by Tyler O’Neil in The Daily Signal
Rabbi Yaakov Menken, whose organization represents more than 2,000 Orthodox Jewish rabbis on public policy, told The Daily Signal that his group constitutes living proof that social conservatives aren’t trying to force “Christian values” down Americans’ throats, as many on the Left claim.
When conservatives speak up, “the Left will immediately claim that only Christians believe this; therefore, you’re trying to shove Christian values down America’s throat; therefore, it’s a violation of [the separation of] church and state to be pro-life, or to be pro-family, or any of these things,” Menken, managing director of the Baltimore-based Coalition for Jewish Values, said in an interview at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC.
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He recalled that “the Jewish Left” attacked his organization early on by describing it as “espousing positions more often associated with evangelical Christians. To which our unwritten response was, ‘Well, yeah, where do you think the evangelicals got them from?’”
Menken noted that conservative values “need a Jewish voice,” and his organization emerged because a group of Orthodox rabbis realized that “there was nobody speaking out on behalf of Jewish tradition.”
“All you were hearing was partisan leftism disguised as if it were Jewish values,” he recalled. The rabbi noted that many on the Jewish Left cite the notion of Tikkun Olam, or “Repairing the World,” as an excuse to advocate for whatever political goals they espouse and claim it is a part of their faith.
“Anything I want to do is ‘repairing the world’; so, my own personal ideology is, therefore, Judaism, which means you can be on two sides of an issue and both claim to be representing Jewish values,” Menken said. “It doesn’t work that way, obviously, and the whole point of the Bible is there is a moral standard that everybody’s supposed to follow, and you don’t get to remake it on the fly.”
The rabbi noted that on “certain issues,” in order to be “a traditional rabbi, you have to come out a certain way, and people don’t realize that the overwhelming majority of rabbis in America are on the right wing, very conservative in their values, as compared to the average Jew.”
Menken explained that, while Christians who reject Christianity are no longer referred to as Christian, but make up the atheist Left, “you could be a Jew and not believe in Judaism.” This leads to the phenomenon where “you have this image of the Jews as being all on the Left, whereas the involved Jews and the rabbis, those who actually know Judaism and those who let Judaism drive their values, are on the Right, and they needed to have a voice.”
The rabbi also countered what he called the “asinine” idea that abortion is a religious freedom issue for Jews.
“The idea that an elective abortion is a religious obligation is obviously asinine,” Menken said. “It doesn’t begin to make logical sense.”
He mocked the idea of “Jews for feticide” and warned that weaponizing religious liberty in this way is “profoundly dangerous” because “if everything becomes a religious liberty issue, then nothing is a religious liberty issue.”
The Coalition for Jewish Values claimed credit when House Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., booted Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from the Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this year.
The coalition had sent letters to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., but she never acted on them. “This is tolerating antisemitism in Congress,” Menken argued. He recalled that when he sent a similar letter to McCarthy, “the [House majority] whip’s office sent it out to every legislative director on the Republican side, who had a copy of our letter.”
“It looked like Speaker McCarthy did not have the votes, and then it turned out that he did, after our letter,” Menken said. “So, at least according to others, we were somehow responsible, or partially responsible, for that happening.”
The Coalition for Jewish Values also sent a letter to Amazon, urging the Big Tech company to stop relying on the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center for its Amazon Smile program. The SPLC routinely brands mainstream conservative and Christian organizations “hate groups,” putting them on a map alongside chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. A terrorist used the SPLC map to target the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian nonprofit, in 2012.
Menken recalled that someone referred to him as the “Jewish Tony Perkins,” referring to the Family Research Council’s president.
“Well, I take that as a compliment,” Menken said. “I mean, he’s out there fearlessly espousing basic traditional values, and he does it on the Christian side, and I’m doing it on the Jewish side.”
“We are Orthodox Jews. Anything the woke left calls ‘hateful,’ ‘bigoted’ and ‘racist,’ we do,” he added.
