NEW YORK, Nov. 13 (AP) -- Regardless of whether Joseph Lieberman becomes the next vice president of the United States, his historic campaign as the first Jew on a major party ticket proved how tolerant the nation has become, Jewish leaders say.

"This election confirms the complete acceptance of Jews in American society, if we needed any additional proof," said Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Lieberman's candidacy was "not so much a breakthrough as a confirmation of the status of Jews," said Conservative Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of Jewish Theological Seminary.

The campaign "shows that being Jewish is not an impediment to any position in the land," said Ari L. Goldman, author of "Being Jewish" and a Columbia University journalism professor.

There wasn't any notable shift last week among Jewish voters, who are always heavily Democratic. Their 79 percent support for the 2000 Democratic ticket compares with 78 percent in 1996 and 80 percent in 1992.

Many Jews felt some private anxiety that the fall campaign would stir up anti-Semitism, said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. But it never happened, except for some activity "on the fringes," including Internet sites.

Exit polling showed 17 percent thought Lieberman's religion would be "more likely" to make him a good vice president and only 8 percent "less likely," while 72 percent saw no difference.

Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew whose strict observance of the Sabbath and other Jewish traditions was widely reported, along with his views on the importance of religion as a moral guide.

Unlike Lieberman, many Jews in public life have been secularized.

"The popular wisdom was, in order to make it in America you had to give up your religious baggage so you wouldn't be too Jewish," remarked Goldman, who is Orthodox.

"An admired Orthodox Jew now represents an alternative paradigm of the successful American Jew," said Orthodox Rabbi Norman Lamm, president of Yeshiva University. "Heretofore almost all Jews who rose to prominence were largely assimilated."

Schorsch agreed. "His religious practice was known in advance and was never deemed to be an impediment. That's the historical significance to this election."

Goldman noted that few questioned whether Lieberman's observance -- including resting on the Sabbath -- would interfere with his public duties. "Nobody said don't vote for him because he won't be a full-time vice president."

Lieberman's outspokenness on the importance of faith for American society became a campaign issue in August when the Anti-Defamation League warned that his religious rhetoric was "inappropriate and even unsettling in a religiously diverse society."

Foxman said the criticism provoked "a healthy debate." When Lieberman returned to the theme Oct. 24 at the University of Notre Dame it was less troublesome, Foxman said, because the setting was more academic than religious.

Schorsch shared Foxman's concern. "I think an excessive amount of religious rhetoric only serves to divide us, not unite us," he said.

Orthodox leader Lamm, however, defended Lieberman. "He was not speaking about a specific religion but religion in general. That's a legitimate concern for Americans of all kinds."

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