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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  ( has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


The odds are that you are not going to like one of the articles below. However, I highly recommend you carefully read both. The reason being - it is important to understand the position of people with whom you disagree. Why is it important? Because no one except for G-d is 100% right. Almost every perspective has some degree of truth that needs to be taken into consideration when formulating your own position.  

Unfortunately, we are living in highly partisan times, where some people view their fellow countryman as an enemy that must be eradicated, as opposed to a good person with a different perspective. This situation will end up destroying our country if people don’t tone it down and listen, really listen to one another.

With this in mind, I share with you two differing perspectives regarding the upcoming presidential election. The first article was penned by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, the former President of the Union for Reform Judaism. In it he explains why Jews from left to right will favor Joe Biden. The second article was penned by Binyamin Rose, the Editor At Large of Mishpacha Magazine, who explains why traditionally minded Jews favor Donald Trump. 

Blog #1 

The Democratic Party convention is over. My take-away is a simple one: In November, American Jews will be voting for Joe, and in record numbers. 

In the 2016 election, 71 percent of the U.S. Jewish community voted for Clinton, and 23 percent voted for Trump. My guess is that this time around, Joe Biden will do substantially better, perhaps breaking all previous records for Jewish votes received by a candidate for president.  

Part of the reason is the Democrats did an impressive job in presenting the first social-media convention in America’s history. The convention was not really a convention at all, but a carefully planned mixture of live presentations and videos, filmed in every state of the Union. Absent the drama and the tumult of a large, in-person meeting, and given the possibility of technical glitches, it was initially unclear how all of this would work. 

But while some of the sizzle of the traditional convention was missing, the virtual version succeeded remarkably well in conveying the Democratic message and in personalizing Joe Biden.

Speeches were shorter and more focused than usual. Average Americans spoke frequently and movingly of their pain in difficult times and of their admiration for the candidate. And Biden came across as what he mostly is: a decent, regular guy who has overcome personal tragedy multiple times, has a plan for the future, and cares about working Americans. 

The Republicans, of course, will try to do the same with their man. Yet what was possible with the amiable Joe Biden will be far more challenging with the belligerent, vituperative, and often menacing Donald Trump. 

But the majority of Americans, Jews most definitely included, are getting profoundly weary of the president’s snarling persona.  

Professor Louis Menand, writing in The New Yorker, wisely noted that "voters get tired of one-trick ponies." This was true of Joseph McCarthy, he suggested, and is true of Donald Trump as well.  

And he’s right. While much of any political convention is political rhetoric and show business, the prominence at the Democratic convention of regular people just trying to live their lives gave this event a different dimension. And what we saw was that these people, clearly sincere and speaking in their own words, had had enough. Beaten down by the pandemic, rising joblessness, and record inequality, they have lost patience with the "Fake News/They’re Out To Get Me" bellowing of the president.

True, in 2016 Trump managed to convince 63 million Americans, suspicious of elites and tired of establishment neglect, that he was on their side. And yes, at the beginning there was something weirdly fascinating about his outrageous mendacity, his endless stream of Twitter lies, and his disregard of constitutional constraints. But Americans assumed that this was a sideshow put on for their benefit, and that, sooner rather than later, a plan or a program to help them would emerge.

But that never happened, of course.  And now, as millions of people lose their health insurance and bodies pile up from Covid-19, all that Americans are left with is deadly incompetence, obscene dishonesty, and pervasive corruption. More and more of them no longer believe that Trump is on their side, and his threats and bullying generate mostly exhaustion and disgust.

And where do the Jews fit in?   

American Jews share the moral revulsion of most Americans at Trump’s actions and personal conduct. In the words of Michelle Obama, they yearn for a president with a "moral compass," especially if they are conversant with the moral commands of the Jewish tradition. And that is why Biden will do so well in winning Jewish votes. 

But there is more to it than that. There are specific Jewish interests at stake here. There is an unmistakable whiff of danger to Jews in what is happening in America, and Jewish antennae, always sensitive to potential threats, are up.

As a community, American Jews are classical liberals. They value stability and social cohesion. They worry about serious poverty and deep inequality among their fellow citizens. They know that tumultuous times, economic instability, and social tension inevitably lead to social unrest — and ultimately to anti-Semitism.  

America now is a deeply divided society and more unequal economically than it has been in almost a century. In many ways, it is simply a failed state. In President Trump, Jews see a president who fosters division, thrives on disunity, and has failed to protect the American people against illness and financial ruin. And even if he wanted to solve America’s problems, he would be unable to do so. As things get worse, he gets meaner and angrier, careening between inaction and ineptitude.

