Choosing Political Access over Jewish values

Nov 5, 2016 by


870 Nov. 09 06.27 AMBy Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, founder of This World: The Values Network.

A number of years ago I pushed my colleague in Englewood, NJ, Rabbi Menachem Genack, who is national head of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division, to walk to my house on a Shabbat Friday night and meet my close friend Cory Booker, at the time mayor of Newark, NJ. I had already introduced Cory to perhaps hundreds of rabbis from all over the world. Cory and I regularly studied Torah together beginning in our Oxford days, and I wanted Cory to meet leading scholars.

Had I known that a few years later Rabbi Genack would insert himself into my relationship with Cory and do everything in his power to grant Cory the political cover necessary to vote for the Iran nuclear deal that threatened Israel’s survival, without Cory paying a price in his standing in the Jewish community, I might have thought twice.

While Sen Booker was being shunned across the entire American-Jewish community for legitimizing a government sworn to the annihilation of the Jewish people, Rabbi Genack was busy inviting Jewish leaders to meet Mr. Booker, with Obama Administration officials in attendance, to restore Mr. Booker’s reputation.

Rabbi Genack has been rewarded ever since with close proximity to the Senator, something Rabbi Genack now seeks with a vengeance with Hillary Clinton.

Sycophantic Op-Ed

Rarely have I read a more sycophantic piece for a presidential contender by a religious leader than that just penned by Rabbi Genack for Mrs. Clinton. The piece, with the bizarre title, “To the Orthodox: Vote for Hillary,” sounds like a commandment addressed to an ethnic group too ignorant to think for itself.

In his piece, Rabbi Genack assures us that Mrs. Clinton is a nice person, despite the fact that, as he confesses, “these qualities are not evident in her public persona.” The proof? Why, she has granted access to Rabbi Genack, of course! She even wrote a letter to his new baby grandson. And she allowed him to accompany her on a trip to Israel.

Not aware of how star-struck he sounds, Rabbi Genack then makes the incredible argument that, “Hillary knows the Jewish community — including the Orthodox community.” And what makes her an expert in Jewry? “When I informed Hillary during the primary that she had been endorsed by both Kiryas Joel and Williamsburg community leaders, her response was, “What about Boro Park. Clearly, Hillary knows the Orthodox world well.”


Here you have one of American Orthodoxy’s greatest scholars—and Rabbi Genack is a walking encyclopedia of Jewish knowledge—telling us that a candidate for the American Presidency knows the Jewish community because she has heard of an Orthodox-Jewish neighborhood.

Just imagine a candidate for office bragging to the African-American community that he knows their concerns because he has heard of Harlem and you can understand the insulting nature of the argument.

And what of Israel? Rabbi Genack tells us not to worry because, ever-present in Mrs. Clinton’s orbit, he has “watched Hillary interact with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and, unlike President Obama, Hillary has a strong working relationship with the Prime Minister.”

This is curious given that Mrs. Clinton bragged last year of serving as President Obama’s “designated yeller” at Prime Minister Netanyahu. Who even talks like that? Who brags about treating a leader of one of America’s foremost allies like an errant child?

Support for Iran-Nuclear Agreement

Most disappointing is Rabbi Genack’s defense of Mrs. Clinton’s support for the Iran nuclear agreement and her claims to be its original architect. While Rabbi Genack allows that Mrs. Clinton was “wrong” to support the catastrophic deal, “her position is not the same as that of President Obama.”

How so?

Well, “According to recent interviews conducted by the Jerusalem Post with Hillary’s inner circle, she ‘was uncomfortable with Obama’s approach from the start.’”

So Mrs. Clinton publicly praises the Iran deal at every opportunity, including in her debates with Donald Trump before an audience of 80 million, and brags in interviews that she laid the foundation for the agreement. But Rabbi Genack knows that deep down, according to an anonymous “inner circle,” she doesn’t really mean it and was always uncomfortable with the deal.

Without even realizing it, Rabbi Genack is endorsing, in effect, the negative opinion that a majority of Americans have of Mrs. Clinton, which is that of an untrustworthy politician who will do and say anything in order to get elected.

What “Strict Conditions?”