Originally published in The Daily Signal
Tyler O’Neil: This is Tyler O’Neil. I’m managing editor at The Daily Signal and I’m honored to have Rabbi Yaakov Menken, who is managing director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, a really stalwart voice for traditional Jewish values in the public square pushing back against woke ideology and specifically some of the attacks of the [Anti-Defamation League]. But most recently you had a great moment of impact regarding—
Rabbi Yaakov Menken: [Rep.] Ilhan Omar.
O’Neil: Ilhan Omar. Yes. Exactly. Yeah, so talk a little bit about the letter that you sent to House Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy.
Menken: Yeah. Because we had sent three letters. First of all, thank you so much for having me.
O’Neil: Oh yeah, no problem.
Menken: We had three letters sent to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi previous, since the day that she was nominated to be on that committee, Rep. Ilhan Omar, to be on [the Committee on] Foreign Affairs. This is tolerating antisemitism in Congress.
And with Rep. McCarthy, obviously, it hit home in a very different way. We know that the whips office sent it out to every legislative director on the Republican side, had a copy of, or at least knowledge of, our letter. And that meant that several of the people who were saying that they—obviously, they said, “No, we’re going to vote against, we’re not going to remove her.” It looked like Speaker McCarthy did not have the votes. And then it turned out that he did, after our letter. So at least according to others, we were somehow responsible, or partially responsible, for that happening.
O’Neil: And the Coalition for Jewish Values represents over 2,000 rabbis in the United States. Can you talk about your organization’s beginnings and what you’re looking forward to now? How you’re advocating on their behalf?
Menken: Well, the start of our organization was a group of rabbis realizing that there was nobody speaking out on behalf of Jewish tradition. That all you were hearing was partisan leftism disguised as if it were Jewish values.
Tikkun olam, repairing the world. Anything I want to do is repairing the world, so my own personal ideology is therefore Judaism, which means you can be on two sides of an issue and both claim to be representing Jewish values. It doesn’t work that way, obviously. And the whole point of the Bible is there is a moral standard that everybody’s supposed to follow and you don’t get to remake it on the fly.
So what happened is we recognized that there’s certain issues where in order to be a traditional rabbi, you have to come out a certain way. And that people don’t realize that the overwhelming majority of rabbis in America are on the right wing, very conservative in their values as compared to the average Jew.
You could be a Jew and not believe in Judaism. So the Christian who doesn’t believe in Christianity, they no longer call them Christian. That’s the atheist Left. But when it comes to the Jewish community, they still are Jews. And so thus you have this image of the Jews as being all on the Left, whereas the involved Jews and the rabbis, those who actually know Judaism and those who let Judaism drive their values, are on the Right. And they needed to have a voice.
O’Neil: Well, and that’s why you get these Jewish leftists arguing that abortion, for example, is a religious freedom issue.
Menken: Yeah. The Jews for feticide.
O’Neil: Yeah. Right?
Menken: It’s unbelievable. I mean, first of all, the idea that an elective abortion is a religious obligation is obviously asinine. It doesn’t begin to make logical sense. But these are not people who actually care about religious liberty because this is profoundly dangerous. If everything becomes a religious liberty issue, then nothing is a religious liberty issue.
And a shoutout to my friend, the lawyer, Howie Slugh, at the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, which is a legal outfit that files amici and the like on behalf of religious liberty from a Jewish perspective. They’re great allies.
He is the one who pointed out, he says, “If your religion only has one obligation, that’s when it’s time to doubt the sincerity of that religion.” If it just happens to be that the one thing that government doesn’t want to let you do, like smoke pot, is the only religious obligation your religion has, it might be that you’re making up the religion as it goes along.
O’Neil: But then there are—
Menken: So this is Jews who do not believe that observing the Sabbath is a religious obligation.
O’Neil: Oh my God.
Menken: This is Friday and I turned you down for a Saturday interview because—
O’Neil: Oh yeah, of course.
Menken: … I’m not going to be in front of a mic or no camera tomorrow. Not the ones who believe keeping kosher is a Jewish obligation. They certainly don’t believe that living in Israel fulfills a Jewish obligation, but, oh yeah, having access to an abortion, that’s our religious obligation.