Jews in America, to put it plainly, are at risk. It is not an accident that anti-Semitism at this moment is at its highest levels since World War II. Jews are a small minority in America, but a successful minority.  They are among the "haves" at a time when the "have nots" are growing in number and increasingly desperate. And Jews know that they will only be safe in a society where people have work and feel secure, where they can feed their children and see a doctor, and where a safety net is something that really keeps you safe. And if creating such a society means that many Jews — and others who can afford it — pay higher taxes, so be it; for American Jews, to do so is both moral and necessary.

Joe Biden could provide the leadership necessary to create such a society. He has the qualifications, as the convention again demonstrated, and Jewish Americans hope that he will do so. What they are certain of is that Donald Trump will not. 

Donald Trump is not an anti-Semite. It is important to be clear about that. But it is equally clear that he is incapable of creating the kind of country in which Jewish Americans can be confident of their community’s well-being. And it is clear as well that despite living in New York City his whole life, and having a Jewish daughter, Trump frequently displays an attitude toward Jews that is awkward at best and sneering and even contemptuous at worst.

Other than his remarks on Charlottesville’s neo-Nazis, his most remembered comment relating to American Jews is his observation in 2019 that "any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty." Disloyalty to America? To the Jewish people? To Israel? He didn’t say, and it hardly matters. His words were appallingly ignorant and offensive to Jews of every persuasion and outlook. The only reason that they are not mentioned more frequently is that Trump’s public discourse is filled with a seemingly endless series of such comments. But it is hard to find much comfort in the fact that insults, baseless accusations, and misinformation are simply a part of his character, whether referencing Jews or somebody else. 

And finally: What about his support for Israel?  

Jewish Trump supporters argue that Trump’s backing for Israel justifies setting aside other indications of the president’s shortcomings and unfitness for office. This assumption, of course, is highly questionable, as even many in the Orthodox world have come to realize.  

But with regard to the specifics of Trump’s Israel policy, there are three things that need to be said.

First, President Trump deserves thanks and praise for a number of steps he has taken, including supporting Israel at the United Nations, moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, and facilitating normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Credit where credit is due.

Second, Trump’s approach to Israel must be seen in the context of his overall foreign policy, which is a chaotic and unpredictable disaster. An isolationist, unilateralist and America Firster, Trump has withdrawn from a long list of treaties and alliances, failed to respond to Russian provocations, and is friendlier to Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin than to our democratic allies. When you add his handling of Covid-19 to everything else he has done in the foreign policy realm, what you have is the indisputable fact that America has become a laughing stock in the world.

Third, and most important, is that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are a dream team when it comes to support for Israel. Both are strong, reliable friends of the Jewish state. Both are sensible centrists who would rebuild support for Israel as a bipartisan cause. Both back a two-state solution, which is the consensus position of the American Jewish community. Pushing radical and anti-Israel voices to the margins, Biden made certain that the Democratic platform reflects his own moderation and love for the Jewish state.

In the short term, any American president will be focusing on domestic concerns, but Biden understands the world in a way that Trump never will. Who will do the best job in restoring American credibility, American alliances, and American standing in the world? And if Israel is truly threatened, who will ultimately be the best and most reliable defender of the Jewish state? To both questions, the answer is Joe Biden.

In short, Israel is not a reason to support Donald Trump. It is yet another reason to embrace Joe Biden.

With one convention over and another getting underway, my prediction is: Biden will get 80-85 percent of the Jewish vote. And he will deserve it.

Blog #2

Only 6% of voters who cast ballots for Barack Obama in 2008 voted for Donald Trump in 2016. I’m one of them. Political affiliation played no role in my decision. I’m a registered Democrat who often votes Republican. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in North Jersey. We cried when Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey in 1968 and exulted when Ronald Reagan routed Jimmy Carter in 1980.

This year poses a fresh dilemma.

President Trump has proven himself as a consistent supporter of Israel. We feel an affinity to the president’s cadre of Orthodox Jewish advisers, including Jared Kushner. Jared’s father, Charlie, was my high school classmate at the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The Kushners wore their commitment to Jewish causes and Israel on their sleeves.

I also became professionally acquainted with Joe Biden in the 1980s, interviewing him at length when he was Delaware’s junior senator and I served as news director at WDOV-Radio in Dover, Delaware. I always found Biden well-versed in both domestic and foreign policy, with nuanced views on the issues. We’ve lost contact over the years, but no one can convince me Biden’s morphed into a reckless socialist.

I’m only one man, one vote. But in my current role as editor at large for Mishpacha Magazine, the most influential Orthodox weekly with a quarter of a million readers globally, I’ve kept my finger on the pulse of that community since 2004.

