Lord Sacks says US rabbis making ‘big mistake’ with political endorsements

Former UK chief rabbi warns against mixing politics and Judaism: ‘You get terrible politics and even worse religion’

Former British chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (United Synagogue via JTA)
Former British chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (United Synagogue via JTA)

JTA — American Jewish rabbis are erring by endorsing — and opposing — US President Donald Trump, according to Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain who said he has always studiously avoided showing an affinity for any particular candidate.

In a Jewish Telegraphic Agency interview, Sacks, who was chief rabbi from 1991 to 2013, said that even as he grew close and provided advice to political leaders of many stripes, he never endorsed any or allowed rabbis under his supervision to engage in political advocacy or electioneering.

“I can see that that is not the case in America. And I’m afraid American Jewry is making a big, big, big mistake,” Sacks said. “This is not a small thing. It’s a very, very big thing.”

Sacks made the comments in response to a question about Shmuel Kamenetsky, an influential ultra-Orthodox rabbi who recently said that Jews should vote to reelect Trump out of gratitude. Another Orthodox rabbi, Aryeh Spero, blessed Trump and his reelection campaign this week at the Republican National Convention.

Rabbi Aryeh Spero addresses the virtual Republican convention on August 26, 2020. (Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee via Getty Images via JTA)

On the left, rabbis frequently wade into partisan political issues and even argue for specific political candidates in their personal capacity. (US nonprofits, including houses of worship, face penalties if they engage in prohibited political activity as organizations.)

The consequence of blurring the line between politics and Judaism can be significant, Sacks said.

“You mix religion and politics, you get terrible politics and even worse religion,” he said, adding later, “I’m afraid I have absolutely not the slightest shred of sympathy for anyone who, as a rabbi, tells people how to vote.”

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