similar to what Mr. Silverglate is describing but couldn’t be more different. When things have gotten to the point of three felonies a day, it means that the State and its laws have become an avodah zarah.
    Human law, and human application of ANY law, is intrinsically flawed and must have limits.

  22. Jewish Observer says:

    “Why don’t we have a Rabbi Herzog or a Rabbi JB Soloveitchik today, someone whom everyone has to admit is a Godol”

    – yes, or a Chazon Ish …

  23. Nachum says:

    “there is room for both Republicans and Democrats in the USA”

    I’m convinced that’s not the case. It would be nice if there were two adult parties with some moral values. I see only one.

  24. mycroft says:

    “I think it is good that churches and synagogues are supposed to be non political. One can teach values but there is room for both Republicans and Democrats in the USA, neither has a monopoly on truth,justice and the American Way”

    Agreed. Rabbi Soloveichik is not the first Orthodox Rabbi to speak at a convention and be used to solicit support for a candidate. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman gave a benediction at the Carter Convention. R Feldman is quoted as saying “A lot of people don’t trust Carter in the East…but I think he is a good man and have said so…”

  25. L. Oberstein says:

    I have no use for Rabbis for Obama who make their social agenda-gay marriage,abortion on demand- their definition of Judaism. Although every worthwhile idea can be found in the Torah, it is also true that even the devil can quote Scripture. I think it is good that churches and synagogues are supposed to be non political. One can teach values but there is room for both Republicans and Democrats in the USA, neither has a monopoly on truth,justice and the American Way.(everyone over a certain age recognizes that description of Superman, invented by a Jew, of course.)
    What Klal Yisroel needs are Gedolim who espouse a moderate position. There is something missing when only very elderly rabbis lacking any secular education are the final decisors on everything. Why don’t we have a Rabbi Herzog or a Rabbi JB Soloveitchik today, someone whom everyone has to admit is a Godol.

  26. DF says:

    The applause was muted, because people dont usually applaud in the middle of an invocation. [Waiting for applause was actually the rabbi’s only mistake, simply from inexperience in this forum.] I thought he did a masterful job of pulling all the planks of the party together, and that he did so while still managing to mention Israel AND not be ostentatious about it, made it all the better. Kol Hakovod.

  27. evanstonjew says:

    Rabbi Soloveitchik is a sophisticated theologian. His words deserve to be looked at carefully. He said “You, God commanded Moses to proclaim liberty throughout the land …Our liberties are your gifts God not that of government, and that we are endowed with these rights by you our creator not by mortal men…You have called us to be a beacon of freedom to the world…the principle of God gifted liberty.” With his emphasis that mortal men cannot limit the gifts God has bestowed on us, with his emphasis that the liberties and rights we have is a consequence of God’s gifts, there is the implication that reason, common sense, spirit of compromise, opinions of the people expressed freely and other principles of social justice either don’t exist or are subservient to these God gifted rights and liberties. Think for example about the issue of gun control. By way of contrast, here is the more balanced Declaration of Independence: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”

  28. Bob Miller says:

    Invocations should not get loud applause in the middle, as they are prayers the group eavesdrops on.

  29. Tuvia says:

    I actually thought the invocation left the listeners a bit flat. The rav paused for applause a couple of times and got a very mild response.

    I thought the main thrust of his message was freedom, which actually surprised me somehow. The G-d given right to freedom. That’s the last thing I would expect from a rav actually – I hear so many of them basically condemn the “free-wheeling” culture we live in.

    Also, while I totally support Israel – it is far from a place to idealize. Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Druze – no way Israel is a bastion of democracy. It can’t afford to be – will probably perish if it tries to be. Israel is wonderful – but its reality is there are too many of the “other” there to have a full democracy. I love Israel because it knows this, not because it papers over this problem with “true democracy” ideals. True democracy works in the US. I only wish Israel had this luxury.

    Tuvia

    [YA – There are no true or perfect democracies – only countries that aim for one. The audience understood that this applies to both the US and Israel.]

  30. lacosta says:

    rYA—

    i dont know if you moitor mondoweiss.net , but it is maybe the leading virulently anti-zionist Jewish-run website. i think people in teh frum community kind of assume that all jews are israel connected . but whereas the religious anti- or non- zionism is pro forma, and not prone to actual manifestation, the under 30 crowd of non-O jews, when non-zionist quickly jump on the apartheid bandwagon. and the BDS [boycott, divestment] movement is picking up..

    as the satmar rav used to hold that while jews must be [religiously] anti-zionist , gentiles must be pro-zionist–> if they are not , they are anti-semites. sadly, when looking at non-O jews, the same dictum may apply…..

    [YA – תנק”ב A little-known acronym that hails from the Jewish past, and perfectly describes Phillip Weiss]

  31. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein:

    You write that “those who signed on to the Rabbis For Obama statement saw nothing wrong with including [Lynn Gottlieb’s] name. In so doing, they exhibited poor judgment, irresponsibility, and showed American Jews – whether supporters of the President or Mitt Romney – how confused are their priorities.”

    Would you say the same for those rabbonim who allow Rabbi Yehuda Levin to sign proclamations?

    [YA – I think you can figure out the answer to that question…]

  32. BTG says:

    Rabbi Soloveichik is truly a rising star in the community. We will probably lose him to be the Chief Rabbi in England.

  33. Harry Zeitlin says:

    Moments like this make me proud to be both an American and Jew. We desperately need more exposure to young leaders like Rabbi Soleveichik.