Ezra Friedlander: Keep Religion Out of the Political Process

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ezra-friedlanderBy Sandy Eller

Bob Turner’s historic victory over David Weprin in the 9thCongressional District on September 13 was a victory not only for Republicans but also for Orthodox Jews who played a large part in electing a Republican to a congressional seat that had been held by Democrats since the 1920s. A new political reality has emerged as the Jewish community proved that it will come out in force to support the candidate whose views it feels most closely match its own, regardless of the candidate’s religion or political party.

At the same time, however, the election also brought to the forefront an issue that has increasingly become the subject of debate among Orthodox Jews – the propriety of mixing politics with religion. In other words, should a Torah observant Jew bring his or her religious values into the voting booth or leave them at home?

According to many observers, David Weprin’s outspoken support of same-gender marriage cost him the election. Weprin’s identification as an Orthodox Jew made his support of same-gender marriage especially egregious for many. “The issue here was beyond just supporting [same-gender] marriage,” said New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who crossed political lines to support Turner. “This was him getting up and using his Orthodoxy as a way to say that supporting same-gender rights was okay. That is something that is so beyond the pale that it really rallied Orthodox Jews, even those who would ordinarily never get involved, telling their followers not to vote for Weprin.”

Weprin tried defending his stance on same-gender marriage before the election, telling a largely Jewish audience at a candidate forum, “It has nothing to do with my personal religious beliefs. I am not running for rosh yeshiva.”

Clearly, the election results showed that many disagreed with that statement. Indeed, shortly before election day, a letter signed by forty prominentrabbanim, including Rabbi Yisroel Belsky and Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky, circulated which declared it “forbidden” to vote for Weprin campaign because of his stance on same-gender marriage.

“There is no question that an Orthodox Jew cannot vote for a candidate who comes out in favor of an act that is clearly an abomination,” said Rabbi Menachem Shayovich, who chaired Agudath Israel’s Commission on Legislation and Civic Action and was a special assistant to former Governor Hugh Carey. “Many people, not just Orthodox Jews, felt that this was definitely a reason to vote against David Weprin. This is wrong from both a religious and a civil rights perspective and I would feel just as strongly about this issue for a non-Jewish candidate as well.”

Rabbi Michael Broyde, professor of law at the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, disagreed. “Politics is very complex,” he told The Jewish Press. “We want to be against government regulations that coerce people to go against their religious beliefs even if that means allowing for things that we might not agree with. You can’t tell the government we need you to accommodate our religious beliefs but not those of someone else. We need to have people in government who will protect our rights as religious Jews, and who they have to join in alliance with to protect our needs is not a halachic decision, but a practical one.”

Rabbi Gil Student, author of the Torah Musings blog, suggested that while politicians need to decide if they will adopt the liberal approach of allowing for maximum freedom in our society or the more conservative approach of expecting the government to build a moral society, they must realize that their decision can cost them votes.

“Like many others of my generation who have never faced religious discrimination, I do not see an intense need to support liberal policies. We vote with our conscience for whichever politician, regardless of religion, we believe will contribute to this country by building a society that is morally and economically sustainable. Orthodox Jewish politicians can legitimately choose either approach, but they cannot expect the support of Orthodox Jews who choose differently.”

While in this election, the conservative viewpoint represented by Turner was in sync with Torah values, that is not always the case. “Just because a position is taken by right-wing Christians doesn’t make it a Torah position,” advised Howie Beigelman, director of state affairs for the Orthodox Union. “That is especially true in the case of abortion where halacha often permits, and sometimes even requires, an abortion. We cannot assume that just because there is a generally conservative political view that it is Torahdik. God didn’t register with a political party. We can’t be so parochial as to carve out Orthodox friendly bills. We are too small a minority in a pluralistic democracy. If someone else’s rights are trampled, we know too well from history, ours could be next.”

Ezra Friedlander, CEO of The Friedlander Group, a non-partisan public affairs company based in New York and Washington that represented Weprin’s campaign, warned that mixing politics with religious beliefs is dangerous. “Your own religious faith and beliefs should be just that, your own,” he cautioned. “Not only should we be careful as voters not to bring religion into the political discourse, but candidates who share your religion should be careful not to appeal for your support because of that shared allegiance.

“Additionally, influencing the public discourse with one’s private religious beliefs is both wrong and counterproductive and would set a dangerous precedent for other religious faiths. What if it was a Muslim imam or Catholic priest that dictated to their communities that their vote on certain issues should be in accordance with their religious beliefs? The greatness of our democracy is our ability to express our positions on every issue, but bringing our religious perspective into the political process will only encourage others to do the same, which can be both to our benefit and our detriment. We may identify allies in other religious communities whose beliefs mirror our own but once we have let the genie out of the bottle and espoused religious doctrine as part of a political campaign, we may find the results disturbing and sometimes quite dangerous.