Our readership is overwhelmingly pro-Trump. That doesn’t mean they like everything he says, or how he says it. As Sen. Lindsey Graham once put it, the president is a street fighter. But Orthodox Jews see Trump as their man on the street, standing up for causes they believe in, including Israel and religious freedoms by appointing conservative judges to federal courts. A Nishma poll taken in January 2020 showed some 56% of the ultra-Orthodox and 29% of the Modern Orthodox voted for Trump in 2016, and his approval rating had risen to 68% among the ultra-Orthodox and 36% amongst the modern Orthodox earlier this year.

Recent events have only solidified Trump’s standing, despite the coronavirus pandemic, which most Orthodox Jews view as primarily a health issue and not one that politicians can solve. Biden can critique Trump from the basement of his Wilmington, Delaware, home all he wants, but he can’t prove retroactively that he would have done better.

Aside from catching COVID-19, the two outbreaks Orthodox Jews fear most are a breakdown of law and order, and rising anti-Semitism. To an extent, the two dovetail. American Orthodox Jewish voters are concentrated in and around major cities, where Jewish institutions have spent millions of dollars since 9/11 on security upgrades. We have watched in dread as this summer’s legitimate demonstrations against police brutality against Black Americans quickly gave way to rioting and looting, with big-city mayors looking the other way. Jewish businesses were targeted at a time when Orthodox Jews, with their unique dress, are already on edge, having been singled out for beatings and assaults in increasing numbers in recent years.

Neither Trump nor Biden can wave a magic wand and provide redress for hundreds of years of grievances. That’s a formidable task for the next administration, and probably many presidents to come, no matter who wins this year. But in the meantime, we must feel safe at home, on the street, in our synagogues and yeshivas and at our places of business.

Law and order must be restored. Police should be retrained and reeducated, not defunded. Biden does not support defunding, but Orthodox Jews view the Republicans in general, and Trump in particular, as ready, willing and able to deploy federal resources to restore order. As a senator, Biden championed law and order; however, candidate Biden now walks a tightrope with his party’s progressive wing that tolerates the mayhem.

There are other societal issues that explain why Orthodox Jews have cast their votes in larger numbers for conservative Republicans, such as the family values championed by Ronald Reagan and the Bushes. We believe that marriage is a holy bond between a man and a woman. We also support government funding of secular studies curriculums within parochial schools, as many Western countries do. On those issues, we often have more in common with Evangelical Christians than our fellow Jews, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and favor Republican presidents who will appoint more conservative justices to the Supreme Court.

I haven’t even mentioned Israel yet, or Iran. These were bigger campaign issues in 2016 than in 2020, but suffice it to say, President Trump has amassed a strong record of solid support for Israel. He has restored sanctions on Iran, moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. Let’s not forget his United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who took on the entire international community at the UN over its obsession with Israel.

Trump’s “deal of the century” for Middle East peace has flaws and faces stiff challenges, despite optimism over the flowering of diplomatic relations between Israel and other Arab nations. But in the minds of many Orthodox Jews, for whom the biblical borders of Israel are sacrosanct, 30% of the West Bank under Trump beats the 4% that Israel was left with under the Oslo agreements that President Obama supported and that a Biden administration would likely revive.

While I noted earlier that some 80% of the ultra-Orthodox voted for Trump in 2016, what about the 20% who didn’t? One answer is that many are disturbed by Trump’s divisive rhetoric, and the consequent deterioration of public discourse, opening the door for a major uptick in anti-Semitism.

Yes, political discourse has descended to gutter level. Trump bears his share of the blame for that. Judaism has laws for kosher speech, just as it has for kosher food. Jewish law forbids the use of derogatory nicknames. We’d like to see the president eliminate the name-calling from his political lexicon.

Trump’s diatribes have emboldened far-right extremists and white nationalists. At the same time, Democratic progressives have ramped up their anti-Israel rhetoric, supporting the BDS movement under the banner of free speech. Both parties are guilty of fomenting anti-Semitism. But for an Orthodox Jew, what’s the bigger present threat? A far-right extremist in a distant rural town, or a looter in a Jewish neighborhood?

Anti-Semitism has been alive and kicking for centuries. I haven’t seen any recent polling of KKK voters, and I don’t expect to, but it’s a safe assumption that most vote Republican, whether or not the candidate’s last name is Trump. To label Trump a white nationalist because some of his supporters are is as unfair as branding Biden a socialist because some progressives in his party speak approvingly of aspects of Fidel Castro’s regime.

In the final analysis, among America’s Orthodox Jews, a primary fear propelling support for Trump is the rise of the progressive left. Many Orthodox Jews are pessimistic about the future of their cities and the country as a whole should the progressive agenda be enacted, with its very real potential to transform America into a much more hostile place for religion.

They see Trump as a defender of the values they hold dear, and for them, a vote for Trump in November is a vote to keep the Orthodox Jewish lifestyle viable in the United States.