Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is running for Congress, with the endorsement of the Bergen County Republican party, in New Jersey’s reconfigured 9th Congressional District. The Englewood resident beat out two candidates from Saddle Brook, BlasÃ© Billack and Bruce Wrede, in voting by party delegates in Hackensack on Thursday.
The rabbi will face what he admits is “a real uphill battle” running as a Republican in a heavily Democratic district. Two incumbent Democratic congressmen, Reps. Steven R. Rothman and William J. Pascrell, Jr., are facing off in a June primary. Other potential candidates have until April 2 to file for the primary. At least one other candidate is rumored to be mulling joining the Democratic field.
As a candidate, Boteach said his priority is to spark a conversation about values.
“The United States is destroying itself by not addressing and confronting the values erosion in our nation,” said Boteach, whose long-running column in The Jewish Standard will be suspended for the duration of his candidacy.
“We all agree that the economic collapse came about through runaway materialism and greed, but nobody’s talking about it,” he complained.
His policy proposals include making marital counseling tax-deductible.
“Marriage is crumbling so rapidly that we’ve become inured to it,” he said, adding that his own experience of his parents’ divorce has convinced him of the need to maintain marriages.
“If you want to save the American family, let’s stop talking about gay couples,” he said. “There is no connection between gay marriage and the heterosexual divorce rate.”
He also called for national service.
“It could be volunteering at a school, it could be volunteering for the elderly, it doesn’t have to be the military. I think kids should get college credit for that,” he said.
Three years of college education are enough, he said.
As for lower levels of education, he supports vouchers for private and parochial schools.
He decried partisanship, saying disagreements should be based on values, not personalities or policies.
“I think President [Barack] Obama is a very caring man who wants the best for America and Americans,” he said. “He wants government to be there for the people.”
Boteach, however, said he did not think people want the government “to be there” for them. He said he agreed on the need for smaller government “because I believe in the individual.”
He also attacked Obama for having “a mixed record on Israel.”
The central goal of his campaign, however, is not to attack the Democratic Party, but “first and foremost, to bring universal Jewish values to the political arena. The Jewish community has wisdom that can bring healing to America.
“Our Christian brothers and sisters are fixated on social sexual issues,” he said. “That largely stems from sexuality being a big question mark in the Christian scriptures, whether it’s the virginity of Mary or the advocacy of celibacy of Paul. Are these values that loom in the Jewish conversation? I wrote ‘Kosher Sex’ to illustrate that sex can be sacred.
“I believe my voice can’t easily be dismissed because the country knows that I am one of the most passionate advocates for the family,” said Boteach, who bills himself as “America’s Rabbi.” “I’ve written 27 books and a large number have been about saving the family. It’s not as if social conservatives can say I’m some left-wing guy who is attacking their values.
“Of course, you run to get into Congress, but even if I don’t, maybe other people will pick up on this conversation. Maybe we’ll start hearing more voices saying this. I feel that we are at a juncture in history where universal Jewish values have to be heard. If people disagree and say, ‘Shmuley, no, those aren’t Jewish values, these are Jewish values,’ then I’ve succeeded. Now we’re talking about Jewish values. The Jewish people have something to offer the political process other than campaign contributions.
“God bless Pascrell and Rothman. I’m not here to fight them. I’m trying to say, if you want more of the same, vote for more of what exists. If you want a new conversation about values, think a little bit differently,” he said, and vote for him.
Boteach added that he was grateful to The Jewish Standard for running his column for the last few years and looks forward to continuing his dialogue with the newspaper’s readers in the future.