Friday, January 07, 2022

Trump and the Chareidim

By Yakov Kerzner - Guest Contributor

Rabbi Yakov Kerzner (Beth Israel Synagogue)
I received the following submission from Rabbi Yakov Kerzner who leads Beth Israel Synagogue, a Modern Orthodox Shul in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Halifax is a city in Canada that hosts a small Jewish community. Rabbi Kerzner grew up in a Yeshiva oriented family and attended Charedi Yeshivos, throughout  his educational life - spending  5 of those years at BMG in Lakewood. 

His influences include some of the biggest names in the Charedi world - including Rav Simcha Schustal, Rav Moshe Shapiro, and Rav Meir Hershkowitz. His rabbinic career incudes teaching stints at Aish HaTorah, Ohr Sameach, and JEP.  

It is with this background in mind that I present his views about Charedi support of our former President. As always, the views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect my own. His words follow.

I remember very vividly the moment I woke up in the middle of the night on November 8, 2016 to the sound of a TV anchor declaring Donald Trump the victor in the US presidential election. As a US citizen living in Canada, the first emotion flooding my consciousness was embarrassment.

Although living in Canada for decades, I was always proud of my birthplace. The USA stood for many ideals and principles that were important to me. Their leadership in the world was not limited to economic progress, technological prowess or their military might. As an American, I could hold my head high in light of the founding principles of the United States and the development of a just society that understood its responsibility to all human beings.

Our presidents were not always perfect but we always could rely on the fact that no matter the political or personal concerns, the presidents I grew up with took their responsibility as a leader of the United States and the free world with seriousness. Sure, we have had men with many moral lapses, unethical behavior and even criminal activity but none of the men holding office would ever consciously cause our nation harm. In the least, they made an effort to treat all citizens with respect, at least superficially.

Now, after the election, I would have to admit that the country I loved and respected was led by a man who treated everyone that stood in his way with the utmost disrespect. Our president would be a man who used name calling as a political strategy. Our leader would be a man who showed ignorance in every area of concern to our nation, did not understand the meaning of morality, had no conception of the distinction between truth and falsehood, cheated in business, acted unfaithfully to three wives, boasted about his infidelity, spoke with unlimited vulgarity, had no understanding of humility, never admitted a mistake and was cruel and uncaring as the worst of us. To make things worse, if he was not racist, then he encouraged racism, was a misogynist and was prejudiced towards many races and religions.

As a Jew, I was doubly embarrassed that his son in law and daughter were Jewish. As an Orthodox Jew, it greatly pained me that his daughter and son in law considered themselves Orthodox.    

As a product of Chareidi society and a graduate of its yeshivos, I was taught that the Torah and Torah True Jews believed that morality and ethics were the guiding force in our lives and the greatest influence on our behavior. I was taught that all the negative attributes listed above were to be disdained by us and that we should further ourselves from such people as much as humanly possible. We should avoid their company and should surely not support a person who stood for the opposite of all that the Torah taught us.

So, as an American Orthodox Jew brought up in the Chareidi tradition, the embarrassment was only intensified when I realized that my coreligionists and specifically my Chareidi colleagues were vociferously cheering this embarrassing excuse of a human being, voting for him and financially supporting him. As a rabbi in a modern Orthodox shul, where all the congregants, whether observant or not, respected religious Jews for their ethics and morality, I was horrified to have to explain how my Chareidi friends could support such an amoral, hateful, narcissistic person.

In the beginning, I hoped that once becoming president, Trump would mature with the job, seriously consider the weight of his responsibility and become somewhat respectable. I understood that many of my Chareidi friends had conservative views that aligned with the policies that Trump espoused and that their concern for the welfare of Israel caused them to align with a very flawed politician while holding their noses. It could be defensible to support a person who had many failings if the overall good outweighed the negative aspects of his personality.

As time wore on, we saw that his so-called love of the Jewish people did not stop him from suggesting that there were some very good people who chanted “Jews will not replace us”. We watched as he corrupted the US Government, neglected and despised his allies and supported dictators. We have seen him neglect a pandemic out of concern for his re-election, send troops to beat up and disperse peaceful protesters, and dispose of those in government who were loyal to their country and their oath of office. 

But his loyal Chareidi supporters were still there for him. They had so much hatred for liberals and so much gratitude for the supposed good that he has done for Israel that they could not abandon him.

What is the line that he had to cross before we all stand for morality, truth telling, loyalty to our nation, and concern for the health and well being of our fellow citizens? Why do we deny the accusations of our dual loyalty when the only redeeming feature in Trump was his superficial support of Israel which was clearly intended to win the Evangelical vote? Why do we not understand that his support of Israel was so superficial that it could dissipate in a moment’s notice? How come we did not realize that when the Democrats would eventually come to power, they might act with resentment to Jewish and Israeli positions as a result of us being on the wrong side?

Even if we accepted the need to tolerate such a horrible president because of our own political needs, why are we not embarrassed? Why do we rationalize our support with ridiculous defenses for indefensible acts?

How is it possible that now that Trump is no longer president and the evidence of all that is stated above is clear, we still have not heard regrets from the Chareidi camp for backing such a flawed human being? Is there any doubt left that Trump was willing to overthrow a legitimately elected president due to his fragile ego, his narcissistic personality and his unadulterated craving for power? 

Why do we still see a ridiculous hatred for President Biden who is a caring, honest and loyal servant of the people? Why can we not disagree with policies and even fight for what we believe in without lowering ourselves to the level of the dishonest TV personalities and elected officials who freely lie and contradict their own previous comments about Trump?    

Perhaps, we should follow the example of the many conservative intellectuals and unelected Republican leaders and even some Evangelical Christians who are willing to compromise on their political beliefs and even their religiously guided hopes in order to stand for decency, humanity, and kindness. Our Chareidi society has always claimed that we are willing to sacrifice many of our needs in order to live a life filled with Torah and Chesed.

We are taught that we should have trust in G-d and that if we follow the correct path, G-d will take care of the rest. I sincerely hope that all the lessons of eirlichkeit and bitachon that I have been taught through all the years will ultimately be practiced by my Chareidi friends and organizations.