All the way back in August, 40 Orthodox rabbis signed a letter “to condemn Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and intolerant policy proposals.” Though only three months have passed since then, August now seems like a lifetime ago, so JP Updates checked in with two of the letter’s New York-based signatories to see their current position.
Rabbi Ari Hart was one of three rabbis with The Bayit Hebrew Institute of Riverdale who signed the letter.
“As a synagogue, we certainly don’t endorse any particular candidate, and as a rabbinic team, we don’t all share the same political views,” Hart said. “But in this climate of hatred, we independently as individuals felt like the responsible thing to do was speak out and lament the fallen state of our civil discourse.”
That discourse certainly hasn’t improved since August, especially after press discovered a 2005 recording in which Trump bragged about assault, though Trump defended himself by calling it “locker room talk” during the second presidential debate.
“Anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny: I don’t think those have a place in our locker rooms and certainly not at the highest levels of community discourse,” Hart said.
Yet it’s even worse, said Hart, since the problems aren’t limited to mere language. He pointed out that just the day before, an arsonist had set fire to a black church in Mississippi and spray-painted “Vote Trump” outside.
“Incendiary language has real consequences and must be challenged,” Hart said. “We know that from our history and we must speak up when it’s directed at us and at others.”
Unlike Hart, Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, who teaches at Humboldt Law School, has said that he is personally voting for Hillary Clinton. However, he calls that a personal decision, unlike his public denouncement of Trump.
He shares with Hart a special anxiety over Trump’s language.
“The way he talks about immigrants, and the way he talks about women, is so far beyond what the Torah would comment as a tolerable way to speak,” Blanchard said.
He went on to cite some of Trump’s most infamous moments, such as insulting prisoner-of-war John McCain and sparing with the Gold Star Khan family.
“He just doesn’t have the temperament required,” Blanchard said. “He just doesn’t think.”
All that said, Blanchard was willing to find some common ground with Trump supporters, saying that Trump is tapping into important questions for America society.
“There are high rates of unemployment among white males,” Blanchard said. “There are people who do need jobs, and I don’t think it’s wrong to ask how fluid borders should be.”
The problem, then, is not with Trump’s questions but with Trump himself.
“The kind of problems we have can’t be solved by what he’s advocating, if we know what he’s advocating at all,” Blanchard said.
The one thing that Blanchard can’t accept from Trump’s critics is accusations of fascism or totalitarianism, and he called Hitler comparisons “outrageous.”
“It doesn’t improve things just to swing words at him. That’s doing to him what I’m objecting to him doing,” Blanchard said.