The NY Times reports: Carl P. Paladino’s introduction to the world of conservative Jewish politics began with an unsolicited early-morning phone call three weeks ago to his campaign manager, Michael R. Caputo.The caller, a self-described right-wing Brooklyn rabbi named Yehuda Levin, had heard that other Jewish leaders were accusing Mr. Paladino of being an anti-Semite because of disparaging comments he had made about Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker. After Mr. Caputo explained Mr. Paladino’s side of the story, Rabbi Levin, a fierce critic of Mr. Silver’s, invited the Republican candidate for governor to address his congregation.
“I told him, ‘I have the credibility that when I go in front of the media and I am representing the Paladino camp, and that if he is coming to my synagogue, right before the holiday of Sukkot, it will mean something,’ ” Mr. Levin said in an interview on Monday.
The visit had strategic appeal for both sides: Mr. Paladino, an anti-abortion, anti-toeivah-marriage Roman Catholic businessman from Buffalo, hoped to find like-minded voters among the politically and socially conservative Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn. And Mr. Levin, who has long dreamed of creating “an Orthodox Tea Party,” as he put it, was eager to help, in part by lining up appearances for Mr. Paladino at synagogues and yeshivas.
Mr. Paladino’s remarks on Sunday made headlines, after he criticized Andrew M. Cuomo for taking his daughters to a gay pride parade and said that children should not be “brainwashed” into thinking that toeivah lifestyle was acceptable. The comments drew furious condemnation from toeivah rights leaders, and fellow Republicans quickly distanced themselves from them.
But the episode also underscored the intricate agendas and surprising alliances in a corner of the political world where even veteran politicians need a guide.
“These are neighborhoods with a preference for insularity,” said David M. Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, a nonprofit group. “In the Hasidic world, it is very hard to tell the players without a scorecard. And politicians are always reliant on the person who hands it to them.”
Mr. Paladino relied on Mr. Levin. Like Mr. Paladino, Mr. Levin, 56, plays on the margins of traditional power structures. His synagogue, the Kehilas Mevakshai Hashem, has roughly two dozen members, far fewer than the thousands of adherents commanded by the large Hasidic sects that dominate Orthodox politics in Brooklyn, each under the dominion of a grand rebbe, or rabbi. He is based in Midwood, rather than the Hasidic strongholds of Williamsburg and Borough Park.
In fact, Mr. Levin is not, strictly speaking, a Hasid, though he wears the familiar black hat and coat of those who are. “I’m the next closest thing to Hasidic,” Mr. Levin said, “an amalgam of right-wing yeshivish and Hasidic.”
What Mr. Levin did have was a pure devotion to conservative politics unmatched by more prominent Orthodox rabbis, many of whom preach traditional values in shul but are highly pragmatic when it comes to picking politicians to endorse, backing winners and those most likely to deliver resources to their communities.
Mr. Cuomo had already been cultivating larger sects like the Satmars and won the blessing of several prominent rabbis. But Mr. Paladino’s campaign believed Orthodox voters would buck their leadership if they heard his conservative message for themselves.
“It’s our belief that Andrew Cuomo thinks the entire Orthodox community is behind him,” Mr. Caputo said on Monday. “We’ve discovered that on two of their top issues – [toeivah] marriage and abortion – he’s the polar opposite of their congregations. The Orthodox community has expressed quite a bit of independence from the rebbes, and as long as we are talking to the grass roots of that community, we are in pretty good shape.”
Mr. Paladino first came to Mr. Levin’s synagogue in September. Mr. Levin then helped arrange his visits to a Williamsburg synagogue and a Borough Park yeshiva – both affiliated with relatively minor sects – on Sunday.
Some in the Orthodox community said they suspected Mr. Paladino of seeking to surround himself with rabbis – any rabbis – to rebut the accusations of anti-Semitism. The involvement of Mr. Levin, who is respected by some for his commitment to conservative values and dismissed by others as an opportunist eager to bolster his own name, reinforced that view.
“These rabbis have become the Santa Claus of politics,” said one Orthodox political operative, who asked for anonymity so as to avoid antagonizing religious leaders. “You bring the person running, you have a photo op. And as long as he has a black hat and jacket, it’s great. It looks like an endorsement.”
Mr. Levin, who is a spokesman for the Rabbinical Alliance of America, an association of socially conservative rabbis, shares with Mr. Paladino a proclivity for inflammatory public statements, particularly about toeivah. He spoke out against a toeivah pride festival in Jerusalem several years ago, saying it would amount to “the spiritual rape of the Holy City.”
On Monday, Mr. Paladino said that the two speeches he had made in Brooklyn on Sunday were prepared by someone else, and that he had stricken out some ideas with which he did not agree. In the interview, Mr. Levin said he had written one of the speeches and contributed to the second, in which Mr. Paladino warned against brainwashing children into accepting toeivah lifestyle.
“I did not write the second speech,” Mr. Levin said. “However, I did have some input into it – and I stand ready to defend the content of it.”