“We have the right to advocate for what we believe in as individuals and as a community but we must do so wisely. Bringing our sacred Torah into the murky waters of political campaigning is not a practice we should be engaged in. Politics is inherently not pure, while the Torah is the epitome of purity and holiness. Why mix the two? Keep religion out of politics because when you bring the Torah into the political process you are sullying something that is holy and pure.”

{The Jewish Press/Matzav.com Newscenter}

46 COMMENTS

  1. Apikorsus

    I would say this article should be shared except to expose this hypocritial ridiculous view that morality should matter in politics.

  2. ok, so you want to argue with Harav Avigdor Miller ZaTZA”L, that’s fine, but many of us follow and/or are talmidim of R’ Miller, and we will do as he said.

  3. Daas Torah vs. political ignorant correctness.

    Morality vs. Money.

    Is this a joke? Why do we ask laymen off the street for their take on issues already decided by rabbonim and gedolim?

  4. Did he consult da’as Torah on this…or is he his own da’as Torah? I know R’ Avigdor Miller zt”l said we must vote as Torah Jews, and that means for Torah values and for moral (as Hashem has defined it) candidates even if they HATE Jews! Identifying which candidate is more aligned with Torah values can sometimes be tricky, as no politician runs on a single issue, but what’s not ambiguous is that Weprin was clearly anti-Torah in the way he conducted himself earlier this summer.

    Other times it may be a tougher situation to decipher which candidate is truer to the Torah, but isn’t that what we have Gedolim for? Hopefully they can be well informed and not given false information by greedy members of the community. What Mr. Friedlander said,

    ” The greatness of our democracy is our ability to express our positions on every issue, but bringing our religious perspective into the political process will only encourage others to do the same, which can be both to our benefit and our detriment.”

    makes it sound like he’s throwing the Torah under the bus (C”v). Also, it sounds like he could use a quick emuna lesson: If we follow Hashem and try to reveal His presence here on Earth, He’ll provide for us. Hashem gives, politicians are just His middlemen.

  5. So, on one side we have over forty prominent Rabbonim, many of them universally recognized as manhigim and gedolim by the chareidi community, and on the other side we have Ezra Friedlander defending “our sacred Torah.”

    Sadly, I am only human, and I have just developed a bias against CEO Friedlander and anybody he represents.

    Fortunately, he still has time to apologize to those and many other Rabbonim who don’t seem to have his sensitivity to “our sacred Torah” and ask for their mechilla. Since the insult was done publically, of course the apology also has to be done publically.

    There was an analogous situation when the Chareidi leadership opposed the Camp David agreements and the Oslo accords. More “enlightened” elements in the Orthodox world declaimed: “Rabbis and politics shouldn’t mix”; “What does Rav Shach know about the real world?”; and other such statements. History has judged who was truly enlightened, as it always does.

    And before then, there were those who attacked the Chofetz Chayim for involving himself on the side of Reb Chayim Ozer in the elections for the Chief Rabbi of Vilna against a “more appropriate, because he was college-educated, candidate.” Indeed there were those who accused the Chofetz Chaim of lashon hara.

    And before then… the list goes on. Unfortunately, this is another installment.

  6. First of all as Torah jews we listen to our gedolim who say its assur to vote for these people.
    Secondly, framing it as a religious issue is a mistake. Its’s not a religious issue, it’s a moral one. The idea of deviant marriage is something that was universally accepted as absurd until perverts came and distorted the whole concept of marriage.
    Third of all:It’s a huge chillul Hashem. Because ultimately, when we vote, we’re voting for he candiate that we perceive will give us the most personal gain. By ignoring morality and focusing on financial issues, it not only looks like we are putting money over morality it’s also the truth.

  7. Ezra Friedlander makes a very good argument–basically what i think he is saying between the lines is that although in some cases we agree with the more conservative politician putting forth your position in religious terms will only invite others to share their religious point of view and that might hurt us in the long run. did i read correctly?

  8. A non-Jew may not be able to understand this, but as Jews, we live our lives according to the Torah. Every thought, every decision we make is and should be based on the Torah. That’s why we use Daas Torah to interperate what the Torah states. Mr. Friedlander should and does know better.

  9. A fascinating and well written point of view but utterly wrong. Should we keep our ‘private’ religious views out of our day-to-day lives too? and why would we be ‘sullying the Torah’ by bringing it into the ‘murky waters of political campaigning’? Wouldn’t we instead be elevating the political campaigning, making it a method to choose the appropriate leader rather than the best liar?

