As of today, some 400 rabbis have signed on with a new organization called Rabbis for Obama. Never before in American history have rabbis gotten together in this way to endorse a presidential candidate, according to Brandeis’s Jonathan Sarma, and he should know. JTA’s got the story.
What seems to have driven the rabbis to take this step is the campaign of viral anti-Obama emails targeted at Jewish voters. Their letter’s penultimate paragraph reads:
We are fully aware that a smear campaign against Senator Obama has been waged in the Jewish community, and we feel it is our duty as Jewish leaders to fight for the truth and against Lashon Hara. Senator Obama has been viciously attacked using innuendoes, rumors, and guilt by association, and we urge our fellow American Jews to judge Senator Obama based on his own record and the clear statements he has made about his personal beliefs and principles. Continuing efforts to defame him and distort his record help perpetuate a deeply disturbing political process in our country.
Lashon Hara is Hebrew for “evil tongue,” and in the Jewish tradition it signifies no small sin. Come Yom Kippur in a couple of weeks, and Jews around the world will be repenting of it. In effect, the rabbis are saying that Jews who pass on the emails have something to atone for.
In this regard, it’s worth noting the complaint of Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Coalition, to JTA: “It’s irresponsible and unprofessional as rabbis to give a hechsher in accusing us of Lashon Hara.” In fact, the rabbis made no such accusation; Brooks claimed the charge of “guilt by association” referred to the Coalition’s linking of Obama to his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. But the emails have asserted far more noxious associations than Wright. And last week’s quasi-push poll sponsored by the Coalition traded in half-truths and innuendo. So maybe it was Brooks’ guilty conscience speaking.
In any event, the rabbis make a point of saying that they are speaking as individuals, not “from the pulpit”; they are identified by place of residence, not synagogue. Any synagogue member, of course, can easily go on line and find out if her rabbi has signed on. I doubt there’ll be many surprises.