Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Pride and Prejudice

Rabbi David Twersky; President and Mrs. Clinton
Former President Bill Clinton once commented that someone who looks like Rabbi David Twersky, the controversial Skverer Rebbe, seemed to him to be the most authentic type of Jew. This is one reason why he met with him about commuting the prison sentence of a few of his Chasidim that were convicted of defrauding the government. Which he did.

It is because of this type of thinking that I am so hard in my criticism of right when someone from that community does wrong. Because Clinton is not the only one who thinks like that. People who look like the Skvever Rebbe are clearly seen as the most religious, Torah observant Jews among us. Which is why the Chillul HaShem is so magnified when a Jew like that is involved. I think it is a truism to say that the more observant one is - or looks like - the greater the Chilul HaShem.

But that is not the reason I bring this up now. There is a logic to Bill Clinton’s type of thinking. If you are going to represent the ‘People of the Book’ you should know what that book requires of you and act like it. As I have said many times. It is Halacha – which is derived of that Book that defines who we are.

This may not sit well with non observant Jews who will say they are just as Jewish as Orthodox Jews. This is true. They are. It is also true that many non observant Jews are among the finest among us - people that do a lot of good things. 

But they mostly don’t follow the rules set forth in the Torah as interpreted by the sages and rabbinic leaders throughout the generations. And thus cannot possibly represent themselves in the definitive way the People of the Book must. I say this not a pejorative. Just as a fact. Observant Jews believe in following all the Laws of the Torah. Even though we fall short in many cases (some more – some less) we try to keep them all acknowledging their mandatory nature.

Jared Kushner, his wife, Ivanka, and Donald Trump
I believe that Donald Trump may very well feel the same way about  Jews as Bill Clinton does. Three of his top advisers will be observant Jews. The latest of which will be his son in law, Jared Kushner. This is unprecedented in US history. While there have been observant Jews in previous administrations, none of them (and certainly not as many) have been placed so high on an administration totem pole.

That Trump is a Judeophile – especially as it pertains to observant Jews should be obvious by now. Not only has his daughter converted to Judaism with his full approval, she is still one of his closest advisers and will no doubt be the 4th observant Jew to be placed in a position of power next to the President. The President-elect has also donated sizable sums from his charitable foundation to Orthodox institutions. Like Chabad.

Which kind of makes all of the accusations that the President-elect will be influenced by others of his advisers accused of antisemitism - ridiculous. One of those mentioned in that context is Steve Bannon. He has been accused of antisemitism because as former head of Brietbart News he allowed it to be used as a platform for the Alt-right. They have been accused of antisemitism.

I have no real clue how true that is. But it doesn’t matter. I am absolutely convinced that Trump would never choose an adviser that was an antisemite even in the slightest. He must therefore know that Bannon is not an antisemite at all. Not to mention the fact that one of Bannon’s high ranking employees at Brightbart was Joel Pollak, an observant Jew.

Even though I am still shocked and dismayed that Trump was elected President… (He was probably just as shocked himself) - I can’t help having a sense of pride in the fact that observant Jews will be having a major impact on the future of this nation; the future of Israel and even the world! Can Moshiach be far behind?

Meryl Streep
Which brings me to one of the more troubling aspects of the current news cycle. Like many of those that are disappointed at Trump’s election, I can’t help thinking about how all this came about. I am not going to go into details. They have been discussed to death – and still are by an all too eager media. Although I can’t really blame them. Trump has diarrhea of the brain and cannot seem to help himself from making foolish comments on twitter. On an almost daily basis. Which happened again when renowned actress Meryl Streep who was honored by the Foreign Press Association at their annual Golden Globe Awards event. She spoke from her heart about what many people are essentially still thinking: How can anyone be elected that ridiculed a disabled reporter as part of his campaign strategy?

And yet, I believe she was just as wrong to make these comments now as Trump was to respond to them. Let me address that last point first. If I were to give any advice to Mr. Trump now, it would be the following: ‘Stop tweeting!’ ‘Ignore what celebrities are saying about you no matter how negative.’ ‘Your responses only make things worse.’ Let him be a little more presidential. Let him stop talking; wait till he’s in office; and then start doing! Let his actions speak louder than his very loud and juvenile words. You never know. He may actually make America great again.

Why was it wrong for Ms. Streep to criticize him now? Because the election is over and she said nothing that hasn’t already been said. She is only making it worse. Surely she knew that Trump would respond. How does that improve things? Her comments do not change anything. 

Ms. Streep is of course not alone. The news and entertainment media are relentless in going after him. In some cases the ridicule and vitriol goes way too far. Here is my message to the Steven Colberts of the world:  Give the President-elect a chance. Like it or not - he is going to be the President. Of us all! Duly elected in a democratic fashion. Nearly half the people that voted - voted for Trump. You cannot ridicule the President-elect without ridiculing half the country.

Rabbi Haskell Lookstein
And yet there are still a lot of people that just can’t let go - blinded by antipathy to Trump that is so strong - they can only see a dire result for the country and the world once he takes office. They are so disappointed that their candidate lost that they are trying to undermine him at every turn. (Instead of giving him the same chance that every newly elected official deserves.)

Thankfully the outgoing President feels otherwise. As does his opponent in the general election, Hillary Clinton. She will be at the inauguration and has advocated giving Trump the chance to fulfill his campaign promises.  Sure, it’s a free country.  But where is that quintessential American sense of respecting the will of the people?

And yet, there are some people so married to their political point of view that they cannot get themselves to do that. They therefore try and undermine the results of the election by literally boycotting him and asking others to join them.

Rabbi Marvin Hier
This was first done during the campaign. Foolishly in my view because there was no way of knowing for sure that Trump would lose. (Which of course he didn’t.) Rabbi Haskell Lookstein, Ivanka Trump’s Orthodox rabbi, had accepted an invitation to give an invocation and the Republican National Convention. But he later backed out at the insistence of some of his Shul’s membership  - and some of the graduates of  the day school he formerly headed before retiring. They said that speaking at the convention would be seen as endorsement of Trump’s ‘racist’  views.

And now, Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, was invited to offer his blessings at the President’s inauguration. He too is being pressured to back out!

Thankfully, this pioneer of fighting antisemitism and all forms of prejudice has not succumbed to this pressure. He rightly accepted it as an honor. This Orthodox rabbi will be giving his blessing to the President for a successful Presidency that will benefit Americans, Israelis, and the entire world. I think we should all just shut-up and do the same.