    The writer also quotes the Rabbis that disagree with him, then proceeds somehow to insist on his opinion as if it has value. Why is this being distributed in a forum that values Torah opinions?

  10. SORRY to break the news to so many.

    Forest Hills was one of the main districts that went REPUBLICAN this time when for years they were dedicated to the Democratic party and ANthony Weiner.
    WHY YOU ASK???? ISRAEL, ISRAEL, ISRAEL and the treatment of Israel by the Obama regime. All the Forest Hill synagogues and yeshivas, Orthodox, Yeshivish and Conservative are all supporters and dedicated to the State of Israel. Brooklyn may have been voting against Weprin’s gay vote yet QUEENS was out there for Israel and some economic/health care reasons.

  11. I (the guy posting, as well as the real Rick Santorum) strongly believe that values should be manifest in politics, except that I (the poster – dunno about Rick) believe it should be in a constitutional way.

  12. Does he not say Shema Yisrael? Isn’t Hashem Echad? One. All Encompassing. How can we as Tora jews keep Hashem(aka.religion) out of politics. Aren’t we subservient to Him every moment of our lives in every sphere and arena, yes including politics?!!!!

  13. In other words, should a Torah observant Jew bring his or her religious values into the voting booth or leave them at home?

    A Torah Observant Jew should NEVER CH”V leave his religious values at home.How can Mr. Friedhandler even ask such a question?

    As far as his argument is concerned I have no issue whatsoever with a priest or imam telling his congregation to vote against a candidate who promote legislation that goes against their religious freedom like the The Toeva marriage law does.Demanding me to recognize a Toeva union as marriage is religious persecution.

  14. Church going Porto Ricans, [legal] Mexicans and blacks voted for Bob Turner in great numbers as well. If the demoncats want victory, perhaps they should run candidates with similar values as their own, such as the Ruben Diaz mold candidate. Instead of trying to change the voters, why doesn’t the DNC just change the morons they put up as candidates to conform more with the values of the constituency?

  15. What is wrong with you guys? Ezra needs to make parnusseh. So he wants to sell our heilige Toirah values to make parnussoh. What is wrong with that?

    Ezra is a Chassidishe Yid, who wears a shtreimel on Shabbos. He is the einikel of great Hungarian Rebbes from Liska.

  16. Note what Hikind said. I think that’s an important point. I don’t know if the signatories would always say only look at morality when you vote. Of course we “always” look at Yiddishkeit when we vote but Everyone understands that when you vote it’s NOT a “stamp of approval” on everything the candidate stands for. In this case however, the signatories said we should look at morality because “one of our own” twisted our religious views and made a Chillul Hashem.

  17. i think he is very wrong
    all elections are what somebody promisses and never keeps and only says what people want to hear ,why cant the people deside on religion what is good for them ,why only money should be issue , i think that he should know better that religion should pay a big role in our life not only money promisses which go only to special interest people

  18. Is his or Rabbi Proffesor’s opinion on the same level as the opinion of Harav Avigdor Miller, the Skulener Rebbe and other gedolei Torah z”l, and today’s gedolei Torah? Why publicize it?

  19. Jews have always voted with one thing in mind, is this canditate good for Israel, and is he good for Yidden. This should be our only concern always, because on all the other issues politicians are are the same. They will say what ever anyone wants to hear before an election, and they all do what ever they want after the election.

    leave Jewish issues to the Yidden who care about issues affecting us when they vote for political candidates!

  20. “That is especially true in the case of abortion where halacha often permits, and sometimes even requires, an abortion.”

    Often? How often? Are you kidding?

  21. It’s a great chillul Hashem that ultra orthodox Jews support a candidate with such immoral veiws.
    I agree with chaimz.

  22. DAAS BALAI BATIM HEPECH DAAS TORAH I once heard a story about a simple person in Europe who allways come up with the same cocnlusions and opinions of the Gedolai Hador and Daas Torah so one day they asked him how he a simple unlearned person is able to come to the same Daas Torah of the Gedolai Hador He answered simple whenever there is some major issue going on i go into the streets and listen to what the Balai Batim and Amai Haaretz say and whatever opinions or thoughts that they say i say the opposite because Daas Torah Hepech Daas Amai Haaretz

  23. How can he argue with every single Rov/Rebbe/Mechanech on the Kol Korei that said we have to stand up for HKB”H’s honor and vote against Weprin?! All of the “Boech Svoras” is not going to change the mitzius! He should just come out & say: look, this guy hired me & paid me & I have to promote him even if it means throwing my Torah values out the window r”l!

  24. Torah is the blueprint for the world however murky their waters may be. Sorry, Mr. Friedlander is out of line and out of touch with his own religion.

