In the heat of the fight over the Supreme Court, Christian conservatives are turning to a rabbi best known for his book, “Kosher Sex.”
Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, author and radio talk-show host, is to be among the speakers at the next “Justice Sunday,” the second in a series of extravaganzas put on by a consortium of Christian groups in hopes of galvanizing Evangelical support for an ultra-conservative judiciary. Boteach, who bills himself as “America’s rabbi,” told the Forward that he would talk about how “the Supreme Court should not manifest hostility to God in public life.”
“In terms of the moral fabric of the nation…I’m a great believer that purging God from public life can lead to decadence,” said Boteach, who was trained by the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect and rose to fame by popularizing the advice of old Jewish-marriage manuals. “I do not see the Ten Commandments in schools as a breach of the separation of church and state.”
Boteach noted that parochial schools are supported by the state in England, Canada and France without those countries being seen as establishing religion. “We’ve taken separation to an extreme,” he said.
The program is to be broadcast August 14 to millions of people over satellite television, radio and the Internet from Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. Among the conservative ideologues expected to speak are James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. The goal is to drum up support for Judge John Roberts, President Bush’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Roberts currently is awaiting confirmation by the Senate.
Given that Roberts has good chances for confirmation, the event is not expected to be as controversial as the first Justice Sunday, which took place in May. That event sought to pressure Republican senators to pull the trigger on the so-called nuclear option, which would have ended a Democratic filibuster of several of Bush’s federal judicial nominees. (The nuclear option threat was averted by a bipartisan deal brokered by 14 Senate moderates.)
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist faced substantial criticism from liberal and Jewish groups for agreeing to address the event, after organizers claimed that opponents of Bush’s judicial nominees were seeking “to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms.”
This time around, conservatives hope to shield Roberts, a Catholic, from senators’ questions about how his faith might affect his rulings on controversial subjects such as abortion and the separation of church and state.
“All we’re asking is that that they treat Catholics the same way they treat Jews,” said the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, William Donohue, in an interview with the Forward. “Justices [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg and [Stephen G.] Breyer were never asked about Judaism, but with Roberts, [the questioning] is non-stop.” Donohue, who also will speak at Justice Sunday, called senators’ alleged desire “to explore the nexis of [Roberts’s] religious faith and how he might rule…invidious.”
Boteach clashed with Donohue on a segment of the MSNBC talk program “Scarborough Country,” after the Catholic activist claimed that “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.”
At one point during the segment, Boteach said to Donohue, “Stop the antisemitic garbage, okay?” But this week, Donohue told the Forward that he was pleased to be on the program with Boteach, whom he called a “good fellow.”
Boteach said he often has spoken to Christian audiences and that 60% of the listeners to his syndicated radio show are Christian. The rabbi counts himself as a great admirer of Evangelicals for their “steadfast support for Israel,” for their attention to “family values” and for “the way they raise their kids to be ethical and moral and pray.”
But he does not always agree with them.
“Some Evangelicals admire me. Some dislike me because I debate their missionaries in public forums,” Boteach said, adding, “They must change this doctrine that Jews don’t go to heaven. It’s spiritual racism, pure and simple.”
Also, Boteach said, “I’ve heard from them that I’m too liberal on many issues” — including homosexuality.
Boteach has a gay Orthodox brother, and he says he counsels many gays. “The main message to gays should be that there are 613 commandments — one of which is to marry, and one of which is not to practice gay sex,” Boteach said. “There are 611 commandments left to keep. On that, I’m very different than Evangelicals.”