If Romney wins: Five things every Jew should know about Mormonism
1. Devout Mormons can be found all across the political spectrum.
The Mormon Church doesn’t endorse candidates or political parties, and although most American Mormons are Republicans, a Mormon Democrat has served as the Senate Majority Leader for the last five years. Owing to our history of persecution and emphasis on self-reliance, there is also a noteworthy group of Mormons with libertarian sympathies who do not easily identify with either party.
Mormons can be found on all sides of most issues. On immigration, for example, many Mormons tend to be more liberal than other Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter). Many of us have served missions abroad, and tend not to be too judgmental of people who come here seeking a better life. Although Mormons generally agree on many important moral issues (see below), there is no consensus on economics and the proper role of government. We all agree, for example, that we have an obligation to help the poor. However, the extent to which government should help meet their needs by taxing others is a point of contention among followers of most faiths, including ours.
2. Mormonism is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) bears the name of the Christian Savior, we believe in the God of Israel, we accept the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as Scripture, we worship in chapels and temples, and we consider ourselves to be covenant Israelites. Mormons follow the Ten Commandments and are Noahides. In addition, the Abrahamic Covenant is central to our faith. Like Jews, the family is central to our faith, and our idea of heaven is to live with our spouses and families for eternity.
3. A Mormon president would not take orders from Salt Lake City.
If Mitt Romney wins, he’ll undoubtedly have the same arrangement with top church leaders that other Mormons have with local leaders: They don’t tell us how to do our jobs, and we don’t tell them how to run the church. Even Romney’s most intractable foes haven’t accused LDS church headquarters of drafting Romneycare in Massachusetts, and it’s safe to assume that church leaders aren’t behind Harry Reid’s shameful promotion of Las Vegas gambling interests in Washington. Mormons are used to looking to their leaders for spiritual advice, not professional guidance. While I would certainly expect Romney to consult with Mormon leaders as part of his general outreach efforts to faith communities (including Jewish leaders), I am confident that he will be his own man when it comes to formulating policies for the nation. I am also confident that Mormons will not be overrepresented in his administration, as Romney has a history of hiring capable people from all backgrounds to work for him.
4. On moral issues, Mormons are not extreme right-wingers.
A closer look shows the views of most Mormons on these issues to be much more nuanced. Let’s take abortion, for example. The LDS church is very much against it but does allow for possible exceptions in the case of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s life or when the baby is not expected to survive childbirth. That’s pretty much Romney’s campaign’s abortion platform.
On gay issues, it is accurate to say that Mormons oppose state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage. However, it is both inaccurate and insulting to say that we are anti-gay. We can and do support many other issues that are important to gays. For example, former LDS Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced a Senate bill that would have added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories for hate crimes. Every Mormon I know is opposed to discrimination against gays in education, employment and housing. We also support rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, probate rights, etc., so long as the integrity of the traditional family is not affected. As for theology, the LDS church teaches that homosexuality is not sinful in and of itself, as long as one remains chaste.
Although Mormons tend to have more children than the national average, our church doesn’t take a position on birth control. In addition, the church takes no position on capital punishment, stem-cell research, evolution or global warming. As a result, faithful Mormons are advocates for positions on all sides of these issues.
5. Mormons are philo-Semites and pro-Israel.
One of our basic Articles of Faith affirms: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.” In 1841, LDS Apostle Orson Hyde offered a prayer on the Mount of Olives dedicating the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews. Israel went on to receive at least 11 apostolic blessings before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. For more than five decades (1870s-1920s), the church seriously considered establishing a Mormon colony in Palestine. Today, Brigham Young University has a beautiful center on Mount Scopus with the best view of the Old City in Jerusalem.
In the United States, Mormon pioneers arrived in the Utah territory in 1847. The first Jews arrived two years later, in 1849. The first Jewish worship service was held in 1864 in Salt Lake City. Rosh Hashanah was celebrated in Temple Square (the city center) in 1865. Brigham Young donated his personal land for a Jewish cemetery in 1866. In 1903, church President Joseph F. Smith spoke at the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the state’s first Orthodox synagogue, which was largely paid for by the church. The second and third Jewish governors in the country were elected in Idaho (1914) and Utah (1916), the two states with the highest percentage of Mormons. Salt Lake City had a Jewish mayor by 1932, more than four decades before New York City.
Most Mormons in this country are very pro-Israel, and Romney is no exception. He has a close, decades-long personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who looks likely to be elected to another term. If Romney is elected, Jews and Israelis can be assured that they will have a true friend in the White House.
PRO: Should rabbis endorse candidates?
I celebrate the courage of the more than 613 rabbis who have chosen to endorse President Obama for a second term. It is impossible for me to represent all of them. Each rabbi must make his or her decision based on a number of factors, including the possibility that they could lose their jobs, damage their reputations or alienate donors and board members. There are consequences for each member of Rabbis for Obama in this diverse and distinguished group. Significantly, this group has doubled in size from 2008 to 2012.
