Current Affairs

Trump and Torah

This feels like the most momentous election of my life. I haven’t written anything with my views on the incumbent president. When I was serving as a pulpit rabbi, it was partly because I didn’t want to alienate any congregants. But I’m not in a pulpit now so I’m truly free to speak my mind. 

But then I thought, “What do I have to add to the conversation that other people more articulate than me haven’t already said?” I haven’t really seen anything that just talks about Trump, the person and the policies from a Torah perspective. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, just that I haven’t seen it. But here are my views on what the Torah would teach us about Donald Trump and who to vote for in the American election. And yes, we’re three days from election day as I write this, so it’s somewhat last minute. But some people haven’t voted yet! Not that I expect this to change anyone’s mind. We’re long past that. But I needed to get what I believe on the record.

Trump as a Leader

In the Torah Yitro, Moses’s father-in-law and the first management consultant, gives Moses advice on the king of person he should choose for leadership:

And you shall choose out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain;

Exodus 18:21

Let’s take these one at time:

  1. Able men. Able, capable, up to the task. Reports from people who served in senior positions in the White House indicate that Trump has the attention span of a two-year-old. He never reads books. He can’t sit through a briefing on a vital, but complicated topic. He is incapable of the kind of deep thought and background reading required to make intelligent, informed decisions. Clearly seems that when it comes to making some of the most important and fateful decisions facing us, he’s ill-equipped. The decisions he has made – from picking a futile trade war with China to abandoning allies and cozying up to dictators to his disastrous handling of the coronavirus crisis depict a hard to believe level of incompetence on the part of someone in the Oval Office.
  2. Such as fear God. I don’t believe anyone could honestly describe Donald Trump as a God-fearing person. I hate Mike Pence’s politics as much as I hate Trump’s, but I would at least give him credit for being a God-fearing person. Trump uses the Bible as a prop, utterly ignoring the values inside that same Bible. Oh, and he held the Bible upside down when he was using it as a prop. He couldn’t name a favorite verse or chapter in the Bible, or say whether he preferred the Old Testament or the New Testament.
  3. Men of Truth. All presidents have on occasion told untruths to the American people, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for self-serving reasons. But Trump seems to relish making things up and passing along outrageous conspiracy theories as truth. The Fact Checker found that from his inauguration through July 9, 2020, Trump made an astounding 20,000 false or misleading claims. An average of 12 a day! If we have ever had a person in public life in America who was LESS truthful than Trump, I have no idea who that would be.
  4. Hating unjust gain. Trump relishes gain, and just as he doesn’t care if what is says is true or not, he doesn’t care if his gain is just or not. He bills the US taxpayers $650/night for Secret Service agents to stay at his property when he’s at Mar a Lago. By hosting visiting foreign delegations at the Trump Hotel in Washington Trump is lining his pockets as visitors spend money at his properties to get on his good side. When he was sued under the emoluments clause, the Supreme Court didn’t take the case not because they didn’t think he was guilty, but because the Democratic lawmakers bringing the case didn’t have standing to bring it. He was also happy to accept help from Russia in the 2016 election, even if he didn’t out and out collude with them. Trying to use the Justice Department as his personal legal department is also a form of unjust gain.

The Torah in Leviticus 19:15 tells us, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” A few verses further on, we’re told (all of us, not just leaders) “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Trump has so many prejudices and biases that it’s hard to know where to start. Women are objects to Trump. Most of us have seen the video ourselves, where Trump says, 

You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

What did Trump say about Mexican immigrants? “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.” He did throw in, “And some, I assume, are good people.” But he’s already judged most of them as criminals. What did he say about the white supremacists who attacked demonstrators in Virginia? There are “very fine people on both sides.” Sorry, Mr. President, anyone who is a white supremacist is not a “very fine person.” Racist anti-Semites are not “very fine people.”

Trump’s Policies

Some say Jews should support Trump because he’s been so good for Israel. That’s debatable. Many people, including here in Israel where I am as I write this, believe it was a mistake to pull out of the Iran deal – Iran is now closer to nuclear weapons than it was before. Many feel that moving the embassy to Jerusalem was not helpful, and Trump has decreased the chances for a two-state solution with the Palestinians by making clear that the US is not an honest broker for peace (at least under Trump), it’s a partner of the Israelis. I’ll give him credit for normalization of relations between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. That’s a good thing that clearly benefits Israel. But that one thing doesn’t come close to offsetting the negatives.

The Torah tells us over and over – 36 times in fact – that we should love and take care of the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt. Trump ran his campaign on inciting fear of the stranger – as mentioned above, saying the Mexicans coming to America were drug dealers and rapists. He said he was going to build a wall, and Mexico was going to pay for it. So far under the Trump administration 400 miles of barrier have been built – but only nine miles were “new.” The rest were replacements for old or broken barriers. And Mexican hasn’t paid for any of it.

In many places the Torah commands us to take care of the poor. Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, saying: ‘You shall surely open your hand unto your poor and needy brother, in your land.’” What have Trump’s policies toward the needy been? He pushed through rules that cut 3 million people off of food assistance. Why? To pay for the tax cut he gave billionaires. His administration issued a plan to lower the poverty line – a move that would make millions, possibly tens of millions of people ineligible for benefits such as Medicaid, school meals, or emergency assistance. Trump clearly is favoring the rich over the poor.

In the Jewish tradition, pickuah nefesh, saving lives, is considered the ultimate value. We consider human lives of infinite value. We’re taught someone who saves one life is like someone who has saved a world. Over 200,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. America has had more deaths from COVID-19 than any other country in the world, including China and India, countries that have 3 to 5 times the population of America. It’s debatable how many lives have been lost due to America’s botched handling of the coronavirus, but it’s safe to say that it’s in the tens of thousands, if not over 100,000. Each of those deaths a lost world, a life cut short, because we have a president who ignores science, calls people who wear masks weak, and has been obsessed with trying to save the economy over saving lives.

The Jewish tradition places great value on protecting the environment. We understand that when God tells Adam the world is his to rule over, it means it is his to take care of. We are charged with being guardians of the planet, to use it for our benefit, but to also tend to the planet. Trump has dismantled one environmental regulation after another. As of October 2020, over 100 of them, pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accords, weakening Obama-era limits on CO2 emissions, removing protection from over half the wetlands in America, opening up more land for oil and gas by limiting protection for wildlife, and more. He’s been a disaster for the environment.

It looks, God willing, like Trump will be voted out of office on November 3, even if the results aren’t immediately known. Biden is ahead by 9 points in the average of national polls. Even if that number is accurate – it might not be – I’m astounded that given the man’s many character defects, especially his utter lack of integrity and empathy, so many people could still be supporting him.

The latest analysis from FiveThirtyEight says Democrats have an 80% chance of taking the Senate. Perhaps voters have been shaken out of their complacency, and November 3 will put both Congress and the White House back in the hands of the Democrats, giving them an opportunity to repair the grave harm that’s been done to the country by the Trump Administration.

America deserves better. We deserve a government that works to bring people together, not drive people apart. We need a government that protects the weak, the poor, the disadvantaged (just as the Torah charges us to care for the widow, the stranger and the orphan). We need a government that will take charge in combatting climate change so that the impact on my grandchildren’s generation will not be as horrible as it might be. We need to restore civility, decency, and integrity to the White House. We need racists and white supremacists to go crawling back under the rocks they crawled out from under when Trump was elected.

May 2021 be a year that sees America back on track. Maybe we will be able to truly “make America great again.”

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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