The rabbonim speak in New York

Published Date: September 14, 2011 | Topics: Politics and Current Affairs

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By Robert George

When Anthony Weiner resigned his congressional seat in a “sexting” scandal, few people thought that a Republican would be elected to serve the remainder of his term.  Fewer still imagined that a conservative Catholic Republican could win.  After all, the district (New York’s 9th) is overwhelmingly Democratic and heavily Jewish.  It was formerly represented by New York’s current senior senator, Charles Schumer.  But yesterday, in a stunning upset, Catholic conservative Bob Turner defeated Jewish liberal David Weprin, with Turner scoring big among Jewish voters—especially Orthodox Jewish voters (despite Weprin’s self-identification as an Orthodox Jew).

So what happened?

The media are certainly right to point to the bad economy and the growing distrust of President Obama by Jewish voters as a result of policies that are viewed as less than supportive of the state of Israel. But there is an underreported aspect of the story that should be of considerable interest to Catholics and especially to Mirror of Justice readers.

In the run up to the election, a group of Orthodox rabbis, most from Brooklyn, but including others, notably Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky and Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen, two nationally prominent Orthodox Jewish authorities, published a letter stating that “it is forbidden to fund, support, or vote for David Weprin.”  The reason?  As a member of the New York state legislature, Weprin, despite his Orthodox Jewish beliefs, voted to redefine marriage to include same-sex partnerships.  This, the rabbonim declared, was chillul Hashem—a desecration, or bringing of shame, on God’s name. The rabbis went on to say that “Weprin’s claim that he is Orthodox makes the chillul Hashem even greater.”

Catholics, of course, will immediately recall controversies in recent years about the statements and actions of bishops who have criticized (and in some cases excluded from Holy Communion) Catholic politicians who support abortion and embryo-destructive research.  Those with lengthier memories will also recall the controversy in the 1950s surrounding New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel’s decision to excommunicate three Catholic members of the Louisiana state legislature for defying his teaching against support for segregationist policies.

The letter from the rabbonim went farther than anything I recall Catholic bishops saying by asserting that under Jewish law “it is incumbent on every Jew” to support and vote for Weprin’s opponent, “if the opposing candidate is committed to safeguarding the moral values that made made this Republic great, including the educational, religious, and parental freedoms of Torah adherents, defending family values, opposing abortion on demand, protecting the moral environment, opposing the radical LGBT (To’aiva) agenda, including opposing legislation of civil unions, as well as defending the security of our brothers internationally, particularly in Eretz Yisroel.”

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