Rabbi Josh Grater–Liberalism vs Judaism

A column by Pasadena Rabbi Josh Grater in support of Obama has led me to offer a rebuttal.

First, some background is required. I refer to him throughout my column as “Josh” rather than Rabbi Grater. This is not in any way meant as disrespect. I went to college with him, so to me he is Josh.

Although I have not seen him in 20 years, we knew each other very well because it was such a small campus. We both liked sports, and 1980s rock music (We both had long hair, although his was much neater). He was going to be a Radio DJ and I was going to be in a band. Instead, he became a Rabbi and I a stockbroker. I don’t remember him ever being political in college.

I got along with him fine. We hung out in different circles, but there was no animus. Despite people making fun of the concept of Jewish athletes, Josh was probably the best basketball player on campus. He made the shots. In short, I liked the guy. His wife Franci, who he met on campus, was always nice to me. She was nice to everybody. I met Josh’s dad once. He was funny and engaging, and the 20 minute conversation was pleasant. So on a personal level, I have only positive experiences regarding Josh and those around him.

His politics are diametrically opposed to mine. Since he is a very respected Rabbi among the liberal Jewish community (I respect his accomplishment. He should be proud of this), I have to take apart the flaws in his recent column because I want to influence the Jewish community in the opposite direction.

Here is his entire article.


I will start out with some general comments that are completely unconnected to the article.

There is nothing in Judaism that mandates liberalism. God is not a Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. God loves Sarah Palin and Barack Obama equally, and neither Josh nor I should substitute our judgment for the judgment of God (not saying Josh did). Liberals like to state that Jesus was not a Republican. Well Moses was not a Democrat.

Like many Jews, Josh is a passionate liberal. Yet his liberalism and his Judaism should be separate entities. My Judaism and conservatism are not fused together. Also, Josh has a difficult role. As a private citizen, he can and should advocate his beliefs. Yet as a Rabbi, his synagogue cannot shill for liberal policies (I have never attended his services, have zero evidence he has crossed the line…other Synagogues have). Churches should not shill for Republicans either, but a Catholic church preaching a pro-life message is sticking within religious doctrine. It is a tough balance, and if Josh had a Republican congregant who needed Rabbinical advice on marriage, divorce, or other religious issues, I trust Josh is decent enough to put aside his politics and help his congregant.

The article itself validates my belief that for liberal Jews, liberalism is their religion. He wants to make the case for Barack Obama to Jews from a Jewish Rabbinical perspective. The article would be honest if it was a liberal call to maintain support for him, or for all Americans to rally around him. However, the title says it all.

“Jews must stay on visionary Obama’s side.”

Yet the first few reasons he supports Barack Obama have nothing to do with Judaism.

“President Obama passed health care reform, possibly the greatest domestic policy achievement in a generation. He is standing up to the greed and self-interest of Wall Street. He supports a women’s right to choose and successfully appointed Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. He is committed to ending the proliferation of nuclear weapons. He takes global climate change seriously.”

None of that has anything to do with being Jewish. Josh can claim that the Torah tells us to help the poor and the sick, be good stewards of the Earth, and strive for peace. He can claim that liberals should admire Obama for these reasons. He cannot say that Jews should support Obama for this.

This is very serious. The reason why Josh cannot and should not do this is because if Josh is right, then I am a bad Jew…or worse…not Jewish at all.

I am against Obamacare. I am against his unilaterally reducing America’s nuclear arsenal. I thought Sotomayor was a dreadful nominee. I am just as Jewish as Josh is.

If liberalism is Judaism, then Jews believing in political conservatism are either bad Jews, or not Jewish. My father is a Holocaust survivor and political conservative. Did he deserve his fate? Should he have been sent to the gas chambers?

Think about this very seriously. Bad people deserve bad things to happen to them. Good people deserve good things to happen to them. Yet who decides this? God and God alone. If liberalism is Judaism, then isn’t conservatism the anti-Judaism? If Judaism is good, does that not make conservatism evil?

Liberals may scoff at my argument, but this is how they think. This is why they despise conservatives such as Sarah Palin, who I will get to later.

Josh eventually does get to actual Judaism.

“And then there is Israel. President Obama has committed himself to the Jewish people by committing himself to working for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

So did George W. Bush. He called for a Palestinian state led by leaders who were not compromised by terror. Is it George W. Bush’s fault that Yassir Arafat was a terrorist with blood on his hands? Is it George W. Bush’s fault that the Palestinians elected Hamas? Is it George W. Bush’s fault that 80% of Palestinians support suicide bombings?

