Full disclosure: this reflects my (Masonides) individual political and religious beliefs, and I apologize in advance if this offends or angers anyone. Please read the post in its entirety before responding. As always, TJP welcomes opinions from folks of all political persuasions and faiths, and we certainly welcome any submissions that might disagree with this piece.
Jews, Faith, Obama, and Idol Worship
I (Masonides) can’t think of words that more precisely define the attitude of many politically liberal Jews toward President Obama than “faith.” Though his record on issues particularly relevant to American Jewry has been mixed at best (more on that later), most of the Jews I know continue to support him with little critical thinking. To a surprisingly large number, the Obama of 2012 is curiously identical to the Obama of 2008 no matter what he does.
I submit that faith is a very destructive attitude to have toward politicians or political parties. And, as described below, I’m not alone.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveichik z’tzl (1903-1993) was a pivotal figure in American Orthodox Judaism. He relayed the opinions below in a speech he gave in 1977, although he made similar comments in other venues. The text below is drawn from The Rav, The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Solveitchik, Volume 2, by Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, 1999.
We may have trust in man, confidence in him, but we may not have faith in him. Faith connotes absoluteness, and no man is worthy of absolute faith. The concept of faith is only applicable to G-d.
I was young at the time, but I felt that we were wrong in our relationship to a certain person. Our relationship to President [Franklin] Roosevelt bordered on idolatry. Had it not been an idolatrous relationship, we would have saved hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Jews from the concentration camps and the crematoria. The State Department claimed that these stories would have hampered the war effort. I do not understand why this was so. Yet the Jewish leaders accepted it.
A layman once suggested to me that we should include another Al Het (a confession for a specific sin or category of sins) in our Yom Kippur confessional: ‘for the sins we have committed in being unresponsive to the cries of our brethren in Europe who were being brutally slaughtered.’ He was quite right! I am not blaming anybody. I am blaming myself. Why didn’t I act like Mordecai when he heard the news about the evil decree issued by Haman and Ahasuerus? Why didn’t I ‘go out into the center of the city and shout bitterly and loudly’ [Esther 4:1]? Why didn’t I shout, yell, cry? Why didn’t I tear my clothes like Mordecai? Why didn’t I awaken the Jewish leaders? I am not blaming anybody. This was the punishment for our being idol worshipers. Our faith in Roosevelt bordered on idolatry.
…Why did Roosevelt disappoint us? Because we worshipped him! If we had been critical of him, we would have had the courage to tell him: ‘No, you are wrong.’ After all, there is no reason why saving Jews from the crematoria would have interfered with the war effort. If we had the courage, we would not have acted like cowards. We would have acted differently in regard to the problems of saving the Jews of Eastern Europe and the status of the Land of Israel at that time. However, we had faith in Roosevelt instead of only confidence. We worshiped him, and as a result Roosevelt disappointed us. That is the punishment for worshiping idols.
As Americans, and particularly as Jews, we have a duty to think objectively and critically of our leaders’ policies. To be clear: I do not compare in magnitude any of President Obama’s actions thus far to neglecting the concentration camps of the Holocaust. But Rabbi Soloveichik’s words show two crucial lessons. First, that placing blind faith in man can lead to disastrous consequences. Second, that G-d’s punishment of the Jewish people is not necessarily meted out through the creation of an external force, but simply by letting the natural consequences of our improper actions play out against us.