As a teenager, more than four decades ago, I finally scraped a few dollars together to buy my first volume of contemporary commentary on Talmud. The tome I proudly purchased was authored by a student at Yeshiva University, Menachem Genack, only five or six years my senior. In the introduction, he described his mentor, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, as an artisan who had refashioned a vessel so thoroughly he was entitled to ownership of its enhanced value.
Enthralled with Genack’s insights I perused virtually the entire work. It covered the Talmudic tractate of Sanhedrin, devoted to justice and jurisprudence. I treasured this as a prized possession.
The book is still beautiful. But the author has gone lost. In the ultimate irony, the analyst of Jewish justice has succumbed to the siren song of the unjust and the truly deplorable. In 2013 he published a syllabus of sycophancy, Letters to President Clinton. Now he has gone further, penning an appeal to Torah-observant Jews to cast ballots in favor of Hillary Clinton for President. (TAS contributor Rabbi Shmuley Boteach offers a strong rejoinder.)
In fairness to Genack, I will limit my criticism of him today to ideas culled only from the Talmud in Sanhedrin. I will forgive him all his other elisions of, and collisions with, Torah principles and values. I will hold him only to his own area of initial expertise, the dissertation which launched his career. He stands in abject abrogation of every virtue that defines Sanhedrin. (The Talmudic volume covers 224 pages, divided into a and b sides.)
In Sanhedrin (57b) we are taught that abortion is forbidden not only for Jews, but for all mankind. The Torah offers a prescriptive basic morality for all human beings, divided into seven categories. This universal moral code forbids murder, including abortion. Indeed Rabbi Ishmael goes a step further, making the murder of a child in the womb a capital offense.
Later in Sanhedrin (72b) the rules of permitted abortion are laid out. When the unborn child threatens the life of the mother, abortion is allowed (and appropriate) under the category of self-defense. This is only true until the child’s head emerges from the birth canal. At that point the child is as fully alive as the mother. Each now has a right of self-defense and neither life holds precedence.
Earlier in Sanhedrin (19b) we see the virtue of adoption being extolled. Multiple Biblical sources are cited to establish the principle that the adoptive parent is honored and acknowledged as the true parent. So prohibiting abortion does not lead to abandoned children but to loving parenthood through adoption.
When Bill Clinton took office on January 21, 1993, his first official act was to cancel the Executive Order which Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush had maintained for twelve years, preventing U.S. aid money abroad from paying for abortion. This followed a campaign in which Clinton claimed he wanted to make abortion “safe, legal and rare.”
No analysis of policy minutiae was needed for any student of Torah to identify the moral caliber of the man. In less than a day he undid twelve years of lifesaving and underwrote a worldwide spree of killing God’s children on our dime.
Later, Congress passed a law prohibiting partial birth abortion, a procedure which involves killing the child after its head emerges. This is no longer abortion but infanticide according to the Torah’s defintion, as Democrat New York Senator Daniel Moynihan said at the time. Clinton vetoed the bill during a special event in which he brought a Jewish woman from Los Angeles to tell how she scheduled her partial-birth abortion on Yom Kippur. Bill gave her a hug and asserted that we need more people like this. He unctuously coopted the cachet of Jewish law and spirituality as unction for his iniquity.
But reading Genack’s letters you would never dream this was the case. He introduces himself to Candidate Clinton by mocking President Bush for lack of vision, thus fostering the implication that Clinton has a superior vision. Without ever specifying what that vision might be, or why it might be admirable, the letters all encourage Clinton to maintain the fortitude required to promote “his agenda.” Various Biblical characters are trotted out as role models for the embattled leader fighting an uphill battle against ignoble obstructionists.
The book offers a simple formula. Bush bad, Clinton good, his agenda good, Republicans trying to block it bad. There is no detail of Clinton’s goals, no examination of their value, no effort to understand the opposition, no criticisms at all of the content of the agenda. Clinton is David, the Republicans are Saul trying to hobble David, and Genack is Jonathan, David’s selfless friend. That is your narrative.
Yet in Sanhedrin (26a) we learn of Resh Lakish, the rabbi who was worldly enough to recognize phonies and dishonest people. When other rabbis were too naive to identify the violators, or too polite to confront them, Resh Lakish rejected those rabbis as leaders. He dismissed their votes on a key legal decision, saying that people who will not stand up to be counted… should not be counted! Rabbi Genack forgot this lesson as well.