“However, since all parties to the conflict agree that there is no military solution…”

This is totally untrue. The Palestinians have never rejected the military solution. They have never done what the Irish Republican Army did in the name of peace. They have never laid down their arms. Hamas is now the Palestinian leadership. Their charter still calls for the destruction of Israel. That sounds like a military solution to me.

“President Obama, a statesman capable of understanding nuance and complexity…”

This is the obligatory cheap shot at George W. Bush. The left will never admit that he was much more thoughtful and deliberative than they think because it would ruin their image of him as a war-mongering dolt. What the left calls nuance, the right often very fairly sees as dithering.

“American Jews overwhelmingly supported Obama in the 2008 election, and the majority continues to support him because his vision for our country — a vision of inclusion, strength through diplomacy, peace and providing for the neediest among us — resonates deeply with Jews.”

I understand that liberals see conservatives as people who want to starve the needy, shoot the homeless, bomb every country, and hurt every minority, but that does not make their vision remotely correct.

I want all people in society to do better. I believe that a hand up works better than a handout. I believe that liberalism has destroyed people through a destructive welfare system, bureaucracy that hurts small businesses, and a naive foreign policy that leaves American vulnerable.

My vision has the same ends, but different means. I am just as Jewish as Josh. My opposing Mr. Obama’s vision is rooted deeply in my values.

“There are voices who feel threatened by the accomplishments of the past half century in the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movement and the gay rights movement.”

This argument is pure bigotry. People are opposing Obama because they are racist, sexist, bigoted homophobes. The idea that conservatives dislike liberal policies for noble reasons is discounted.

Again…none of those issues have anything to do with Judaism. The Torah does not discuss global warming or abortion. Also, feminism is about equality. Until liberals can see a pro-life woman as a feminist, then feminism is nothing but a liberal political agenda.

Sarah Palin is a feminist. She is a working mother who successfully balanced running an entire state with raising a family. Her stance on abortion has zero to do with her feminist credentials. Liberals preach “inclusiveness,” “diversity,” and “tolerance,” but have zero tolerance for opposing views, zero interest in diversity of thought, and zero interest in including conservatives in the family of good human beings.

If feminism today means anything (it doesn’t), then a woman can be politically conservative and still be a feminist.

Either way, for the billionth time, this has nothing to do with Judaism.

Josh’s entire argument is one of liberalism, not Judaism. His argument to liberal Jews is simple. Jews are liberal, Obama is liberal, therefore Obama is good for the Jews.

That argument is fine politically, but fails miserably theologically.

Flip it around.

Christians are conservative, Palin is conservative, therefore Palin is good for Christians.

Maybe some Christians do not support her. Maybe some Jews do not support Obama. People can love their respective religions without being mindless automatons. Judaism is all about questioning things, yet when it comes to liberalism, Jews are expected to blindly follow a rigid liberal ideology without debate.

“Being U.S. president is more than ignoring those with whom you disagree and then attacking them if they do not capitulate.”

This is the epitome of the Obama presidency. He has never treated his political opponents with dignity. His supporters (including Josh in this article) tar his opponents as bigots, rather than acknowledge that we have opposing views that are just as noble. Conservatives were against the health care bill. We did not capitulate, and we were relentlessly attacked for it. The left wanted the bill rammed down our throats, and they got it.

Also, what does this have to do with Judaism?

“Being the president requires vision, courage, perseverance and respect for diversity.”

What about intellectual diversity? What about ideological diversity? What about diversity of thought?

(cue the chirping crickets)

Again, what does this have to do with Judaism?

The Jewish community knows that President Obama is this kind of leader, and we should continue to support him in his efforts to better our country and be a true friend to Israel.”

There you have it. Being pro-choice, pro-global warming, and pro-mediocrity provided quotas are filled is why we should support him.

Josh is a liberal. He desperately wants Barack Obama to be great for the Jews because Barack Obama is great for the liberals.

If I was a liberal, I would be delighted by Mr. Obama. I am a conservative, so I am far from delighted.

Yet at no time does Josh or any other liberal leader offer any rationale as to why Mr. Obama is good for the Jews specifically.

In fact, his arguments are very bad for the overall Jewish community because it pits people against each other and divides the Jewish community.

Orthodox Jews are against gay marriage. Under Josh’s criteria, they are not adhering to Jewish values. This is ironic, since if anybody is qualified to analyze the Torah, it is the Orthodox. They spend their entire lives reading the thing.

