Three Washington rabbis were among 40 American Orthodox clergy co-signed a letter condemning Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for what they called his “hateful rhetoric and intolerant policy proposals.”
The letter — whose signatories included Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, the founding president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York City — was published Friday on the website Cleveland.com.
Noting that “religion should be invoked with care” when addressing politics, the rabbis added that, “Nevertheless, there are times when the political discourse veers into morally offensive language and policy proposals that violate fundamental religious norms.”
Maharat Ruth Friedman of Ohev Shalom: The National Synagogue in Washington was one of the signatories. She said she believes much of what Trump espouses “transcends the label of politics and it becomes a moral question, so it was important to me to be a part of a voice.”
Friedman added that she, as well as many clergy, shy away from making political statements. But she feels “it is everyone’s responsibility to speak out against hatred and xenophobia, which is something [Trump has] espoused.”
Her colleague Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld also signed the letter, as did Rabbi Aaron Potek of Gather the Jews. In March, Herzfeld was removed from the main hall of the AIPAC Policy Conference after rushing the stage during Donald Trump’s speech. “I had to declare his wickedness,” Herzfeld said at the time.
In their letter the rabbis wrote that their “core religious values and essential theological beliefs require us to condemn Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric and intolerant policy proposals in the strongest possible terms.”
In the current presidential election campaign, they also wrote, “we have been deeply troubled to hear proposals that condemn whole groups and which are justified by pointing to evil behaviors by members of that group or religion.”
Trump has called for banning Muslims from entering the United States and later, in remarks made in the context of the fight against radical Islam, for “extreme vetting” of immigrants.
Trump attracted outrage after lashing out at Muslim American parents whose son died while serving in the U.S. military in Iraq. After the soldier’s father criticized Trump at the Democratic National Convention in July, Trump lashed back by suggesting, among other things, that the boy’s mother “wasn’t allowed” to speak, presumably by her Muslim husband.
In a reference to this incident, the rabbis wrote: “We were shocked by the disrespect shown to parents who suffered the greatest pain — losing a son who died in the service of our country. The Torah commands us always to comfort mourners. The fact that the parents criticized a candidate does not justify harsh and hurtful retaliation.”
The signers tend to represent institutions on the religiously liberal side of modern Orthodoxy. Other signers include Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder and of the liberal Orthodox group Uri L’Tzedek; Rabbi Jeffrey S. Fox, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Maharat, a seminary for Orthodox women; and Rabba Sara Hurwitz, the former rosh beit midrash at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan.
Separately, Trump apologized on Thursday for past remarks that “may have caused personal pain” as he sought to refocus his message in the face of falling poll numbers.
“Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing,” Trump told a crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina, in his first speech since shaking up his campaign team this week. “I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.”
Trailing Clinton in national opinion polls, Trump has tried to reset his campaign, announcing on Wednesday a shake-up of his senior campaign staff for the second time in less than two months. In the past week, he has abandoned his free-wheeling style of campaigning, instead using a teleprompter at every rally.
On Friday, Trump’s campaign officially acknowledged the resignation of campaign chair Paul Manafort as part of a larger shakeup of the campaign staff, Vox reported.
The departure of Manafort, seen as one of the most conventional political operative in Trump’s orbit, could help consolidate the power of Kellyanne Conway, who was promoted earlier this week to campaign manager and is credited with urging Trump to offer regret for his past offensive comments, and Stephen Bannon, the executive chairman of the conservative Breitbart News site, who was brought on as campaign CEO, according to Politico.
—JTA News and Features
WJW staff writer Justin Katz contributed reporting to this article.