Jewish Trump Supporters: You Seem Confused
If you’re an American Jew who votes Republican, I’m talking to you.
If you’re reading this, you might already agree with what I’m about to say.
Statistically speaking, me, writing under this headline, and you, having clicked on it, probably have some opinions in common. So you may already be 90% sure that I’m about to give voice to your inner political dialogue (in a witty, delightfully comic tone, I hope).
Or maybe we don’t agree.
Maybe you’re reusing paper someone left in a shared office printer to line your bird’s cage, and I’ve managed to catch your eye while you’re filling Paul the Parakeet’s water bottle, but you and Paul are staunchly conservative.
Maybe your cousin’s friend’s wife has recognized me as a former classmate (despite my lame pen name), and you’re only reading this because you heard that I once stirred controversy in my hometown for walking the Israeli Day Parade in white pants. (It’s true. What can I say? I’m basically a legend.)
Hell, I don’t know, maybe you’ve got a Google alert set for the words “shabbos,” “yeshiva,” and “parakeet” and you’re just skimming to confirm that you finally got a hit. (I don’t know your life.)
Regardless, I hope that whoever you are, you’ll at least consider my opinion, which is this:
If you’re a Jew who counts yourself as a member of or an ally to the American “Religious Right,” it’s time to re-evaluate your position.
Let’s start with the background.
The American media has a tendency to use the phrase “Religious Right” as a wholesale term. Reasonable or not, writers, journalists, and pundits like to characterize wide swaths of conservative American society with quick, snappy terminology: Trump supporters; deplorables; the Religious Right. Then, they ascribe particular viewpoints to those labeled groups, often with a mild aftertaste of hypocrisy.
The Religious Right voted for Donald Trump, they wrote in disbelief, in spite of his history of adultery!
The Religious Right supported Brett Kavanaugh, they shouted, regardless of credible accusations that he attempted rape!
The Religious Right is unwaveringly Republican, they insist, because to them, only Israel matters, suffering Palestinians be damned!
Personally, I find this annoying.
Don’t get me wrong — no one in their right mind could call me conservative. (Pun intended.)
Though in my own head, I consider myself a pragmatic, realism-driven moderate whose strongest political opinions center on human rights, equality, and just generally not being stupid, many (you) would probably place me firmly on the left side of the spectrum.
And for whatever it’s worth, my feelings about the current White House administration fall squarely in the aforementioned “I don’t like stupid” category.
In terms of my connection to Judaism, while I am technically a Yeshiva girl, it’s been many moons since I kept kosher or observed shabbos. As my now defunct online dating profile once proclaimed with pride, I’m more a Larry David Jew than a tzniut baal tshuva. These days, I’m fully secular, and the only thing I regularly practice is law.
So admittedly, some observant Jews may consider me an outsider (or worse, a turncoat).
Irrespective of my political leanings and ongoing love affair with bacon, however, it bugs me when I read about the Religious Right as though it’s a single block of hive mind, and there’s no complexity or nuance to a large, diverse population of religious Americans.
Just as it perturbs me when, for instance, I’m presumed to be pro-corporate tax because I’m a Democrat (people, please study some tax policy before shouting at me about how high corporate taxes will save us all — because they won’t), I dislike reading about the harsh, unforgiving opinions supposedly shared by everyone who is both religious and also on the conservative side of the political spectrum.
In fact, I sometimes wonder whether the media would have me believe that there’s only one religion in America (Christianity), it comes in only one brand (Evangelism), and all the church members have had a meeting, taken a vote, and agreed to hold a single opinion (presumably, something about liberals attacking Santa to Un-Merry Christmas or whatever).
Obviously, that’s all ridiculous.
Just because a person is both somewhat religious and generally conservative does not mean that they are automatically anything else. We don’t lose our ability to think critically, reason, and evaluate tough questions merely because we decide to adhere to religious tenets or traditions. Or at least, we shouldn’t if we’re Jews, anyway. (Has Gemarah taught us nothing?)
That said, there’s no denying that the rallying cries of the Republican Party have been, at least lately, a tad harsh.
And even though there are plenty of American Jews who don’t support those policies or this administration, if you are someone who is both Jewish and votes (or voted) Red because you think you agree with the “Religious Right,” I ask you:
Are you sure you actually agree with the agenda of that voting bloc and their current party leaders?
Take, for instance, immigration.
I know I’m can’t be the only Jew in America disturbed by rhetoric about Mexicans “invading our borders” and “illegals committing crimes.” I must be one of numerous American Jews to have visited Yad Vashem since 2016, re-watched Hitler’s vilification and scapegoating of a minority, and found the methodology eerily reminiscent of that employed by the current American Commander-in-Chief.
And what about refugees?
Some of my Jewish brothers and sisters are, like me, acutely aware that the United States once turned its back on another group of human beings desperately seeking refuge from genocide (namely, our European ancestors). But all of us should be acknowledging that fact and its relevance to today’s politics.
