Truth be told, we didn’t read Parashat Trump, but rather Parashat Truma, though only an errant pen-stroke separates them. The term parasha can mean passage, but it can also mean issue, affair, even scandal.
Truma and Trump share more than a nominal connection; both have a penchant for making things out of and covering things with gold or bronze. But it’s not the aurumphilia of Trump that is so concerning, but rather his veriphobia — not his love of gold, but his antipathy towards truth.
Now, the concept of the lying poltiican is hardly novel; indeed, some may consider it a fundamental job requirement. But pre-Trump, the life-cycle of a politician’s lie followed a predictable pattern:
- Politician lies.
- Opponents and/ or the media present evidence of the truth.
- Politician faces the music.
Now, depending on the nature and degree of the lie, the politician might be embarrassed, deposed or prosecuted. But at least he or she had to admit the truth.
Not anymore. Let us recall that Trump’s political career (at least the current act) began with his declaration that he was getting to the bottom of President Obama’s birth certificate. The news would be earth-shattering, he promised us, praising the investigative team he’d sent to Hawaii to uncover the truth. Which turned out to be… nothing at all.
You might have expected Trump to retreat from the public spotlight, or at least the political arena, but no–he doubled down. After all, he is a reality-television star, a genre wholly built on the lie that viewers are watching “real life,” as opposed to footage which is scripted, manipulated and edited to tell a specific story.
And so, Trump, fueled by egocentrism and casual misogyny/ racism/ antisemitism/ Islamophobia, has built his political persona on “telling it like it is,” which in this case means constructing his own reality. The hard truth that he tells his cheering crowds? That they are right and everyone else is wrong. And in the week of Parashat Truma, Parashat Trump stopped being a theoretical exercise as the Donald won the first Republican primary in New Hampshire, allegedly one of the last bastions of Northeastern moderation.
Why is his brand so attractive? Because he speaks to the reality that his supporters perceive, of an America flooded with criminal illegals, a floundering economy and a spineless foreign policy. You may try to bring facts into the conversation, but that doesn’t change what the Trumpeters feel, what they know in their bones to be true. Being accurate or considerate has been redefined as political correctness, and we know whom to blame for that. Everyone knows the facts are biased.
But why is this an issue for the Jews, beyond the fact that America hosts the largest Diaspora community? The problem is that the Dawn of the Donald is not an isolated phenomenon; it has spread far and wide, and now it seems to be taking over mainstream American Orthodoxy.
I hail from the world of American Orthodox Judaism, and its direction concerns me. For decades, OJ prided itself on its scholarship, subjecting all manner of modern dilemmas to the classical sources of Halakha (Jewish law): Talmud, Codes, Responsa. However, over the past few years, as its has grappled with contemporary issues, mainstream Orthodox Judaism has eschewed halakhic reasoning for appeals to Authority, Tradition and old-fashioned Yiddishkeit (whatever that means). From marriage equality to nuclear diplomacy, from halakhic prenups to conversion courts, from women’s public prayer and ordination to biblical criticism, it is shockingly rare to see sources actually cited in the articles, essays and blogs coming from the right. On those rare occasions when classical sources are cited, follow-up questions are a sure way to get yourself censored, blocked or ignored.
At this very moment, more Jews are sitting in yeshiva than ever before. You might think that this would lead to a higher level of scholarship and erudition, but I’ve yet to see the evidence for that. The paucity of source-based halakhic reasoning shows us that this generation is getting a pretty pathetic return on investment. Any businessman could tell you that’s unacceptable. Especially a yoogel-ly successful one like Donald Trump.