Menken: Right. There’s a little problem with that.
O’Neil: … And you’ve spoken out in the past against the way that the activist Left pushes LGBT ideology in a way that threatens religious liberty, the religious liberty of Jews as well. Would you address that?
Menken: This new Respect for Marriage Act. Actually, it’s really an interesting descriptor of our influence, besides the Ilhan Omar letter, is the fact that when ADF did a letter to the Republican side, begging them to “please do not allow the Respect for Marriage Act to pass,” which sadly they did, and there were some amazing sellouts there, and I was really surprised by that.
But be that as it may, on the front page of that letter with 80 signatures, there were only 10, 9 out of 10 were multimillion-dollar household name organizations, like Heritage Foundation, that everybody has heard of. The 10th organization, the only one that wasn’t a multimillion-dollar cause, was us.
Menken: And that is because these values causes need a Jewish voice. They need diversity. Actually, bang for buck, as it were. We are way in excess of anybody else because we’re like a force multiplier.
The Left will immediately claim that only Christians believe this. Therefore, you’re trying to shove Christian values down America’s throat. Therefore, it’s a violation of church and state to be pro-life or to be pro-family or any of these things. Which, guess what? The Jewish Left, in one early hit piece against us, they described us as espousing positions more often associated with evangelical Christians. To which are unwritten response was, “Well, yeah, where do you think the evangelicals got them from?”
O’Neil: Right. So, on that line, I want to talk briefly about the Southern Poverty Law Center. You guys were—
Menken: Oh, just our favorite people. Really.
O’Neil: I wrote a book about them called “Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center.” And you guys had a very important letter to Amazon.
O’Neil: Telling them not to rely on this group, to exclude people from Amazon Smile.
Menken: Another great success of ours, they shut down Amazon Smile entirely. No. Sadly, during the time of Amazon Smile, they were relying on the SPLC’s “hate map,” even though that hate map has been used to commit an actual hate crime.
O’Neil: An act of terror.
Menken: Yeah, an act of terror against Family Research Council. By the way, somebody just called me the Jewish Tony Perkins.
O’Neil: Oh, no.
Menken: Well, I take that as a compliment. I mean, he’s out there fearlessly espousing basic traditional values, and he does it on the Christian side and I’m doing it on the Jewish side.
O’Neil: And he gets smeared for it.
Menken: And he gets smeared.
O’Neil: And you face it too.
Menken: We are Orthodox Jews. Anything the woke Left calls hateful, bigoted, and racist, we do. Now, my daughter got married last year in a hotel ballroom.
O’Neil: Congratulations. Mazel tov.
Menken: Public accommodation, right? With a divider between men and women. And no, you didn’t get to decide which you are when you come in. So according to the Equality Act, that was like, if not for the religious exemption, that’s a hate crime.
O’Neil: Oh my. Yeah.
Menken: So I’m not actually exaggerating when I say—and the truth of the matter is that anybody that hues to traditional values, the woke Left is now calling you a bigot and trying to drive you from the public sphere. And we’re like, OK, but we’re Jews. We have 3,000 years of experience with other governments telling us we’re wrong. This is not a new experience for us and therefore we’re just—I know that when I go home, the other rabbis on my block are like, “Good going. That was good. You said the right things.” So we don’t get silenced by the Left.
O’Neil: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Rabbi Menken, and we look forward to—
Menken: Appreciate this opportunity. You’ve been a dear friend for years. I mean, really. Your reporting has gone way back on our behalf and bringing some of these stories to the public is really important. And so we appreciate you as much as you appreciate us.
O’Neil: And how can people follow your work?
Menken: Well, me personally, I’m @YMenken on social media and @CJValues is the organization, including cjvalues.org or, if you like typing, coalitionforjewishvalues.org. If you can’t find us, just Google “Coalition for Jewish Values.” We come right up. It’s all good.
O’Neil: Yeah. Well, thanks again.
Originally published in The Daily Signal