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Obama Mixes Religion and Politics:

President Obama gave advice via conference call to one thousand liberal rabbis regarding how to push for his health care reform efforts at high holiday services (which have by far the largest synagogue attendance of the Jewish year) without seeming partisan:

"I am going to need your help," the president told a telephone audience of about 1,000 rabbis on Wednesday morning, according to the Twitter feed of Rabbi Jack Moline of Alexandria, Va., who added that Mr. Obama advised the group to share stories of health care dilemmas with congregants to illustrate what is at stake in the current debate.

Many religious leaders prefer not to make overtly political pitches to their congregations, and one rabbi asked Mr. Obama how to reconcile the sanctity of the high holidays with the partisan politics of the health care reform fight. The president responded, another participant said, by framing it as a moral rather than a political question, stressing the 47 million Americans who lack insurance.

I don't see anything terribly scandalous about this; the scandal would be if rabbis abuse their pulpit by pushing a political agenda, not the president (who, after all, is a politician, so what can you expect?) asking them to do so.

But I will note that if President Bush had urged a huge group of conservative ministers or priests (there is no such group of rabbis) to subtly use their Christmas or Easter sermons to push for tax cuts, or the Iraq War, there would have been howls of outrage from certain circles that I predict will be utterly silent over Obama's actions.

UPDATE: Courtesy of a commenter, here's an interesting take on the call by an Orthodox rabbi who participated. More rabbis should heed this wisdom: "Rabbis have enough difficulty understanding the nuances and intricacies of their own religion to be promoting specific policies in areas for which they have no expertise."

Floridan:
Isn't Bush the victim getting a little old?
8.20.2009 9:42pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
The post has nothing, really, to do with Bush. See if you can figure out why.
8.20.2009 9:44pm
RowerinVa (mail):
No way. The left solidly supports Tea Party tax protests and town hall protests similar to the disruption of the Republic National Convention in NYC and any number of Bush speeches. And the left supports the labeling of Obama policies as "fascist" the same way Bush and his policies were constantly called fascist. Because the left supports free speech, even when it's messy or exaggerated and when it skewers the left's favorite causes and icons.

Oh, wait. The left doesn't do that. My mistake.

But at least the left supports an expansive reading of the Second Amendment, just as it does for the First. Oh, wait ...
8.20.2009 9:47pm
Tom B (www):
I have no tax expertise. I know churches cannot campaign for a candidate without losing their tax exempt status, but I think they can support specific policy proposals. Of course you could be forgiven for thinking that Obama is still campaigning...

There is also something slimy about asking political supporters to use their influence over their congregation (which I believe is a fiduciary relationship) to covertly push a political agenda.
8.20.2009 9:49pm
/:
"I am going to need your help," the president told a telephone audience of about 1,000 rabbis on Wednesday morning

When Repulicans do this, Churches' tax statuses are verbally threatened. I guess all the tax cheats in the administration cancel that out?
8.20.2009 9:50pm
Laura(southernxyl) (mail) (www):
Used to have a minister whose sermons were usually good but who sometimes brought his politics into the pulpit ... and they were considerably left of center. I thought my family and I were the only people irritated by that, and kept my mouth shut, until one day he went a bit too far and some people pushed back. He spent the next sermon telling us all that we could certainly have any political opinions we wanted.

The thing is, it turned out that people on the left - I mean really on the left - were irritated by all that too. That is not what they, or we, went to church for - it was eternal truths, which have little or nothing to do with political crap that goes back and forth anyway. For Jews, synagogue attendance during the high holidays is more or less mandatory, isn't it? Which makes them a captive audience. If the rabbis are smart, they won't mix political issues into the services.
8.20.2009 9:51pm
Moneyrunner43 (www):
We are God's partners in matters of life and death," - Barack Obama.

The thought that anyone would claim the mantle of God's partnership is - in my estimation - the province of people so deluded that they should be committed to an insane asylum.
8.20.2009 9:56pm
Constantin:
I'm in the same general area Moneyrunner. There's something creepy about what Barack's been saying the past two days that goes beyond just "mixing politics and religion." The "I am my brother's keeper" riff, which he's used before, and the "They're bearing false witness" stuff are more suitable for Jim Jones than the President.
8.20.2009 10:01pm
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :
Well, Obama doing this is really no more bizarre than....

Okay, it's pretty bizarre.

Can we please have an important policy debate in this country without invoking the great Imaginary Friend?
8.20.2009 10:10pm
Steve:
It's hard for me to imagine what the reaction might have been if Bush had urged religious leaders to help advance a political agenda, since it's such an implausible hypothetical.
8.20.2009 10:22pm
Brian K (mail):
I found this in about 5 seconds on google.

It's no wonder DB doesn't allow comments more often if it only takes 5 seconds to disprove it.
8.20.2009 10:22pm
Hugh Jass:
FWIW, Jews have helped blacks for centuries. Blacks have never, as far as I know, been sympathetic toward Jews--in fact, just the reverse.

Maybe our landsmen, as well as other thoughtful Americans ought to wise up: Get rid of criminals, welfare, "free" housing and foodstuffs, etc.

Those who are genuinely disabled in body and/or mind should be taken care of--others should be given the bums' rush. What's not equitable under this scenario?
8.20.2009 10:23pm
/:
Brian K, you know that the "religious right" consists of more than Pastors (and their peers), right? And that Bush did not tell them to preach to their congregations about the wonderful job he's doing?

