Politics, Religion

Exponent's Tobin: Keep God Out of Politics

With concerns about the religious Right’s power-plays dominating the discourse in the liberal Jewish community these days, Jonathan Tobin, executive editor of Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent has found it an opportune time to take the religious Left to task for what he decries as their hypocrisy.
In the run-up to the 2004 election, Brad Pilcher wrote an excellent op-ed for Jewsweek, “Be a Good Jew and Vote Democratic”, which was subsequently followed by another excellent op-ed by Micah Ghertner, “Be a Good Jew and Disagree.” The back-and-forth, which evidenced that both Right- and Left-wing views can be substantiated by Torah, raises a salient point which Tobin seems to articulate rather well:

There are issues on which a moral imperative can be invoked. But claiming our faith mandates a specific stand on foreign policy or at what rate taxes are set isn’t exactly kosher.
If the Torah can be invoked, as it has been by some liberals, to demand that there be no decreases in public entitlements, then what really sets them apart from their counterparts on the religious right who speak in the same foolish fashion?
Only their own belief in their own good intentions.
Otherwise, it is the same game of imposing religion on politics. What they deem wrong when it’s done by their foes is just as wrong when they do it themselves.

I kind of think that the religious Left’s issue is not with the invocation of God nor religion to justify a political stance, but rather with the positions themselves taken by the Right that God’s name is being invoked to defend. However, considering you can find a pathway through Torah to substantiate any position you wish to take, and that, ultimately, no one truly knows what God’s will is, isn’t it safer and more responsible to leave God out of the conversation, and justify your position on its own “secular” merits?

10 thoughts on “Exponent's Tobin: Keep God Out of Politics

  1. Tobin is a hypocrite. The exponent routinely defines certain perspectives – all right wing – as appropriate for the paper. He fired a journalist I know for – of all things -being too objective!
    What he objects to is the fraying of a supposed Jewish right wing public consensus that he an use like a club against Democrats and peaceniks. while the left has no monopoly on God’s truth, it is essential that religious folks publicly debate their understanding of God’s truth, from both right and left perspectives. Why silence the debate just now, as left reliigous voices start to emerge in strength?

  2. Mobius
    Mr Tobin stated that “There are issues on which a moral imperative can be invoked.” which implies there are times when God/Torah can be brought into the picture.
    When you said “However, considering you can find a pathway through Torah to substantiate any position you wish to take, and that, ultimately, no one truly knows what God’s will is, isn’t it safer and more responsible to leave God out of the conversation, and justify your position on its own “secular” merits?”,
    were you disagreeing with him or just amplifying his point on the issues when he would agree that God/Torah shouldn’t be brought in.
    If we agree that there are issues when a moral imperative (Torah) should be brought in and some where not, it seems that there is plenty of room for discussion/disagreement of which issues fall into which category.
    It reminds me of the story told of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter and his wife who reportedly had agreed that he’d handle spiritual matters and she’d handle the material and then spent many a day debated which category a given matter fell into.

  3. I think some essential concepts are being confused here. When people are debating the CONSTITUTIONALITY of a given law or activity, only secular arguments are acceptable. But when debating MORALITY, there’s nothing wrong with religious arguments (except that, of course, if the debaters don’t agree on which religion is valid, the sides will be talking past one another).
    So far as I know, there’s nothing in Judaism that strictly separates religious morality from political morality. If a Jewish conservative and a Jewish liberal both agree on which Jewish texts define Judaism (and in what way), I see no reason why each shouldn’t try to show that those texts back up their respective positions.
    I’ve never had a problem with liberals/ leftists attempting to ground their positions in Torah. It’s just that most of the time, the attempts are laughably lame – usually a brief, fortune-cookie lenghth quotation from the Bible or Talmud torn from its context, commentaries ignored, and no knowledge of, let alone attempt to explain, other opposing passages.

  4. Quite frankly, the left has been uselessly quiet on religious imperatives – it is the right which has been invoking the name of God ad nauseum. It defies credibility for someone to take the Left to task on more than a sidenote. As other commentors have already written, it makes it pretty clear that the Philadelphia paper is both right-wing, and a significant part of the whining right-wing God crowd. Not credible. Not worth reading unless someone can point to something that the paper editorializes about less fashionably hypocritical.

  5. So how does that work? When Leftists complain about the status quo (pretty much part of the definition of Leftist) it’s called “protest”. When right-wingers complain, it’s called “whining”. Oh, so clever!

  6. “what gives the status quo the right to complain about the minority? they’re the ones in charge getting their way. ”
    I’m not sure if your’e talking about the complaints of the religious right, or more generally about “status quo” vs. “minority”. Either way, maybe it’s time to recognize that the United States (and Israel, and most other places) are not nearly that simple. The status quo itself is often ambiguous and is constantly shifting (examples: to what extent are conservatives running the US today? do our sexual harassment laws a) still leave women inadequately protected, b) give women an unwarranted and much-abused weapon to extort money with, or c) are just right?). The average person is often part of the status quo in some respects and not in others. And in a huge sprawling country of 300 million, with power diversified between government (itself split into federal, state and local versions), private economic interests (millions of large and small employers), and autonomous cultural, social and religious arbiters, and with numerous (and often overlapping) political, religious, and racial/ethnic groups, no one of which can take power alone, I don’t think you can readily identify who is “in charge getting their way”. And even if you could, I would remind you that because of Constitutionally-granted rights , even a group that “gets its way” is severely limited in what it can do to other groups. Hence, they (the former group) can still have a right to complain.

  7. let us not forget that once upon a time God was politics, i.e. in the times of Moses and before Israel demanded a king like the pagans, and rejected God’s direct Word. God and politics cannot be seperated coz its upon God’s word tht we MUST base our laws and what not, and not on “secular Merits”.

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