After the Yale Daily News published my first op-ed a few weeks ago, I received an email from an alumnus — let’s call him Ted. Although he described my piece as “well constructed and somewhat informative,” my excitement waned when I read his complaint that my “liberal bias clouded the message.” I was confused because I focused exclusively on the ways that the pandemic has disrupted the performing arts, especially on college campuses. My liberal bias? While briefly acknowledging the myriad crises that might demand our attention ahead of the arts, I mentioned President Trump’s repeated efforts to incite violence.
But the real shocker came when he announced, “I cannot understand why a person of the Jewish faith can ever vote Democrat,” seizing on my fleeting reference to having sung in synagogue. Surely a Jewish Democrat is illogical, he added, because “Obama ran around the Middle East kissing Muslim butts” while “Trump … is making peace in the Middle East.”
Ted made a series of assumptions about me, about what it means to be Jewish and about the political choices that he thinks Judaism supposedly requires us to make. Ted got a few things right — I’m Jewish and a staunch Democrat — but his inability to reconcile these two identities by assuming all Jews should be Republicans misses a broader point. I am a progressive because of, not in spite of, my Jewish upbringing. My only bias is towards compassion, charity and justice; to me, the policies of today’s Republican Party seem antithetical to these values.
Trump is no friend of the Jewish people. He has a decades-long history of anti-Semitism, including calling neo-Nazis “very fine people.” Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t view Jews as real Americans, as evidenced by his call earlier this week with American Jewish leaders in which he referred to Israel as “your country.”
Evidently, Ted subscribes to this way of thinking too. Like many, he incorrectly concluded that my Judaism translates to blind support of Israel. It doesn’t, but even if it did, my Judaism would not require me to reject the Iran nuclear deal. Indeed, a broad consensus of Israeli defense and national security officials agreed that Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement posed serious safety risks for both Israel and the world. Since then, Iran has tripled its enriched uranium stockpile and may have enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon by the end of the year.
Likewise, while the recent Bahrain and United Arab Emirates agreements may prove beneficial to Israel in a vacuum, Trump has still failed to address the fundamental challenge facing the region. These deals are a distraction from the long-term goal of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, a prerequisite for lasting peace.
My views on politics as a Jewish American are not limited to Israel and the Middle East. While I acknowledge that others might reach a different conclusion, the ethical codes described in our sacred Jewish texts point me towards a broad progressive political ethos.
For example, Leviticus tells us not to “stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor,” while the Talmud reminds us, “One who takes a single life, it is though they destroy the entire world. And one who saves a life, it is as though they have saved the world.” So I support saving lives — and in particular Black and brown lives — through demilitarizing the police and providing Medicare for All. I mourn the 200,000 souls lost due to Trump’s disgraceful dereliction of duty over the last six months, and I condemn his apathetic response: “It is what it is.”
After God finished creating the world, an act we celebrated this weekend during Rosh Hashanah, God commanded us to protect this creation. Meanwhile, the Midrash tells us, “Do not destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to make it right again.” So I proudly support the Green New Deal.
The Talmud argues that one must not sell weapons to someone suspected of wishing harm to others. By completing that transaction, the seller has implicated themselves in the violent act that may follow. So I proudly support universal background checks and gun violence restraining orders.
Next week on Yom Kippur, we will hear the words of the prophet Isaiah. He explains that we fast “to let the oppressed go free” and “to share our bread with the hungry.” So I proudly support funding enhanced unemployment and SNAP benefits, as one in eight U.S. households goes hungry.
We cannot boil Judaism down to a single issue. Our tradition compels us to practice tikkun olam — repairing and improving the world around us — in every facet of our lives. Now, more than ever, the need for this repair is overwhelming, and to me there is a clear political difference in who is prepared to meet that need. It’s summarized most succinctly in the words from Deuteronomy adorning Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s chambers: “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.” Justice, justice you shall pursue.
IAN BERLIN is a sophomore in Pierson College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.