350 women rabbis sign letter condemning Trump ‘hate speech’
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350 women rabbis sign letter condemning Trump ‘hate speech’

GOP nominee’s ‘concept of the human person and the human body’ is incompatible with Judaism’s teachings, say spiritual leaders

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Edison, New Jersey, October 15, 2016. (AP/Evan Vucci)
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in Edison, New Jersey, October 15, 2016. (AP/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — More than 350 women rabbis have signed a joint letter released Thursday condemning Republican nominee Donald Trump for behavior and language they passionately characterized as an assault on Jewish values.

Without delving into his myriad controversies on the campaign trail — many of which have drawn the repeated ire of the organized American Jewish community — the letter says that the words of Torah are fundamentally “incompatible with Donald Trump’s concept of the human person and the human body.”

The letter, entitled “Women Rabbis Condemn Trump Hate Speech,” was deliberately planned to coincide with Simhat Torah, the annual time of year in which Jews around the world conclude and then restart their reading cycle of Judaism’s holiest text.

One of its signatories, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly who delivered an invocation at this year’s Democratic National Convention, said in an email to reporters that the idea derived from a similar letter sent by Christian clergywomen, which accrued more than 1,000 signatures.

Each of the women rabbis who signed the letter did so in their private role as citizens, not in association with their respective synagogues.

Because rabbis lead non-profit religious institutions classified under the 501(c)(3) Internal Revenue Code, they can’t use the resources or platforms of their congregations to endorse a candidate or engage in any kind of partisan activity, but they can do whatever they want as individuals.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld delivers a psalm at the presidential inaugural service at the National Cathedral. (Ron Kampeas/JTA)
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (Ron Kampeas/JTA)

The letter, which as of this writing has 353 signatures, described Trump as having “denigrated people by race, by nationality, by their gender and by their most intimate, personal challenges.”

It also alluded to recently released audio and video from 2005 in which the real estate mogul can be heard boasting about making unwanted sexual advances on women. Since then, 11 women have come forth and accused him of kissing and groping them without their consent. Trump has denied the allegations.

“His callous descriptions of uninvited physical contact and even sexual assault offend our understanding of appropriate relationships between human beings,” the letter said.

The missive is a strong rebuke to a candidate who has often cited his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and converted daughter, Ivanka Trump, to emphasize his commitment to Israel and the Jewish community.

Donald Trump speaking during a campaign rally with, from left to right, his wife Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, in Waterloo, Iowa, Feb. 1, 2016. (JTA/Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Donald Trump speaking during a campaign rally with his wife, Melania Trump; his daughter, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, in Waterloo, Iowa, February 1, 2016. (JTA/Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

“Judaism teaches that a person’s utterance of words is in fact a powerful deed. Humiliating someone, even privately, and especially publicly, is a serious form of emotional violence that causes tangible harm and is therefore forbidden by our faith,” the women rabbis stated.

“Consequently, we find Donald Trump’s denigration of so many people and groups to be an ongoing assault he perpetually carries out before the entire world,” they added. “He does this recklessly in the name of our society. As women rabbis and as Jewish leaders in the most sacred and joyous season of our year, we say ‘Not in our names.'”

The letter has been signed by a number of prominent American female rabbis, including Rebecca Sirbu, who heads Rabbis Without Borders; Renee Goldberg Edelman of Temple Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield, NJ; and Lauren Holtzblatt of Adas Israel Congregation, the largest Conservative synagogue in Washington, DC, who was listed by The Forward as one of the most inspiring rabbis in 2016.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens during the third presidential debate at UNLV in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (Mark Ralston/Pool via AP)
US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (right) speaks as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump listens during the third presidential debate in Las Vegas, October 19, 2016. (Mark Ralston/Pool via AP)

Coming one day after Trump rattled much of the world by suggesting he would refuse to accept the outcome of the election (unless he wins), something a major party nominee has never done before in the history of the republic, the letter cast the candidate as threatening the very fabric of the American idea.

“We condemn Donald Trump’s behavior and words because they demean women and men, Republicans and Democrats, Americans and our friends and allies around the world, and people of every race, nationality and religion,” it stated.

“Trump’s toxic words erode the integrity of our political institutions, our civic traditions and the customs of civility in public discourse upon which we all rely for our safety and stability.”

The letter did not mention Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

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