Reform Jewish Movement Leadership Statement: “We must all expect more from the President of the United States”

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

“We are compelled to express our deep concern about the coarseness of public discourse, led in too many ways by President Trump.”

As we begin the month of Elul, we enter a time of introspection and reflection culminating in the Jewish High Holidays. Individually and communally, we consider our actions, their impacts on others, and our responsibility to do whatever we can to improve ourselves and our community in the year to come.

In this spirit, we reflect upon and are compelled to express our deep concern about the coarseness of public discourse, led in too many ways by the president of the United States.

Since taking office, President Trump’s words and actions have sowed division, spread fear, and expressed hateful views that go far beyond the legitimate expressions of policy differences that characterize healthy political debate. In unprecedented ways, he has verbally attacked people and communities of color, immigrants, and people with disabilities, looking for political advantage in turning Americans against one another. He has also failed to consistently and unequivocally condemn words and acts of hate from others. We must all expect more from the president of the United States.

In recent days, President Trump even suggested that Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal.” Regardless of whether he was referring to disloyalty to Israel or to the United States, this reprehensible statement evokes centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes about Jews having dual loyalties and/or being untrustworthy citizens of their nations. The implication that religion should dictate political affiliation is noxious to the American value of religious freedom that has strengthened this nation since its founding.

We also oppose the notion that President Trump’s words should be excused because of his support for Israel and opposition to BDS. We are Zionists who also oppose the BDS movement, which would result in the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state – but we reject the president’s use of Israel as a wedge issue and his inflammatory verbal and online attacks on those who hold other views.

Let us be clear: This is not about policy differences or partisanship. Moral Jews – moral Americans – can in good conscience differ on policies, candidates, and parties. We celebrate such diversity in the Reform Jewish Movement, knowing that political differences must never overshadow the respect due to every person, within whom lives a Divine spark. We also know that racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, misogyny, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and hate existed well before President Trump’s election, and individuals on the left bear some responsibility for their spread, as well. At the same time, centuries of racism and white supremacy have left an indelible imprint and open wounds on the United States that President Trump has particularly exploited and exacerbated.

The words of the High Holiday prayer book are written in the collective, reminding us that responsibility for misdeeds and their correction lies with the community as much as the individual. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel also observed that while “Some are guilty; all are responsible.” Indeed, decency knows no party. Whether we are Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, conservatives, moderates, or liberals, we all bear the responsibility to uphold the norms of ethical speech and moral conduct that have made our democracy great. That responsibility lies particularly with our national leadership, and especially with our president. Speech that demeans and demonizes creates an atmosphere of permission for further intolerance. Hate speech is hate speech, and hate speech leads all too easily to hate crimes. We all have roles to play in stemming the spread of hate, and elected officials tasked with pursuing the common good – chief among them the president – have a special obligation to uplift, rather than diminish, the public they serve.

The great sage Hillel, when asked if he could summarize the whole of Torah while standing on one foot, replied, “What is hateful to you do not do unto others. The rest is commentary.” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a) As we approach the Jewish High Holiday season, our tradition reminds us that there is no statute of limitations on t’shuvah, repentance. At any time, the “gates of repentance” are open to all by walking new paths that lift us up beyond old patterns, returning us to the rhetoric of responsibility.

We pray, therefore, that President Trump is inspired by this spirit of t’shuvah to turn from the path of hate speech he has walked.

We pray that all politicians commit to upholding the values of fairness and decency, joining together across lines of difference to say, “Enough is enough.”

We pray that all Americans, regardless of political association, religious affiliation, or support for certain policies, will loudly and unambiguously call for an end to a politics infused with bullying, hateful diatribes, and personal character assaults.

We pray that each of us becomes a model to others, demonstrating how to reject hate and celebrate the dignity and worth of every human being. As the Talmud teaches, “Human dignity is so important that it overrides even a biblical prohibition.” (Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 19b)

May the new year be a year of healing, wholeness, justice, and compassion for all.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President
Daryl Messinger, Chair
Union for Reform Judaism

Rabbi Ron Segal, President
Rabbi Hara Person, Chief Executive
Central Conference of American Rabbis

Cantor Claire Franco, President
Rachel Roth, Chief Operating Officer
American Conference of Cantors

Dr. Kathy Schwartz, President
Rabbi Stan Schickler, Executive Director
Association of Reform Jewish Educators

Lori Kowit, President
Fern Katz, First Vice President
Tricia Ginis, Executive Director
Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism

Steven Portnoy, President
Men of Reform Judaism

Abigail Goldberg Spiegel, FTA, President
Michael Liepman, Executive Director
National Association for Temple Administration

Maya Levy, President
Beth Rodin, Managing Director
NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement

G. Leonard Teitelbaum, Board Chair
Michael Kimmel, Executive Director
Reform Pension Board

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director
Barbara Weinstein, Director, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
Isabel P. “Liz” Dunst, Chair, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Susan C. Bass, President
Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, Executive Director
Women of Reform Judaism

Rabbi Kelly Levy, Co-President
Rabbi Leah Berkowitz, Co-President
Rabbi Mary Zamore, Executive Director
Women’s Rabbinic Network

Bryan Bierman, President
Program and Engagement Professionals of Reform Judaism