Josh even twists Jewish teachings to argue that Judaism supports liberalism.

“Ancient Jewish tradition in Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors, teaches that ‘while we are not called upon to finish the job, we are certainly called upon to never cease from trying.’ For Jews, this applies to the task of building a nation that lives up to the ideals of both our Jewish sages and our American founders.”

Pirke Avos also teaches that justice must be blind, and that a court should not favor a poor man over a rich man. There are specific passages in Pirke Avos that argue against the very wealth redistribution that the left wants to implement.

Most importantly, the biggest mitzvah (good deed) in all of Judaism is Tzedakah (charity). There are eight levels of charity. The highest level is helping somebody go into business and become self sufficient. That is higher than giving somebody a handout. This is a very politically conservative message.

I am not advocating that Jews should be conservative Republicans. I am disputing the argument put forth by Josh that liberalism and Judaism are joined at the hip.

Josh made a powerful argument for liberals to fall in line behind a liberal President.

By attacking Palin and all conservatives in terms of history and motives, he has failed to live up to the inclusiveness argument that he claims embodies the left.

Until conservative Republican Jews can be welcome in any synagogue in the country, then the Jewish community has failed their brethren.

Since the majority of Jews are liberal, the blame resides with them.

Nothing in Judaism or the Torah supports or condemns Barack Obama.

Nothing he has done in any way remotely helps the Jewish people specifically.

Jews devoted primarily to Judaism understand this.

Liberals devoted primarily to liberalism insist on blurring the lines.

Josh argues that since Mr. Obama is a liberal, he has to be good for the Jews.

Republican Jews understand that he doesn’t, and he isn’t.


4 Responses to “Rabbi Josh Grater–Liberalism vs Judaism”

  1. Dav Lev says:

    I could write columns on this one, but, not right now. I have other
    things on my mind.

    Most Jews don’t have the foggiest idea of what is a Jew? Can you believe.
    An acquaintence tells me that in response, my answer must be, “They know what a Jew is not’.

    Most Jews, ( surveys show), do not believe there is a G-d. The same person tells me, “They have a concept of what G-d is not”.


    Orthodox Jews advise me not to read Etz Hayim ( the Conservative
    Jewish bible or Torah). That it is not divinely inspired enough (Orthodox
    Jews believe every sentence and every word in their Torah is).

    Reform Jews tell me that their perspective on Judaism is the correct one
    (they believe it is all man made).

    Reform Jews can be Jewish if the father was. Orthdox Jews believe
    it stems from the mother only, unless converted by an Orthodox rabbi.
    This is a problemo in Israel, which has many Russians who are gentiles but want to be Jews. It also affects their law of return.

    Hitler said anyone with one Jewish grandparent was to be gassed.
    The Hungarian fascists went back one further generation. 500,000
    Jews were murdered in 6 weeks in Auschwitz, while the Russians
    were close by.

    Ahmad (Iran) says repeatedly that the “Zionist state is racist, a microbe,
    that will be destroyed”. Does he differentiate?

    Orthdox Jews tend to be conservative, but take millions in charity from
    the government, as do other religious groups.

    In Israel, which has more Jews than the US, over 100,000 are permanent
    draft evaders (see Tal Law), who have large families and received stipends from the government. They do not work for a living, preferring
    years of study of Talmud and Torah. Only a small percentage ever
    go into the army or do community service.

    Yet they depend on the secular Jews to fight their battles, except when
    they demostrate against a parking garage opening on Saturday, sometimes violently. Many do not recognize Zionism, since their messiah has not yet come.

    Speaking of messiahs, most Jews do not believe that Jesus is the messiah.
    Most Christians have second thoughts about Moses ever parting the Red Sea. Go figure. Also, I have heard Christians claim Moses killed people,
    therefore what kind of prophet can he be? Where was his love?

    In Islam, Christians and Jews are not considered human..unless they
    believe in Allah of course.

    Dont’ believe me, go to their websites.

    Most Jews are liberals caus they think Republicans and Conservatives
    are out to convert them. (See John Birch society).
    Hey guys, the Southern Baptists have an organized program to convert us
    and spend billions. Let’s not forget the Mormons and their solicitations.
    Of course Utah is a very conservative state, so lots of blame to go around.

    Eric is right, most Jews are liberals, but I would not go so far as to
    say their liberalism as replaced Judaism.

