A week following the excommunication of Democratic vice presidential
candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman by a rabbinical court in New York, one
thing is becoming clear: Reaction to Lieberman’s views among Orthodox
Jews is volatile and controversial.
Lieberman, who has been under fire from various religious groups for
his views on issues such as abortion and homosexuality, is finding
himself increasingly at the center of a polarizing dialogue within his
own religious community, Orthodox Judaism.
The excommunication is the strongest statement yet in a series of
criticisms of Lieberman by Orthodox rabbis and others. The decision by
the New York Torah Court — also known as a “beth din” — was handed
down by three rabbis who listened to evidence concerning Lieberman’s
recent statements regarding his faith.
According to a statement on the
website of Jews For Morality — a grass-roots organization which claims to represent the views of “tens of thousands” of Orthodox Jews in New York and elsewhere — the reason for the excommunication was that Lieberman had caused a “grave scandal” by desecrating God’s name since, “… while claiming to be an observant Jew, Lieberman has been misrepresenting and falsifying to the American people the teachings of the Torah against partial-birth infanticide, against special privileges and preferential treatment for flaunting homosexuals, and against religious intermarriage of Jews.”
Since the announcement of the excommunication on Oct. 18 by Jews For Morality, Gore-Lieberman campaign press officials have remained unwilling to issue a statement regarding the decision despite repeated requests for a response from WorldNetDaily and other publications.
However, a public relations representative of the
Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Betty Ehrenberg, stated that the “Orthodox Union is proud to have Sen. Lieberman” on its board of directors. She went on to state that Jews For Morality and other Jewish groups critical of Lieberman were “neither very large nor very influential.” When asked what size she thought these organizations actually were, she admitted that she didn’t know.
Yet controversy over Lieberman’s views exists even within the Orthodox Union — a group that promotes itself as “the world’s largest and most effective Jewish organization of its kind” and claims to speak nationally for “1,000 synagogues.” Dr. Mandell I. Ganchrow, president of the Orthodox Union, has been cited in recent press accounts defending Lieberman, but at the same time has also acknowledged that he “may disagree” with Lieberman on various issues and reportedly has made statements critical of the senator’s pronouncements on Jewish law.
But the Orthodox Union is only one voice among Jewish organizations. In recent months, representatives of other Jewish organizations such as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, the American Board of Rabbis and the Republican Jewish Coalition have made strong public statements against Lieberman’s positions on matters of Jewish law.
When asked why he thought so much controversy exists within the Orthodox Jewish community, Rabbi Yehuda Levin with Jews For Morality speculated that many Jews are embarrassed by Lieberman’s comments but are unsure of what to think or do since he is part of their community. He went on to acknowledge that, while there was not a central authority that could enforce the excommunication decision, Lieberman would not be able to hold a place of honor in synagogues that support the rabbinical court’s action.
According to Rabbi Levin, Lieberman will now have to contemplate his dishonor until he repents from wearing “his Judaism on his lapel” as a way to “get himself elected.”