Over 300 American rabbis publicly announced their support for Barack Obama yesterday with the launch of a “Rabbis for Obama” website.
The movement was founded by Rabbis Sam Gordon and Steve Bob of Illinois in response to what they call the “smear campaign against Obama” that “has been waged in the Jewish community.”
“The smears and lies are specifically targeted to the fears and prejudices of Jews,” Gordon said in a phone interview this morning. “The kind of attacks and criticisms of him are totally unwarranted and caused me and others to respond in a way unprecedented in the history of Jewish rabbis.”
While Gordon and Bob both belong to the Union for Reform Judaism, they say rabbinical support for Obama—and for their movement—comes from across the spectrum.
Indeed, Gordon, who met Obama in small group settings during the early days of his Senate career and stresses his close ties with Chicago’s Jewish community, suspects that support for Obama runs much deeper among rabbis than the “Rabbis for Obama” initiative lets on.
Rabbi David Saperstein, for example, who directs the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center and who spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August, says he will not join “Rabbis for Obama.”
“There were rabbis at both conventions,” he says. “That was a statement about how acknowledged the Jewish religion is as a mainstream force in public and civic life. People at the conventions are striving to make this country better and are asking for God’s blessing in doing that. It would be an honor for any of us.” Such an honor, in fact, that Saperstein would have spoken at the RNC, if he had been invited.
Despite his reluctance to join, Saperstein sees nothing wrong with the “Rabbis for Obama.” “Rabbis have the right to do what they want politically as individuals or groups of individuals,” he says. “I think this is an expression of the democratic freedoms we enjoy in America.”
Gordon understands Saperstein’s stance. “Many rabbis are wary of using their position to publicly endorse a candidate,” he explains, emphasizing that the rabbis for Obama have endorsed him as individuals and will not preach politics from the pulpit (See “Does Politics Belong on the Bima?” in the current issue of Moment).
“It’s fine for Rabbis and Jews to support whomever they want, as long as their decision is based on the truth,” he adds.
To date, “Rabbis for McCain” does not exist.