Rabbi Shmuley Unleashed

There are two people running against me in the Republican primary for New Jersey’s Ninth district and recently I had an interesting lesson in politics from both. Call me naïve, but I really thought we could have a primary where people respected each other and treated one another as friends. For that reason I invited my main challenger to my home for Friday night Shabbat dinner and sat him right next to me in a place of honor at our home. There were about 40 other guests that night, many of them members of the national media, so it was good exposure for this candidate as well. We had a rollicking time. We teased each other, we laughed, and, as happens on the Sabbath, we toasted each other’s health and future. Many of our close friends who were in attendance asked me why I had invited him. He was my political enemy, someone who had already lost the Bergen and Hudson County Republican conventions to me but still decided to run against me. I answered that politics did not have to be dirty or unfriendly. We could run against each other as gentlemen, focused on the issues, disagreeing without being disagreeable. Besides, the man in question is a devout Catholic who had shared with me how central faith was to his life, which is one of the reasons he was running, to promote policies in accordance with his religious principles.

Little did I realize that one of those convictions must have been backstabbing and ingratitude. About two weeks later, during the Passover holiday, I received a call from my campaign manager that this same person had filed a motion to get me off the ballot by challenging the signatures on my campaign petition. Not content with just one avenue to get me knocked out, he actually went so low as to challenge the way my name was spelled on the ballot. MY campaign manager and attorney had to spend all of the next day in Trenton, New Jersey, responding to his claims and fighting to keep me on. Needless to say, we won, thank Gd.

OK, I was fooled. I thought politics could be elevated, especially when dealing with a religious man. So I wrote him an email where I asked how he could behave this way, especially since his challenge to my petition seemed intentionally timed to the festival of Passover, rendering me incapable of properly responding. He wrote, “These are also my holy days, too. Believe me, I will always remember this holiday weekend as the weekend I spent fighting for the truth at the cost of missing sleep and family time. It was a lot to give up. I hope that whatever happens, we can still be friends. Again, nothing personal. Whatever God’s will is, is.”
So, trying to knock me out of the contest made him into a crusader for truth. It’s not his fault. He was just doing G-d’s will. Indeed, he even had to give up time with his children in his noble crusade of knocking me out of the race. I wrote back. “You are no martyr so please stop the foolishness. You are someone who simply is prepared to win at any cost. People like you, in my strong opinion, are the problem with the political process. Actions like yours are what turn the public off of politics. I made the mistake of showing you an inordinate amount of trust, friendship, and respect. I have learned my lesson.

“Please do not insult me by writing to me of G-d’s will. You and I revere the same Hebrew bible. G-d wants us to be above-board, ethical, honest, and righteous, to the best of our ability. You make a mockery of religion by your behavior. You compound your errors through your justification and excuses. I will defeat you G-d willing without these games and gimmicks. I am sorry that in your desperation you have chosen to forego your values. I ask that G-d give me the strength throughout this campaign never to repeat the kind of political ruthlessness you have exhibited.

“After all, what does it profit a man to win an election and lose his soul?

“Be a gentleman and do the right thing. Win based on merit. Or lose with dignity. It’s not too late.”

OK, a little melodramatic. But I made my point.

Then, at a campaign event where my other challenger appeared, I got up to speak and wished him the best in his candidacy, promising to support him fully if he won. I praised the family man he was and his readiness to serve. I was rewarded with him following me to speak, telling the audience that the last thing the electorate needed was a Rabbi representing them. He ended by publicly calling me an extremist.

Thanks, man. Really appreciated.

As a young Rabbi in Oxford, England, I remember spending a Saturday-Sabbath afternoon reading an incredible essay by Sir Isaiah Berlin, the great British philosopher, whom I would later come to befriend at the University. The subject was Machiavelli’s The Prince where the Florentine political philosopher famously says that is better for a person in power to be feared rather than loved. Berlin explains Machiavelli’s enduring influence by arguing that he forced a choice on us between power and ethics. Mind you, he never said which one to choose. If you want to be a nice guy living a moral life in the suburbs, minding your own business, that’s your choice. But if you want to be in power, then stop fooling yourself. You’re going to have to use ruthless methods to get into power and stay there.

