April 23, 2024
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When Rabbis Must Address Politics: The NORPAC Mission to Washington 2020

I steer clear of politics. I studiously avoid political discussion both in my role as rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah and rebbe at TABC. There are manifold reasons to adopt such a policy:

1) Torah study and Torah life is about the search for truth and living a life of being humble and kind. A stunning incident at Yeshivat Har Etzion that I witnessed first-hand as a 19-year-old vividly illustrates this point. The rosh yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Amital, was toward the end of delivering an hour-long shiur klali, a lecture to the entire student body of the yeshiva. Suddenly one of the older students in the back of the room raised his hand and posed a sharp question that seemed to undermine the entire shiur. Rav Amital suddenly proclaimed, “Ata harasta et hashiur” (you just destroyed the thesis of the lecture), and proceeded to close his Gemara, signaling the abrupt end of the shiur.

The story did not end there. I sat on the front row of the beit midrash and approached Rav Amital with what I thought was a solution to the problem. Rav Amital told me quietly that “hu tzodek” (the questioner is correct) and asked me to help him return the sefarim to their place on the shelves.

I very much seek to emulate the lofty model set by Rav Amital in the pulpit and classroom.

To put it mildly, this is hardly the demeanor of political debate.

2) The tone and tenor of politics in recent years has become strident, boorish and extreme.

3) A look at what has happened in non-Orthodox congregations is an eye-opener. In my travels throughout the country helping communities with their eruvin, I have learned of a shocking phenomenon. Congregants are pouring from non-Orthodox congregations into Chabad centers. While there are many reasons for this, one is that members of these institutions who affiliate with the Republican Party no longer feel welcome in such congregations.

Although the shift of the Orthodox community toward the Republican Party is well-documented, God forbid should those who affiliate with the Democratic Party feel disenfranchised from Torah Judaism!

However, recent events are cause to make a rare exception to the rule. It is critical that there should be bipartisan support for the American-Israeli alliance for a very simple and pragmatic reason. Control of the White House and Congress shifts back and forth between Democrats and Republicans. Heaven forfend that support for Israel should wax and wane depending on who controls the White House and Congress!

For many reasons, this bipartisan support is in danger of eroding. This is extremely dangerous. Even more dangerous is the ugly statement made by a leading member of one party accusing AIPAC of providing a platform for bigotry.

It seems to many of us extremely busy adults that devoting time and discussion to politics is akin to discussing the weather; there is nothing we can do about it and it distracts us from attending to our professional and familial responsibilities.

There is something constructive and productive one can do to help address this crisis in American support for Israel. Make every effort to join the Tuesday May 19 NORPAC Mission to Washington. NORPAC is strictly bipartisan, and attendees of the mission meet every year with over 90% of the members of Congress.

I have attended nearly every mission since 1997. My children join me on every mission as soon as they are of age to do so. It is the least we can do for our people! More than $four billion in military support for Israel (including funding for short- and long-range missile defense) is at stake as well as other vital issues of concern to the American-Israel alliance.

We are at a critical juncture for our people. Just as Mordechai demands from Esther that she advocate for her people before the most powerful government in the world at the time, we should demand from ourselves to make every effort to join this year’s mission.

The NORPAC Mission to Washington is of critical importance. Here is a chance to help fortify bipartisan support for the American Israeli relationship. How can one not attend! Please follow the example set by Esther and visit http://norpac.net/mission-to-washington to register for the mission.

Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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