Again in Sanhedrin (104b) we meet Rabbi Gamliel, who would hear a woman cry over her lost child and cry along with her until his eyelashes fell off. If Rabbi Genack was shedding tears for the 1.2 million children aborted in the United States each year, he did his weeping very discreetly indeed. Not one tear moistens a single line of prose in his missives.
Contrast his moral cowardice with the contemporaneous behavior of other religious leaders. Pope John Paul II landed in Denver in August 1993 to address World Youth Day and the Clinton White House begged him not to mention pro-life issues. He disregarded their entreaties and forced the President to sit through this: “I am pleased, Mr. President, that we have had this opportunity to talk together about some of the principal concerns of the world situation at this moment. The inalienable dignity of every human being and the rights which flow from that dignity — in the first place, the right to life and the defense of life…”
Mother Teresa came to greet the National Prayer Breakfast in February 1994 and was again lobbied by the administration to avoid the hot button of abortion. Instead of kowtowing she said: “I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another…? We must persuade her with love and remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts… So the woman who is thinking of abortion should be helped to love; that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child… By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into that same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. this is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
Juxtapose these eloquent and courageous expressions with Genack currying favor during this period, and a giant shadow is cast over the notion that the Jew has a moral message to the world. In Sanhedrin (98b) we are told that the challenge of the Jews at the end of history will be to make the case to be entrusted again with moral leadership. This is compared to the cow who got sick and was replaced at the plow by the horse; after healing he needs to fight for his job all over again. If Genack is in that battle, he is not sweating very hard. No tears, no sweat.
Now Genack is back to endorse Hillary Clinton. Abortion continues apace, but apparently not enough to satisfy Hillary. Her program places a high priority on eliminating the Hyde Amendment, which prevents Federal funds from being spent on abortion. This prospect gladdens the Progressive heart: there may yet be a few souls to be extinguished. Indeed National Right-to-Life estimates that 60,000 lives a year are saved by this provision of law. Genack is sanguine over this potential spilling of blood. So no tears, no sweat, no blood.
Nor is Genack alert to any other wrinkles in Hillary Clinton’s character and career.
It is a matter of record that Hillary actively enabled Bill’s predatory behavior toward women. She marched women through the Rose Law Firm to be intimidated by lawyers; she sent other staffers (you can hear George Stephanopoulos doing this on audio) and private detectives to further damage the victims’ lives and credibility.
In Sanhedrin (39b) we learn how Queen Jezebel painted pornographic images inside King Ahab’s chariot to keep him riled up. In Sanhedrin (110a) we are taught how the wife of Korah agitated and instigated him to challenge Moses, fueling his downfall by her ambition. The persona of the enabler is well defined in these episodes.
And why is Rabbi Genack not offended by the Clinton Foundation corrupting the very institution of philanthropy? In Sanhedrin (56b, commentary of RA”N), charity is one of the universal moral principles. Indeed the lack of charity is cited (Ezekiel 16:49) as one of the principal failings of Sodom.
Orthodox Jews are familiar with real giving, real helping of people in need. An example: Rabbi Chaim Goldberg and David Cohen have hand distributed millions to the needy of Jerusalem over the last thirty years, taking no compensation at all. When Goldberg took ill, the hospital had to organize a special rotating system to accomodate the thousands of visitors. If the Clintons had given to ordinary people even a significant fraction of the billions they raised, she could be elected in a landslide. There would be ads nonstop featuring recipients of their largesse, weeping as they tell how the Foundation lifted them from poverty.
Yes, the Clintons’ greed has eclipsed even their self-interest. As we learn in Sanhedrin (7b), corrupt leaders are called “gold and silver idols” because they are idols who are there for the gold and silver.
Did Rabbi Genack understand the implications when Hillary Clinton, as First Lady, fired Billy Dale and the long-serving members of the White House Travel Office to give their jobs to her friends. then lied about doing it until she was exposed in an aide’s email (deja vu, anyone)?