I have thought alot about Machiavelli and Berlin since running for office. Was Machiavelli right? That without ruthlessness there could be no political success? Must we largely forego our values, get negative, and go on the attack to win? The New York Times did an interesting story a few months back about how Newt Gingrich was surging until Romney unleashed an avalanche of negative ads against him. Negative ads, all the studies show, work far better than positive ads. Gingrich was a sitting duck.

The public complains constantly that they want positive politics. They say they want inspiration but respond increasingly to mudslinging and attacks. Indeed, one of the things I’ve discovered since I started running is that a heck of a lot of people seem much more interested in defeating the other party than seeing theirs win. Some of the political experts who have consulted with me have urged me to go negative. I don’t plan to. I know that every politician makes the same pledge. But every politician isn’t a Rabbi. And my hope is to impact on politics rather than being impacted by it.

It’s good that Hilary Rosen apologized for her comments that Ann Romney, who chose to be a stay-at-home mom to raise her five boys, had ‘never worked a day in her life.’ It took a day for Rosen to finally acknowledge that her comments were unhelpful, but she finally said, “I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended.”

Now, I am opposed to the culture of offense where people look to be offended by some public comment. We all need to chill a little and stop pouncing on each other. People can express their opinions without it always leading to a culture war. But Rosen’s comments are different and I’m saying that not as someone running for Congress but as someone who has counseled thousands of women, many of them stay-at-home moms.

Too many have told me that they already feel inferior. Their husbands get to go out of the house and have a change of scenery. They get paid for their work and therefore often feel more appreciated and have greater control of the family’s finances and spending. Many stay-at-home moms still have to ask their husbands for money or are degradingly given allowances for the families needs, something I have always railed against. With rare exceptions, a couple’s money should be equally pooled, as should most things in marriage. But too many husbands feel that they are the breadwinners and their wives have not earned their share of the family income. So why should they have equal say in how it is spent?

Not that Rosen doesn’t have any validity to her points, either. Indeed, she is correct. Many moms would choose to be at home, but they can’t. The family is desperate for the second income. But even so, Rosen’s unnecessarily demeaning comments against stay-at-home mothers — and I’m happy to believe her that she never intended her remarks to be insulting — reinforce a negative stereotype that mothers who are at home are not pulling their weight or earning their fair share.

Let’s turn the tables for a moment. There is a growing movement on the part of husbands to be stay-at-home dads while their wives go out and earn the bacon (I apologize for the deep offense I have now no doubt caused my Jewish readers). A 2008 US Census publication puts the number of married fathers who work in the home as their children’s primary caregivers at approximately 140,000. Now, would Rosen have said the same thing about these men, that they never worked a single day in their lives, or would she, as have so many others, praised them for their maternal role in putting their children first? Would she have lauded their ability to get beyond the traditional macho-man role and prioritizing their family even before their careers? So if Rosen is going to rail against a war against women, then let’s agree that a gender bias that praises men who put their kids first but punishes women for the same is an unfair assault in that battle.

For the record, I am actually an advocate of women having a profession even when they are near full-time mothers. It constitutes advice I often give unhappy wives who come to me for counseling. Get out of the house more and develop your career. If you don’t need the money, volunteer for charity.

My wife and I are blessed with nine children. But my wife has always worked alongside me in everything I have done. And I have raised my six daughters to do all the things that I have done with my boys.

Women are the equal of men in all ability and professionalism and I believe in encouraging our daughters to be both moms and professionals, simply because human beings seek the dignity that comes with both.

We acknowledge, on the one hand, that we are links in a higher chain of existence and raise our children to continue that chain. But in addition, we are people in our own right and seek the maximum development of our individualism irrespective of our position in a family.

Still, this is my opinion. Others may disagree. And that’s the whole point of the need for Rosen’s apology. Rosen is a political consultant with two kids. G-d bless her. It’s beautiful that she has chosen to do both. But it is not for her to judge other people’s choices. Besides, if Rosen had had five kids rather than two — and Mormons, like Jews, have large families — she might have found it slightly more challenging to sustain her career.

