Rabbis Give Republicans An Out
by Paul Bass | Sep 12, 2012 2:02 pm
Posted to: Religion, Campaign 2012
As Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approach, a group of local rabbis offered an election-season break to candidates for public office: Permission to break a no-new-taxes vow.
The permission came into the form of a rabbinic decree issued Wednesday by a “beit dein”—New Haven-area rabbis meeting as a court to make a legal decision under religious law. They issued the decree in the days leading up to the “Days of Awe,” beginning at sundown Sunday with Rosh Hashanah. (Technically three rabbis served as the rabbinic court, and three others endorsed the decree. They’re listed at the bottom of this story.)
Their decree follows the form of a the “Kol Nidre” annulment of vows traditionally offered at the annual Yom Kippur evening service. (Click here to read the text in Hebrew and in English.)
“All vows, renunciations, bans, oaths, formulas of obligation, pledges, and promises that were made by members of the House of Representatives or the Senate and other public officials, lawmakers, city officials and candidates for office in the United States of America before this Yom Kippur 5773 (17 September 2012), whether in writing or orally, to not raise taxes or impose new taxes, all are undone, repealed, cancelled, voided, annulled, and released, and regarded as neither valid nor binding by our community,” decree reads in part.
“They are hereby released and forgiven by this Earthly Court, and so may they be released and forgiven by the Highest Court.”
The decree annuls a “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” signed by Republican officeholders and candidates nationwide, including some Connecticut Republicans. Drafted by conservative activist Grover Norquist, it binds the signer to vow never to vote to raise taxes or approve new ones. It has caught fire among conservatives in this election year. A total of 558 federal candidates—279 incumbents, 279 challengers; three of them Democrats—have signed it this year, according to Adam Radman of Americans for Tax Reform, the Norquist-formed group behind the pledge. (Click on the play arrow to watch Norquist talk about the pledge on Fox News.)
By signing the pledge, a politician vows to his or her constituents: “I will ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”
The rabbinic decree relieves the politicians of that vow, at least to their Jewish constituents.
In a press release, the rabbis said the pledge “limited legislators’ ability to reduce the deficit and debt, which many economists believe represent major threats to the country’s economic future.”
“They may have meant it when they said it,” Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen of New Haven’s Beth El Keser Israel synagogue stated in the release. (Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch him discuss the issue in an Independent interview.) “But the situation has changed, and our knowledge and understanding of the economy has changed. Public officials face the moral dilemma of either breaking their promise or failing to protect the public interest. We have freed them of this dilemma, at least with respect to our own community.
“It just means legislators can make policy based on what is in the best interest of the country, not based on some promise they made for political reasons in the past which they may now regret.
“Maybe they want to eliminate a particularly unfair or inefficient tax but recover revenue by raising an existing tax or imposing a new one instead. America now has a much larger deficit than in the past, and most mainstream economists believe it must be addressed in part through higher revenues. Under their pledge, they couldn’t do this; now they can.”
At least one local pledge-signer, Republican U.S. Congressional candidate Wayne Winsley (pictured), said he has no regrets.
“In regards to the dispensation, thank you. But taxes are too high,” Winsley, who’s challenging incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of New Haven, said of the rabbinic decree. He said he’s sticking to his pledge.
About the rabbis’ argument that it might limit his ability cut the deficit, Winsley remarked, ” “How about we stop spending at the rate we’re spending?”
The group behind the pledge, Norquist’s Americans For Tax Reform, lists five Connecticut state senators and 13 state representatives as having signed the pledge. None come from New Haven. One is a Democrat: state Sen. Joe Crisco, who represents Hamden, Woodbridge, and the lower Naugatuck Valley. Click here to read the list.
One state senator who signed the pledge, Southington’s Joe Markley, thanked the rabbis for “the gesture” and “the freedom they have given me.”
Still, Markley’s sticking by the pledge. He offered his own exegesis.
“To my mind, circumstances have not changed,” Markley said. “It was [thousands of] years ago that Melchizedek first collected a tithe from Abraham. That was the first tithe recorded in the bible. The tithe was 10 percent. In [thousands of] years the Lord has never come back and asked for a higher percentage. Much like the Lord, the government has got to learn to live on a certain percentage of our income.”
In response, Rabbi Tilsen noted that “the Bible provided for a first tithe, a second tithe, a poll tax, first fruits, corners, gleanings and leavings; and the king could conscript labor without limit. ... Effectively the king could tax as needed. ...
