One’s political leaning has often gone far, far beyond mere political preference, with the assumption that every frum person must share the same politics
If I showed up at your shul, I would look like any other visitor. I wear a hat, I wear a suit, I can rarely be found without some sefer in my hands. I daven all tefillos, I’m koveia itim, and I’m involved in my community. I do all I can to keep halachah and to be the best Jew that I can be. You might assume that I’m like you, and you would probably speak and act as if that were the case.
However, I am also a Democrat, in a world where the prevailing political orthodoxy is to be Republican. Unfortunately, one’s political leaning has often gone far, far beyond mere political preference, with the assumption that every frum person must share the same politics. This has resulted in many painful interactions for those of us who disagree with the prevailing politics of Orthodoxy. None of my examples are unique to me: others have seen almost the exact same, and I have also drawn on the experiences of friends in diverse communities in writing this.
I’ve been warned to not let certain people know about my politics, lest I lose future invites to their Shabbos tables. G-d forbid that I should have criticism of the president; sometimes that is taken as more horrible than any aveirah! I know people who have been turned away by shadchanim because they don’t think anyone would even consider dating a Democrat. I have seen people praise teachers and educators for open bias in favor of Trump, all while falsely accusing me of brainwashing students. In fact, I take great pride in maintaining the political neutrality of my classroom. One person even went so far as to use my politics to try and get me fired, unsuccessfully, thank G-d. I’ve been told that because of my politics, I don’t know anything about the subject I have devoted my life to studying and have been on the receiving end of verbal tirades using words that any frum Jew should be horrified to use for any disagreements.
I know of at least one politically liberal student who was ridiculed and bullied by their classmates for daring to hold outside views. Those classmates then spoke lashon hara against them because of what they hear and are taught at home. People have accused me and other Democrats of wanting to murder newborns, of hating America, of wanting to see Israel destroyed — many things that are not even remotely true because they do not even know what Democrats believe and advocate for. That is passed on to their children, who think it’s justified to attack those whose political priorities are different from theirs, resulting in easily avoidable aveiros.
I am a ger, and one of most painful things was being told that my Yiddishe neshamah clearly hadn’t taken hold yet if I was voting Democrat. After working so hard to become a Jew, the fact that any of the Orthodox world will call me a “Jew in name only” or even G-d forbid doubt my giyur is horrifying and yet both have happened. I do my best to follow halachah, to learn Torah, and to bring others to it. Why does that get ignored because of my politics?
Sadly, I know exactly what many will say in response to this. They will say it’s just my goyishe upbringing, even though I grew up very politically and religiously conservative as well. There are plenty of frum-from-birth liberals too, and they have heard all these painful attacks their entire lives. We do in fact have reasons and justifications for our political beliefs, even though many people assume that anyone who is liberal is unintelligent or brainwashed.
Those who perpetuate these beliefs likely do not realize the far-reaching consequences. I know several people who have distanced themselves from the community because of the attacks they receive or horrendous things they hear due to their politics. I have heard people say that we are traitors, that we know nothing of Torah, that we G-d forbid shouldn’t even be welcome in frum communities, that we hate freedom of religion because, apparently, we aren’t truly religious, despite Torah being the core of our identities. Of course, none of that is remotely true. It’s hardly surprising such vehement rhetoric pushes people away, and anyone should be able to see how horrendous these words and actions are.
We want to bring our secular brothers and sisters to true Yiddishkeit, but how can we, when they will be treated as enemies because of their politics? Why would a non-frum Jew even give us another look if all they see is worship of a man that they most likely are strongly opposed to? Most American Jews oppose Trump and do so for many valid reasons. When they see things like the riots in some areas where even frum Yidden are brutally attacked for divergent views, why would they give our communities any chance at all? There is an increase in non-Orthodox Jewish animus against us on social media due not only to those actions, but also because of the way that many Orthodox Jews have unfortunately begun to treat Trump like a gadol, whose word must be believed and followed to the letter.
Both our parties in the United States take positions opposed to Torah. Both unfortunately harbor all too prominent anti-Semitism. But take a look at our community, and you might think that it is flat-out assur to be a liberal or vote for Biden. Making politics to be a religious obligation, as the heterodox movements have done, is ineffective and only hurts people while being a perversion of Torah. It harms our communities and our relationship with other Jews.
We all must stand up against this blatant sinas chinam! I know that I will not change anyone’s political stance and I don’t even try, but please realize that it is not a Torah obligation to agree with anyone’s politics, and it is not an aveirah to be a Democrat or to vote for Biden. Stop hurting those of us who disagree and speaking motzi sheim ra and lashon hara about us, stop piling on us at the Shabbos table and spending more time on politics than on Torah. Even if you do not know us, often because many are too fearful to speak out, we exist, and we are hurt by what is happening in our communities.
This election may well rip America apart, but let's do our best to prevent it from tearing our own embattled community to shreds.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 833)
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