Rabbi Wolf on Obama

I had planned on writing some of my reactions to Obama’s speech this last Monday (click above), but I don’t think I could do it as well or as eloquently as the great Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, of Chicago’s KAM/Isaiah, who wrote this piece today for the New York Jewish Week:

We sometimes forget, but an integral part of (Jewish) tradition is dialogue and a willingness to disagree. Certainly many who call me their rabbi have taken political positions far from mine – just as Barack Obama’s opinions have differed from those of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

On March 18, the candidate gave a speech that made abundantly clear that he and Wright often disagree. Obama condemned Wright’s “incendiary language,” and “views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but… that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation.”

Of course, race is only one issue on which Wright has stepped beyond the bounds of civil discourse. He’s frequently made statements regarding Israel and the Jewish community that I find troubling. But to limit our understanding of Obama to the ill-conceived comments of the man who once led his church is dishonest and self-defeating.

Obama’s strong positions on poverty and the climate, his early and consistent opposition to the Iraq War, his commitment to ending the Darfur genocide – all these speak directly to Jewish concerns. If we’re sidetracked by Wright’s words, we’ll be working against these interests. After all, a preacher speaks to a congregation, not for the congregation.

Click here to read the entire article,

5 thoughts on “Rabbi Wolf on Obama

  1. Stan Cohn

    Thanks Brant – Great opinion piece. The purpose of a sermon is to stimulate thought and action – often by challenging the status quo. No one should be expected to be a representation of the views of their clergy. At our school educator conference last weekend everyone was saying how they would hate to think that they would somehow be responsible for all of the viewpoints espoused by every one of the Rabbis whose congregations we had ever been a part of, or even all of the viewpoints of our current Rabbis.

    In thinking about the depth and complexity of this issue of race I feel much like Obama. Reaching back to own grandfather…he was a kind and gentle man who (at least in any of my observations) never treated anyone differently, regardless of their religion or color; everyone was treated to his same brand of kindness, humor, and respect. At the same time, in speaking to him he held clear and distinct racial stereotypes – telling my wife never to be alone with a black man in an office.

    So – how do we move forward on the issue of race. Do we disregard anyone who ever makes a comment that seems prejudicial or racist and denounce them. Or do we deal with the fact that all of us have sterotypes and incomplete views of other cultures within us, and work to aid in mutual understanding.

    Put more bluntly, where exactly is the line that separates someone so racist that they must be denounced, repudiated, and rejected from the rest of us who have incomplete understandings, give inconsiderate remarks, for whom teshuvah may yet be possible. Is it the sin or the sinner who must be rejected, and at what point is the sin so grievous that the sinner must also be rejected?

    Most of us want to ignore the sterotypes we hold dear, and I applaud Sen. Obama for acknowledging the complexity and giving us a starting point for dipping our feet into the turbulent waters. I pray that it will lead one day to us all plunging headlong into the waters, and having a nice long warm jacuzzi together in peace.

  2. Ross

    Does Rabbi Wolf feel that joining in the scapegoating of The Rev. Wright gives him the “responsible liberal” seal of approval to legitimize his support for Obama? There is much to praise about Jeremiah Wright. His analysis of how violence begets violence is worth a serious discussion and is as biblical as saying that they who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind. During the time when workers at the United Church of Christ affiliated Advocate Hospitals were organizing a union, The Rev. Wright and members of his church were the workers’ strongest supporters, even though the Illinois Conference of the UCC backed the anti-union management of the hospital. The Rev. Wright strongly supported the big box living wage bill in Chicago and, to protect workers rights and local black businesses, he was instrumental in keeping Wal-Mart out of the Southside of Chicago.

  3. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

    I think you’re way off on this one, Ross. Yes, there is much to praise about Wright’s good works, but there is also much about his rhetoric that is troubling – something Obama himself has acknowledged up front.

  4. Lesley

    My mom helped found Trinity, and I’ve known Rev. Wright since I was a teenager. I find it hilarious, (and also deeply disturbing) that so many whites are shocked, SHOCKED! at the level of anger towards the U.S. expressed in black churches. Especially those white Christians who have no qualms about “damning” folks over say, homosexuality but don’t seem to see racism as especially sinful.

    For an illuminating history of black liberation theology, take a listen to NPR’s interview with its founder, James Cone…


    and U. of Chicago’s Dwight Hopkins attempt to put it in historical perspective…


  5. Sammy

    I watched Senator Barak Hussein Obama’s speech. He spoke of the issues and incidents and injustice that have occurred in this country over the past 50-60 years (Long before I was born), which were the causes of what Reverent White said. I can not beileve that Senator Obama sat in the congregation and listened to the hate that Reverend Wright spoke of against the Wite people and Jews for 20 years. Only now, when the true hateful nature of Reverend White has become public and is a danger to Senator Obama’s campaign, he denounces Reverend White? I would have walked out of my synagogue the first time my Rabbi ever said anything remoutely that hateful.

    Senator Obama’s charismatic speech was the best poiltical double-talk that I have ever heard. Although on the surface Senator Obama denounced the good Reverend’s remarks, he justified them by pointing out to the injustice of slavery and Jim Crow laws.

    Senator Barak Hussein Obama spoke of the incidents of 50-60 years ago. In light of certain other events that took place some 50-60 years ago, we as Jews, more than anyone else, must be aware of a charismatic speaker with hateful messages. Let us not forget that in the beggining, Jews supported the Nazi Party in Germany just because of the charisma that Hitler displayed in his speeches. He, too, talked about such nonesense and Jews believed in him.

    The more I watch the speech and deeply listen to what Senator Obama said, the more I realize that all he talked about were racial injustice and how the Black community has suffered in this country.

    Don’t be fooled by the political double-talk.


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