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July 24, 2016 2:47 am

Looking to Judaism for Advice on How to Behave the Morning After the US Election

avatar by Efrem Goldberg

Email a copy of "Looking to Judaism for Advice on How to Behave the Morning After the US Election" to a friend
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Photos: Wikimedia Commons.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Photos: Wikimedia Commons.

The most remarkable thing about the failed coup in Turkey last week is how utterly unremarkable it actually was. While this particular coup was unsuccessful, since 1960 there have been four takeovers organized and perpetrated by Turkey’s military.

Much more remarkable than Turkey’s latest coup attempt is that in its 240 years, America has never experienced anything similar. No matter how vociferous and strident the debates and campaigns have been, when the final ballot is counted and a new president is elected, he or she is the undeniable, undisputed leader and commander-in-chief.

When George W. Bush served as president, he garnered great opposition and disapproval, but nobody of consequence seriously suggested or attempted to overthrow him. Over the last eight years, President Obama has garnered tremendous discontentment and vocal disagreement, but there has never been the suggestion of a coup or a takeover.

Which brings us to November 9, 2016 — the day after the coming presidential election. Like it or not, unless something extraordinary occurs, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be elected the 45th president of the United States of America. He or she will not be the president just for the percentage of the population that voted for them. He or she will be the president of every single American, no matter how distasteful or repulsive that may be for those who will vote for the losing candidate — or perhaps don’t vote at all.

Elections consistently bring out rigorous debate and raucous disagreement. However, this election feels particularly negative due to the fact that only a minority of Americans actively like either of the candidates. Undeniably, there are qualities and behaviors in both candidates that are disheartening and deeply concerning.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 6 out of 10 Americans describe themselves as dissatisfied with the choice between the presumptive nominees. That means that most people cannot focus on what they like about a candidate, only about how they dislike and distrust. This reality breeds a culture and atmosphere of even more negative rhetoric, contentiousness, and name-calling among the electorate than usual. Rather than advocate for their candidate, most people simply cannot imagine voting for the other candidate and have lots to say about those who can.

So, what will be left in the wake of this upcoming election? How will we overcome the polarization that is rapidly and increasingly developing before our eyes? Will the people who swore to leave the country if the other candidate is elected start packing their bags and booking their flights?

How will we resume talking to one another civilly and lovingly on November 9, when we will be living in a country being led by someone for whom many have contempt and disdain?

Certainly we are entitled to, and to some degree have a responsibility to, make our voices heard, to express our concerns, criticism, and critiques. It is a hallmark of this great republic, and a foundational principle of democracy, that we debate freely and advocate unreservedly. But nowhere in our law books or in our traditions does it mandate that we call people with whom we disagree names or question their character to make our point. Indeed, at the core of our democracy is the recognition that others are entitled to see things differently and to share their point of view without fear of being slandered.

The Talmud (Berachot 58a) states, “Just as the faces of people do not exactly resemble one another, so too their opinions do not exactly resemble one another.” What is the comparison between faces and opinions? Rav Shlomo Eiger (1786-1852) explained that we should never become exasperated or disturbed that someone’s facial features are different than ours. We shouldn’t condemn or criticize someone for having different color eyes or hair than we do. We implicitly recognize that everyone is created differently, and it is our differences that weave the wonderful tapestry of our interconnected lives. Similarly, we should recognize that everyone’s opinions are the result of his being created differently and raised differently. Just as someone is entitled to look different, so too is he entitled to think differently and approach things differently without harsh disapproval or condemnation.

Our practice of taking three steps backward at the conclusion of the Amidah comes from a Talmud passage in Yoma (53) which states, “Hamitpaleil tzarich she’yafsiah shelosha pesiot l’achorav v’achar kach yitein shalom. (The one who prays must take three steps back and only then pray for peace).” Rabbi Menachem BenZion Zaks (in his commentary on Pirkei Avot) explains that we cannot pray for, nor achieve, peace if we are not willing to step back a little and make room for others and their opinions, their tastes and personalities.

While America has never experienced an overthrowing of its government, we the Jewish people twice experienced foreign bodies invading our land, destroying our Temples, and dispersing us into exile. When analyzing the underlying cause, our rabbis did not provide a political or military reason, but rather suggested a spiritual source. We practiced sinat chinam — baseless hatred: intolerance, incivility, coarseness, and hyper criticism of one another. In an environment and atmosphere of hate, the house of love and Godliness simply could not continue to exist.

We know (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1) that in every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt, if it had existed, it would have been destroyed. In other words, two thousand years later we continue to embrace a legacy and culture of sinah, of hate and disdain.

Sunday marks the beginning of the Three Weeks, the period designated on our calendar to introspect and contemplate the Jewish condition, its causes, and its roots. Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook famously said , “If we were destroyed, and the world with us, due to baseless hatred, then we shall rebuild ourselves, and the world with us, with baseless love — ahavat chinam.”

Over the next three weeks and continuing through the election and beyond, before each conversation, let’s ask ourselves will this topic, my opinions, and the way I am expressing them contribute to repairing the world with baseless love — or destroying it with baseless hatred.

So if you can’t understand for the life of you how someone could support the candidate or the ideology or the lifestyle on your right or on your left, take a step back and make room for his opinions anyway. Doing so may just finally bring the elusive peace we are so desperate for.