Equally absurd is Rabbi Genack’s claim that Mrs. Clinton’s “support for the Iran deal comes with strict conditions… that we seriously penalize any Iranian cheating, that we sanction Iran for its terrorist activities.”

Seriously? Does Rabbi Genack not understand that the deal gives Iran $150 billion that any informed person knows will be used to fund terrorism? Is Rabbi Genack not aware of the planeloads of cash that have already been shipped to the Mullahs? And where does he think that cash ended up?

Indeed, it was Mrs. Clinton’s State Department that identified Iran as the foremost state sponsor of terrorism.

As for Iran cheating on the deal, by now, everyone knows that even German intelligence reported this summer that there have been “extensive Iranian attempts” to acquire illicit materials, “especially goods that can be used in the field of nuclear technology.”

Yet Mrs. Clinton has not called even once for any sanctions to be re-imposed on Iran.

Attacks on Trump

As for Donald Trump, Rabbi Genack attacks him as having “no real record of engagement with the Jewish community – with our concerns, or our values.”

Let me be clear. I am not an apologist for Mr. Trump. I have endorsed no candidate in this race and I have heaped plenty of criticism on Mr. Trump for policies and actions that run contrary to Jewish values, including the call for a ban on Muslim immigrants, degrading statements about women, and praising dictators like Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Trump has said and done things in this election that demand condemnation. I have done so even as I singled him out as the better candidate on Israel and the Middle East precisely because of his opposition to the Iran deal.

Trump’s Support for Jews

But for all of Mr. Trump’s sins, for Rabbi Genack to argue that a man who supported his daughter in converting to Orthodox Judaism and has three Orthodox-Jewish grandchildren, has no connection to our community is a manifest absurdity.

And this muddled thinking is just appetizer to Rabbi Genack’s main course. That is, the positively ridiculous statement that, “With each passing day—with each new video, recording, or tweet—it becomes clearer and clearer that Donald Trump models the worst type of behavior to our children. Trump has proven to lack any sense of morality, both in public and in private. This man does not deserve the support of our community.”

Informed readers will remember that few Jewish leaders did more to protect Bill Clinton, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, than Rabbi Genack. Indeed, Rabbi Genack advised President Clinton at the time not to apologize to the American people because his private actions were none of their business.

It appears that Rabbi Genack has now changed his mind.

Taking Risks

So let’s end with some moral light on this depraved election. Many of Mr. Trump’s statements and actions in this campaign absolutely deserved to be denounced in the strongest terms. I did so in multiple published columns and social media posts. I did so despite the fact that I enjoy a friendship with members of the Trump family and I am deeply grateful to Donald Trump for his strong support of Israel, his incredible support to his daughter in choosing to be a Jew, and Mr. Trump’s strong opposition to the Iran deal.

I criticized Mr. Trump even though it would close avenues to the candidate. I did so because, as a rabbi, I have a responsibility, first and foremost, to try my best to model Jewish values and place my convictions before political access. I did so despite the fact that I am an imperfect man, with human insecurities, who makes many mistakes.

I say this not to give myself a pat on the back but to remind myself, and the rest of us, that while having the friendship of powerful people may address our insecurities, standing up for what we actually believe in is the only true path to righteousness.

Inappropriate Defense of Clinton

Rabbi Genack is one of American Orthodox-Judaism’s most prominent personalities. I consider him a friend and there was a time when I considered him a mentor. He is a man of integrity and honor. And for that reason, it behooves him to put the interests of his people and Jewish values before political access.

He can support Mrs. Clinton all he wants. There is nothing wrong with that. But to subordinate the interests of his people by defending policies like Mrs. Clinton’s defense of the Iran nuclear agreement or defend her abusive treatment of Prime Minister Netanyahu is just plain wrong.

“When I go to the polls on election day,” Rabbi Genack concludes, “I will be thinking about… respect for the values that Judaism has taught me to cherish.”




The Other Side: If Clinton Wins, Rabbi Genack’s May Be the Only Orthodox Voice She Will Hear

By Susie L. Rosenbluth,

When we received the above piece by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is often called “America’s Rabbi,” we felt it was important to offer the original op-ed by Rabbi Genack as well. That piece can be found below in its entirety.

