Monday, September 22, 2008

When 300 Rabbis Agree On Anything...

When 300 Rabbis Agree On Anything You Know Something Is Going On
Rabbi Steve Bob, Co-Chair Rabbis For Obama

Maybe...but what?

Jacques Berlinerblau, program director and associate professor of Jewish Civilization at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, notes what is missing from the letter written by the rabbis--and nails it:
To begin with, the letter of support on the "Rabbis for Obama" website is puzzlingly bereft of any reference to classical Jewish texts. In constructing their case for the Senator from Illinois the signatories make passing reference to the notion of tikkun olam (i.e., the repairing of a broken world). Yet they fail to invoke in any substantive manner the Hebrew Bible, Mishna, Gemara, Midrash, Responsa literature, and so forth.

I am a secular Jew. I am a secular Jew who views the aforementioned sources as instructive, valuable, worthy of my study and respect but, ultimately, not determinative of my worldview. I don't, however, think it's logical or appropriate for a couple of hundred Rabbis representing Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative and Orthodox denominations to reason as if they were secular Jews. I would have preferred (and expected) to see the signers--who are a learned lot, I assure you--grounding their endorsement somewhere in the vast universe of Jewish knowledge.

...Even here I would urge caution. For the Jewish intellectual tradition famously evinces a deep suspicion regarding political engagement. At the beginning of the Pirkei Avot tractate of the Mishna we come across the well known adage "Love work. Hate authority. Don't get friendly with the government." Shortly thereafter we read: "Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress."
Read the whole thing.

Funny what politics will do to you.

The very idea that "When 300 Rabbis Agree On Anything" is a positive thing comes across as rather pompous at a time that you cannot get Jews to agree on Israel or put together a rally to protest Ahmadinejad speaking at the UN.

The fact that Obama was able to muster together more Jewish content than these 300 Rabbis in his conference call last week with 900 Rabbis is just telling. After all, these rabbis are not addressing Jews who are liberal; they are addressing liberals who happen to be Jews. They underestimate their own constituency.

Bottom line, Rabbi Bob is absolutely right: "When 300 Rabbis Agree On Anything You Know Something Is Going On."

And it's called politics.

[Hat tip: Shmuel Rosner]

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read today on the in-the-tank-for-Obama Spiritual Politics blog, that it's now 400 "rabbis" for Obama.

And then there's the whole Emergent Judaism thing -- not sure if this will take hold, but if it does, it will be bad in the long run, regardless of who wins, because the broader Emergent Movement under the misnomer "social justice" supports unbiblical Palestinian Liberation Theology.