Are you being intentionally dishonest, or are you really that dense?
8.20.2009 10:32pm
A Law Dawg:
Prof. B:

There is an obvious distinction between addressing religious leaders to drum up support for a war and seeking support to expand health care. Do you believe that this distinction is irrelevant, or do you believe that those who carped against Bush for doing what he did would not carp against Obama if he did the same thing?
8.20.2009 10:36pm
Randy R. (mail):
Well, I'm thoroughly confused by DB's comment. So when Bush asks for help from priests and ministers, it's okay, but when Obama does it, it isn't? Or is it bad whenever Bush or Obama do it? Or if Bush does it, and there are no howls of protest, then it's okay if Obama does it?

I really fail to understand the point. Unless the point is that when Bush does something the left doesn't like, it complains about it, but remains silent when Obama does it. If that's the point, there are better ways to point out hypocracy....
8.20.2009 10:42pm
Real American (mail):
the scandal is that the left is and will be largely silent about Obama the theocrat, after bitching and moaning that Bush was turning the country into a theocracy. Conservatives aren't howling b/c of what Obama said, we're just pointing out that liberals are a bunch of fucking hypocrites.
8.20.2009 10:45pm
Careless:

Well, I'm thoroughly confused by DB's comment. So when Bush asks for help from priests and ministers, it's okay, but when Obama does it, it isn't? Or is it bad whenever Bush or Obama do it? Or if Bush does it, and there are no howls of protest, then it's okay if Obama does it?

This isn't difficult and you're not stupid, so I don't see the problem. There have to have been several dozen posts on VC so far pointing out that people freaked out when Bush did something but didn't or probably won't when Obama does the same. Bernstein thinks that this will be another of those cases, and that the people who won't raise howls of protests are hypocrites.

You can't honestly be confused or surprised by Bernstein taking shots at the liberal pundetariat now that Obama is in office.
8.20.2009 10:59pm
Jack Diederich (mail) (www):
Another piece also at the NYT made the call sound much more objectionable. It had Obama saying the healthcare plan was a "moral obligation" and that those who were talking against it were sinning by lying.

The lying accusation was merely unbecoming. The idea of government as intercessor in the moral obligations of individuals to God is galling.
8.20.2009 11:01pm
ShelbyC:

Well, I'm thoroughly confused by DB's comment. So when Bush asks for help from priests and ministers,


And when did Bush ask for help from Priests and Ministers? As /: pointed out, the article from Brian K didn't say that.
8.20.2009 11:03pm
Psalm91 (mail):
"/:

And that Bush did not tell them to preach to their congregations about the wonderful job he's doing?"

This was very common during the Bush years; Bush and his various representatives and pastoral allies did it all the time. Where you you? Christian Coalition voters' pamphlets? Do you know Ted Haggard? Richard Land? Tony Perkins? Jim Dobson? Benny Hinn? Morris Cerullo? James Kennedy? Give me a break.
8.20.2009 11:23pm
SFH:
So people don't always criticize their own side for sins similar to what the opposition does. This is news? It's hardly unique to the left.
8.20.2009 11:29pm
Guest12345:
Psalm91:


This was very common during the Bush years; Bush and his various representatives and pastoral allies did it all the time. Where you you? Christian Coalition voters' pamphlets? Do you know Ted Haggard? Richard Land? Tony Perkins? Jim Dobson? Benny Hinn? Morris Cerullo? James Kennedy? Give me a break.


You seem to be confusing the actions of people who hold Bush's philosophies with the actions of Bush. Either that or you did a really crappy job of communicating your point.
8.20.2009 11:29pm
JK:

I don't see anything terribly scandalous about this; the scandal would be if rabbis abuse their pulpit by pushing a political agenda, not the president (who, after all, is a politician, so what can you expect?) asking them to do so.

But I will note that if President Bush had urged a huge group of conservative ministers or priests (there is no such group of rabbis) to subtly use their Christmas or Easter sermons to push for tax cuts, or the Iraq War, there would have been howls of outrage from certain circles that I predict will be utterly silent over Obama's actions.

Arguments of this structure have become massively popular in political blogs, and it really drives me crazy.

1. Who are in these "certain circles"? Why not name individuals or groups that "would have been howl[ing]"?

2. Was there an analogous event under Bush where "certain circles" criticized it unreasonably?

3. What basis do we have to believe that silence is agreement/condoning in this case? Certainly we can't generally assume that silence is agreement.

The only actual facts here are:
1. Obama said something
2. Prof Bernstein doesn't think there's anything wrong with it.

From there we make a bunch of assumptions, and come to the conclusion that some unnamed group of individuals and/or organizations are hypocritical.
8.20.2009 11:33pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
If reform rabbis signed onto Obama's agenda as a result of this call, how would anybody notice the difference?
8.20.2009 11:35pm
Brian K (mail):
So let me get this straight. you guys are capable of inferring that there will be "death panels" in a bill that contains absolutely no such language whatsoever, but are utterly incapable of thinking why bush would give a "pep talk" to religious leaders? I find it hard to believe that you guys are that stupid.

i also don't think reaching out to major religious groups so push support for the iraq war (who would then push pastors that are in their membership) as all that much different from asking the pastors directly. am i correct to assume that if obama had used an intermediary to make the request that none of you would have had a problem with it? i highly doubt it.

but, after 5 more seconds on google, i found this. google is your friend people, you should learn how to use it.

