The Talmud and Trump

In the Tractate of Sanhedrin, page 93a, there is a story that resonates with today’s politics. My translation is far from literal and there is a lot of elision. The literal text is X-rated and not appropriate for our family oriented newsletter. The text goes as follows:

Concerning Achav the son of Koliah and Tzedkia the son of Masseih, HaShem said, ‘All of the exiles of Babylon will use their names as a curse saying, ‘May G-d make you like Tzedkia and Achav whom the King of Babylon burned in a furnace.’

What did they do? They behaved licentiously, going so far as to make improper suggestions to the daughter of Nevuchatnetzer, the King of Babylon. She told her father, who stated, ‘The G-d of Israel hates unchastity.’ Nevuchatnetzer then questioned them and asked, ‘Who told you to behave in this way?’ To which they responded, ‘The Holy One, blessed be he.’ Nevuchatnetzer responded, ‘I have asked Hanania, Mishael and Azaria (a.k.a. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the three companions of Daniel) and they told me that such licentious behavior is forbidden.’

Achav and Tzedkia responded, ‘We’re prophets too and that’s what G-d told us to do.’ Nevuchatnetzer then said,’ I have a really effective test for people who claim to be prophets – throwing them into a fiery furnace and seeing if they survive. Hanania, Mishael and Azaria passed the test, now it’s your turn.’ Tzedkia and Achav responded, ‘But there were three of them and there are just two of us.’

Not to be put off, Nevuchatnetzer said, ‘OK, pick anyone that you want and I’ll make sure that he shows up.’ They responded, ‘Joshua, the High Priest’, figuring that the great virtue of Joshua would save them. Into the furnace they went, Achav and Tzedkia went up in smoke and the garments of Joshua were singed.

Nevuchatnetzer asked Joshua, ‘How come your clothes were singed? After all, Hanania, Mishael and Azaria emerged from the furnace completely unscathed.’ To which Joshua answered, ‘There were no wicked people with them and I had two wicked people with me. As people say, ‘If two dry logs are put in a fire together with one wet one, the wet one gets burned too.’

From this we learn a great lesson – when destructive powers are unleashed, they are hard to contain and may harm the innocent along with the guilty.

The Trump candidacy is a candidacy of the destructive powers. Unleashing hatred of Mexicans and Muslims in order to build a base constituency is evil. Beatings of protesters is a frightening phenomenon. It is even more frightening when the candidate (Trump) condones the beatings by saying that he will cover the legal fees of the beaters. A threat of riots in Cleveland by Trump, if he is not nominated, is a reminder of of the chaos that we suffered in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic convention. 1968 has another claim to infamy. It was the cursed year of political assassination – Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Let us hope that the destructive powers now being unleashed by Trump will not lead to assassinations in 2016.

One must also condemn the fools on the left who try to silence Trump and deny his rights of free speech. Clearly the choice of University of Illinois at Chicago as a venue for Trump’s speech was meant to elicit exactly the protest that he got. It solidified Trump’s standing with his political base. The behavior of the protesters also fans the flames of destruction. Just imagine how much better the US would be today if the 1968 riots had not occurred and Hubert Humphrey had been elected president instead of Richard Nixon. Humphrey was a man of integrity. Of Nixon, Harry Truman once said, ‘He talks out of both sides of his mouth and lies from both of them’. Humphrey was a great friend of Israel. Imagine how quickly the US would have replenished Israel’s weapons in the Yom Kippur War if Humphrey had been our President!

The other leading Republican candidate for president is also a candidate of the dark side. Cruz supports building a wall on the Mexican border and advocates police patrols of Muslim neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the only other remaining Republican candidate, John Kasich, has little chance of being nominated.

Everything would appear to be roses for the Democrats in our community. Even Netanyahu and the settlers of West Rogers Park and Skokie should find it it difficult to support a Trump or a Cruz. Unfortunately, there are also problems with the leading Democratic candidates.

It’s not just the Jewish community, nobody trusts Clinton.
Bernie Sanders, on the contrary, is considered a man of great integrity. His recent speech on the Middle East lays out a position that is quite similar to President Obama’s neo-isolationist one – a winding down of US commitments in the Middle East and demanding more from the Saudis and the Gulf States.(as discussed in our last newsletter). It is a thoughtful speech.

However, his ‘even-handed’ approach on the allocation of blame in the Gaza War of 2014, as enunciated in his Salt Lake City speech of March 21, is extremely disquieting. Sanders states, ‘Peace will require strict adherence by both sides to the tenets of international humanitarian law. This includes Israeli ending disproportionate responses to being attacked, even though any attack on Israel is unacceptable. We recently saw a dramatic example of just how important this idea is. In 2014, the decades-old conflict escalated once more as Israel launched a major military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli offensive came after weeks of indiscriminate rocket fire into its territory, and the kidnapping of Israel citizens.

Of course, I strongly object to Hamas’ long held position that Israel does not have the right to exist. Of course, I strongly condemned indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas into Israeli territory, and Hamas’ use of civilian neighborhoods to launch those attacks. I condemn the fact that Hamas diverted funds and materials for much-needed construction projects designed to improve the quality of life of the Palestinian people, and instead used those funds to construct a network of tunnels for military purposes.

However, let me be very clear: I – along with many supporters of Israel – spoke out strongly against the Israeli counter attacks that killed nearly 1,500 civilians, and wounded far more. I condemned the bombing of hospitals, schools and refugee camps.’

Sanders knows better; he’s just playing to his base. See the article reprinted from the Jordan Times of March 19 in the complete newsletter. Israel’s response was disproportionate in terms of casualties, only because the rockets launched by Hamas were inaccurate and because the Iron Dome system protected Israel. Would Sanders have felt that the number of casualties in Gaza was justified if more Israelis had been killed? Sanders knows very well that Israel did not intentionally bomb ‘hospitals, schools and refugee camps’. It did bomb the rocket launching sites that Hamas intentionally placed next to or in ‘hospitals, schools and refugee camps’.

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.