The point is that everyone contributes in their own way, and it’s time for us to all stop assailing and judging each other. Not only is it important to reverse the culture of taking offense, it’s also important to curb a culture that gives it, too.

Written in memory of Machla Dabakarov, the mother of a dear friend of Rabbi Shmuley, who passed away last year.

Shmuley Boteach, America’s Rabbi, is the international best-selling author of 27 books and has just Kosher Jesus. He is currently running for Congress from new Jersey’s Ninth District. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Hamid Karzai recently called the brave and selfless members of the United States military ‘demons’ who were guilty of perhaps ‘500’ atrocities against the people of the Afghanistan. One would have thought that the American Commander-in-Chief would swiftly denounce this stunning act of ingratitude by reminding him that nearly 2000 American troops have given their lives for the freedom of the Afghani people. They are angels of mercy, not demons. But in remaining silent President Obama not only missed an opportunity to defend the honor of our brave men and women in uniform, but also missed an opportunity to remind Muslims the world over of the beautiful tenets of their faith that would never brook such shameful ingratitude. The Koran, Sura 14, says that those who are grateful will be given more by God. And the prophet Mohammad also said, “Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue.”

The point is this: capitulation by Western leaders in the face of pressure or bullying from Islamic leaders who, with their misguided actions, betray a great world religion is bad for the West and bad for Islam.

For the last three years I banged my head against a wall called the City of Englewood – its Mayor and Council – cajoling, pushing, and nearly begging that they do something about the Libyan Embassy that is my immediate next-door neighbor. Tax it, fine it, do something to make life uncomfortable for the Kaddafi government who owned it so that the murderous regime would choose to sell it and return the millions of dollars invested in it – all in an attempt to make it comfortable for Kaddafi to stay for a short while – and return the money to the Libyan people to whom it belonged.

Now comes the unbelievable news that the city’s inaction potentially endangered its inhabitants greatly, and not just me, its neighbor. We now know that the Kaddafi regime, under the concealment of diplomatic immunity, was using its embassies throughout the world to stockpile weapons like handguns, sub-machine guns, plastic explosives, hand grenades, and wiretapping equipment. In some embassies the equipment even included booby-trapped vehicles and rocket-propelled grenades.

All this was revealed when the weapons were discovered by representatives of Libya’s interim government, the National Transitional Council who started taking over the embassies abroad.

When NTC Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdul Aziz was asked whether he thought that the weapons, which were shipped in diplomatic bags, were planned for covert operations by Kaddafi and his regime, he answered “I have no single doubt in my mind.” Aziz revealed that the weapons discovered thusfar are just the tip of the iceberg and even included “chemical stuff.”

I still have no idea if the Embassy next door to me has been searched after this information was revealed. Pretty scary for a small Jersey town or for the Rabbi who lives next-door with nine kids and a Synagogue on his property, or the Moriah Jewish Day School with a thousand Jewish kids that is also a next-door neighbor.

I had actually told city officials how worried I was that there might be arms in the Embassy. But like everything else it was just shrugged off. This led to a clash between me and Congressman Steve Rothman who publicly gave me and other Englewood residents advice to be “appropriately good neighbors” to the Libyans and followed up later, after I had publicly rejected his advice, with publishing a three page press release attacking me and defending the status quo of the Libyans living tax-free in Englewood, since the city had lost an earlier challenge nearly 30 years earlier.

But what we have learned from the brave Arab peoples of Libya, Egypt, and Syria in the courageous Arab spring is that there can be no capitulation in the face of oppression and terrorism.

BBC head Mark Thomson recently confessed – to the Oxford University research project known as The Free Speech Debate – to giving Islam a better media portrayal than Christianity out of fear, arguing that the media had to consider the difference between ‘violent threats’ in place of polite complaints if they pushed ahead with certain types of satire.