Are you being intentionally dishonest, or are you really that dense?
perhaps you should take a look in the mirror from time to time.
8.20.2009 11:35pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
And when did Bush ask for help from Priests and Ministers? As /: pointed out, the article from Brian K didn't say that.
"Article" is putting it loosely. It seems to be some sort of press release from an advocacy group, not a media article at all.
8.20.2009 11:37pm
anon252 (mail):
The OP never says that Bush didn't mix religion and politics. Instead it suggests that liberal critics were all over him for doing so. But we can't compare exact reactions because Bush never went so far as to give advice to conservative ministers or priests about how to fit his political agenda into their Christmas sermons.
8.20.2009 11:50pm
RPT (mail):
From Wikipedia on Ted Haggard:

"In 2005, Haggard was listed by Time magazine as one of the top 25 most influential evangelicals in America.[28] Haggard was a firm supporter of former US President George W. Bush, and is sometimes credited with rallying evangelicals behind Bush during the 2004 election.[29] Author Jeff Sharlet reported in 2005 that Haggard "talks to… Bush or his advisers every Monday" and stated at that time that "no pastor in America holds more sway over the political direction of evangelicalism."[30]
8.21.2009 12:12am
neurodoc:
if President Bush had urged a huge group of conservative ministers or priests (there is no such group of rabbis)
There is no such group of rabbis? A convocation of orthodox rabbis, especially the real black hat types, i.e., not "modern" orthodox, wouldn't skew strongly conservative politically?

It's one thing to sermonize about the religious precepts that the clergy might see as most immediately pertinent to a debate like that going on over health care reform; it's a wholly different, and IMO unacceptable, thing to urge support for a particular partisan position.
8.21.2009 12:43am
Brian K (mail):
"Article" is putting it loosely. It seems to be some sort of press release from an advocacy group, not a media article at all.

i haven't seen you say anything when conservatives point to opinion pieces, foxnews, worldnetdaily or known conservative shills (e.g. nro) as definitive sources.
8.21.2009 12:57am
Dan M.:
Can you frame tax cuts or a freaking war in such a way as to work support for them into a Christmas message? Any attempt to do so would be decried and RIGHTLY SO.

I don't see anything wrong with asking religious leaders to push for something that can be seen as a charitable cause.

Heck, I could imagine Bush asking for religious support for NCLB or something, and maybe getting somewhat chided for it, but not Christmas messaging to help us start a war or cut taxes.

The fact that Bush would never do it is reason enough not to ask what would happen if Bush did it.
8.21.2009 1:48am
David M. Nieporent (www):
I don't see anything wrong with asking religious leaders to push for something that can be seen as a charitable cause.
The government is not charity. Charity involves people spending their own money, not someone else's.
8.21.2009 3:55am
Off Kilter (mail):
"I am going to need your help," the president told a telephone audience of about 1,000 rabbis on Wednesday morning"

They should recommend a good mohel...
8.21.2009 4:28am
Hunt (mail):
"The left solidly supports Tea Party tax protests and town hall protests similar to the disruption of the Republic National Convention in NYC and any number of Bush speeches. "

I will definitely support them when Obama institutes "free speech zones," as Bush did, or when Obama has dissenters removed before his public appearances, to avoid disruption, even when they are simply sitting in their seats, as Bush did.

And by the way, I think Obama's mixing of politics and religion here is pretty disgusting, and I hope he gets a lot of flack for it from all parts of the political spectrum.
8.21.2009 5:30am
BGates:
I don't see anything wrong with asking religious leaders to push for something that can be seen as a charitable cause.

Like a government official trying to reduce his own influence by reducing the amount of money confiscated through taxation?

Or the sacrifice involved in freeing people on the other side of the world from tyranny, how about that?

No, I guess you can't have real charity without the threat of force against other American citizens if they don't "contribute" to your idea of a moral obligation.
8.21.2009 5:39am
Mr L (mail):
RE: Psalm91, others

There is a very important difference between groups which lobby for policies on religious grounds like Focus on the Family and clergy inserting political messages into religious services. See if you can guess what it is!
8.21.2009 7:26am
rick.felt:
Come on guys, it's simple:

-If you use religion to justify the state telling people what they can do with their swimtrunk areas, you're one of Andrew Sullivan's "Christianists."

-If you use religion to justify the state telling people what they can do with their money, that's just fine.
8.21.2009 8:44am
Recovering Law Grad:
"Imagine the outcry if Bush had done X!"

Does Bernstein realize that this hypo is played out over and over again on Fox News/talk radio every day? It's part of the Republican martyr/victim complex that posits the white male as the *real* victim of discrimination, Christians as the oppressed, heterosexuals as under attack, etc. Nothing could be more old, more tired, or less appropriate for what is supposed to be a thoughtful website.

Although it pains me to do it, I will take up the substance of Bernstein's post by pointing out that he has set up a straw man. The argument against Bush's religiosity was not that he reached out to religious leaders for political support - every politician does this every day everywhere - but that he governed as if he was put in office to advance a specific religion and a specific religious people. Now this argument may not be accurate - it's likely overstated - but it has nothing to do with having a conference call with religious leaders.
8.21.2009 8:52am
anon252 (mail):
The argument against Bush's religiosity was not that he reached out to religious leaders for political support - every politician does this every day everywhere
Can you come up with a single example of a politician asking, and giving advice to, clergy regarding how to modify their holiday sermons to support a specific item on the president's political agenda?
8.21.2009 8:56am
yankev (mail):

Isn't Bush the victim getting a little old?
Ask again after we stop hearing how everythin is Bush's fault, and every criticism of Obama is met with a litany of reasons why Bush was worse.
8.21.2009 9:05am
yankev (mail):

The "I am my brother's keeper" riff,
Which does not apply to Obama's actual brother, who lives in poverty in Africa with, so far as we know,no financial aid from the compassionate Barack. I have never understood the idea that being "my brother's keeper" does not require me to open my wallet, but does require me to use the power of government to force everyone else to open his wallet.
8.21.2009 9:14am
yankev (mail):

What basis do we have to believe that silence is agreement/condoning in this case? Certainly we can't generally assume that silence is agreement.
Well, the Talmud, for one (sorry, I don't have the precise cite) says "Shisuka c'hodu dami" -- silence (in certain contexts) is comparable to agreement."