Once caught in a lie and embarrassed, Hillary had Billy Dale brought up on charges. Although eventually exonerated, he was wiped out financially by the legal expenses. In Sanhedrin (89a) we learn that although Ahab and Jezebel did many terrible things, what did them in ultimately was framing a citizen, Navot of Jezreel, for a crime he did not commit, so they could seize his property. I would argue that the parallel between Jezebel and Hillary in this episode is pitch perfect.
(Fascinatingly, Bill Clinton also mirrored Ahab’s worst policy blunder. Ahab had a chance to kill the hostile king of Syria and let him go, resulting in many Jewish deaths from later Syrian attacks. Bill passed up the chance to get Bin Laden, eventuating in the September 11 attacks.)
From the past let us move to the present. Right now Genack is well aware that a vote for Hillary means replacing Antonin Scalia with a justice of the Democrat persuasion. That alone should send tremors down the spine of any traditional scholar. Remember, Biblical morality has just lost a prime piece of spiritual real estate it held for nearly two thousand years, the idea that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Surely Rabbi Genack recalls Sanhedrin (22a) teaching the importance of marriage in a virtuous culture, and the lengths to which the Jewish Sages went to reinforce that image. Later, Sanhedrin (54a) discusses laws designed to discourage homosexual behavior. And later still, Sanhedrin (108b) explains that promiscuous and perverse sexual practices brought about the disintegration of society leading to the Deluge.
This was a ground held by our civilization since time immemorial. It was lost recently, in large part through the intervention of Democrat Justices. Mostly Jewish ones, in fact. Instead of cringing and being traumatized by these events, Rabbi Genack whistles past the graveyard as if we are open for business as usual. No signs of any effort to prevent further surrenders of Torah territory.
Sanhedrin (7b) teaches that appointing an unworthy judge is like planting a tree of idolatry in the soil of the nation. And it adds that if there are worthy candidates who are bypassed, then the idolatrous tree is planted alongside the Altar.
The point is clear. A virtuous society can only be fashioned if the law is adjudicated with clarity and integrity. In the current collapsing condition of the national moral framework, a student of Sanhedrin cannot fail to grant primacy to the Supreme Court situation in casting a vote for President.
Perhaps most shockingly, Sanhedrin (109b) teaches that the people of Sodom were not irredeemable because they were lawless — they had an active judiciary — but because they built corrupt objectives into the law. The United States is plunging deeper into that morass by the day, and Hillary Clinton’s comrades are the culprits.
This is especially tragic from the perspective of Rabbi Soloveitchik. Genack was prepared to offer him a piece of the profits back then, but now he is in line for a piece of the downside as well. Rabbi Soloveitchik passionately promoted the idea that a Torah scholar should engage with the world, that his voice should be heard in the courts and salons where ideas are debated and advanced.
The last thing he could foresee was that the naivete of a brilliant Orthodox student with broad knowledge of Torah would lead to the same conclusions as the Conservative and Reform Jews, even the unaffiliated Jews of the New York Times.
How terribly sad that we look at Rabbi Genack’s article and ask: what line in here needed Torah to provide its source of illumination? What value or virtue or insight he offers here could not be found on the New York Times editorial page?
In Sanhedrin (73a-75a et al) we learn that a Jew’s highest calling is the “Sanctification of God’s Name”, even giving up one’s life to fight murder, adultery and idolatry… or any behavior that society tries to force people to do against the Torah. Rabbi Soloveitchik was looking for that in his students. Unfortunately, no such profile in courage shows up in Genack’s book, or in his “proud” endorsement of Hillary Clinton.
There is more to say, a lot more, but I will limit my envoi to two critical points.
One, Sanhedrin (103a) teaches that the “Sycophants Club” is not invited into God’s presence. This is a defining category, a grouping, that robs an individual of his own initiative and leaves him scurrying and currying like a puppy. He does get to join a kind of “club”, making him feel special, part of an inner circle, but in Heaven that club is barred from the true Inner Circle of the Creator.
Finally, Sanhedrin (19a,19b) tells the story of King Yannai who refused to stand before the judges of a Rabbinical Court. Simon ben-Shetach was the Chief Justice and wanted to enforce the jurisdiction of the Court on the reigning King to show no one is above the law. He turned to the justices on his right and they slunk away. He turned to the justices on his left and they slunk away.
Simon addressed his colleagues with these immortal words: “So? You are masters of calculations? The ultimate Master of Calculations will see to you…”