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Obama’s Lesson and The Jewish Community

There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s advisors. She was right. I never should have cited those websites–they were wrong and I apologize to my readers for my misstep.
As I intimated in my first post the notion that Obama is somehow bad for the Jews is absurd based on what we know and what we have seen. All we as a community should be focused on is what the person has said and what he has done. While I am still unsure about a few issues and disagree with him on a few others, the more the campaign continues, the more I like what I hear and see from Obama. Many have already praised his talk on race as being indicative of the type of nuanced and complex yet straight and simple kind of thinking that this country needs, I would like add just a few points that have not been addressed.


Obama did the right thing when he denounced Jeremiah Wright’s statements yet did not thrown his longtime pastor overboard. I was among the many Jews who called on Obama to make such a statement and felt that those in his campaign who kept dismissing the issue were terribly mistaken. His remarks on Wright should satisfy any Jew who has gone to synagogue and heard a rabbi–who has married, or bar mitzvahed his kids, or counseled him and his family in rough times–say things they disagrees with or find disturbing. Clerics talk a lot–probably more than any other public official–and they say a number of different things that sometimes can sound awfully silly. This should never excuse calls for violence or hate speech, but we should always remember the context and history of the people making those comments.
(Just a few weeks ago a leading rabbi from Yeshiva University called for the assassination of the Prime Minister of Israel if he were to ever give back Jerusalem–and all he was asked to do by the university was to apologize. He should have been fired or at the very least have been demoted).
I understand those such as Hillary Clinton and my friend and wise op-ed columnist Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe who felt Obama’s comments came up short, arguing, in Jacoby’s case, that if there rabbi or minister ever made such a comment they would call for his dismissal. There are many cases where I would have no problem taking such a position. To be sure, if my rabbi had ever said “God damn America,” I would be shocked and horrified and perhaps even call for his dismissal.
But my rabbi did not experience America as a segregated country that undermined my very existence and my rabbi was never a U.S. Marine.
Obama not only did the right thing by not dumping Wright, he taught America a lesson. Just because we don’t agree with everything everybody says that does not mean that we ought to reject them fully as human beings or as leaders. Obama’s approach to dealing with the situation broke with typical political thinking that paints people as either being black or white.
Likewise, in Jewish life there is way too much black and white thinking among those in various denominations. We either “legitimize” or don’t “legitimize” other Jews as if their entire being and religious lives were based on one or two issues that we might disagree with them on. Such thinking destroys the complexity and beauty of life and humanity. By making every argument into a matter of legitimacy or illegitimacy it becomes impossible to ever have real conversations that recognize that there is no one group or person that has all the answers.
People are not one 15-second sound bite, position, or idea. They are complex creatures with myriad and often conflicting opinions. Such complexity, however, should never prevent us from critiquing, judging, or challenging one another.
Because we make things into black and white we loose our ability to openly criticize and challenge our own orthodoxies and opinions. Without our ability to criticize ourselves and others we risk living in a world destined to become its own inadequacies. Open and honest critique is the basis for redemption.
More than anything since writing this blog I think we all have realized that disagreeing with one another does not mean not legitimizing their role as a leader of their community and the Jewish people. Writing alongside Rabbis Grossman and Rabbi Waxman has always been an honor. Any arguments we have had have been, in my mind, a machloket le-shem shamyyim, an argument for the sake of heaven, and what could be a more lofty and honorable endeavor than that.

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maria vargas

posted April 1, 2008 at 10:49 am

hey mr obama i need to know what what you planining for the us i am doing a arical on you and i cant find any informaton on that

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posted April 1, 2008 at 2:15 pm

A beautiful post. Thank you Rabbi Stern.

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posted April 1, 2008 at 3:34 pm

Undoubtedly having grown up on the mean streets of Honolulu, Obama must have faced a huge torrent of racism (in the only state where whites are a minority). Rememeber there were no Blacks on Hawaii 5-0 and only one on Magnum PI.
To say nothing of the anti-Muslim comments he must have gotten in Jakarta.
No wonder he attended Farrakhan’s ‘Million Man March’, and no wonder he went for years to Rev Wright’s church where Sunday after Sunday where he listened to what seems to have been constant diatribes about America, White, etc.
It must have been horrible going to Columbia and Harvard Law after that.
But its nice to know that finally his wife is proud to be American.
Its absurd to think that just by going on that march and being so close to Farrakhan’s friend anyone could possibly think that Obama was in any way anti-Jewish.
And surrounding himself with Carterite foreign policy officials how could anyone think him anti-Israel.
The mind reels.

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posted April 2, 2008 at 8:14 am

Are you stoping the blog because your voting for Obama? Well it is a shame. And how can a man sit over 20 yrs in a church that is racist and not be effected? And how can we over look this mans double speak? It looks like he may get the nomination.And if he wins we all will lose and wonder ?”how’d that happen, oh yeah they ask for it”

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posted April 2, 2008 at 11:18 am

“Obama’s approach to dealing with the situation broke with typical political thinking…” Now, if we can only be wise enough to recognize the opportunity that presents. Obama’s call to perfect an imperfect nation and thereby help to heal the world should speak to every Jew in the language at the very center of what it means to be Jewish. His reference to Israel as a “stalwart ally” sould be clear enough as well.