By the way, according to Contentions Blog, Rabbi Jack Moline twittered the call and its prelude, and reported as follows. While the rabbis were waiting for the President to join the call, they discussed whether to express their disappointment at his award of this nation's highest civilian honor to the woman who organized the Durban conference in such a way that the conference was guaranteed to result in the anti-Semitic hate fest that indeed materialized. They decided not to.

Finally, it is instructive that the rabbis were all affiliated with the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements. All three movements reject the belief in Divine authorship of the Torah, and two of the movements have no prohibition against ordaining agnostics or atheists. This is not the first time that President Obama has hand picked which Jews he is willing to talk with.
8.21.2009 9:21am
Prof. S. (mail):
Some of you people really don't get it do you. For example, Brian K, you completely missed the point. The issue isn't that Obama did this. Rather, the point is that there is different reaction when this occurs.

The differing reactions is the story. Please go back to the post and read this line: I don't see anything terribly scandalous about this; the scandal would be if rabbis abuse their pulpit by pushing a political agenda, not the president (who, after all, is a politician, so what can you expect?) asking them to do so.

In other words, David B doesn't care that the President is doing it, just lie he doesn't care that the last president (or the president before that if you could find an example) did it as well.

Why is this so difficult for people to see?
8.21.2009 9:22am
Houston Lawyer:
People really need to the the "I am my brother's keeper" line straight. After Cain killed Able, God asked Cain about Able's whereabouts. Cain replied to the effect "What, am I my brother's keeper". So the actual story is Cain trying to misdirect the focus of an inquiry. Kind of appropriate for the healthcare debate.
8.21.2009 9:29am
yankev (mail):

I find it hard to believe that you guys are that stupid.
No you don't. Unless you think we are that evil and blatantly dishonest enough to deliberately lie about it. You've made it pretty clear that you find it hard to believe that anyone who departs from an extreme left agenda must be either stupid or evil.

By the way, as to RPT's post, it looks like I am not the only one who sees a difference between a preacher calling the president to talk about what the preacher sees as the moral aspects of one or more policies, and on the other hand the president convening a meeting of thousands of reliqious leaders asking them to tell their congreagtions that that only moral course is for them to support a policy. Why is this so hard to understand? Why does logic fly out the window when Bush, Obama or both are at issue?
8.21.2009 9:30am
Commodore:
Isn't it possible (and even likely) that Prof. Bernstein is referring to media bias, rather than leftist hypocrisy?
8.21.2009 9:35am
DavidBernstein (mail):
There is no such group of rabbis? A convocation of orthodox rabbis, especially the real black hat types, i.e., not "modern" orthodox, wouldn't skew strongly conservative politically?
Only on social issues. Given the high percentage of their congregants who live off food stamps, in government housing, etc., because they don't give them secular education and encourage them to study Talmud all day regardless of their talent, I doubt they are exactly free market/limited gov't types.
8.21.2009 9:38am
Edward Lunny (mail):
" don't see anything wrong with asking religious leaders to push for something that can be seen as a charitable cause."...Except that charity is explicitly a voluntary action. Government dictated participation in any wealth redistribution is explcitly NOT charity, participation is dictated at the point of the law. The left will see that as charity because they are of the belief that they are entitled to the product of everyone's labors. I wonder, how many of those whom support this abomination of "healthcare reform" have ever, ever invested any of their own money ?
Regarding the involvement of religious leaders and the assertion that we all are our brothers keepers, whatever happened to " God helps those whom help themselves " ? I am tired of having my earnings and efforts raped and pillaged to be given to those whom too frequently make little, if any, effort to help themselves, by those whom in large part are not willing to participate with their own earnings.
If you want healtyh insurance and/or healthcare buy it, if you can't afford it you need to change your lifestyle and your life priorities to be able to afford it. When efforts in that regard, real efforts,are made I'm likely to be more supportive and agreeable to assistance. I don't see those efforts, I don't see anyone pushing healthcare reform considering any such efforts. Like so many other "aid" or "assistance" programs there are no responsibilities for the recipients, only for those from whom the money is extorted.
8.21.2009 9:41am
Anonymouse:
David, your description of "black hat", really only applies in the NY area. The farther you get out of NY, you can find plenty of "black hat types", who are normal workers. (Heck, you're in the DC area and there are plenty of them right in your backyard!)

also, I would tend to argue that modern orthodox jews also tend to be more RW than average (just take a look at the politics of the undergraduate student body of Yeshiva University).
8.21.2009 9:47am
Fugle:
Brian K.
Perhaps you should read the articles you google in 5 seconds, from the NYT article (and the central thesis of the Bush invitation to pastors):

As the pastors mingled around fountains of soft drinks and trays of cubed cheese, Mr. Reed urged, "Without advocating on behalf of any candidate or political party, you can make sure that everyone in your circle of influence is registered to vote"

The difference between "get your congregation registered to vote" and "get your congregation to support my policy" is significant. The first asks to garner more participants to the process (clearly those who are likely inclined to support your position); the second asks for an endorsement of policy.

