The Jewish Case Against Donald Trump

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A few months ago, a New Jersey rabbi had a dream of rallying his colleagues in support of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump. Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg reportedly built a Facebook page called “Rabbis for Trump,” hoping it would attract like-minded rabbis. It didn’t. The page was then renamed “Rabbi for Trump.” Alas, as Rabbi Akiva said to Rabbi Eliezer after the latter remained the lone stubborn dissenting voice regarding the purity of a particular type of oven, “My master, it appears to me that thy colleagues keep aloof from thee” (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 59b), ultimately, Trump’s key rabbinic supporter abandoned his lost cause, attempting to close down the page in early February.

In my view, there is a place for rabbinic voices in politics. Rabbis are meant to advance Torah in the world, and the Torah is, among other things, a political document. However, there is something unsettling about rabbinic endorsements of political candidates, since it is hard to imagine a party or a politician that fully and unambiguously reflects or advocates for the Torah’s vision of a good society. Often, such endorsements represent the rabbi’s political point of view garbed in his or her rabbinic authority.

At the same time, it is telling when virtually no rabbis endorse a particular candidate or when many, if not most, actively oppose one. Such rare cases of rabbinic agreement (in a highly controversial arena like politics, no less) call for attention and analysis, because they indicate a consensus about bedrock Jewish values, about our collective rabbinic desire for leaders who embody and advance those values, and about our collective rejection of figures who stand in stark contrast with those values. In the 2016 presidential election, there is indeed such a candidate, a politician virtually universally rejected by American Jewish spiritual leaders: Donald J. Trump.

The Jewish tradition would reject Trump because of his positions. His domestic policy positions – such as building a wall to prevent Mexican immigration, deporting the roughly 11.5 million illegal immigrants currently in the country, and banning Muslim immigration – advance a stunningly cruel vision of America, where white and Christian citizens enjoy renewed and unchallenged supremacy. His foreign policy is belligerent and brutal in its protectionism and hawkishness, turning trade into a zero-sum game where others have to lose in order for America to “win,” and in matters of war and peace presuming that the only way to keep Americans safe is to devalue the lives of non-Americans.

These positions are anathema to Jewish values. Our tradition makes explicit our moral responsibility to ensure to the best of our ability that the circumstances of others’ lives, especially the lives of those who are unlike us, match what we would want for ours: Love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:34).

The Bible invokes our collective memory of oppression in Egypt no less than 36 times, harnessing our history over and again so that we connect the crises others face today with our crises yesterday, to see their story as our story, to experience their reality as personally as we would our own. The Torah trains us to want for others, and particularly for others who are disadvantaged, what we would want for ourselves.

And our tradition imparts the moral responsibility toward the other as an extension of our theology. The Torah’s most basic faith claim is that “God is One.” If God is one, then all is one. As Rabbi Ed Feinstein puts it, “God is Melech ha-Olam, Sovereign of All, the God of global concern. In God, there is no such thing as care for our own apart from concern for the other, because in God there is no such thing as the other.” In a one-God universe, we are all one – brothers and sisters, children of one parent (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5).
Where Trump seeks “greatness,” Judaism desires goodness. Where Trump wants to “win,” Judaism demands justice. Advocating for mass deportations, vilifying hundreds of millions of peaceful and law-abiding adherents of a major world religion, pursuing the economic devastation of other countries, and gleefully advocating torture are all antithetical to the Jewish moral ethos.

And I believe the Jewish tradition would reject Trump because of the personality with which he dangerously marries his immoral positions. Take, for example, Trump’s characteristically unfiltered manner of speaking. This trait may appeal to those weary of restrictive political correctness and endlessly focus-grouped and programmed politician-speak, but his propensity for vulgarity, innuendo, invective, and slander also reflect a lack of concern for the opinions or feelings of others.

The Jewish tradition, on the other hand, deals at length with our responsibility to watch our mouths. For instance, Genesis 1 holds that God created the world through speech. The rabbis commonly interpreted this to mean that words create worlds. Speech has the power to shape reality in profound and enduring ways, to build up and to break down. That’s what the biblical book of Proverbs means when it teaches, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), why the rabbis of the Talmud adjure us, “Teach your tongue to say, ‘I don’t know’” (Babylonian Talmud, B’rakhot 4a), and why entire tractates of Jewish law are devoted to shmirat halashon, guarding our speech. Our power of speech calls for extreme responsibility.

Similarly, while most politicians exhibit some degree of narcissism and have a propensity for self-promotion, Trump wears these qualities on his sleeve. Trump revels in displays of arrogance, frequently reminding audiences of his greatness, his singular talents, and his unparalleled successes.