I can speak only for myself and give my reasons for endorsing the president through Rabbis for Obama. I note with pride that none of the rabbis endorsing President Obama does so by announcing his or her congregational or institutional affiliations. We are aware that we must observe the law that disallows our religious institutions from endorsing candidates from the pulpit. Each of the rabbinic endorsers does so — to borrow a phrase from Rabbi David Wolpe, who gave a prayer at the recent Democratic National Convention — “off the pulpit.” Rabbi Wolpe did not endorse the president.
But when we rabbis became “teachers in Israel,” we did not forfeit our First Amendment rights. The pulpits of congregations are there for teaching Torah. Rabbis are allowed to advocate from the pulpit for issues and values but not candidates. Even in the area of issues advocacy, prudence and good congregational democratic process calls for us to be sure that a diversity of opinion is presented.
In the 2008 presidential election and again in 2012, we have been confronted with a profound challenge to the integrity of political discourse. The unprecedented level of falsehood, innuendo and demonization spread about President Obama was and is without precedent in our political system. That level of dishonest political rhetoric reminded me of a story of the consequences of the silence of the ancient rabbis. According to our legends, the rabbis stood by silently and allowed an act of sinat hinam (baseless hate) to boil over, and eventually it led to the upending of Jewish history, the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. and the end of Jewish sovereignty for 1,800 years. This is the famous story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, whose feud had disastrous consequences. The silence of the rabbis is a cautionary tale for our time, too.
In 2008, the whisper campaign that circulated in the Jewish community was delivered through the Internet. The lies claimed that Obama was disqualified from office because he was a closeted Muslim, was anti-Israel, was not born in the United States and was a socialist-radical. All these verbal attacks continued through the campaign and during the past four years. They are beyond the pale of normal political rhetoric. For the second time in 2012, the Republican Party did not break with its “wing nuts” but instead tried to incorporate, fund and appease these factions. These rumors and lies had to be responded to in a public and organized way by Judaism’s teachers primarily because the “doozies” reflected badly on the good name of Judaism.
I grew up in Barry Goldwater’s Arizona and still remember real conservative Republicans. Certainly, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican and now independent, remembers a different Republican Party. He, too, did not take a vow of silence when he left the Republican Party. The two senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, issued their demurrals, but to no avail.
In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, the “dark money” groups paid for the distribution of 28 million copies of “Obsession.” This scurrilous movie and the accompanying “culture of lies” mobilized for a new round of Islamophobia. The movie was an attempt to brand Obama as a Muslim and create a diversion from the economic free fall at the end of the Bush administration. The movie stirred up the Christian right, especially Christians United for Israel and the Republican Jewish Coalition, which launched an unprecedented assault against political and civic norms on the Web site I co-founded, JewsOnFirst.org.
My reading of the underlying message of hate and disdain against the president and the manufacturing of religious hatred toward Muslims impelled me to join Rabbis for Obama. My Judaism cannot countenance sly messages of religious hate toward fellow Jews or Muslims or any religion. Jewish history reminds me of the apostasy committed by the majority of the German Catholic and Protestant churches’ priests and ministers in the 1930s.
Noted philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s new book, “The New Religious Intolerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age,” analyzes the nature of the fear based on religion with which so many communities continue to grapple. We need to articulate the moral principles and practices to evaluate this fear and to question the actions the fear motivates. No teacher with integrity can sit quietly on the sidelines.
Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak lives and works in Los Angeles and Poland.
CON: Should rabbis endorse candidates?
In the summer of 2008 I received a phone call from the Obama campaign asking me to serve as national co-chair of Rabbis for Obama. What prompted the call? First, an article I had written praising the senator for using his name Barack — which he said his father had told him means blessing in Hebrew — rather than the more generic Barry. I mentioned that the Jewish community, which so often Anglicizes its names, could take inspiration from Obama and be prouder of its identity. Another consideration might have been my close friendship with Cory Booker and the fact that, at the time, I was hosting a daily radio show on the Oprah and Friends radio network, and Oprah was obviously quite close with Obama.
Whatever the reason for the phone call, I told them I was flattered but could not accept. There were two principal reasons. First, I had serious reservations about Obama vis-a-vis Israel.
But the second reason was more fundamental. I found the whole idea of Rabbis for Obama, or even Rabbis for McCain, which the Republicans never formed, to be inherently distasteful.
How could a rabbi now running for congress as a Republican say that? I’m not running for office on a platform that says Judaism supports Republicans. Less so am I running on a platform that says Judaism’s spiritual teachers are Republicans. On the contrary, Judaism supports democracy rather any one particular party. Indeed, the halachic Jewish legal process is itself profoundly democratic. “Acharei rabim lehatos,” we follow the majority opinion, Scripture emphatically declares. Judaism supports different parties offering different visions as part of the full panoply of the democratic process. I am a Republican, but here in my community of Englewood, N.J., is Rabbi Menachem Genack, national administrator for the kashrut division of the Orthodox Union and regarded globally as an outstanding scholar, who is a Democrat and is famous as Bill Clinton’s personal rabbi.
There are indeed Jewish values that would, in my opinion, better follow the Republican line on some things, and there are Jewish positions that might be closer to what the Democrats are advocating.
