Letter from Rabbi Egolf 6/2/2016

Rabbi Jim EgolfDavid Broder (no relation to Rebecca) once wrote, “anyone willing to do what it takes to run for the presidency is automatically unfit for the highest office in the land.” [1] Given this is a blanket statement, (and let’s just suspend any notion of partisanship since I really want to dwell on another issue…) what about the person who is willing to do ‘anything’ to become a candidate’s rabbi?

Now, I have to disclose to you I actually once knew the rabbi of a president, at least when this president was governor of the state. In the 1990’s Rabbi Gene Levy was involved in the politics of the state of Arkansas since he was the rabbi in that city. Thus, unintentionally, Rabbi Levy became one of the voices to the Governor Clinton. This was a situation where circumstance caused Rabbi Levy to be in close proximity to a president. But what happens when the rabbi in question pursues the opportunity to be in such a situation?

Recently I read an article about a rabbi who actively is seeking to be one candidate’s ‘rabbi.’ The article presents Rabbi Boteach’s many close political connections to various candidates and people of influence, but I wonder whether such contact is advisable. [2] This is not the case where a rabbi happened to be the leader who happened to be connected to a candidate. Rather, here is a situation where a rabbi reportedly sought out such a candidate to have this connection.

I raise this not to necessarily say one rabbi’s relationship is correct and another’s is not (though I do admit to having an opinion on the matter ☺). Rather, I am wondering how we see such a connection in light of words from the Mishnah. In Pirkei Avot it is written, “Shemayah says: Love work; despise positions of power; and do not become overly familiar with the government.” (1:10) I wonder at what point is ‘overly familliar’ transgressed?

In a democracy we are actually supposed to be overly familiar with the government. It seems that our founders wanted us to know this government and treasure its uniqueness in its time. So perhaps our charge as citizens of this democracy is to be familiar with the government, yet realize that no one person is the government, nor was our system ever designed to make it so. How we approach power says as much about the powerful as it does about us. And so I wonder aloud, what happens when we give away our authority and allow power to change who we connect to?

So as this Summer unfolds I would invite you to carry the words of Shemayah as a reflection on how we make a choice for a new leader.

Rabbi Jim 

[1] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2002/mar/1/20020301-040618-8288r/
[2] Meet Shmuley Boteach, the Right-Wing Reality Show ‘Rabbi’ Hustling His Way Into the Trump Campaign