Virtual Talmud

The attempt to depict Barack Obama as a Muslim and the response of the Jewish community are depressing on a number of levels. First off, even if he was a Muslim, since when does that disqualify someone from office? Have I missed something here? Why on earth has the reaction of the American Jewish community been, “no, no he is not a Muslim?” Instead we should judge people by their words and actions, not on racial and religious biases.
That said, there are a few things about Obama that still concern me. (Let me be clear, there are a number of things that concern me about all the candidates.) When it comes to Israel and foreign policy issues I am just not yet sold on Barack. My biggest problem is not his lack of experience, it’s those that he surrounds himself with who have experience. Two of his main foreign policy advisors are Samantha Powers and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Neither of these two figures could be said to be favorable towards Israel’s interests in the Middle East. One could argue that both are actually hostile to Israel. It’s not that I think Obama is not pro-Israel. Whether in his heart of hearts he truly loves Israel is a question that does not move me. Every president in the last thirty years–even the worst of them like Jimmy Carter–acted as friends towards the Jewish state and there is no reason to believe the same would not hold true of an Obama administration. What worries me is that I am just not sure if he–or those who he’s surrounded by–really understands the general threat of terrorism and radical elements of Islam that threaten Israel, American and the free world in general.

Sen. Barack Obama has shown himself to be a strong friend of Israel, as Florida Congressman Robert Wexler makes clear in a recent Jerusalem Post article. Obama also made his position clear in the most recent debate in Cleveland this past week, reiterating he is a stalwart friend of Israel whose security he believes is sacrosanct.
What impressed me most during the debate, though, was Obama’s clear rejection and denouncement of the anti-Semitism which has found its way into the African American community, particularly in the form of Farrakhan and those who support him. Obama’s willingness to speak out against anti-Semitism in the African American community, for example, while addressing the largely African American crowd at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, is an impressive example of moral courage: the willingness to speak out about what he believes is morally right even when the message may be unpopular among those listening. That is what he is also doing with his own minister, Rev. Wright, with whom Obama has publicly disagreed. While I may have preferred he not affiliate at all with Rev. Wright, I can respect how he has determined he can have the most impact by standing up for a different perspective within his congregation, which hopefully can influence others as well.

With the Republican nomination all but wrapped up, whatever attention Americans still have left for politics turns to the Democratic nomination, where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are both still viable contenders. Despite Obama’s recent momentum, it’s far too early to count Clinton out; she has shown herself to be a resourceful and relentless campaigner who isn’t above stooping to some low blows. In fact, she’s made her willingness to use hard-edged tactics something of a campaign theme; her point is that she has traded shots and spin with the best of them and has the grit and determination to prove it, while the relatively untested Obama would be walking blindfolded into the arms of the Republican smear machine should he become the Democratic nominee.
Clinton is right that Obama had something of a free ride for a while, receiving perhaps less press scrutiny than other major candidates, (although Bill Clinton’s whining about it only served to alienate voters) but that is now coming to an abrupt end. Nasty whispering campaigns and e-mails-–often anonymous-–have been in increasing circulation, implying that he is a junkie (based on admissions of past youthful drug use) or a terrorist (based on three years spent in a nominally Muslim school in Indonesia) or, better yet, both.

I found Rabbi Stern’s analysis of the economy as a faith-based institution interesting. It cast Alan Greenspan’s (now Ben Bernanke’s) cryptic musings about future conditions in a new light: the high priest of economics reciting just the right words (and perhaps sacrificing a goat) to attain the desired economic outcome.
Faith and the economy is also a tenet than can be seen going back to William Jennings Bryan’s famed speech at the 1896 National Democratic Convention, in which he spoke about the gold standard (as opposed to the more liberal “silver standard”) as being an agent of oppression for farmers and laborers who were having difficulty receiving credit. His speech concludes by alluding to a “cross of gold” on whom these farmers are crucified. One could just as easily imagine the imagery of a Golden Calf: that solid and substantive idol that people need as a concrete symbol and validation of their belief, rather than simply taking things on faith.