  25. Yes I agree with Mr Friedlander one million percent! You all believe that we live in a small shtetel where we control everything, just wait for tens of millions of christains and moslens to vote based on their religious precepts, that will really not sit well with us.

    What goes around comes around!Quit while you are ahead!

  26. I voted for Turner as a frum yid and its about moral views.I know there are various groups for morality here in Brooklyn be it Jews for morality or JPAC Jewish political Action committee or Rav Levins organization.All should be blessed.

  27. One of the main talking points for the Weprin campaign, was: he’s a “Frum” (lol) Jew so we have to vote for him! Another talking point was: Turner owned the TV netwark that produced the “Jerry Springer” show (which was very disgusting to anyone with even a minumum of morality). If we are to throw religion/morals out the window, Ezra, so why should we care about what Turner did or didn’t do?! btw

  28. Yidden vote aginst Toaivah! Reguardless who’s running. Beside the point orthrodox yidden don’t support Toaivah, it’s oppendly aginst our Torah.

  29. The role of the Jewish people is to be a ‘light onto the nations’.We are obligated to share and promote Torah values, to go against the tide, rather than just swimming downstream and even aiding chas v’shalom in the disintegration of a moral and just society.

  30. Politicians help frame public policy. Public policy affects behaviour. Law making is the domain of politicians on a national, regional and local level. Thus when a politician advocates policies that go against the essential elements of traditional Jewish belief they are harming the very fabric of the universe. (BTW, the same gender marriage angle in the 9th Congressional District election was far more important than the anti-Obame element.)

    So politics and religion are intertwined. The idea of the Sanhedrin is also interesting here. A wise council of 71 sages can deal with most of the important existential questions, whilst an organ like the Knesset can become more of a civil administrative institution. Statecraft is an interest of mine.

    Restored Davidic Monarchy anyone ?

  31. He is rehashing the old liberal arguments. There is something to them, since too much emphasis on religion in the public square can be divisive. But to take the maximalist approach of the ultra-liberals, and say that we cannot vote based on values which come from our faith, is plain wrong, and foolish, because it means we have to support every liberal mishugas and toeivah that becomes ‘fashionable’. What may have been a decent argument sixty years ago, when America was more based on traditional values, is not valid today when there is such a terrible assault on basic morality, decency and menschlichkeit.

    maybe he doesn’t fully realize the extent of the threat from toeivah and other deviance, even if he does travel to Manhattan to work, and visit DC to lobby.

    We must strongly reject this ilk and their type of thinking.

  32. why did Yidden vote for for Gov. Coumo when he clearly said he was going to sign this toaiva bill? I did not vote for him for this reason although I did not see anything about not voting for him. Maybe it`s because he would have won anyway as there wasn`t a strong candidate against him. Nevertheless, I couldn`t vote for him.

  33. I think we could alreay see the Gedolims view to vote against this man to be correct quite clearly. Just look how Obama all of a sudden changed his tune with yidden in Eretz Yisroel treating them all of a sudden with respect and dignity and fairness. Gedolim have the best long term view then anybody and if this isn’t the raya then what is? And I’m certain that the Democrats will wake up and realise that they can’t just stick immoral candidates in the frum areas as they wish. We are not their ping pong! The cheshbin these politicians are suggesting. Does have a logictistical side to it. But when it comes to our Gedolim, we follow their psak and take their torahdigi mihalich as if it were coming from Hashem. And the outcome is great as was seen with Rav Shach’s psak on politics back in the begining of the 90’s

  34. I think we could alreay see the Gedolims view to vote against this man to be correct quite clearly. Just look how Obama all of a sudden changed his tune with yidden in Eretz Yisroel treating them all of a sudden with respect and dignity and fairness. Gedolim have the best long term view then anybody and if this isn’t the raya then what is? And I’m certain that the Democrats will wake up and realise that they can’t just stick immoral candidates in the frum areas as they wish. We are not their ping pong! The cheshbin these politicians are suggesting. Does have a logictistical side to it. But when it comes to our Gedolim, we follow their psak and take their torahdigi mihalich as if it were coming from Hashem. And the outcome is great as was seen with Rav Shach’s psak on politics back in the begining of the 90’s. This view portrayed in the above article is mamish hepech das torah. And to live with this view is at the end of the day being oiver on a lav. Even if some shaky modern orthodox rabbi agrees with it. And well it’s sad that Mr Weprin refuses to work out a rational reason why he lost. And instead wishes to ignore the facts.

  35. Wrong.This is so wrong. The holy Torah guides our life and we make all decisions based on Torah and only based on Torah. Also elections we decide who to vote for based on Torah.

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