Why The “Rabbi” In Me Likes Bernie Sanders
Let me first establish that I am not soliciting votes or politicking for any party or candidate. Furthermore, although I consider myself a compassionate conservative, I do not support many ideas and values of the so called compassionate or conservative candidates. While I believe in helping the less fortunate, I don’t believe in policies that promote staying less fortunate. While I realize the importance of all people having access to medical care, I also believe that one’s personal responsibility is of paramount importance. While I believe that the United States was built by refugees and that people suffering from prejudices and religious intolerance should be granted special status, I don’t believe we should grant amnesty to people that bucked the system and came to our country illegally. While I believe in the importance of giving charity, I don’t believe that anyone other than myself should dictate where and to whom my charity dollar goes. While I dislike paying taxes, I understand the need to pay my fair share. I don’t, however, feel that I should be mandated to pay an unfair share.
Now you know how the Jack in me sees the political landscape. The rabbi in me sees things from a completely different perspective. The Jack in me focused on this week’s Torah portion that communicates that we have a moral obligation to use our past experiences to reduce the pain and stress of the weak and frail. It states: And thou shalt not oppress a convert, widow and orphan; we should loan money to those in need but don’t charge them interest.
However, the rabbi in me focuses on the opening words of this week’s Torah portion. It states: V’eleh hamishpatim asher tasim lifneihem – and these are the ordinances which you have placed before them. The Talmud deduces that from these words, Torah law should be adjudicated before a Bet Din – Jewish court, and not in front of the civil judicial system. The reason for this law may be that the Torah wants to create a line of demarcation between religious law and civil matters. The concept is akin to the importance of separating church (shul) from state. (You see the founding fathers were actually biblical scholars.)
Thus, while many of the candidates’ pontificate on how their Christian values are in sync with the American way, it is actually quite the contrary. I can’t support candidates whose vision for the United States is incongruent with our founding principles or who promote Christian values and equate them with American values. Even the more moderate candidates of both political parties speak from church pulpits professing a firm belief in God and our country, trying to synthesize the two. The only candidate that I need not worry about is Bernie Sanders. He firmly and unequivocally states that he doesn’t believe in organized religion and won’t be influenced by its dogma and morals. Although I disagree with his theology, I must admit that I think it behooves all presidents to follow the dictates of this week’s Torah portion and not use the Bible, Torah, or Koran to force a particular religious viewpoint on society as a whole. As a rabbi, I am far more comfortable with the absence of religious coercion than with the alternative.
The Talmud explains that the word Mishpatim refers to laws that are rational and would be socially mandated even in the absence of a Torah law. For Example, tzedakah, loaning money to the poor, treating widows, orphans and converts with dignity and respect; these are all ideals that are universal in nature. However also included are laws that are totally inconsistent with societies values. For example, the courts selling a thief as a temporary slave to pay his debt, the right of a father to marry off his minor daughter, the concept of not charging interest on a loan. So how can I so easily accept the position of the Torah when it so deeply contrasts secular values? Surely, it behooves a logical rational person to acquiesce to the wisdom of the majority opinion. Well, after months of seeing, hearing and reading the monotonous verbiage articulated by our countries smartest and finest, I begin to question should I place my faith in God or man. And when the overwhelming majority of rational thinking citizens cheer for them, and think these are the best we have to offer as presidential candidates, then I no longer worry about God’s laws being irrational. I begin to contemplate that due to a lack of use, the evolutionary process may have atrophied modern man’s ability to rationally think. Thus, my question ceases to be valid. And for all with minds that have not started the atrophying process; the Jack in me usually has dominance over the rabbi in me.
Rabbi Jack Engel