Letter to the Editor: A Response to Rabbi Blau
As I read the first half of Rabbi Blau’s most recent article, “Orthodox Jewry and President Trump,” I found myself in complete agreement with the author’s message. This concurrence does not come easily, as I voted for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020. However, Rabbi Blau is absolutely correct that President Trump’s behavior during his last two months in office was irresponsible, unacceptable and demeaning to the office to which he had been elected.
Rabbi Blau is also on target that President Trump’s claim of election fraud has been categorically disproven by numerous courts, many of which are officiated by conservative judges. President Trump’s attempt to pressure the Republican Governor and Secretary of State of Georgia to somehow find 12,000 votes to make him the state’s victor, was unethical and shows that, with regards to the most recent election results, the 45th president is delusional.
Then of course, there was the notorious and unforgivable behavior that led to the riots at the Capitol, in which President Trump incited a crowd of supporters towards violent behavior that tragically led to multiple deaths, injuries and possibly sowed a distrust of the democratic process that could adversely affect how future election results are handled by the losing party for years to come.
At the time of my writing this, President Trump has already been impeached. It is my hope that he will be convicted by the Senate and that the Senate will then vote to bar him from running for office ever again.
I say this even as I agree with most of his policies as president and bemoan the fact that his successor will likely try to undo many of his great successes. But his actions during the twilight of his presidency have, in my opinion, disqualified him from serving in public office, and therefore, I found myself supporting Rabbi Blau’s assessment in the first half of his well-written piece.
However, there are three points Rabbi Blau made in the latter part of his article, to which I feel the need to object.
He states “As a notorious abuser of women and frequent liar, Trump’s personal behavior and crudity should have turned off religious people. Clearly, his personal qualities are irrelevant to a major portion of Orthodox Jewry.”
For the past five years, Orthodox Jewish Trump supporters have been the target of criticism from other Orthodox Jews for overlooking President Trump’s character flaws. As an Orthodox Jew who cast his vote for the 45th president in both of his races, I fully acknowledge that I overlooked his boorish behavior due to liking the great majority of his policies and finding the alternative offered by his opponents unacceptable.
What is aggravating is that this very same sentiment, namely, someone who regularly lies and has engaged in multiple sexually inappropriate behaviors, could easily be applied to politicians on the Democratic side, most notably, President Bill Clinton. Yet, many Orthodox Jews still voted for him. In fact, a prominent Orthodox Rabbi has been very open about his friendship with President Clinton and has even written a book on the topic that is sold every year at the YU Seforim Sale. Of course, this continuing support requires that one overlook his numerous extra-marital affairs, his committing perjury and having his Arkansas law license suspended for five years, hardly behavior that the Torah would condone.
Yet, I do not recall Rabbi Blau or any other Orthodox rabbi who has questioned the morality of supporting President Trump, demanding that this rabbi cut off ties with the 42nd president or that the YU Seforim Sale stop selling his book. This strikes many of us as hypocritical, and leaves us to wonder if the criticism leveled at those in the Orthodox community who voted for President Trump is truly based on a concern for ethics and morality or is it more attributable to a partisan animus?
The article continues by stating, “When the runoff Senate election in Georgia resulted in victories for a Black and a Jew, for non-Orthodox Jews this stirred memories of Abraham Joshua Heschel and Martin Luther King marching together. For many Orthodox Jews, who associate Blacks with crime and riots, it only meant that the Democrats would control the Senate and that the crime and riots would continue.”
This is a highly unfair assertion that greatly shortchanges the thought process of Orthodox Jews. The more likely explanation for many Orthodox Jews not supporting “a Black” (Raphael Warnock) running for office, was due to the many documented cases of him making anti-Israel and anti-Semitic remarks. For Rabbi Blau, a devoted Zionist, to not be disturbed by now Senator Warnock’s despicable comments regarding Jews and Israel, is puzzling. For him to instead imply a racist intent on the part of Orthodox Jews who did not support Senator Warnock, is offensive.
Thirdly, the piece asserts, “On issues facing the general society, Orthodoxy has almost nothing to say.” The implication is that many in the Orthodox Community are too focused on their own needs and do not care enough about the needs of the broader world.
However, if there are issues that directly impact Orthodox Jews, why shouldn’t we try to advocate with public officials on our behalf? It seems that every other group, be it religious, racial or ethnic, attempts to petition the government to enact laws which will be to their benefit. So are the needs of Orthodox Jews any less important? While obviously we should care about other citizens of the world and attempt to fulfill the dictum of Tikkun Olam, and of course, our self-advocacy needs to be legal and ethical, as long as we heed those guidelines, why is it wrong to use our best efforts to ensure that our own brethren are taken care of?
Furthermore, the article’s implication is that only the ideas of President Trump’s opponents are conducive to helping people outside of the Orthodox Community. In reality there were ideas supported by the Trump Administration and championed by the Orthodox community but which also helped numerous individuals in the broader community as well.
One such example is school vouchers. This is something that Orthodox Jewish groups favor as it can help parents pay for the rising costs of a yeshiva day school tuition. Indeed, the recent Trump administration and great majority of Republicans favor this policy. But it also helps minorities such as African-Americans and Hispanics as it allows parents in those communities to send their children to the same great private schools that Democratic politicians like President Obama were able to send their children, as opposed to the failing public schools they are currently trapped in. This is merely one example of a policy that benefits both Orthodox Jews as well as other minorities. So the accusation that Orthodox Jews do not care about broader society is flawed, as many of these preferred laws advocated by Orthodox Jews actually benefit a wide array of people across various races and ethnicities.
All Torah Jews should be repulsed by President Trump’s actions towards the end of his presidency. We should criticize them and not try to find ways to excuse them. However, this criticism of personally flawed politicians should not be limited to members of one particular party, but rather, should be meted out to any ethically challenged government official regardless of their political affiliation. Additionally, we in the Torah community never have to apologize for withholding our support for a political candidate due to their espousing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views. Lastly, let us not make the mistake of only viewing one political party as having a monopoly on policies that help the greater society. Rather, let us be open to the possibility that the party of Lincoln may also have ideas that can prove beneficial to those in need.
Noah Pollack (YC ‘11)