I am troubled by Obama's misuse of scripture as noted above.

As an aside, what happened to the "wall of separation" the left was so eager to invoke the past eight years?
8.21.2009 10:11am
therut (mail):
The problem is the MSM does NOT present a left wing politician mixing their "religion" with their politics as they do a right wing politician doing so. This has been going on for a loooooooong time. Where is the outrage? Not a peep about theological liberalism not one damn peep. Except for presenting IT as acceptable and just a fact of life. That is the real problem.
8.21.2009 10:21am
Recovering Law Grad:
anon252 -

I can do you one better. Go to a black church in Philadelphia or Baltimore the Sunday before an election (say, for mayor) and you will not only get a political-themed sermon, you are likely to get the candidate him- or herself standing in the pulpit delivering a stump speech.
8.21.2009 10:40am
Steve:
Maybe the reason the left is not afraid that Obama is trying to make our country into a Jewish theocracy is... wait, is anyone seriously confused about this?!?
8.21.2009 11:04am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Maybe the reason the left is not afraid that Obama is trying to make our country into a Jewish theocracy is... wait, is anyone seriously confused about this?!?
Well, people who thought that Bush wanted to make the country into a theocracy are very seriously confused, yes.
8.21.2009 11:30am
yankee (mail):
1) Calling someone a hypocrite because they supposedly would have done something different in some counterfactual circumstance is weak.

2) To much of the left (not me), the problem with Bush's involvement with the Christian Right was that the Presidency was being used to push a sectarian religious agenda. A similar conference call would have been evidence of his being far to close to to the Christian right. Nobody is concerned that Obama is using the Presidency to push a Jewish religious agenda, because Jews are a tiny minority and Obama is a Christian.
8.21.2009 11:34am
Dave N (mail):
Steve,

Was anyone outside the left wing loony bin really concerned that Bush was trying to make our country a Christian theocracy? ANYONE.

I am disappointed. You are usually much, much better than your last post.
8.21.2009 11:40am
DangerMouse:
The problem is the MSM does NOT present a left wing politician mixing their "religion" with their politics as they do a right wing politician doing so. This has been going on for a loooooooong time. Where is the outrage? Not a peep about theological liberalism not one damn peep. Except for presenting IT as acceptable and just a fact of life. That is the real problem.

The MSM monopoly in lib theocracy is broken. Most people know that libs are f'n hypocrites when it comes to stuff like this. They go batshit crazy when a conservative comes close to the line with religion (Sullivan is a perfect example of this), but then when a lib like Obama specifically references religious teachings like "your brother's keeper," etc, then all of a sudden that's ok.

Don't worry about the hypocrisy. Most Americans know that libs are liars, as their philosophy is based on lies. And there is plenty of outrage, as all the criticism of Obama as "the Messiah" shows. Mockery is the perfect response to their arrogance, and the Joker poster was a great answer. The libs are living in a fantasyland if they think that they can pull the wool over the eyes of the people on issues like this any more. RowerinVa summed up things nicely in the 3rd post of this thread: libs are against conservatives exercising free speech, &against conservatives protesting. Nancy Pelosi can call people "un-American", and libs at the Nutroots convention can say that not supporting Obamacare is "treason," etc. And the libs think that people aren't paying attention? Oh, people are paying attention.

There's a reason why people call Obama "the Messiah." And it's not a term of endearment.
8.21.2009 11:46am
yankev (mail):

Given the high percentage of their congregants who live off food stamps, in government housing, etc., because they don't give them secular education and encourage them to study Talmud all day regardless of their talent
Can we steer clear of odious stereotypes, please? This stereotype may be true in Israel and small pockets of the US, but is definitely not true in smaller Orthodox communities.
8.21.2009 12:04pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Given that the overwhelming majority of "black hatters" in the U.S. live in the NYC area--especially Brooklyn (admittedly a small pocket of the U.S.), and a few enclaves in Westchester--I'm not sure it's especially relevant to the point that small congregations in other cities follow different patterns. I take it you're not disagreeing with me that there are high levels of poverty among black hatters in the U.S., that this poverty is related to the educational policies of the rabbis who dominate the communities, and that on offshoot is that many haredim receive various forms of government assistance (in addition to communal charity).
8.21.2009 12:17pm
Ulquiorra:

Ask again after we stop hearing how everythin is Bush's fault, and every criticism of Obama is met with a litany of reasons why Bush was worse.

To echo SFH:

Ask again after we stop hearing how everything is Clinton's fault, and every criticism of Bush is met with a litany of reasons why Clinton was worse.

Ask again after we stop hearing how everything is Bush's and Reagan's fault, and every criticism of Clinton is met with a litany of reasons why Reagan and Bush were worse.

Ask again after we stop hearing how everything is Carter's fault, and every criticism of Reagan and/or Bush is met with a litany of reasons why Carter was worse.

Ask again after we stop hearing how everything is Nixon's fault, and every criticism of Carter is met with a litany of reasons why Nixon was worse.

Ask again after we stop hearing how everything is Johnson's and Kennedy's fault, and every criticism of Nixon is met with a litany of reasons why Johnson and Kennedy were worse.

