I’ve never before publicly urged that Jews not vote for a candidate for President of the United States. Nor have I publicly endorsed candidates for President (or any other office) because I don’t believe it’s my role to do so as a rabbi, teacher and religious leader who leads a large congregation. I have, however, advocated on behalf of certain policy issues from time to time from the perspective of Jewish values and tradition and what impact they may have on the quality of life for Jews and others, but I avoid voicing my opinion publicly about partisan candidates for political office. Not only do I have friends and congregants who are registered Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Democratic Socialists, and Libertarians, but I appreciate that each political orientation possesses some truth, that no one can claim a monopoly on goodness, and that there’s virtue to be found on every side of every issue. Further, who I support personally is my business and no one else’s.
This election season, however, has challenged me in ways I’ve never been challenged in my life as a congregational rabbi. Donald Trump’s speeches, demeanor and policy positions are so contrary to what I believe are fundamental Jewish values and democratic traditions that I cannot, in good conscience, remain silent.
Trump’s personal and vicious attacks on entire groups of people – Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, women, POWs, the disabled, and every political competitor is contrary to the tenets of Jewish ethics that affirms each human being as created in the divine image and that God’s Unity is expressed through the great diversity that is the human condition.
It’s a given that many political figures lack humility; but Trump’s bombastic, self-centered, egoistic, materialistic, self-congratulatory, self-righteous, distorted, and untruthful boasting about everything “Trump” is contrary to Jewish teachings about humility, respect for others, truthfulness, generosity, gratitude, and loving-kindness.
On Israel, Rabbi Eric Yoffie expressed my own views when he wrote recently: “I am a Zionist dove, and I don’t expect Presidential candidates to express lock-step agreement with the policies of Israel’s government. But I do expect a coherent, pro-Israel policy, rooted in a consistent and knowledgeable approach to foreign affairs and in a broad commitment to American leadership in the world. Trump has demonstrated none of these things and seems to know hardly anything at all about Israel, the challenges she faces, and how the Middle East actually works.”
In my lifetime, I’ve never heard expressed from a major candidate for President such racism, misogyny, hatred, bigotry, scapegoating, and incitement to violence as Donald Trump has done, his denials notwithstanding. That so many of the 18,000 delegates at the AIPAC national convention this week, most of whom are Jews, cheered wildly when Mr. Trump attacked President Obama was a shanda (shame) for the Jewish people and Jewish tradition. Thankfully, the AIPAC leadership apologized immediately to President Obama for the embarrassing display.
I’m proud of my Reform colleagues who attended the AIPAC Conference, led by Rabbis Rick Jacobs (President of the Union for Reform Judaism), Jonah Pesner (Director of the Religious Action Center of the Reform movement), Joshua Weinberg (President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America), and 50 to 60 others (a far too small number, in my opinion), who left the great hall protesting Trump’s appearance and instead studied religious text as a way ethically and religiously to cleanse themselves from the toxicity of Trump mounting the podium.
Everything Trump says divides people, sows discord amongst the citizenry of the United States, between ethnic and religious groups, between neighbor and neighbor. His is a politics of fear, hate and rage. His scapegoating and appeal to populism and nativism is dangerous and reminds me that the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller in the Nazi context is relevant today: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I believe that Donald Trump is bad for a pluralistic America, bad for American democracy, bad for the Jews, bad for the Republican party, bad for the state of Israel, bad for understanding and alliances between nations, and bad for peace.
My hope is that Donald Trump will lose this year’s presidential election by a landslide vote not only so that the American people will reject his vicious rhetoric, base populism and ignorance, but also so that our nation will reclaim who we’ve always striven to be – a just, compassionate, welcoming nation founded in law, distinguished by civility and inspired by the dignity of every human being. I hope, as well, that no American Jew will vote for him.
Note: I speak only for myself and do not represent in these words my synagogue or any organization.
David Levinson said:
So, I never comment on posts, but I have to this time. This was an excellent and important column, John. I think it is terribly important that people stand up to Donald Trump’s angry, hateful and divisive rhetoric. As Jews, this is especially important. Thank you so much for writing it and posting it. I hope many others follow your lead.
Rabbi Laura said:
Thank you John! I couldn’t have said any of it better than you have. I hope your voice is heard loud and clear on this one and act accordingly.
Sophie Sartain said:
Thank you, John!
Stan Davids said:
You spoke with a prophetic voice, John, reminding us not only of who we are but of who we ought to be. The future of the American democratic experiment lies not in the stars, not with faceless institutions, but with each one of us as, one by one, we cast our votes.
Mitch Gries said:
Thank you for your strong and comprehensive letter in opposition to Trump. I’ve always been proud of the importance that you place in politics, Israel and the entire world.
I hope that after Trumps defeat, his supporters will find a better leader to get behind.
Joel Bellman said:
What to do about this guy – engage, confront, denounce, ignore – has been a dilemma since early last fall. In hindsight, I think we clearly see a tragically missed opportunity to speak up forcefully from the outset. Like many others, I agree strongly with your powerful message here. We will find out soon enough whether other voices of sanity and principle can similarly make themselves heard in time. We are dancing on the edge of an abyss.
I’m hoping John that commentary in upcoming editions of the Jewish Journal will help readers understand how so many of “our own” at the AIPAC conference could behave like so many Trump supporters with whom we share so little politically. Otherwise, if so many Jews of that caliber can be so easily duped by Trump, who is left to vote against him.
My only hope is that AIPAC’s adherents don’t begin to represent the views of the U.S. Jewish community let alone the larger electorate necessary to defeat him.
Bonnie Pastor said:
Very well said, John. Thanks. Bonnie
Sent from my iPhone
david kanter said:
John: I agree with every single word in your statement. I live with the hope that should Trump be the nominee of the Republican party that he will lose the national election in a landslide, thereby affirming that the people have spoken in rejecting his bigotry, and his idiotic policies (to the extent that he has any) and everything else he stands for. Thank you for your willingness to take a public position that expresses how so many of us feel.