Thompson said: ‘Without question, “I complain in the strongest possible terms”, is different from, “I complain in the strongest possible terms and I am loading my AK47 as I write.” This definitely raises the stakes.’

Thomson was commenting on a 2005 BBC portrayal of Jesus wearing a diaper, something they pushed ahead with even as 45,000 people complained the broadcaster about its irreverent treatment of Christian themes. Thompson belatedly accepted their argument that the BBC would not have ridiculed Islam in a similar fashion.

The idea that one of the world’s foremost news organizations would capitulate to fear and intimidation is deeply disturbing, and not principally for Westerners but for Muslims. The more the West shows an unwillingness to bow in the face of fright and panic, the more our oppressed Muslim brothers and sisters who live in various totalitarian regimes will feel they have committed partners in confronting tyrants like Basher Assad of Syria, and the more Islam will be purged of a militaristic strain that is a betrayal of its core values.

Those who argue that Islam is an inherently violent faith, or anti-Jewish, deliberately deny history as when Sultan Saladin took back Jerusalem in 1187 and allowed all Christians to ransom their lives and the penniless to go free. The Christians had expected the same harsh treatment that they had meted out in conquering Jerusalem in 1099, when all Muslims and Jews were massacred. Saladin was also generous in his treatment of the Jewish community in his realm. In 1190, he called on Jews to settle once again within the walls of Jerusalem, since they had been banned from the city during the Crusader occupation. Maimonides, one of Judaism’s greatest thinkers, was court physician to Saladin.

To assail Islam as inherently anti-modern is likewise to ignore how already in the ninth century Muslim rulers were prioritizing general education when few others were. Al-Mamun, Caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, established state-funded academies that translated Greek and other works of antiquity, thereby predating European universities by some three centuries. The Abbasid Muslim Empire brought about agricultural innovations in the 8th century that would not be seen in the West until late in the twelfth century. Al-Razi of Baghdad wrote numerous medical books in the tenth century which included groundbreaking health treatments which the West would not match for another six hundred years. In the sixteenth century Muslim Sultan Akbar of India was renowned for cross-cultural political appointments and enacting laws that embraced religious tolerance and protection of women and children. He was also one of the first commanders to insist on humane treatment of captured enemy troops.

Islam today can experience the same kind of enlightened golden age it has in the past if it, along with the West, stands up to the murderers and bullies who betray a great world religion by daring to speak wickedly in its name.

No Holds Barred: It is high time that our warm allies in the Mormon Church cease the posthumous baptizing of any and all Jews.

My much-publicized dispute with Canadian TV host Michael Coren last week taught me valuable lessons about the Jewish community and the new relationship with our Christian brothers and sisters.

For those of you who missed it, I was invited on to Coren’s Sun TV show to promote my new book Kosher Jesus, or so I thought. Within minutes Coren had made four very troubling suggestions. First, that Jesus completed Judaism, thereby emphasizing classical replacement theology which sees Judaism as a subordinate religion to Christianity. Second, that liberal Jews who strongly dislike Christians are involved in an effort to portray them as unsophisticated bumpkins. Third, proof that this is so comes from Hollywood, which Jews either control or significantly influence, so that they can portray Christians in any negative way they wish. Fourth, and finally, that unappreciative Jews have engaged in an effort to malign Pope Pius XII, the wartime Holocaust Pope whom the Catholic Church is currently seeking to beatify but who is known to the rest of the world as “Hitler’s Pope.”

(The full video can be found on YouTube and my two columns on our dispute on my blog at the Huffington Post.) Normally, any of these four insinuations would be seen as highly prejudicial against Jews and even anti-Semitic, something I called on Coren to apologize for. Instead, he disgraced himself further by launching into sharp personal attacks against my appearance, my name, coupled with slanderous allegations that are beneath contempt.

