If Ryan, why not Cantor?


Paul Ryan has been sufficiently stung by the Ayn Rand kerfuffle that he’s felt obliged to defend his fidelity to Catholic Social Teaching, which he describes as “indispensable for officeholders.” Now that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has become the Economic Conservative of the Hour, should we get to hear how the only Jewish Republican in Congress feels about Jewish Social Teaching? Of course we should.

A month ago, Smarya Rosenberg, the disaffected Chabadnik who runs FailedMessiah.com, took a dim view of Cantor’s Jewish social values.

Judaism mandates that the community and each of its members take care
of those who are in need. That means supporting them at the pre-poverty
level of their existence and doing so with dignity and respect,
including providing housing, jobs, food, clothing, medical care and
other assistance – all areas Cantor has voted to cut or supports

Make no mistake about it – Eric Cantor’s values are not Jewish values.

But let’s consider what conservative evangelicals say about voluntary charity and what conservative Catholics say about subsidiarity and imagine their Jewish opposite numbers saying: “Of course we believe that the Jewish community and individual Jews should take care of those in need. What we don’t believe is that this should be mandatory public policy.” Voila! Jewish Social Teaching in all its Cantorial splendor!

Or maybe not. In that selfsame Holiness Code in the Book of Leviticus that religious conservatives are so attached to for its apparent proscription of homosexual behavior,  God establishes a mandatory entitlement program as part of agricultural policy in the Land of Israel:

When you reap the
harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or
gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for
the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God. (23:22)

I wonder if that social teaching–and what it suggests about social welfare policy generally–is indispensable for U.S. officeholders too.