The Jewish tradition teaches us to be wary of such arrogant people, especially when they are in positions of leadership. Those who see themselves as special tend look down on others. They have little compassion for those they do not perceive to be on the same level. They presume always to be right, never allowing for new information to change their mind. When our family members, peers, or co-workers exhibit that quality, most of us find them insufferable. When leaders possess that quality, they are dangerous. That’s why the biblical model for leadership is Moses, a man described as exceedingly humble (Numbers 12:3), and why haughtiness is consistently called out in the Bible and rabbinic literature as the most contemptible of qualities.

We look to our leaders both to articulate a vision for where we ought to go and also to be models for who we ought to be – as individuals, and as a people. On both of these grounds, it seems to me that the Jewish tradition speaks with a clear, and uncharacteristically unified, voice: Donald Trump is unfit to lead.

This article was originally published at: http://www.haaretz.com/jewish/rabbis-round-table/.premium-1.705232?date=1456518550667

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9 Responses to The Jewish Case Against Donald Trump

  1. Nobody says:

    Allow a netizen a humble rebuttal.

    The Jewish tradition would reject Sharon because of his positions. His domestic policy positions – such as building a wall to prevent Palestinian immigration, deporting illegal immigrants currently in the country, and banning Muslim immigration – advance a stunningly cruel vision of Israel, where Jewish and …well… Jewish citizens enjoy unchallenged supremacy in their own home.
    Ones home should be for everyone with unlimited immigration of others until the home is no longer a home! Unless that home is Israel…

    These positions are anathema to Jewish values. Our tradition makes explicit our moral responsibility to ensure to the best of our ability that the circumstances of others’ lives, especially the lives of those who are unlike us match what we would want for ours: Love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:34). Unless of course they are white or christian, we should then seek to undermine their unchallenged supremacy in their own homelands whilst jealously safeguarding our supremacy and security without our own.

    In a one-God universe, we are all one – brothers and sisters, children of one parent (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5).
    Except of course americans or europeans who want borders or nations for their own people, or jews who want open borders for israel. The “Vibrant Diversity” is for them, we must never drink it ourselves! Remember to call them “hateful” if they ever ask if the reason we will not drink it is because we know it’s poison.

    (https://mikeknopf.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/israel-the-fragile-miracle/) As if you yourself are not a nationalist who would do anything to protect YOUR nation, while making sure we leave our own gates unbarred and unguarded.

    I could go on and on and on… And were you to reply you’d spin some sophistry about how it is different when it works for you and not against you and how you pity how bigoted I am for judging you by your willing and intentional positions and actions and the willing and intentional positions and actions of a vast majority within your group. But it wouldn’t really help you, or me for that matter.
    I am just stopping by to let you know many (and growing) see the two mouths even the “wisest” amongst you speak out of.

    Let me just share one thought of genuine human concern despite all that has been done to us since the first AGGRESSIONS against the greeks living in alexandria (http://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/claualex.html). Considering what many of your people do, and what more and more (and even more every day) of our people can see and WHO they can see doing it… Since you now have a country of your own I would make sure and go there, or if you are there to stay, the sooner the better, last-minute travel is so hard to come by. The price is an arm and a leg I tell you. Absolute murder. Make sure to tell as many of your kind as you can, too. They have a chance to end this subversion and to go home, and may YHWH pity them for missing it because we will not.

    …”Shalom”

  2. NOT TRUE There were 1500 signed up and Rabbis for Trump is alive and well. I met with the heads of Trumps campaign and will meet with Trump in April.

  3. not true. There were 1500 in the group which consisted of Jews and non-Jews. The meeting with Mr. TRUMPS PEOPLE HAPPENED and Rabbi for Trump is alive and well.
    Bernhard Rosenberg I am a holocaust scholar, who served 41 years as a Rabbi. I am an expert in Hitler, racism, ant-Semitism, NAZIS, and bigotry. I tell you with full confidence any of these terms applied to Mr. TRUMP is a lie and a fabrication. I support Mr. TRUMP and serve as his Rabbi…RABBIS FOR TRUMP.

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    I enjoyed a very fruitful meeting with people associated closely with the Donald Trump campaign. I was able to share with them the deep-rooted, heartfelt concerns of the pro-Israel community in the United States, Jewish and Gentile. I can honestly say that these people, who are working tirelessly for Mr. Trump, “got it.”

