When Rabbis Sell Out Jewish Values for Political Access
A number of years ago, I pushed my colleague in Englewood, New Jersey, Rabbi Menachem Genack — who is national head of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division — to walk to my house on a Friday night and meet my close friend, Cory Booker, who was, at the time, the mayor of Newark.
But had I known that, a few years later, Rabbi Genack would insert himself into my relationship with Cory, and do everything in his power to grant Senator Booker the political cover necessary to vote for the Iran nuclear deal that has threatened Israel’s survival, I might have thought twice.
While Cory was being shunned across the entire American-Jewish community for legitimizing a government sworn to the annihilation of the Jewish people, Rabbi Genack was busy inviting Jewish leaders to meet the senator and Obama administration officials, in order to restore Cory’s reputation.
Rabbi Genack has been rewarded ever since with close proximity to Cory, something he is now seeking with a vengeance with Hillary Clinton.
Rarely have I read a more sycophantic piece, written by a religious leader, in support of a presidential contender, than that just penned by Rabbi Genack for Hillary Clinton. The piece’s bizarre title, “To the Orthodox: Vote for Hillary,” sounds like a commandment addressed to an ethnic group too ignorant to think for itself.
Rabbi Genack assures us that Hillary is a nice person, despite the fact that, as he confesses, “These qualities are not evident in her public persona.” The proof? Why, she has granted access to Genack, of course! She even wrote a letter to his new baby grandson. And she allowed him to accompany her on a trip to Israel.
Not aware of just how starstruck he sounds, Rabbi Genack then makes the incredible argument that “Hillary knows the Jewish community — including the Orthodox community.” And what makes her an expert on American Jewry? “When I informed Hillary during the primary that she had been endorsed by both Kiryas Joel and Williamsburg community leaders, her response was, ‘What about Boro Park?’ Clearly, Hillary knows the Orthodox world well.”
Here you have one of American Orthodoxy’s greatest scholars — and Rabbi Genack is a walking encyclopedia of Jewish knowledge — telling us that a candidate for the American presidency knows the Jewish community because she has heard of an Orthodox neighborhood.
Just imagine a candidate for office bragging to the African-American community that he knows their concerns because he has heard of Harlem.
And what of Israel? Worry not. Because Rabbi Genack, ever present in Clinton’s orbit, has “watched Hillary interact with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and, unlike President Obama, Hillary has a strong working relationship with the Prime Minister.”
Of course, this is curious. Last year, Hillary bragged of serving as President Obama’s “designated yeller” at Netanyahu. Who even talks like that? Who brags about treating a leader of one of America’s foremost allies like an errant child?
Most disappointing is Rabbi Genack’s defense of Hillary’s support for the Iran nuclear agreement, and of her claim that she is its original architect. While Rabbi Genack allows that Hillary was wrong to support the catastrophic deal, “her position is not the same as that of President Obama.”
Well, “According to recent interviews conducted by the Jerusalem Post with Hillary’s inner circle, she ‘was uncomfortable with Obama’s approach from the start.’” Aha. So, Hillary publicly praises the Iran deal at every opportunity — including in her debates with Donald Trump before an audience of 80 million — and brags in interviews that she is responsible for the agreement. But Rabbi Genack knows that, deep down, according to an anonymous “inner circle,” that she doesn’t really mean it and was always uncomfortable with the deal.
Without even realizing it, Rabbi Genack is endorsing, in effect, the sad opinion that a majority of Americans have of Hillary, which is that she is a dishonest politician who will do and say anything in order to get elected.
Equally absurd is Rabbi Genack’s claim that Hillary’s “support for the Iran deal comes with strict conditions…that we seriously penalize any Iranian cheating, that we sanction Iran for its terrorist activities.” Seriously? Rabbi Genack, do you not understand that the deal gives Iran $150 billion that every sane person knows will be used to fund terrorism? Rabbi Genack, are you not aware of the planeloads of cash that have already been shipped to the mullahs? And where do you think that cash ended up?
Indeed, it was Hillary Clinton’s State Department that identified Iran as the foremost state-sponsor of terrorism. As for Iran’s cheating on the deal, by now everyone knows about this summer’s report from German intelligence that there have been “extensive Iranian attempts” to acquire illicit materials, “especially goods that can be used in the field of nuclear technology.”
Yet Hillary has not called even once for any sanctions to be re-imposed on Iran.
As for Donald Trump, Rabbi Genack attacks him as having “no real record of engagement with the Jewish community — with our concerns, or our values.”
Let me be clear. I am not an apologist for Trump. I have endorsed no candidate in this race and I have heaped plenty of criticism on Trump for policies and actions that run contrary to Jewish values, including the call for a ban on Muslim immigrants, the making of degrading statements about women and praise for dictators like Vladimir Putin. Trump has said and done things in this election that must be condemned. But, to argue that a man who supported his daughter’s conversion to Orthodox Judaism and who has three Orthodox grandchildren has no connection to our community is a manifest absurdity.
But all of this muddled thinking is just an appetizer to Rabbi Genack’s main course, which is the positively ridiculous statement, “With each passing day – with each new video, recording, or tweet – it becomes clearer and clearer that Donald Trump models the worst type of behavior to our children. Trump has proven to lack any sense of morality, both in public and in private. This man does not deserve the support of our community.”
Informed readers will remember that few Jewish leaders did more to protect Bill Clinton, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, than Rabbi Genack. Indeed, Rabbi Genack advised Clinton at the time not to apologize to the American people, because his private actions were none of their business.
It appears that Rabbi Genack has now changed his mind.
So, let’s end with some moral light on this depraved election. Many of Trump’s statements and actions in this campaign absolutely deserved to be denounced in the strongest terms. I did so in multiple published columns and social media posts. I did so, despite the fact that I enjoy a friendship with members of the Trump family and am deeply grateful to Donald Trump for his strong support of Israel, his incredible support for his daughter in choosing to be a Jew and his strong opposition to the Iran deal. I criticized Trump even though it would close avenues to the candidate. I did so because, as a rabbi, I have a responsibility first and foremost to try my best to model Jewish values and place my convictions before political access. I did so, despite the fact that I am an imperfect man who makes many mistakes.
I say this not to give myself a pat on the back, but to remind myself, and the rest of us, that while having the friendship of powerful people may address our insecurities, standing up for what we actually believe in is the only true path to righteousness.
Rabbi Genack is one of American Orthodox Judaism’s most prominent personalities. Despite this column, I consider him a friend and there was a time when I considered him a mentor. He is a man of integrity and honor. And for that reason, it behooves him to put the interests of his people and Jewish values before political access.
He can support Hillary all he wants. There is nothing wrong with that. But to sell out the interests of his people by defending policies like Hillary’s defense of the Iran nuclear agreement is just plain wrong.
“When I go to the polls on election day,” Rabbi Genack concludes, “I will be thinking about…respect for the values that Judaism has taught me to cherish.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America” is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including the recently published “The Israel Warrior.” The winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year competition, he is the Founder of The World Values Network, one of America’s premier organizations defending Israel in national media. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.