A Modern-Day Mordecai

By Menachem Genack

Published February 20, 2004, issue of February 20, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Senator Joe Lieberman would have made a wonderful leader for this country. He is an authentic American statesman, a brilliant craftsman of public policy (witness the primary role he played in drafting the Homeland Security Act) and a serious and loyal Jew.

Ruefully, support from the Jewish community, which should have been sustained and generous — as it was when he was a vice-presidential candidate — was lethargic. With Senator Lieberman’s withdrawal from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, it may be a good idea for American Jews to consider whether they gave the senator a fair shake, or rather were paralyzed by reservations that may have been suited to certain times and places but were not appropriate to contemporary America.

Nobody doubted the senator’s integrity, his sense of purpose or his leadership ability. American Jews, rather, were anxious, and I believe misguidedly, about the very idea of a Jewish president. First, they feared a President Lieberman would have to bend over backwards to show folks both here and abroad that he was even-handed toward Israel. They feared that Americans would not take warmly to the idea of a Jewish president. And that, in turn, would be bad for America’s Jews.

These anxieties were unfounded on both counts. Senator Lieberman’s support of Israel has been steadfast and unwavering and would have remained that way through a presidential tenure. And there’s a simple explanation for this: His support does not stem from political calculation but from personal belief. His eloquence and his record reflect that longstanding, profound commitment. The notion that Senator Lieberman would adjust his views to please others is a dramatic underestimation of his character.

The idea that Americans are not ready for a Jewish president is also narrow-minded. Unfortunately, we see throughout the world a resurgence of antisemitism. But the United States remains an island of tolerance. America was built on concepts of liberty and equality, and it has lived up to those principles. The citizens of the United States are prepared to accept a Jewish president just as, 44 years ago, they were prepared to accept a Catholic president, John Kennedy.

There is, admittedly, a precedent in our tradition for the ambivalence shown by the senator’s co-religionists to the idea of a Jew in high public office. But that ambivalence is not applauded by our tradition.

In the course of the Book of Esther, the protagonists Mordecai and Esther convince King Ahasuerus to support the Jews in their effort to stand up to Haman’s barbaric decree to eliminate the Jews. With the king’s help (and Divine assistance), the Jews were able to survive a threat that surely would have otherwise wiped them out. Mordecai, well-established by story’s end in the king’s court, should be universally beloved by the Jews, right? Wrong.

The very last verse of the Megilla reads, “For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted by the majority of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his seed.” The commentaries point out that while Mordecai’s public role was admired by most of his fellow Jews, a distinct minority of the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, harbored mixed feelings about his having made a career for himself outside of the study hall and the life of deliberating upon Torah. What place is it for a Jew, even so great a Jew, they argued, to be in the public eye?

Given the unambiguous role of Mordecai in saving the Jewish people and his continued role in protecting them from his post as the king’s prime minister, their reservation is astonishing.

But in the end history attests that Mordecai was Mordecai — a hero and a great leader whose courage, tenacity and wisdom saved the Jews from physical annihilation and spiritual peril. And Senator Lieberman, likewise, is Senator Lieberman. History has already shown that he is a man of wit, integrity and faith and, I believe, would have made a great president. As a community, we should be very proud of him.

Rabbi Menachem Genack is the rabbinic administrator of the Kashruth Division of the Orthodox Union and rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Englewood, N.J. The views expressed in this article are his own.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • 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.