From the Editor-in-Chief: Bill, Monica, and Modern Jewish Resistance (Vol. 64, Issue 5)
Preamble: I have sought to delay the madness for as long as practicable. But alas, its alluring call beckons and I must succumb… I will release … (Hint: read metaphorically.)
Some are reviled by America’s collective preoccupation with an erstwhile tryst between our Commander-in-Chief and a former White House intern. There is, however, no suggestion that this sentiment carries any sway in the American Jewish community. Indeed, it seems that Jews have fully embraced the Bill and Monica “event” (this is, to my mind, the only way it may correctly be characterized).
The event has been a boon to pulpit preachers across the country. Rabbis who had for years resigned themselves to delivering substantive orations sourced in the traditional texts with which they were familiar have been liberated to rant freely and pointlessly on a matter wholly beyond the province of religion. Many rabbis, including some (not YU musmakhim) who cannot even lay claim to a modest understanding of the character of this polity’s political landscape, have become pundits whose views must be heard above the din of informed perspectives. They see Bill's ride on the carnal carousel as some-sort of latter day. Divinely directed morality play which requires them to proffer insightful theological interpretations and, of course, creative, if wholly irrelevant, Biblical parallels.
According to a published report, Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch of Temple Shaaray Tefila told his New York City congregation that Clinton was significantly similar to “flawed” Jewish leaders such as Joseph and Moses. The published report did not, however, venture to clarify what the hell this was supposed to mean.
Yeshiva University has not been immune to this endemic need to tailor a personally satisfying, if nonsensical, Jewish interpretation to every nuance of the Bill and Monica event. Students on this very campus have been afflicted. For days, a Hamevaser editor sought to convince anyone who would listen that The Gates of Repentance to which Bill referred in his September 14 “truth and reconciliation” breakfast with religious leaders in Washington was Rabbeinu Yonah’s medieval tome Shaarei Teshuvah. He was quite mistaken. Clinton was referring to The Gates of Repentance Reform prayer book, which, incidentally, Rabbeinu Yonah played no role in compiling. This mattered little to the Hamevaser editor who was busily readying a document proclaiming Bill's Messianic character.
Of course, we all bear a great deal of responsibility for our communal fixation with Bill's cavorting. We find the saga compelling. We're moved by the humanity of the characters’ desperate plight. We identify with Monica, of, as one eminent MYP Rosh Yeshiva dubbed her, “that little Jewish shiksala.” Frankly, she simply looks Jewish. We all know at least twenty Jewish women who are virtually indistinguishable from Monica (especially that one who goes to Stern/Barnard whom I have seen at every New York City “Jew scene” I have occasioned over the past two years. Come on ... you know the girl I'm talking about).
We also identify with Bill. The man dons a yarmulke and invokes Jewish theological themes in speeches more frequently than any Israeli Prime Minister has. Bill panders to Jewish campaign contributors so effortlessly that some have alleged, unlikely as it seems, that he harbors a sincere devotion to Jewish interests.
Despite our attraction to the characters in the event, we might be well advised to draw a line of demarcation between reasonable discourse and outlandish, peculiar fantasies. Some recent assertions by Jewish organizations, quite simply, strain even my elastic credulity.
NCSY and other shadchanut services are claiming credit for orchestrating Bill and Monica’s libidinous escapade. They observe that their efforts have engendered a precipitous drop in the awkward silences that traditionally plague shidduch dates. Prominent officials in the realm of matchmaking recently revealed that the “Bill and Monica phenomenon,” as it has been tentatively dubbed until a fitting Yiddish expression can be devised and approved by someone possessed of the right sort of da‘at torah, has succeeded in reducing to three the average number of dates required to produce an engagement among those in the shidduch circuit. The Monica and Bill motif facilitates casual chatter, divrei Torah, discussion of contemporary events, castigation of interfaith relationships, fooling around, and even an occasional political dialectic.
The Agudah has been, perhaps, the most blessed by the Bill and Monica event. It has found in the president's peccadilloes a springboard for disparaging the whole of Western civilization. Few have emerged unscathed from the Agudah assault. Christian evangelicals have been faulted for failing to successfully indoctrinate Clinton with the values of traditional morality. Modern Orthodox Jews have been maligned for writing Bills speeches, Reform and Conservative Jews have been disparaged for existing. Oh wait...I suppose the Agudah didn’t really require the Bill and Monica brouhaha after all. But I imagine it nevertheless enjoyed Clinton's almost Talmudic efforts to distinguish oral sex (which is really only onanism when you think about it from a rabbinic perspective) from adultery on the basis of Scriptural sources.
Alas, there's been something in this event for everyone — including, I suppose, myself. To Bill, Monica, and other parties that have contributed to the construction of this grand diversion from the taxing constraints of de rigeur predictability, I offer my sincere gratitude; I have been most entertained.