And so on . . .
8.21.2009 12:23pm
rarango (mail):
I think Ulquiorra has broken the code of American political discourse!
8.21.2009 12:25pm
hymie (mail):
Pertinent to a discussion with a group of rabbis, the concept which some commenters have stated that charity is purely voluntary is false according to the Torah. See, for example, Leviticus 19:9-10, which instructs that during harvest, some portions of crops must be left in the fields for the poor to glean.
8.21.2009 1:19pm
William L:

Given that the overwhelming majority of "black hatters" in the U.S. live in the NYC area--especially Brooklyn (admittedly a small pocket of the U.S.), and a few enclaves in Westchester--I'm not sure it's especially relevant to the point that small congregations in other cities follow different patterns. I take it you're not disagreeing with me that there are high levels of poverty among black hatters in the U.S., that this poverty is related to the educational policies of the rabbis who dominate the communities, and that on offshoot is that many haredim receive various forms of government assistance (in addition to communal charity).


Professor Bernstein,

I think that you are lumping rather a lot of very different groups in with "black hatters." Some Chassidic communities, perhaps, such as Satmar, are largely on welfare or food stamps. One might refer to them as "fur-hatters." The classic "black hatters," the non-Chassidic hareidim, for the most part do earn livings, are encouraged to do so, and do not spend their entire lives studying talmud regardless of talent. At least recently, life-long exclusive talmud study is no longer the norm even among lakewood types. They may stay in yeshiva until they are 26 or 28 before they start working, but they do usually earn a living (much as many members of my generation get useless graduate degrees that have no economic value and only start real work at 28). Much of the dependance on food stamps is a result of exceptionally large families rather than a refusal to work (whether the large families are a good idea is a whole other discussion entirely).

For someone who has, especially recently, become a very vocal and public critic of anti-semitic misconceptions and stereotypes, I'm suprised at the broad brush with which you paint here.
8.21.2009 1:27pm
Dave N (mail):
rarango,

True, he has. But nobody blamed Gerald Ford.
8.21.2009 1:34pm
hymie (mail):
It is also false that no large group of conservative rabbis exists; Agudath Israel of America is such a group (and is so conservative that they do not have a website, because of the dangers to morality they perceive the internet poses). Here is the letter, largely supportive of Obama, they wrote:
Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Some of the contents:


8.21.2009 2:07pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Willam L, point taken, but I stick by my main point, which is that the idea that "black hat" rabbis are "conservative" on economic issues is something that I haven't seen evidence of, and it unlikely given that their constituents, overall, have high rates of dependence on government aid.
8.21.2009 2:35pm
NickM (mail) (www):

We are God's partners in matters of life and death," - Barack Obama.

The thought that anyone would claim the mantle of God's partnership is - in my estimation - the province of people so deluded that they should be committed to an insane asylum.


Moneyrunner's statement should unite both religious believers and atheists in agreement.

Nick
8.21.2009 2:37pm
yankev (mail):

See, for example, Leviticus 19:9-10, which instructs that during harvest, some portions of crops must be left in the fields for the poor to glean
But there is no set amount of the size of those corners. ("Elu devarim sh'ayn lahem shiur: ha'peah"). A better example might be ma'aser ani. And the giving of tzedakah is certainly mandatory and not optional.

But it seems to me that you are missing an essential point. The Torah tells me what I have to do with MY fields, MY crops and MY money, and tells you what you are to do with yours. Where does it tell me that I must enact man-made leislation forcing you to give your money to whoever I deem worthy and for whatever cause I deem worthy? Where does it tell me that I can satisfy my obligation by enacting man-made legislation forcing you to give your money.

It is also false that no large group of conservative rabbis exists; Agudath Israel of America is such a group (and is so conservative that they do not have a website, because of the dangers to morality they perceive the internet poses).
Socially conservative, but as DB poimnted out, not always politically conservative.

Here is the letter, largely supportive of Obama

Sadly and misguidedly, the letter does express support for the idea of government-provided health care. The letter also expresses grave concern over any legislation that would encourage suicide, the withholding of care, or abortion, or that would force doctors or other health care providers to participate in abortion or physician assisted suicide, or would prohibit them from saving someone's life. The letter asks that any law include religious exemptions to prevent coercion in these and other areas.
8.21.2009 2:47pm
yankev (mail):
Some of the important caveats from the Agudah's letter:

We approach these issues imbued with the conviction that the preservation of life and the promotion of good health and well-being are religious imperatives that emanate from the inherent sanctity of human life. *** that perspective *** adds an important new dimension *** that has largely been missing from the national debate to date: the impact any given policy proposal may have on the religious freedoms of patients and providers.

***the White House and Congress must be mindful of the fact that universal health care must in no way come at the expense of quality health care. **** our nation cannot embrace any proposal that will, in the end, subject Americans to a lower standard of medical care or to a medical system that is less responsive then the one they now enjoy.

*** The White House and Congress must **** mak[e] certain that medical decision-making remains, to the extent practicable, within the intimate province of the doctor-patient relationship and that it is based upon the facts and circumstances of each individual case. Indeed, quality health care is inextricably linked to the trust, confidence and personal knowledge that are gained over time between patient and doctor.

But when government policymakers or other third party insurers are given greater power to determine the list of "appropriate" medical interventions, the locus of decision-making power shifts substantially from the individual to a distant group of "experts" who have arrived at their decisions on the basis of broad, generalized notions of public policy. As we see even under the current system, generalizations as to what is or what is not medically "appropriate" have all-too-often led - and can only further lead - to bad medicine. And, determinations left in the hands of far-away government panels or self-interested insurance companies are fraught with danger. Any additional movement away from doctor-patient autonomy in this area should certainly be cause for alarm.
8.21.2009 3:00pm
yankev (mail):
More caveats from the Agudah letter:
We are gravely concerned about the consequences these limitations will have for the very young, for the elderly and infirm, and for people with disabilities. Will they be denied lifesaving treatment when their "quality of life" is diminished? And what of the anguish of infertile husbands and wives? Will treatment be withheld if the "cost-benefit" ratio is too high?


