Rick Santorum and the Jewish Vote

Republican's Trashing of Church-State Divide Kills GOP Brand

Makes Jews Wanna Holler: Rick Santorum is courting evangelical Christian voters by saying he favors a much looser interpretation of the church-state divide. That stance is likely to repel Jewish voters from him, and the Republican Party.
getty images
Makes Jews Wanna Holler: Rick Santorum is courting evangelical Christian voters by saying he favors a much looser interpretation of the church-state divide. That stance is likely to repel Jewish voters from him, and the Republican Party.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published March 01, 2012, issue of March 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Pennsylvania, it’s sometimes said, can best be understood as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh separated by Alabama. Geographically speaking it’s a big state in the heart of the liberal Northeast, home to great universities, Ben Franklin and the Liberty Bell, anchored by a great Eastern metropolis at one end and a once-booming Midwestern steel town at the other. Everything in between, though, is rural, gun-totin’, Bible-thumpin’ country.

It’s no surprise, then, that every peculiarity of America’s perpetual religious quarreling seems to collide in Pennsylvania. It was founded as a haven for religious dissenters by Quaker leader William Penn, who envisioned Philadelphia as a city of brotherly love. It is the cradle of American tolerance, where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, where the Constitution and Bill of Rights were signed. More recently, it was the scene of a celebrated court battle over a local school board’s effort to make biology students learn divine creationism — they called it Intelligent Design — in a town called Dover, just above the Mason-Dixon Line.

And it is the home state of Rick Santorum, the scrappy ex-senator who has made his distinctive religious views the centerpiece of his underdog Republican presidential campaign.

If he succeeds, it will mark a notable advance for minority religious believers in this country. He will be only the second Catholic ever to reach the White House, following in the path cleared for him by another senator from the Northeast, John F. Kennedy.

You’ve probably heard by now about Santorum’s homage to the martyred president who made his candidacy possible. Kennedy famously flew to Houston on September 12, 1960, to reassure a gathering of mostly-Southern Baptist ministers that he would not threaten the separation of church and state (yes, Southern Baptists used to worry about such things) by taking orders from priests. The first time Santorum read that speech, he told a Catholic college last October, he “almost threw up.”

As the cradle of American political-religious mudslinging, Pennsylvania has naturally been ground zero in the contest for the Jewish vote. Indeed, it was the site of America’s very first public effort to woo Jews away from the party of Thomas Jefferson and Franklin Roosevelt. The candidate in question was Jefferson. It was 1800, the first presidential election featuring political parties. Jefferson headed the newly formed Democratic-Republican Party, today’s Democrats. That fall a Federalist newspaper in Philadelphia, the Gazette, published an article by one Moses S. Solomons warning his fellow Jews that Jefferson, the nation’s leading advocate of church-state separation, was an enemy of “all religion.”

The Federalist ploy fizzled when the city’s lone synagogue, whose president was a fiery Jeffersonian named Benjamin Nones, announced that “[n]o such man as Moses S. Solomons” had “ever been” (their emphasis) a member of the Jewish community. It couldn’t have helped the Federalists’ cause that the Gazette had attacked Nones that summer as part of “the filth of society,” being “a Jew, a [Democratic-] Republican, and poor.” This prompted Nones’ famous reply: “How then can a Jew but be a Republican?” (meaning, confusingly, a Democrat).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.