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  • Uncle Sam

    The article is based on the belief that there actually was a coup staged by opponents of the government. If you have been paying close attention, you may have noticed that Erdogan had lists of participants in the coup ready before it happened, suggesting that maybe the coup was staged to enable him to claim even more power in Turkey.

    A real coup, by losers in an American election, is probably not possible, especially if they are the party out of power: the party in power simply has its hands on too many levers to make that possible. A staged coup, by the party in power, cannot be ruled out, especially with Barack Obama whose entire life has been dedicated to amassing ever more power — that is why he looks to Erdogan as a role-model.

    If Hillary is elected, he may expect to be able to continue to pull the strings. But if Trump is elected, on a platform that basically amounts to undoing everything Obama did, Americans can’t rule out a possible staged coup.

    I wish that weren’t so, but that’s the reality of Barack Obama.

  • Benjamin Gruder

    This is so important to practice! I hope that I and all of us are better able to see the sacred human being behind the opinion we don’t share or can’t fathom. It really is the only way to heal our broken discourse.

  • Donald Trump is a wonderful man with a wonderful family who work together side by side. He WILL make a wonderful strong President. He will try to undo the evil wrought by Obama and HELLary Clinton. I pray he can.

    HELLary Clinton is an evil illuminati witch with intent to destroy both Israel and the USA. America is nearly gone now. HELLary is a criminal, a LIAR, a thief, a destroyer and a murderer. She killed the Americans in Bengazi Sept 12, 2012 as surely as if she pulled the trigger. There is a long list of those Clintons have killed. Its fact, not conspiracy.

    A year ago I’d heard Donald Trump’s name of course – but I didnt know him. I have watched his rallys on youtube and seen his kind heart, his humility and his sincerity.

    Thank you for reading this.


  • Although America never experienced a coup attempt, it endured a devastating Civil War. The American Experiment isn’t over, but it won’t survive, if its institutions are not respected. And the American Jewish community has thrived, due to a thoughtfully designed U.S. Constitution based on Judeo-Christian principles.

  • stevenl

    One has been within the law and one has been outside the law.
    Easy choice!

  • Yaakov

    We’re not just talking about differences of opinion here. We’re talking about character traits and behaviors like lying. The Torah commands, “Midvar sheker tirchak” — “Distance yourself from a false matter.” If someone wants to separate himself from someone like this, I think that’s commendable.

    Both in the U.S. and in Israel, the populace has come to expect lying in their politicians and has accepted it as a matter of course. From a Jewish standpoint, that’s wrong. In any society, there have to be at least some people who stand up for the truth, and that should be the job of Jews.

  • David Matar

    Someone who truly and honestly looks to Judaism for advice, will find that the Torah recommends that Jews make their lives and play out their destiny in the land ofIsrael, not in America.
    That is your challenge, Rabbi Goldberg, rather than worrying on how to deal with the social fallout of the elections in the American exile-diaspora-Galut. Last I checked, life in galut was deemed a Divine punishment – certainly not the natural order of things!
    Come home, lost sheep, and rejoin Jewish History!

    • Reform School

      “The most remarkable thing about the failed coup attempt in Turkey last week” is the number of turkeys around the world who believe the live urban war games, all the “rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air” preceding the purge of Turkish democracy, scapegoating the one Muslim cleric in the world who fails to blame Israel (i.e. Jews) every time things don’t as planned, solely on the word of known liars, be they tyrants, newswires, reporters or rabbis. Unlike the feel-good, mushy-headed thinking that passes nowadays for classic Liberalism, impassive military officers overthrowing a government ALWAYS kill its leaders first. Classic Liberals of the past, like Tip O’Neill and Danny Moynihan (still trained to think critically) did not accept anything at face value, unlike too many fools today (trained instead to feel good about themselves).

  • Jay Lavine

    America did have a civil war, which bears some resemblance to a coup attempt.

    When people in a society do not share democratic values, which include, as stated in this article, respect for a diversity of opinions, including minority opinions, then we often have what has been termed “the tyranny of democracy,” in which the majority try to lord it over the minority, a scenario that has similarities to an authoritarian state.

    Secular political ideologues often manifest a great deal of sinat chinam, and I think it’s especially problematic with some of those of right-wing bent, who often seem to use liberals as a scapegoat and imply they’re the cause of all our problems. This probably has more to do with the personality characteristics of those attracted to this ideology rather than to the ideology itself.

    Judaism is not completely appealing to either the left-wing or right-wing personality because in some respects it seems to fall in the liberal camp and, in others, in the conservative one. Therefore, it requires one to subordinate one’s own personality tendencies to the will of Hashem, as expressed in Torah, and that isn’t always so easy to do for those whose faith is not so strong.

    I am very glad to see this article because it represents the Jewish way of life so well — always looking to Judaism as one’s guide to life.

    Although the subject of sinat chinam is very appropriate to the Three Weeks, which we have now entered, I would add that another reason given by the Talmud for the destruction of the Temple was that everyone followed Jewish law according to the lowest level and people were not acting in accordance with the principle of lifnim meshurat hadin, whereby we try to observe the law according to its true spirit and go way above the minimum required level.

    We cannot control the actions of others, but the effect of our role as exemplars for the world should not be underestimated.