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posted April 3, 2008 at 3:35 pm

To a great extent, Obama is the new Jimmy Carter — a person about whom we know almost nothing and want to know even less. Obama like Carter is a blank canvass onto which people project their ideal candidate. When Obama turns the race issue into a call for Class Warfare, many people cling to their projected image on the canvass rather than pay attention to what Obama actually said. Obama calls for Class Warfare and people say he called for healing and unity!?!
When Obama lies, most people close their ears and abdicate their minds. We know he joined that Trinity Church expressly due to its liberation theology in order to obtain the “creds” his background in Hawaii and Jakarta did not provide. He did not rise in Illinois politics by opposing the ideas of Rev Wright. For Obama to now pretend he does not agree with those ideas is another lie. Or, was Obama lying to everyone at Trinity Church for 20 years when he supported this approach to social justice?
How bad is Rev Wright? The theology of Rev Wright is not any more inflammatory than Nathan’s telling King David, “Thou art the man.” That is what is meant by “Speaking Truth to Power.” While I personally believe that the Victimization Philosophy which often accompanies that social analysis is harmful to the alleged victims, it has more logic and morality behind it than White preachers who blame Gays for 9/11 or Katrina.
While the gap in Black and White perceptions of America can be great, Obama showed no character in throwing Rev Wright under the bus. Obama left it to others to try to explain the context within which The Rev. made those statements. Obama opened no dialog, when he had the chance. Why? The most likely reason is that he believes that White America is too racist to open their minds. Whether White America is that racist is an open question, but Obama had the opportunity to bridge the divide and he chose to turn upon his friend and mentor, whom he had supported for twenty years. At the very least, the canvass should have a huge Question Mark?
A man of integrity would have understood that he himself had made the conscious decision to associate with The Rev. Wright’s social philosophy in order to further his own personal ambitions. A man of integrity would have weathered the storm of The Rev’s hyperbolic oratory. A man of integrity would have explained his support for The Rev. John McCain stuck with his support for the surge in Iraq when everyone thought it had cost him his candidacy, and if Obama were a man of integrity, he would have done the same.
Too many Americans hold Obama to a lower standard than they hold other candidates. As Rep Emanuel Cleaver recently stated, when Obama is elected 99.9% of America will still be clueless about Obama.

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posted April 9, 2008 at 10:30 am

Obama is just now getting his feet wet when it comes to understanding some of the dirty politics that go on behind the scenes – he is just now facing the tactics of some of the most skilled influencers of our time. I did not agree with his calling his pastor’s remarks stupid. I do think it was an opportunity to teach and to call America to its responsibility to examine its mind and heart on how it really views black people here in this country and around the world, and to call all races to the table to confront the evil that still exists in so many areas of our country and in the church. It is not too late for that.
As for holding Obama to a lower standard, that seems a strange comment — what standards are the other candidates being held to? My problem with the attack against Obama is that he was judged on what his pastor had to say. in light of the fact that not once, in all my lifetime, has anyone else running for president been judged on the preachings of their pastors. Not once, has anyone delved into the background of the other presidential candidates or presidents to find out what they believed then held the presidential candidate/president responsible for what others had to say. When will America be honest enough to admit it has and will always have a double standard when it comes to people of color? Martin Luther King Jr. looked forward to the day when black people would be judged on the content of their character and not on the color of their skin – that day has yet to arrive.
I sat under a pastor for many years and I did not agree with everything he said, but I recognized many wonderful qualities that he possessed and the wisdom and knowledge that he shared was priceless and I grew spiritually. Just because I sat under his teachings did not make me just like him. I prayed for him that God would reveal to him that something he said was wrong. I would ask God to make him stand in the pulpit and correct it but the only thing God let me know to do was to continue to pray for him, not judge him, and stay with him until it was time for me to leave that congregation.
If we are obedient to God, many times our actions will not line up with man’s expectations. When it is all said and done, we should look for honesty, integrity, and political qualifications. Everybody does not come from the same place and has not had the same struggles. We should weigh up all the facts and not take something out of context and run with it especially with our limited knowledge and other peoples’ perspectives.

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posted April 10, 2008 at 12:34 pm


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posted April 12, 2008 at 3:11 pm

I enjoy relating historial and daily life (Living Torah Lessons)to modern life because there is always something I/ we can learn from the TaNaK/ Bible for wisdom in my/ our daily life. Virtual Talmud brings modern insight to people today, bridging the gap between yesteryear and today.

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posted April 20, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Actually, Rev. Wright grew up in a very nice Middle Class family in a nice Middle Class neighborhood. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t experience racism, but I don’t think that excuses his beliefs.
The main reason that I am voting for Clinto, though, is that I like her policies on most issues better. That is the most important issue.

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Dean M.

posted June 3, 2008 at 1:29 am

For those interested in the Torah Code, in Bamidbar (Numbers) 13:1–17:1, with a matrix of 201, HLRY-CLNTN (skip 401) is encrypted next to NSEE-44 [44th President](skip 402), DMCRaHT (skip 397) & USAMRCA (skip 201). Though it appears she is behind, something drastic and perhaps tragic is indicated in surrounding “finds” that may preclude Senator Obama from being the nomination. In Vayikra (Leviticus) it is encrypted that Bush would be NSEE-43, which we discovered before it happened. When the issue of the “chads” in Florida came up, we knew it wouldn’t amount to anything based on the Code. Sunday, June 8th, Sivan 5th, 5768 (2008), is encrypted tightly compact to these “finds.”

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