A rabbinic call to uphold truth and democracy
To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. This political moment is a time for rabbis and clergy of all faiths to speak out forcefully to protect both truth and democracy.
At several times during the presidential campaign, President Trump refused to commit to accepting the outcome of the election should Joe Biden prevail. He set the stage to question the election outcome by saying that mail-in ballots invited fraud even though he presented no evidence to back up that claim. Election experts repeatedly cited elections going back decades in which fraud rarely even reached one tenth of one percent.
In a column published November 1, 2020 in the Washington Post, Benjamin Ginsberg, the Republican Party’s go-to election attorney who has monitored every election for the Party since 1984 wrote the following: “…Trump has devoted his campaign and the Republican Party to this myth of voter fraud. …disenfranchising enough voters has become key to his reelection strategy. Perhaps this was the plan all along. The president’s unsubstantiated talk about “rigged” elections caused by absentee ballot “fraud” and “cheating” has been around since 2016; it’s just increased in recent weeks.
Trump has enlisted a compliant Republican Party in this shameful effort. The Trump campaign and Republican entities engaged in more than 40 voting and ballot court cases around the country this year. In exactly none — zero — are they trying to make it easier for citizens to vote. In many, they are seeking to erect barriers.”
We stand now at a moment that many long-feared. Joe Biden has won enough electoral votes to be declared President-elect. In every other election in American history, the defeated candidate conceded the contest and, in so doing, committed to the peaceful transition of power that is the hallmark of a functioning democracy. Donald Trump not only refuses to concede, but he is engaging in rhetoric that invites his supporters to challenge the outcome of a free and fair election. Even worse, he has said things that encourage his followers to take to the street, raising the prospect of civil unrest and violence.
This is no longer a partisan issue. It is a moral issue. The message that needs to come forth from pulpits throughout America must emphasize three points:
- Uphold the democratic principle of peaceful transition of power regardless of party affiliation;
- Condemn in the strongest possible language public statements that might encourage Americans to resort to violence or may set the stage for ongoing undermining of legitimate American political institutions;
- Allow the U.S. court system to adjudicate any claims of impropriety in the US election process and refrain from public statements that encourage the spread of baseless conspiracy theories that put the reputation and safety of public officials at risk.
Violation of any one of these three principles needs to be condemned forcefully and unequivocally. Members of the Republican party who are complicit with this strategy of President Trump, either by echoing these allegations or by their silence, must be repudiated by every patriotic American.
When President-elect Joe Biden launched his campaign for the presidency, he called it “a battle for the soul of America”. Many political pundits scoffed at the phrase, thinking it was too abstract to motivate the electorate. But there is ample evidence that Biden got it exactly right.
A Biden campaign that called on Americans to come together to take on the challenges facing our country and our world defeated a Trump campaign that promised four more years of fear and division. True to form, in President-elect Biden’s acceptance speech on Saturday night he said: “I’m a proud Democrat. But I will govern as an American president. I’ll work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did. Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now.”
One of the many names of God in the Jewish tradition is emet, truth. Rabbis, regardless of their political views and/or affiliations, must be defenders of truth. Following Joe Biden’s invocation of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 that this is “a time to heal”, rabbis should speak forcefully to those who look to them for moral leadership, both Democrats and Republicans, that we must now re-commit to uphold truth and democracy as the pillars of our beloved America.
Sharon Brous (Conservative) is the rabbi of IKAR in Los Angeles; Laura Geller (Reform) is rabbi emerita of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, CA; Jack Moline (Conservative) is the president of Interfaith Alliance based in Washington D.C.; Sid Schwarz (Reconstructionist) is founding rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, MD and a Senior Fellow at Hazon; Shmuly Yanklowitz (Orthodox) is the President of Uri L’Tzedek: Orthodox Social Justice based in New York. The opinions expressed here are of the authors and not of their organizations. This letter originally appeared in The Forward.