The op-ed which Rabbi Boteach discusses is not Rabbi Genack’s first piece heavily supporting Mrs. Clinton. As opposed to many others who have endorsed her, Rabbi Genack has made clear he does not think it is unfortunate that she is the Democrats’ standard bearer; he does think she is the lesser of two evils. He has not criticized any of her statements or actions (except that he disagrees with her position on the Iran-nuclear deal). In fact, in an earlier op-ed published by the New York Jewish Week, he said he thinks she is “great.”

He has spent a great deal of time campaigning for Mrs. Clinton, especially in Florida’s Orthodox-Jewish community, where, according to polls, he has been significantly unsuccessful.

But, in the end, that effort might not be for nothing.

If Mr. Trump is elected, the Orthodox-Jewish community, through its leaders as well as his famous daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka (Yael) and Jared Kushner, will have no trouble making its concerns clear to the White House. If Mrs. Clinton is victorious, Rabbi Genack’s may well be the only pro-Israel American-Orthodox Jewish voice that has the President’s ear.

Impressive Credentials

The op-eds by both Rabbi Boteach and Genack appeared originally in The Times of Israel. Rabbi Genack’s on Oct 30, and Rabbi Boteach’s on Nov 3.

While Rabbi Boteach published in full his identifying credentials, Rabbi Genack seemed somewhat cryptic in identifying himself.

Both Rabbis Boteach and Genack are very prominent American-Orthodox-Jewish spiritual leaders. The Washington Post has dubbed Rabbi Boteach “the most famous rabbi in America.” He is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including the recently published The Israel Warrior.

In his piece, Rabbi Genack is identified only as a “rabbi in Englewood, NJ.” While that is, of course, true, many found it surprising that he eliminated both the name of his synagogue—Congregation Shomrei Emunah—as well as his other titles, including CEO of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher Division (which oversees the kosher certification of 6,000 facilities in 83 countries).

He was founding chairman of NORPAC, a pro-Israel political action committee, and still serves on the executive committee of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. A prominent Democrat, he is known as an important operative in the party.

In 2013, the OU published Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership, a virtual love-letter of a book focusing on the correspondence between President Bill Clinton and Rabbi Genack.

The Orthodox Support Trump

When was recently asked about Mr. Trump’s alleged “antisemitism” or, at least, his alleged “courting of antisemites,” we pointed out that while recent polls indicate that the greater-Jewish community, a reliable voting bloc for the Democrats, will behave as usual this year, with 70%-80% voting for Mrs. Clinton, there are two significant exceptions: the Russian-Jewish community and the Orthodox. According to virtually every poll, both those groups are going heavily (about 85%) for the Republican candidate, Mr. Trump.

This means Mr. Trump is overwhelmingly supported by the faction of the American-Jewish community whose primary identification is “Jewish.” While there are members of the secular-Jewish community who strongly identify as Jewish, most have other identities that come first, including professions and family relationships.

Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, tend to see those other identities—accountants, teachers, mothers, fathers, and so on—through the prism of their religious identification. They are Jewish accountants, Jewish mothers, Jewish-Americans.

Polls show Mr. Trump is also the choice not only of most Israelis, but, more significantly, of Israeli-Americans who are eligible to vote.

He Supports His Jewish Family

In addition, agrees with Rabbi Boteach: Mr. Trump, a man who has actively publicly supported the conversion of his daughter and reacts with such pride to her and her family’s adherence to the Orthodox-Jewish tradition is no antisemite. In fact, it’s hard to imagine hard-core antisemites’ ability to support a candidate whose response to Jewish members of his own family is so positive.

While only his daughter, Ivanka (Yael) converted, his son, Eric, was married under a chupah to a Jewish woman (non-Orthodox, it is true, but heartily self-identifying as Jewish); the wife of his son, Donald, Jr., has a Jewish father; and there is evidence that his younger daughter, Tiffany, a graduate, like her father, of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Economics, is dating a Jewish young man.

Because, to date, only Eric and Ivanka have children, this means all eight of Mr. Trump’s grandchildren are Jewish.



To The Orthodox: Vote for Hillary

By Rabbi Menachem Genack, a rabbi in Englewood, NJ

When my daughter Ora and son-in-law Avi recently gave birth to a son, they were contacted by Hillary Clinton’s staff to find out the baby’s name. As the bris was delayed for some time, Ora and Avi could not supply a name when the request arrived. But I did not understand why anyone needed a name — wouldn’t it be sufficient to congratulate the baby’s parents?