The challenge before the White House and Congress is to preserve the right of these and other individuals to receive appropriate health care services even in circumstances where the "quality of life" may be severely curtailed or where a dispassionate "cost-benefit" analysis may lead some in the medical community or in the field of public policy to conclude that treatment not be provided or covered.
*********

government policymakers will arrive at their decisions based on broad, generalized notions of public policy. They will certainly assess the relevant medical factors. They will look at the social and economic implications. They will weigh overall costs and benefits. But what of other considerations that are normally part of a patient's deliberations? How, for example, will a patient's religious and moral beliefs figure in on the decision to provide medical treatment?

That this potential conflict is relevant and critically important to Orthodox Jews can be readily seen. Jewish tradition places great emphasis on the preservation of human life, which retains its sanctity even under the most dire of medical circumstances. As such, Jewish law may require medical interventions that others might not regard as "quality enhancing" or "cost effective." If health care reform leads to the drawing of lines that places certain religiously-mandated forms of treatment on the "wrong side," Orthodox Jews (and others who share similar religious or moral perspectives) may face severe crisis - and an abridgment in their ability to engage in the free exercise of religion.
*********

Allocation of scarce medical resources is not the only element of health care reform that may implicate religious concerns. Religious health care providers - doctors, nurses, hospitals, and nursing homes - might be called upon to perform medical procedures that they consider religiously or morally objectionable. Religious employers - whether individuals or organizations - might be compelled, through the imposition of "employer mandates," to provide coverage to their employees for such procedures. Why should the religious freedom of these providers or employers be sacrificed in the name of health care reform?
8.21.2009 3:04pm
William L:

Willam L, point taken, but I stick by my main point, which is that the idea that "black hat" rabbis are "conservative" on economic issues is something that I haven't seen evidence of, and it unlikely given that their constituents, overall, have high rates of dependence on government aid.


On that I would agree. "Black hat" rabbis are generally not conservative on economic issues, or even really involved in political adovocacy about economic issues in general. The letter Hymie posted mostly seems to be advocating with regard to the religious issues involved in health care legislation; that any bill that might pass should take into account these provisions, though it does express support for universal coverage. One way or another, I doubt health care will be part of any Agudah Rabbi's High Holiday sermon.

And though I agree that "Black Hat" rabbis aren't conservative on economic issues, I would bet that they would never agree to any sort of phone conference from Obama, even on policies about which they might agree. I would assume that the policy differences on things that matter more to them, like Israel, abortion, etc., would be enough to deter them from any sort of association.

As a side note, I would agree with Anonymouse that many Modern Orthodox Jews are both socially and economically conservative. I wonder if Yeshiva University is the only top 50 college where the majority of students voted for McCain (and a large majority at that). It's also notable that though Jews in generally overwhelmingly vote Democrat, Orthodox Jews of all stripes vote strongly Republican (at least in presidential elections).
8.21.2009 3:06pm
hymie (mail):
Rabbis believe that humanity was created in God's image, which is to say that people are to emulate the qualities of God. God has seen fit to command, not suggest, that charity be given to the poor. In the laws that people make for themselves, they must likewise follow the attributes of the Lord and require, not suggest, that the poor be given charity.

It comes as no surprise to me that there are people who claim to be believers in Judaism or Christianity but find this objectionable. They forget that the House of David was founded through these commanded acts of charity, when the alien Ruth went to glean in the fields of Boaz (Ruth 2:2). They further forget that everything they have has been given to them by God. David points this out when he has collected charity to build the temple, that the people have taken from God's hand and put back into God's hand, with God testing their hearts (I Chronicles 29:11-17).
8.21.2009 3:44pm
William L:
hymie,

Rabbis might believe in commanded acted charity, but it might depend on who's doing the commanding.
8.21.2009 3:47pm
Leo Marvin (mail):
This is all Gerald Ford's fault.
8.21.2009 3:49pm
yankev (mail):
Hymie, Kesiva v'chasima tova.

What William said about the Source of the command.

I understand what you say about hashkafa (outlook) from Ruth and from Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles) but surely you know that we do not paskin (make definitive rulings on Jewish law) from the Writings. So, as to secular law --

If nothing in secular law prohibits Jews from giving tzedakah, where is there a chiyuv to lobby for or support a law mandating that we take money from everyone -- even if for whatever reason it is more than the amount they are required to give for tzedakah (and keep in mind that a person is not only not required, but in general forbidden to give more than 20% of his property to tzedakah lest he himself become a burden to the public), and give the money to people who may not even qualify for tzedakah, for purposes that don't qualify for tzedakah?
8.21.2009 4:32pm
yankev (mail):
William L., the Agudah is not shy about lobbying the White House or Congress on matters of concern to their constituents.