    Tikkun Olam is also what motivates most Jews, to repair the world
    and help the needy. Nothing wrong with that, if possible.

    But we on the right believe conservatism is really what is needed to
    repair the world. It’s all perspective.

    Owing another 1 trillion dollars in government debt for Obamacare,
    or 30trillion in unfunded medicare, or 11 trillion total dept (to the feds),
    or bankrupt states (California/New York), is not the way to run a society.

    Is promoting same sex marriages correct for us? Jews do.
    Yet we are decreasing at 35,000 year, Seems counterproductive
    to me? And what about the Torah prohabition against this? Doesn’t that matter, or do we pick and choose our laws to obey?

    I mean it is against the law to have relations with an animal. Should
    we circumvent that?

    In Afghanistan, there are boy toys. Boys that are trained to dance and
    throw gestures at admiring men sitting around and gawking. Some have
    sex., while back at the tent, the wives wear burkas and keep their
    mouths shut.

    Yet we are fighting for these warlords. What would Moses and
    Jesus think?

    Eric is right. There is nothing inherently democratic, republican, liberal or conservative in being Jewish.

    Or as one friend told me years ago of a conversation with a gentile,
    “Why are Jews liberal”?

    My response to him, “Ask why Christians are Republicans”?

    The rabbi should stick to being a rabbi and a teacher, and stop
    the political bias. Let his congregation decide for themselves
    who is better for this country, Obama, Reid, Pelosi and Boxer
    or McCain/Palin and Cantor

    I like Cantor. Something about the name.

  2. Well, many of the greatest minds in Judaism have been liberal. So, I think what you have here is an “agree to disagree” moment. Many Jewish people see their faith running parallel to liberal politics. I don’t think they are imposing one on the other, or replacing one with the other. They simply see a more liberal worldview as more compatable with their religious beliefs. Your friend, like me, simply doesn’t see things the way you do. He, like I, sees too much greed, too much disbalance in favor of the rich, too much backwards culturalism. He does not feel that the balance should be tilted in favor of any group, but rather tilted back into balance with all people.


  3. Eagle 6 says:

    ” (Many Jews) support him because his vision for our country — a vision of inclusion, strength through diplomacy, peace and providing for the neediest among us — resonates deeply with Jews.” Therein lies… the lies…and a history of repeating itself. Obama has no vision for this country – he has a myopic, short-sighted intent of self-service. There is little strength in diplomacy unless there is strength within the core of the person or country advocating diplomacy…and Obama doesn’t have strength of character to make his diplomacy credible because there is nothing to back it up except “just words”…which aren’t even his. The Jewish people were acquiescent when the Nazis came calling…and they complied, thinking rationally that all they had to do is follow the Golden Rule, and the Nazis would follow suit…appears the majority still believe in the Golden Rule…but Obama’s Golden Rule is, “He who has the gold, rules”…Name one good thing about Obamacare; one fact about climate change…Yes, we can – hoax and chains…

  4. anitabrenner says:

    On Obama, rabbi doesn’t speak for American Jews

    To the Editor:

    We are current and former congregants of Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater who feel compelled to disagree with his recent comments on Israel (“Jews must stay on visionary Obama’s side”). Rabbi Grater claims to speak for the Jewish community when he says that “The Jewish community knows that President Obama is this kind of leader.” The rabbi is entitled to his views on American politics, but he is not entitled to speak for American Jewry at a time of fraught U.S.-Israel relations brought on by the White House’s ineffective Middle East diplomacy.

    When the White House pushed Israel over a zoning issue in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem, the Arab side felt compelled to be no less demanding than the White House. The president’s position was unpopular with many Americans. Almost immediately, three-quarters of our elected representatives, including 76 senators and more than three-quarters of the House, both Republicans and Democrats, signed bipartisan letters in response demanding that the president reaffirm the U.S.-Israel relationship.

    In support of his political position, Rabbi Grater quotes an ancient text, the Pirkei Avot: “While we are not called up to finish the job, we are certainly called upon to never cease from trying.” Unfortunately, the nature of “the job” is left undefined. If the task is to ensure the survival of the only Jewish state in the world and the millions who live there, then Jews and other supporters of Israel may demand that President Obama not just say that he is a friend of Israel but act like one.

    Edward Vaisbort
    Carolyn Kunin
    Ahuva Einstein
    Pasadena, Calif.

    Anita Brenner
    La Canada Flintridge, Calif.

    Josef Ulloa
    Covina, Calif

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