In the second world war many in the Republican party were profoundly isolationist, wanting America to stay far away from Hitler’s European war. It was Democrats, at the time, through the great personality of Franklin Roosevelt, who wanted to support Churchill and Britain and started lend-lease as a way of getting the ball rolling. In that time, the Republican position directly contradicted Leviticus 19: “Thou shalt not stand by the blood of your neighbor.” Likewise, it is my opinion that when President Clinton did not lift a finger to stop the genocide in Rwanda, and when Democrats largely opposed the removal of Saddam Hussein under a Republican president, they were in the wrong as they would have left in power the greatest murderer of Arab life in the history of the world.
But these are just demonstrations on my part of how different parties can more closely align, on certain issues, with Jewish teachings and values at any given time. What Judaism expressly does not do is say “Vote Democrat” or “Vote Republican.” Judaism hovers above the political fray, informing and influencing the political arena from a loftier perch. And rabbis who are heads of communities, nearly all of whom consist of both Democrats and Republicans, are misguided when they collectively join organizations that state that Judaism’s spiritual leaders, in general, are for any one particular party.
It’s one thing to do so as individuals. Even rabbis are allowed to have political opinions and preferences. But once we go in the direction of Rabbis for Obama, we’re saying Judaism as a religion supports one party over the other.
I have no problem with the Republican Jewish Coalition, which I admire and to which I am quite close, or the National Jewish Democratic Council. It’s good to see that Jews are politically engaged and involved on both sides of the aisle, as they should be. But rabbis claim to speak for a community, and to burden their communities in their capacities as religious leaders with their own political opinions is misguided.
Thus, even as I run for office, were I to be invited to join Rabbis for Romney (which, I might add, at least has the alliteration that Rabbis for Obama does not) I would decline. I run an intimate shul that is filled with Democrats and some Republicans — indeed for most of my life, my closest friends, colleagues, associates and congregants have been, for the most part, very liberal and very Democratic. This was especially true when I was rabbi at the University of Oxford and working in the American media where most, it would seem, are Democrat. We get along and love each other — because I respect their opinion and they respect mine, as it should be.
But while I object to Rabbis for Obama or Rabbis for Romney, I could see myself bending the rules a bit if it were Rabbis for Shmuley.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has just published “Kosher Jesus,” is the Republican nominee for New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District. In October, he will publish a book on the nature of human suffering, “The Fed-Up Man of Faith.” His Web site is shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
Cantor endorses Romney
Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) endorsed Mitt Romney for president and said that he is not interested in the vice-presidency.
Cantor, the majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives and the highest-ranking Jewish legislator in U.S. history, said that Romney is the best candidate to bring about an economic turnaround.
His endorsement, reported Sunday by the Associated Press, comes two days before “Super Tuesday,” when voters in 10 states go to the polls in primaries.
Cantor, who was considered as a possible running mate by the 2008 GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said he is not in the running this year.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Colin Powell
Listening to Colin Powell endorse Barack Obama, I had the same divided feelings I did last spring, when I heard him speak at my daughter’s high school graduation.
He had come because he knew the family of another senior in the class well enough to accept the invitation. An hour before the students processed in, he graciously posed for a photo with each of them. When he spoke, he was warm, witty and inspirational. The story of his rise — from the South Bronx to four-star general, National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State — held a classic commencement moral: If a screw-up like me could make it, you privileged and accomplished kids will make it, too, and you’ll have a responsibility to give back to society.
Yet I couldn’t help recalling that this was the same Colin Powell whose United Nations speech five years earlier had convinced me that invading Iraq was the right thing to do. And not only me, but journalists and columnists and editorial writers around the country, many of whom I respected for their gimlet-eyed sobriety.
As assembled by former Des Moines Register editorial page editor “>investigations since his UN speech suggest that Secretary Powell misrepresented the intelligence he had and discounted “>Kamel had told both CIA analysts and UN inspectors in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and banned missiles.
Bioweapons factories: Secretary Powell said, “We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails,” which could make enough anthrax or botulinus toxin “in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people.” What he didn’t say was that the “>CIA knew that the two corroborating accounts came from Iraqis who had never had direct contact with the biowarfare trucks and had not claimed to have seen them. Nor that CIA files contained information about another Iraqi defector, an engineer who had worked with Curveball, who specifically denied that they had worked on such facilities. Nor that the only American intelligence official ever to actually meet Curveball, when asked to vet this portion of the upcoming speech, warned his CIA boss that Curveball might not know what he was talking about.
Nuclear weapons: Secretary Powell said “most United States experts” believe aluminum tubes sought by Iraq were intended for use as centrifuge cylinders for enriching uranium for nuclear bombs. “Most?” In 2001, the “>experts had specifically warned him not to say that the tubes were manufactured to a tolerance ”that far exceeds U.S. requirements for comparable rockets,” but say it he did.
WMD concealment: Secretary Powell played a recording of an intercepted conversation, in Arabic, between two Iraqi military officers. The English translation he showed on a slide said this: “Clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas… Make sure there is nothing there.” Yet this is the “>pressure from Vice President Cheney and his enforcer, “Scooter” Libby, Powell succeeded in purging the speech of dozens of canards. But the speech he delivered is the same speech that, on the eve of his UN appearance, he