The Agudah also issued a statement shortly after the 2008 elections, reminding its members of the religious obligation to show proper respect to the President of the United States regardless of who holds the office or what one thinks of his policies, and that it goes without saying that one should never refer to him by a derogatory name or nickname. Sadly, this is not the only area of religious obligation in which my observance falls far short of what it should be.
8.21.2009 4:36pm
hymie (mail):
Everyone quotes scripture to their purpose of course. The verse beginning with "Justice, justice shall you pursue so that you may live" (Deuteronomy 16:20) makes a nice catch-all commandment for doing what you think is right, with the "so you may live" being especially apropos for health care.
8.21.2009 5:37pm
yankev (mail):

Everyone quotes scripture to their purpose of course.
Which is why we Jews don't rely on simply quoting scripture. We rely on the words of our Sages in the form of definitive rulings in the Gemora, particularly as later codified by Shulchan Aruch, the Rama, the Nosei Keilim and the responsa. Anything else is, as you pointed out, mere self-justification

The verse beginning with "Justice, justice shall you pursue so that you may live" (Deuteronomy 16:20) makes a nice catch-all commandment for doing what you think is right, with the "so you may live" being especially apropos for health care.
Very a propos as it comes from this week's parsha. But it is part of a discussion about the laws of witnesses, court procedure and determining guilt and innocent. The context shows that this verse does not concern legislation; it warns the judges to follow the rules of procedure and evidence in order to properly administer justice. I am not aware of any source that shows that our Sages took this verse to mean that our duty to give tzedakah includes enacting secular laws to forcibly take money from everyone, unrelated to their duty to give tzedakah, and redistribute that money for purposes that may not be tzedaka (e.g. assisted suicide, elective abortion) to people who may or may not be entitled to tzedaka (e.g those who can afford their own care) to be doled out by people who are not supposed to be trusted to administer tzedaka (e.g. tax cheats, embezzlers, dictators and people with no fear of G-d). The Jewish religion sets standards for all of these things. We do not have the privilege of making it up as we go along based merely on what each Jew deems right in his own eyes, in contravention to the Tannaim, Amoraim, and Poskim.*

Which means that you still have not given me a source for the obligation that you proposed.

In the words of Hillel, "Now go out and learn."

* If these terms are not familiar to you, ask yourself if you would rely on someone's opinion on an issue of US consitutional law if he did not know the three branches of the federal government, that the authority of each is limited, the difference between case law and statute, or statute and regulation, or that the Declaration of Indepence is not part of the constitution?
8.21.2009 6:08pm
Glenn W. Bowen (mail):
This man sat for ten years in the outhouse posing as a church in which Rev.(!!?!) Wright preached venomously against Jews, and these rabbis just line up for this Marxist atheist.
8.21.2009 7:20pm
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :

This man sat for ten years in the outhouse posing as a church in which Rev.(!!?!) Wright preached venomously against Jews, and these rabbis just line up for this Marxist atheist.

So Obama was a churchgoing atheist?

Frankly, if he's an atheist, I have no qualms about him enlisting the support of rabbis to push his agenda. He's just playing the religious for suckers.
8.22.2009 10:56pm
Mac (mail):
Comp Sci Phd:

Thanks for the link.

Very, very interesting and thoughtful.

I found this from the article especially illuminating.



Personally I found the entire experience to be enlightening in many ways - I don't even have time to discuss the "text study" which followed Obama (fascinating on many other levels but you're free to pursue them here). .....

Clarification: I've received several comments asking what was the response of the listeners to some of Obama's statements. The call was "listen-only" and we were all on mute except for the select people who were honored with asking Obama the questions. There were only two questions asked, both of which were selected beforehand. There was no opportunity to speak to the president directly.



I believe this is in keeping with Obama's statement to the effect that

everyone should sit down, shut up and let him fix things.


Odd from a Constitutional law prof. and an American President who should, on both counts, have some knowledge of and respect for the democratic process and the First Amendment.

And, the "text" that followed was so they could study the One's words?
8.23.2009 5:26pm
Mac (mail):
Ulquiorra:

Ask again after we stop hearing how everything is Clinton's fault, and every criticism of Bush is met with a litany of reasons why Clinton was worse.



I don't think Bush ever, ever said anything was Clinton's fault, not even 9/11 in which case he would certainly have had a valid point.

I don't recall too clearly, but I think Clinton had better sense than to continually keep blaming Bush the Elder or Reagan. I was not terribly engaged at that point in my life, but I just don't seem to recall a constant litany of complaints from the former Presidents about their predecessors. Not to this extent at any rate and definitely not Bush.
8.23.2009 5:49pm
Mac (mail):
Yankev,

Thank you so very much for your illuminating comments regarding Jewish Law.

We could only wish that our Congress would study both the Constitution and the bills before them with a tiny fraction of the intensity that Jews study the Torah.



Frankly, if he's an atheist, I have no qualms about him enlisting the support of rabbis to push his agenda. He's just playing the religious for suckers.


http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb :

Am I missing something here? I find it extremely offensive that POTUS would play any American for suckers. I find it even more offensive that he would single out Jews, who gave mightily to him in cash, for suckers. Even if he is an atheist, am I wrong to expect basic decency and fairness from an atheist? You get a pass from all moral, if not man-made laws, because you don't believe in God? Did you really mean to say that?
8.23.2009 6:06pm
ReaderY:

Willam L, point taken, but I stick by my main point, which is that the idea that "black hat" rabbis are "conservative" on economic issues is something that I haven't seen evidence of, and it unlikely given that their constituents, overall, have high rates of dependence on government aid.


Perhaps a somewhat kinder take would be to call the approach is pragmatic rather than ideology-driven. The natural human tendency towards rigidity is invested elsewhere, freeing up room for flexibility on economic matters.
8.24.2009 2:05am

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