Once the baby was named, the parents received two letters from Hillary: one wishing “mazel tov” to the parents, and a second one addressed directly to the baby. Hillary wrote to my grandson Nachum, wishing him “a lifetime of amazing adventures and accomplishments, with those who love you cheering you along the way.”

I have known Hillary Clinton for almost 25 years, and this is the Hillary I know: gracious, kind, and focused on building a better future for our children and grandchildren. While to some, these qualities are not evident in her public persona, they are in fact ever-present. And they underlie her engagement with the Jewish community — both in America, and in Israel.

The NY Senator Knows the Chareidim

Here at home, Hillary knows the Jewish community — including the Orthodox community — and she has been there for us as a US senator from New York. The spokesman for Kiryas Joel told me that endorsing Hillary in the 2016 primary was easy, because as Senator she was always there for his community’s needs.

When I informed Hillary during the primary that she had been endorsed by both Kiryas Joel and Williamsburg community leaders, her response was, “What about Boro Park?”

Clearly, Hillary knows the Orthodox world well; she understands the values and concerns of the community, and she has worked hard over many years to ensure those concerns are taken seriously.

First Lady, NY Senator, and Secretary of State Visited Israel

I can also attest to the strong relationship Hillary has with the Jewish state. Hillary has visited Israel many times. Having accompanied her on two of those visits, I have witnessed the reciprocal positive emotional bond between Hillary and the people of Israel.

That bond spans decades. For example, as First Lady of Arkansas, Hillary brought an idea from Israel to Arkansas: introducing the HIPPY plan — Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters.  Modeled after an Israeli program, HIPPY trains parents from low-income households on how to prepare their children for school, and has been adopted in 23 states.

More recently, I have watched Hillary interact with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and, unlike President Obama, Hillary has a strong working relationship with the prime minister. That relationship has already borne results. To take just a few of the many examples: Hillary worked closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu to negotiate a ceasefire that stopped the barrage of Hamas rockets raining down from Gaza, to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge through the funding of Iron Dome, and to fight BDS and prevent unilateral Palestinian statehood at the UN.


With regard to Iran, it is important to recognize that, while Hillary did support the Iran deal (wrongly, in my opinion), her position is not the same as that of President Obama. According to recent interviews conducted by the Jerusalem Post with Hillary’s inner circle, she “was uncomfortable with Obama’s approach from the start.”

Hillary is an advocate for a muscular foreign policy, and she recognizes that Iran is a profound danger not only to Israel, but also to the United States. And her support for the Iran deal comes with strict conditions, as she made clear in remarks at the Brookings Institution: that we seriously penalize any Iranian cheating, that we sanction Iran for its terrorist activities, and that we do not hesitate to use military force if Iran ever attempts to acquire a nuclear weapon.

Ultimately, what Israel needs more than anything else is a steady America, which is both respected and engaged around the world, working as Israel’s key ally and advocate. That is what Hillary represents.

Businessman Has No Political Record

Contrast all this with Donald Trump. The differences are stark.

He shows a total lack of education and preparation on foreign policy. He represents an isolationist and unpredictable America — one that cozies up to our enemies, and claims to put “America First.” His embrace of that isolationist slogan, which first came into vogue in the 1930s, appeals to failed ideas of the past. And his unpredictability on Israel — first pledging to be “neutral,” and then flip-flopping — is highly dangerous.

Domestically, Trump has no real record of engagement with the Jewish community — with our concerns, or our values. In fact, with each passing day — with each new video, recording, or tweet — it becomes clearer and clearer that Donald Trump models the worst type of behavior to our children. Trump has proven to lack any sense of morality, both in public and in private. This man does not deserve the support of our community.

When I go to the polls on Election Day, I will be thinking about Hillary’s intelligence, and decency, and respect for the values that Judaism has taught me to cherish. And I will think about her focus on building a better future for our community, as Mr. Trump campaigns on some imagined better past.

I will also think about my grandson Nachum, and all of our grandchildren, and the kind of society we will leave to them. And I will know that they will be fortunate to grow up in a world where Hillary Clinton is President of the United States.

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