Jewish Journal

Dear Gov. Perry: Instill Christian values with some Jewish ones

by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

September 21, 2011 | 5:05 pm

Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks during the CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential candidates debate in Tampa, Florida on Sept. 12. Photo by REUTERS/Scott Audette

Dear Gov. Perry,

You are a man who speaks his mind, which is rare in a politician and is a quality that I admire. I’m also grateful to you for your staunch support for Israel, which is no doubt influenced by your strong Christian faith.

I would like, however, to respectfully address your comments pertaining to America’s need for a values renaissance. Recently, in speaking to a crowd of 13,000 students and faculty members at a sports arena, you said that America needs to be guided by some set of values and rightly asked, “Whose values?” to which you responded, “Those Christian values that this country was based upon.”

No doubt, Christian values and Christian faith have played an absolutely pivotal role in America’s founding and subsequent prosperity. One need look no further than the Pilgrims, who landed at Plymouth Rock in search of the freedom to practice their Christian faith without British Anglican hindrance, to prove the point.

But of late, Christian values seem to have been narrowly reduced in the political arena to the twin goals of stopping abortion and gay marriage. Indeed, amid my deep-seated love and respect for my Evangelical brothers and sisters — a love that will be formally crystallized in the form of a full-length book on the Jewishness of Jesus that will be published just before Christmas — I greatly lament how some Christian values have come to so deeply divide our country, and I respectfully propose that Christians begin turning to universal Jewish values in order to reinvigorate America.

Take the breakdown of marriage and family. Raising a well-balanced, inspired, independent and motivated child — an immense challenge — is far likelier to succeed with two parents than one. Yet, while rabbis talk constantly about the 50 percent heterosexual divorce rate, pastors seem to gravitate far more to opposing gay marriage, even though we straight people have done a fine job of eroding marriage ourselves. (Indeed, one of the ironies of marriage in America is that the only men who seem to want to get married are gay!)

One of the supreme Jewish values is keeping a troubled husband and wife together in peace, something I have sought to do in more than 20 books. Rather than obsess over gays marrying, why not join me in creating legislation that would make marital counseling tax-deductible so at-risk couples can get the help they need?

The same is true, Governor, of embracing another supreme Jewish value, Friday night Sabbath dinners. Unfortunately, in America only about a third of all families sit down for regular family meals. But imagine if we could create, at the very least, a weekly national Friday night Sabbath meal observed by Americans of every persuasion. The Christian Sabbath, Sunday, has unfortunately been commercialized by shopping malls, cineplexes and football. Let’s ask all American families to embrace what on fridayisfamily.com you’ll see called “the triple two”: Call on American families, every Friday night, to set aside two uninterrupted hours without television; invite two guests; and discuss two substantive subjects, because learning and a life of intellectual depth is perhaps the most supreme of all Jewish values.

Which brings us to the economy, the most important of all campaign issues and the most serious crisis facing America today. Politicians on both sides of the aisle — from President Barack Obama to candidate Michelle Bachman — are all saying that if only their policies were followed, America would be in the black again. Many politicians promise to cure every ill, as if they were miracle workers. These promises would seem to stem from the Christian value of perfection as opposed to the Jewish value of struggle. People running for President feel forced to overpromise: Vote for me and it’s all going to be all right. That’s why Barack Obama has lost so much credibility. He ran as Jesus Christ, a man who could walk on water and make the tides rise. Turns out his perfection only alienated him from the people. We now dismiss him as cold, detached and aloof, a far cry, say, from Bill Clinton’s all-too-human frailties that seem, counterintuitively, to have endeared him to the American public.

By contrast, we Jews have not one perfect man or woman in the Bible. In Jewish values, righteousness is defined not by perfection but by struggle. Leadership is defined not by promising a utopia but by inspiring others to be strong through the struggle. America is in for some tough years. We have a $14 trillion debt that isn’t going to be paid off any time soon. Why not level with us? Tell us you’re not perfect but you’re prepared to wrestle with America’s great issues to make things better, and inspire us to do the same. Tell us that struggle is a sign of greatness, as the Talmud says, “Only when an olive is squeezed do you get its oil.” This is not Jimmy Carter’s defeatist malaise, but rather Lincoln’s promise of many long, hard years of battle that would inevitably result in triumph, or Winston Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears and sweat” that never surrenders.

Americans today are struggling to find and hold on to jobs, struggling to pay mortgages, struggling to raise good kids and struggling against a worldwide Islamist terror enemy. And rather than take pride in the struggle, we escape into manufactured materialistic fantasies of shopping, celebrity obsession and the latest Hollywood fare. We have become soft, expecting the government to do too much for us rather than showing our mettle through the power of struggle.

Finally, Governor, one of the biggest problems we face in America today is that many good men and women refuse to run for public office, fearing that they will be outed as hypocrites. The microscopic media review to which they will be subject will be too revealing, and none, in truth is perfect. Yet the Jewish-values view of hypocrisy is different from the Christian view, which defines hypocrisy as saying one thing and practicing another. But, Judaism argues that human beings have two competing impulses within them, one godly and pure, the other selfish and animalistic. Therefore, when a man says one thing and does another, he is not a hypocrite but rather inconsistent. In most cases, he believed the good he preached but simply could not summon the willpower to live by it, whereas the hypocrite is someone who says something for public consumption and never believes it in the first place.

Gov. Perry, Christians have brought immeasurable good to America, and today, Evangelical Christians like you account for 60 percent of the American military and are Israel’s most staunch supporters. But the time has come for Christians in America to embrace the Jewish values that Jesus, as a staunchly devoted Jew, himself practiced. It is time, after thousands of years of Jewish values being heard in a somewhat altered way through the megaphone of Christianity, to be heard in its own right and with its own voice.

Rabbi Shmuely Boteach this week publishes “Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself.” (Wiley). In December he will publish “Kosher Jesus.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post and Newsweek call “the most famous Rabbi in America,” whom The Jerusalem Post lists as one of the...

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