As is Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld, I am grateful to President Trump and his administration regarding some matters of longstanding concern to the Jewish people. I am thrilled by Nikki Haley’s record at the United Nations and delighted that the United States Embassy to Israel is finally located in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. I joined AIPAC to lobby Congress to defeat JCPOA (“the Iran deal”), negotiated by President Obama and reflecting his administration’s deeply misguided perspectives on the foreign-policy interests of the United States.
Yet, building on the rhetorical sarcasm of his recent column’s title, “How Crazy Are We?” Rabbi Schonfeld asserts that Jews – including large numbers of Torah Jews and Orthodox rabbis who love Israel yet oppose Trump as I do – are “crazy,” “very crazy,” and “plain crazy.” Such divisive, essentially ad-hominem public discourse is a core problem, on both the right and the left, facing our beloved United States, as well as its Jewish and Orthodox Jewish communities. Instead of exacerbating that problem by pathologizing our opponents, we must draw upon the wellsprings of Torah to embody respectful modes of debate that bring disputants together despite differences.
Rabbi Schonfeld refers to Israel’s “countless brutal Arab enemies.” While many of Israel’s enemies are indeed Arab or Muslim (another group Rabbi Schonfeld singles out when praising Trump’s immigration policies), such nations and groups are, thank G-d, not “countless.” Moreover, Israel’s arch-nemesis, Iran, is not Arab. Arab and Muslim Saudi Arabia has long cooperated with Israel, and that relationship continues to warm. Even when Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government was in power, the largest Arab country, Muslim Egypt, has maintained its decades-old peace with Israel and coordinates with it against terrorism; the same is true regarding Arab and Muslim Jordan. Rabbi Schonfeld also omits Israel’s other Muslim allies in the region, such as Azerbaijan and the Kurds. Fortunately, leaders of these Arab and Muslim nations and groups are too busy working with Israel publicly and privately to notice how Rabbi Schonfeld slights them by omission or with inaccurate generalities and simplistic, outdated rhetoric.
To halt the further creation of (presumably “crazy”) Orthodox Jews who oppose Trump, Rabbi Schonfeld calls for an overhaul of Torah educational institutions so they become “normal” and produce students who are “emotionally attach[ed] to Torah, the Jewish people, and the Land of Israel.” While conflating love for G-dly values with advocacy for a particular political leader or party is common (every group wants G-d on its side), it is a religiously dangerous strategy. As politically liberal Orthodox Jews have told me and other rabbis during the present administration, and as politically conservative Orthodox Jews told me and other rabbis during the previous administration, this strategy alienates them from leaders, institutions, and communities with whom they differ politically. In some cases, it has been the final blow that has driven Jews away from Torah and the observance of mitzvos.
More importantly, such conflation is theologically false. The Torah of the Creator of the Universe Who is beyond time and place aligns with no political movement or government official ever; to the contrary, He is their Judge as well as their Master Whose will directs them from above (Proverbs 19:1). Torah is and must remain neither Democratic nor Republican, neither pro- nor anti-Trump, neither capitalist nor socialist, neither libertarian nor progressive, neither pro- nor anti-Netanyahu, neither liberal nor conservative, and so on. Identifying Torah with any political movement or figure falsely sanctifies it and secular politics as a whole, while profaning G-d and belittling His infinite Torah in the process. For these reasons and others, “Torah Loves Trump” is just as bad as “Torah Trumps Hate.”
Reducing our people to, as Rabbi Schonfeld describes the Jewish people, “any other ethnic group” that ought to look out for its own narrow self-interests debases the exalted calling of the Torah’s “kingdom of priests and holy nation” to reflect G-d’s presence on Earth for all of humanity.
President Trump has repeatedly denigrated entire countries and groups in vulgar terms, even managing to equivocate when condemning those who associated themselves with white nationalists and Nazis in Charlottesville. Surely our people’s history, bloodied with the brutal effects of such slurs and double-talk, suggests that our people’s broad interest is to forcefully reject such words along with leaders who think and utter them.
It is true that Jews and other Americans of good faith must and do reject candidates who actively seek to harm Jews and/or other minority groups, or Israel and/or other longstanding American allies. But ultimately, viewing national affairs through one’s group interests reflects an impoverished approach to citizenship and the advancement of the national interest of the great medinah shel chesed (as Rav Moshe Feinstein described the United States) in which we – immigrants all, like Rav Moshe – are privileged to live. Indeed, Rema (Choshen Mishpat 163:1) rules that one must vote regarding public matters “for the sake of Heaven”; that is, conduct public affairs with the interest of the entire community in mind, not one’s personal or narrow interest (Tzitz Eliezer 19:49).
For all these reasons, many American Orthodox Jews and rabbis join the majority of Americans and American Jews in considering Trump to be an active danger to our nation and its longstanding norms, as well as to the world as a whole. He and/or his administration’s actions destroy Earth’s environment, alienate longstanding American allies and their leaders, undermine our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, attack our free press and its reporters, mock our disabled and veterans, mix personal business and governmental leadership in outrageous ways, brazenly and habitually lie to a degree without precedent, further coarsen our society by his unrepentant vulgar treatment of women, and much more.
No, we Orthodox Jewish #NeverTrumpers are not at all “crazy.” We are thinking Jews intoxicated with love for Torah, Israel, and our people, and devoted to Jewish interests, as well as proud citizens seeking what we deem best for our world, our nation and its interests, and our fellow Americans.
By Rabbi Barry Kornblau
Young Israel of Hollis Hills-Windsor Park (Bayside, Queens)
Member, Vaad Harabonim of Queens