Rabbis Cross Line on Political Rhetoric

Posted on September 17, 2008 In Blog

We participated this morning in a call with the Obama campaign. Over 900 rabbis across the denominational spectrum were part of the call, and the OU’s own chief exec, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, was able to encore his keynote address at the DNC’s Faith in Action forum with being one of four rabbis (one each from each of the movements) to ask a question of Senator Obama. Rabbi Weinreb asked the Senator how he might provide more support to private and parochial schools and it was nice to hear the Senator supports continued funding of Head Start, early childhood, after school, supplementary education, mentoring, tutoring and summer courses – even when at a parochial school.

What was not as nice to hear was that before Senator Obama joined us on the call that some speakers, who we will not “out” crossed several nonpartisan lines in their remarks. At one point (as we said, before the Senator was on) the rabbis were told they were not being asked to “endorse” the Senator from the pulpit, because that would be inappropriate. It would be far more than inappropriate; it would be illegal, and any synagogue whose rabbi did that could lose their tax exempt status.

Later (though still prior to the Senator’s joining the call), one of the rabbis stated their support for Senator Obama was a case of ahavat Mordechai and sinat Haman. We have noted before that rabbis must speak in ways that reflect the Torah’s paths as pleasant – deracheha darchei noam. We have spoken out when such hateful remarks have been made by an Orthodox rabbi against Israeli government ministers. We say here, such rhetoric has no place in American political discourse; certainly not from a rabbi. We signed a letter some months back arguing against the email smears and derisions circulated about Senator Obama. One can agree or disagree on issues and can vigorously advocate for their candidate; but to refer to Senator McCain, whom Senator Obama himself has said serves our country with honor, as a modern day Haman, is once again, beyond inappropriate. The irony was that later on in the call, one of the questions asked how we might all advocate our priorities without demonizing the other. Perhaps we ought best lead by example.