As everyone who follows American politics knows, a special election was held yesterday in New York’s Ninth Congressional District – a stone’s throw from CLR headquarters here at St. John’s – to replace former representative Anthony Weiner (D), who resigned because of a sexting scandal. For the first time in nearly 90 years, in a district where registered Democrats have a 3-1 advantage, the district went Republican. In fact, it wasn’t all that close. Bob Turner, the Republican candidate, beat his Democratic opponent, State Assemblyman David Weprin, by 8 percentage points.
Numerous factors contributed to Turner’s upset victory: the bad economy, voters’ disapproval of President Obama’s job performance, in particular, his perceived toughness on Israel, a serious issue in a district with a large Jewish electorate. But, over at Mirror of Justice, Robert George notes that religion also helped turn the race, in a way that will interest CLR readers:
In the run up to the election, a group of Orthodox rabbis, most from Brooklyn, but including others, notably Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky and Rabbi Simcha Bunim Cohen, two nationally prominent Orthodox Jewish authorities, published a letter stating that “it is forbidden to fund, support, or vote for David Weprin.” The reason? As a member of the New York state legislature, Weprin, despite his Orthodox Jewish beliefs, voted to redefine marriage to include same-sex partnerships. This, the rabbonim declared, was chillul Hashem—a desecration, or bringing of shame, on God’s name. The rabbis went on to say that “Weprin’s claim that he is Orthodox makes the chillul Hashem even greater.”
The letter from the rabbonim … assert[ed] that under Jewish law “it is incumbent on every Jew” to support and vote for Weprin’s opponent, “if the opposing candidate is committed to safeguarding the moral values that made made this Republic great, including the educational, religious. and parental freedoms of Torah adherents, defending family values, opposing abortion on demand, protecting the moral environment, opposing the radical LGBT (To’aiva) agenda, including opposing legislation of civil unions, as well as defending the security of our brothers internationally, particularly in Eretz Yisroel.”
In other words, the rabbis argued fairly explicitly that a vote for Turner was a religious duty.
I’m not qualified to say whether the rabbis were correct as a matter of Jewish law, or the extent to which Orthodox Jews would view such a statement as binding. From the point of view of political theory, I’m not prepared to say that the rabbis overstepped the bounds of permissible civic engagement. Some of CLR Forum’s readers will surely disagree. However one feels about the issue, though, the rabbis’ statement provides a fascinating example of religion’s continuing influence in American electoral politics. — MLM