“In Biblical times, when crops failed, many died of famine; when a foreign army attacked, the people were slaughtered, occupied, enslaved or exiled; people generally lived only 40 years (with a few notable exceptions); they were subject to epidemics. They did not regulate a food supply that feeds over 300 million citizens, provide for hundreds of thousands of disabled veterans, maintain a nuclear arsenal, educated children and adults (just think how short their history and science books were!), build thousands of miles of highways and railways, protect a vast water supply, provide insurance for job loss and disability, and more. I just don’t think the Biblical system is relevant to a modern economy.”
The rabbinic decree was signed and endorsed by:
• Rabbi Tilsen, spiritual leader of Westville’s Congregation Beth El Keser Israel, part of the Masorti-Conservative movement.
• Rabbi Yaakov Komisar, who lives in New Haven’s Dwight neighborhood and teaches Judaics at Woodbridge’s Eza Academy.
• Rabbi Baruch A. Levine, who lives in Ansonia and serves as Skirball professor emeritus of Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at New York University.
• Rabbi Murray Levine, who lives in Westville and is the rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham, Massachusetts.
• Rabbi Alan Lovins of New Haven, a former area pulpit rabbi who currently works as a clinical psychologist.
• Rabbi Joshua Ratner of Congregation Kol Ami in Cheshire.
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Not a single one of these Rabbis are Orthodox and their “Beit Din’ has no authority on the majority of Jews who would be concerned about the ruling of a Rabbinical Court.
The vows that Jews renounce before the High Holy Days are Vows between man and G-d. Man must ask particular forgiveness for words and actions towards a fellow man, renunciation of the vow doesn’t cut it.
Furthermore, the politicians would have to renounce their vows, these Rabbis can’t take it amongst themselves to release those who signed the pledge.
And most important: A Beit Din has no authority over Non-Jews-most of those who made the pledge.
Just a cute way for these 6 to make a political statement without meaning or enforcement.
[Note: One of the rabbis out of the 6 was ordained under Orthodox supervision; the others, under Conservative supervision.]
@mm At least one of the rabbi’s has Orthodox smicha (ordination). More importantly, who are you to say what is meaningful or not? This action has meaning to me, an observant Jew, in that it makes me think not only about the politics behind it, but also the meanings of vows and pledges, no-matter who they are made to.
Will any candidate take them up on it? Probably not. If they did, what would it mean? I’m not sure. But does it start a conversation? Definitely.
Yasher Koach to all of the rabbis on the beit din!
posted by: Christopher Schaefer on September 13, 2012 6:40am
“Winsley remarked, ‘How about we stop spending at the rate we’re spending?’” What a welcome contrast Wayne Winsley is to Rosa Delauro! She ALWAYS votes AGAINST any cuts in spending, always votes FOR any INCREASES in spending. http://www.thepoliticalguide.com/Profiles/House/Connecticut/Rosa_DeLauro/Views/Debt,_Deficit,_Spending,_and_the_Size_of_Government/ At least she’s consistent! Meanwhile, what is Rosa DeLauro doing about the Federal debt—now equaling over $50,000 per US citizen and over $150,000 PER TAXPAYER? Voters need to get rid of spendaholic, lifetime, “professional” politicians like Rosa DeLauro, whose campaigns have become public auctions. To stay in power DeLauro must continue to make unsustainable promises to her supporters. For example, see Rosa DeLauro’s major contributors: http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians/pacs.php?cycle=2012&cid=N00000615&type=I Until voters dump careerists like DeLauro, our economy will continue to stall, the jobless rate will remain unacceptably high and safety-net programs like Social Security and Medicare will go bankrupt.
Though it may in the end have no effect on the politicians who have taken Norquist’s pledge, I do appreciate their sentiment.
For those claiming that we have a spending problem, I’ll note that about a third of our current deficit is due to the Bush era tax cuts, and those tax cuts will make up about half of the projected future budget shortfall in a few years . Repealing those would bring us a long way toward a balanced budget. Roughly another third is due to decreased revenue (people made less money, so there was less to tax) and increased safety net (medicare, medicaid, and unemployment benefits, mostly) spending because of the depression.
Anyone who thinks we can balance the budget with spending cuts alone had better be *very* specific with what they want to cut. Remember, to first order, the US is an insurance plan with an army . You could eliminate the entire “domestic discretionary” portion of the budget (no more EPA, DOE, NSF, education, NIH, CDC, federal highway funds, FEMA, NASA, farm support, student loans, federal courts, air traffic controllers, etc.) and we’d still have a deficit.