Likewise, consider the issue of abortion.
I don’t claim to be a Jewish authority, but I can’t think of a mainstream Rabbi who would, with a straight face, endorse the laws currently being passed in Alabama, Ohio, and elsewhere. As anyone with experience in Jewish law might guess, that’s because Halakha (Jewish Law) answers the problem of abortion the same way it legislates virtually everything else:
Is it permitted? Well, it depends!
For anyone who doesn’t already know, this means that a religious Jewish woman who wants an abortion seeks counsel from her rabbi or Beit Din (Jewish Court). Based upon the circumstances, she may be permitted to obtain one. Regardless of the stage of her pregnancy.
Which makes perfect sense.
Jews don’t usually buy into hard-line rules. With a few notable exceptions, Jewish laws are intentionally and cleverly flexible.
(Insert joke here about my legal education beginning in Jewish preschool.)
Yet despite all of this, according to a recent Jewish Electorate poll , 23% of American Jews support Donald Trump. Or, in other words, 23% of Jews in the USA stand alongside the Religious Right in support of policies like these.
POLL: Domestic issues dominate the priorities of the Jewish electorate - Jewish Electorate…
Summary: On behalf of the Jewish Electorate Institute (JEI), Greenberg Research conducted a survey of 1,000 Jewish…
(Though I’d like to note, certainly not all conservative Christians support the policies I just alluded to. As I said, I don’t buy into the idea of a hive mind. However, a Pew Institute study from March 2019 found that 69% of white evangelicals support Trump. So to whatever extent we can believe that the “Religious Right” consists primarily of white evangelicals, the study at least suggests that the majority of this “Religious Right” population is on board with the administration’s current agenda and policies.)
Nonetheless, I can fathom how observant Jews occasionally align with the Religious Right thanks to some shared perspectives with conservative Christians. Certainly, there are pro-Israel allies in that community.
However, in my estimation, on several draconian, cruel, and not to mention ineffective policies, Jewish values absolutely do not align with Christian dogma.
Which brings me to my point.
Why are any Jews standing alongside a group that, on a number of bedrock issues, doesn’t seem to care for flexibility, nuance, and chesed (charity)?
Furthermore, why are we, a minority religion with a history of persecution, actively assisting conservative Christians in their fight to enforce distinctly Christian values on a religiously diverse American population?
(On that point, I direct you to amicus briefs filed by two Jewish organizations in the recently decided Supreme Court case American Legion v. American Humanist Association. The briefs were written in support of a group asserting that Establishment Clause protections, which stop the government from establishing a state religion, should be lessened. In other words, the arguments supported Christians seeking to convince the Supreme Court that the government should be permitted to endorse one religion — Christianity — over others. And by some interpretations, that argument was successful.)
With 2020 looming, I’m finding it increasingly frustrating to see any of my Jewish brothers and sisters standing, rank and file, among this Christian Religious Right, bolstering positions that seem directly counter to what I consider to be traditional Jewish values.
So why, I wonder, are any of us drawn to that side of the political spectrum?
Well, as far as my anecdotal experience (and the brief spotlight on the “Jexodus” organization a few months ago) is illuminating, I’ll point out that more Jews than I can count have declared to me that they stand with Evangelicals and Donald Trump because of Israel.
They’re pro-Israel, they say, so we’re pro-them. Done and done.
Let me clear. On that point, I get it.
Perhaps because I’m that rare breed of woman who only seems to exist in the coastal urban metropolis — educated, feminist, liberal, and Zionist — I genuinely understand the appeal of voting for whatever candidate is most supportive of maintaining and protecting the Land of Israel.
But Israel aside, can we at least start a dialogue about the wisdom of single-issue voting in today’s America?
Can we please be Jews about it for a second, and allow ourselves to question the logic of tossing our support behind the Religious Right and their (alleged) hero-in-chief?
Can’t we explore the possibility that maybe, just maybe,there are more moderate candidates, both right and left, who support flexible, mensch-like policy and a Jewish homeland?
According to the Jewish Electorate Institute poll I mentioned above, a growing number of our community are recognizing the problems with supporting a leadership ensemble that blesses white supremacy and nationalism (shocker, white supremacists don’t like Jews!).
So presumably, the 23% block is shrinking, which I take as a sign of movement in the right (left?) direction.
But still, I think we can do better.
As I said, I’m no halakhic scholar. And I’m definitely not a beacon of faithful observant Judaism. (I would unabashedly chow down on that Palestinian chicken, for fellow Larry David Enthusiasts.)
Nonetheless, I think the Rebbis of old — and even Paul the Parakeet — might be able to get behind my idea. Instead of voting Red solely for the sake of Israel, let’s answer the question of where we’re doling out our political support the same way we answer virtually every question posed by halakhic quandaries.
With a resounding, “Well, it depends.”