Now, Coren does not much matter, given his tiny footprint in the media landscape. But what happened next is instructive in terms of how desperate we in the Jewish community can sometimes be for allies. A Canadian Jewish organization came to Coren’s defense, saying he has a long history of defending the State of Israel and friendship with the Jewish community, albeit, I assume, with right-wing elements thereof, seeing as he perceived “liberal” Jews to be poisonous in their outlook. I also received e-mails from Canadian Jews saying that while Coren’s comments were repulsive, given that Israel has so few friends we have to be happy with what we have. We dare not alienate friends in the media.

For the record I do not believe Coren to be an anti-Semite and can of course accept that his protestations to friendship are genuine.

Indeed, we have a mutual acquaintance who now wishes to bring us together and I have extended an olive branch to Coren in the form of a respectful challenge to a professional debate on the record of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust. I await his response. But there can be no question that his comments were slanderous toward Jews and furthered classic anti-Jewish stereotypes about world Jewish dominance, Jewish contempt for Christians, and the lying, unappreciative Jew who will even go after a saintly pope. Yet, in this age when Israel is so utterly marginalized and vilified we are prepared to overlook Christian brothers who look down at our faith and who only dislike some Jews – in this case liberals – to clasp at any hint of friendship.

I disagree. I believe passionately in the new Jewish-Christian alliance and wrote Kosher Jesus primarily to advance it. The book seeks to share the Jewishness of Jesus so that a theological bridge can exist between the two disparate faith-communities and I am proud of the global impact it is making on both Jews and Christians. But I do not believe in friendship at any cost. We need not seek the position of superiority vis-a-vis Christians that was humbly bestowed upon us by that most righteous of popes, John Paul II, when he referred to Jews as “our elder brothers” in the faith of Abraham. But we must insist on a relationship of equality, brotherhood, and mutual respect. We need not, we dare not, embrace Christian friendship toward Israel if it has any hint of condescension toward Jews and Judaism and, of course, from the vast majority of the world’s Christians – including the current pope and outstanding friend of the Jewish people, Benedict XVI – it does not.

Yes, Iran, as it never ceases to remind us, is gearing up for a possible war of annihilation against Israel and, of course, we require every media voice possible to sound the clarion call against Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons.

Likewise Israel needs every last media ally to remind the world of the existential threat it faces from Iran-funded Hezbollah and Hamas, not to mention the barbarous Syrian regime to the north. Christians in general and evangelicals in particular have become Israel’s most stalwart allies. But that need not mean that we must tiptoe around the relationship, afraid to give offense, when any of those same Christian allies seek to proselytize Jews, as my friend Dr. Mike Brown, and many other Jewish converts to Christianity, still do. We must vigorously oppose them, which is why I have agreed to debate Mike next month in New York. Glenn Beck expressed it best at the Christians United for Israel dinner in Washington last year. Christian support for Israel should be based not on end-of-days theology or a desire to bring back Christ but on simple, unadulterated love for the Jewish people, just as we Jews must reciprocate with unadorned love for our Christian brothers and sisters who stand by the Jewish state through thick and thin.

To be sure, in Judaism action is much more important than intention, and whatever the reason for friendship and good deeds, they supersede the motivation. But Jews and Christians have come long enough and far enough to now engage in a mature relationship of mutual affection where we both respect the G-dly calling that each faith poses without engaging in games of one-upmanship.

It is for this reason that I also agree with my friend and hero Elie Wiesel that it is high time that our warm allies in the Mormon Church cease the posthumous baptizing of any and all Jews, once and for all. I have been close to the Mormons since my early 20s, have lectured in Utah to Church groups on countless occasions, and took Prof. Wiesel himself to lecture in Utah in 2006. Indeed, I once even believed that posthumous baptizing did not much matter given that it was a private ritual and the public friendship of the Church was much more significant. But friends do not just respect one another in public, they do so in private as well. And it is time that our evangelical, Mormon and Catholic friends respect and learn from the faith that was not only practiced by their savior and redeemer, as I detail in Kosher Jesus, but which he also said, in Matthew 5:18, would be in force for all eternity. That religion, of course, was not Christianity but Judaism.

The writer is the international best-selling author of 27 books and has just published Kosher Jesus. The London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium, he is currently mulling a run for Congress from New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District, running as a Republican.