    While the Trump people are convinced that Mr. Trump “doesn’t mean it” when he says he will be “neutral” when it comes to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian-Arabs, I explained that the very word “neutral” in that context fills us with dread. How can he be “neutral” when dealing with those who target Israeli school buses, who lob rocks at civilians driving with their children on the roads in Israel, and who convince their own children that the greatest achievement is to murder Jews wherever they are?

    Does Mr. Trump intend to be “neutral” when it comes to Palestinian Arabs who have maimed and murdered Americans in Israel? Would he, like President Barack Obama, insist Israel release Palestinian-Arabs who have murdered American citizens? Would Mr. Trump be “neutral” in trying to negotiate between Jews and the Nazis?

    The Trump supporters understood that, at the very least, we need to hear that, before engaging in negotiations, he will insist that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state.

    They also understood that Hillary Clinton considers herself “pro-Israel,” because, she says, she wants Israel to make concessions, at its own expense, and carve out of its own land — territory Israel needs to defend itself — a Palestinian state. The pro-Israel community needs reasons it should support Mr. Trump over Mrs. Clinton. “Neutrality” on Israel won’t cut it.

    Mr. Trump is the presumptive candidate of the Republican Party, and, as such, he may very well be the next President of the United States. As an ardent supporter of Israel, I believe it is my duty to advocate for Israel with Mr. Trump, and to hope and pray that, when he can show us he is the one who will safeguard Israel’s security, to support him wholeheartedly as he wends his way to the White House.

    Rabbi Dr. Bernhard Rosenberg

  5. Ralph Rubinek says:

    Sadly we do not obide by Torah. We are the smallest minority in the world, there is only one Jewish state amongst a sea of enemies. Yet you condemn Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg. Perhaps if we headed to voices of reason in Europe before the Holocaust our families would have prospered instead of being exterminated. Jewish leaders kept lists to assist in Genocide, they were called Kapos and Judenrat.

    Is Rabbi Rosenberg on your list? Shame on you.

  6. Kathleen Flaherty says:

    This Rabbi Knopt is a fool and a hypocrite! Israel built a wall and now some famous Palestinians call it the Apartheid Wall or Berlin Wall. However, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated he needed to build it in order to defend his citizens against terror activities. Sharon also argued that this is the most effective way to stop terrorist attacks against Israel. So, if it is your moral responsibility of a Rabbi, you should not be writing any political commentary especially concerning our Presidential candidates stance on Illegal Immigration, his policies on trade or anything else that pertains to America. We have been terrorized long enough and ‘We the People’ of America are tired of people illegally coming into our country, taking money and food and shelter away from Americans who deserve it, especially our Veterans. How dare you inflict your self righteousness on the American people. Our Lord and God would never encourage others to invade others land, safety and well being. The Ten Commandments state you should Not Covet your neighbors possessions. That means Rabbi if you don’t know the Bible, thou shall not steal as well. It also means that shall not come over on someone else’s land and murder and pillage their land. We have statistic after statistic proving their carnage (Twin Towers). Stay our of our political system and be the moral responsible one of not commenting on it either. Oh, how moral you are attacking another Rabbi because of his political beliefs. Shame on you!

  7. Ehud says:

    Won’t go into your article or even your profession but the moment I see your fondness for Bowie, a rapist and pedophile, it tells me all I need to know.

  8. Kate says:

    To Rabbi Michael Knopf – I feel I must respond to these remarks you have made – it sounds like a veiled response one might get from a Democratic supporter…..and that is ok.
    I do, however, question your pronouncement of Islam as ‘hundreds of millions of peaceful and law-abiding citizens’, and accusing Rabbi Rosenberg of ‘vilifying’ this group.
    I simply do not understand how you could adopt such a position when you surely know the extreme hatred Islam has for the Jewish people….they are a very real threat to the existence of Israel in the Middle-East; and waste no time deploying their hateful rhetoric in whatever country they have claimed ‘refugee’ status.
    They believe Holy War or ‘jihad’, is the only true means of salvation. I truly believe this is not news to you.
    To support such a hate-filled group just does not make sense from one who represents their primary target of same.

    Furthermore- there was another error in your remarks…..Donald Trump stated he would stop the migrants from entering the United States UNTIL a proper way of vetting these refugees was put into place….this being the advice from our FBI and the Dept. of Homeland Security.
    I believe that the above deviations from the truth in your article could represent a genuine question of credibility in the overall content.

  9. Trump’s Neo-Nazi And Jewish Backers Are Both Convinced He …

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-neo-nazis-jews_us_5747397be4b0...

    … told The Huffington Post in an email. … Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, … and the Trump in real life,” said Rosenberg, …

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