In his editorial last week, Ami’s editor Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter raised an important point about religious Jews’ presidential election priorities.
An interview he conducted earlier this summer included assertions about President Obama that, were they true, would properly earn the president the opprobrium of Jews concerned with Israel’s wellbeing (all Jews, one hopes).
While reasonable people can certainly think that a Republican president would be better for Israel, I subsequently pointed out that the assertions that appeared in Ami were unsubstantiated.
Now Rabbi Frankfurter has now chosen to level a new charge against the president, about his “social agenda,” which Newt Gingrich informed (or told) Rabbi Frankfurter is to create a “very, very secular America, in which religion can exist for about one hour a week.”
That alleged “ongoing effort to chase G-d out of the public sphere” (Rabbi Frankfurter’s words) began (in Mr. Gingrich’s) “with the Supreme Court decision on school prayer in 1963.” When Mr. Obama was two years old (the little rascal).
My defense of Mr. Obama on the issues of Israel and national security were never aimed at promoting his candidacy, but simply an effort to respect truth, and to urge the shunning of over-the-top electoral propaganda. As I stated in an earlier Cross-Currents posting, I haven’t even “myself decided for whom to vote.” While I am comfortable with Mr. Obama in the realm of geopolitics, I explained, “the president’s positions on some social issues trouble me.”
My main concern with Mr. Obama’s social vision, though, is not that he is banishing G-d from America; he is not. My problem is his personal endorsement of redefining marriage. But that is not, it must be said, an issue on which any president has direct influence. The sad truth, no matter what partisan politicians claim, is that American citizens, aided by the purveyors of popular entertainment, are to blame for the societal shift on that issue, as they largely are, too, for the lessened concern for life at its beginning and end. No occupant of the White House since 1963 can really be pointed to as having played any role in the current cultural decay.
What’s more, whether a liberal social issues stance is reason for a candidate to be shunned by Orthodox Jews is not unarguable. Other factors, from Israel’s security to social aid programs, may mitigate our desire to have leaders who share some of our religious values. Anyone who feels that we can’t go wrong with a bearer of traditional, conservative views might consider two words: Pat Buchanan.
Which is not in any way to equate Mr. Romney, or even less vacillating conservatives, with an odious anti-Semite. It’s only to recall that things aren’t always (in fact ever) black and white in politics, something many of us seem to forget in the heat of campaign seasons.
And yet Newt Gingrich—hardly nonpartisan (or a respectable authority on morality)—“convinced me,” says Rabbi Frankfurter, that the “present administration” and its “secular liberal agenda” have played a role in the current “antireligious attitude.” Examples cited include how “religious Jews are subjected to a biased and prejudiced press” (something I’m pretty familiar with in my role as Agudath Israel’s media liaison—and which I can report has been going on for decades); and how “our religious practices, such as those relating to circumcision, are being curtailed by the government.” How President Obama has influenced Germany or the New York City Department of Health is not clear.
Equally unclear is Rabbi Frankfurter’s final concern, that “once Israel becomes a religiously observant country, and rabbinic leaders … have a final say in Israeli affairs, Israel will be perceived by the [Obama-secularized] U.S as a fundamentalist state, like Iran.”
I wasn’t aware of any push to make Rav Steinman prime minister, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t have his sights on the job. What religious Jews hope for before Moshiach arrives, I believe, is only that the democratic state of Israel accommodate their needs, preserve Jewish identity, and recognize the vital role of Torah study in protecting Jews. As to after Moshiach’s arrival, I don’t think we will need to be concerned then about what any American president may feel or do. Rabbi Frankfurter and I are in agreement, I know, in our hope for that day’s imminent arrival.