Two local initiatives to be proud of, but…

Two local initiatives to be proud of, but…

Summer is over and politics is in the air.

Ten weeks ago, nearly 90 percent of the votes in our weekly online survey at said that it was “too early to think about the 2012 election.”

Since then, for better or worse, the 2012 presidential election has gotten under way, with the contenders for the Republican nomination having met twice for debates.

Closer to home, this coming week brings two new initiatives in local Jewish involvement in electoral politics.

On Sunday, the Institute of Public Affairs of the Orthodox Union is holding its first-ever New Jersey legislative breakfast in a Teaneck synagogue. A bipartisan slate of public officials is scheduled to attend, including one congressman, 10 state legislators, and eight mayors and town council members.

The breakfast is designed to highlight the Orthodox organization’s legislative agenda in Trenton, foremost of which is a desire for increased state support for Jewish day schools.

On Tuesday, the Republican Jewish Coalition, which has served as bridge between the Jewish and Republican communities since the Reagan era, will hold the first event under the auspices of its new northern New Jersey chapter. As we report beginning on page 18, the event will be a forum for Republican challengers for local state legislative posts and also will be held in a Teaneck synagogue.

We are excited by both of these events. We are always glad to see new forms of Jewish communal activity in our corner of the tri-state area. And we are delighted to see Jews taking their electoral rights and responsibilities seriously.

We only hope that as the political season begins to heat up locally, we will see more “Jewish values” creeping into the conversations, rather than being subjected to the baser standards that have become the norm in the political arena and are currently evident on the national stage.

Certainly, the political partisans filling the seats in these early debates could use a dose of the old-time Jewish religion that the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Orthodox Union can provide.

We are referring to the bone-chilling moments in two of the early debates when the audience spontaneously cheered at the mention of someone dying.

In one debate, it was the mention of the 234 executions overseen by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

To be sure, most of those executed by Texas were guilty of heinous crimes, although compelling questions have been raised as to the guilt of some and the adequate legal defense of others.

To be sure, as well, the Torah and talmudic jurisprudence make a clear place for the death penalty, although the bar is set very high when it comes to the level of proof required.

In the Jewish tradition, however, executions are no cause for applause. Indeed, a court that executes once in seven years (some say 70!) is considered “murderous.”

True, one might not find such applause less offensive if it could be shown that the Texas death penalty is keeping the citizens of the Lone Star State safe, but it is not. In 2009, Rick Perry’s state had 5.4 murders per 100,000 citizens. New Jersey, without a death penalty, had a rate of 3.7.

If audiences at these debates were only cheering the executions of murderers, however, we would not be too alarmed.

What really scares us, however, is the moment in Monday’s debate when Rep. Ron Paul was asked how an uninsured 30-year-old in a coma, without health insurance, should be treated. When moderator Wolf Blitzer honed in on Paul’s initial answer, asking “Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?” a number of audience members shouted “Yeah!”

Is it possible that people in this country think there should be a death penalty for not buying health insurance? And are these the same people who think that an insurance mandate should be unconstitutional?

Truth be told, there are a couple conservative arguments against health care.

There is Ron Paul’s libertarian argument that prompted the offensive cheers at the debate.

There is the more theological suggestion by conservative columnist David Klinghoffer that government-provided health care interferes with the spiritual ideal of praying one’s way to medical recovery.

It is an idea that likely has wide support among the many “prayer warriors” (their term, not ours) backing Perry’s candidacy.

Neither approaches are very Jewish, however, at least according to Rabbi Moshe Tendler, the Orthodox talmudist, microbiologist, and medical ethicist. (See Page 10 for his views on genetic engineering.)

Tendler, who is firmly ensconced on the Orthodox religious right, has made it quite clear that in his understanding of Jewish law, three biblical commandments – in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy – combine to create an obligation to heal the sick that applies not only to doctors, but to society at large.

That is how most Jewish authorities see it, as well.

It would appear, then, that Gov. Mitt Romney, in implementing the statewide health insurance in Massachusetts that was a precursor for the much- maligned national plan, did a mitzvah.

In helping the broader Republican party understand these values, the Republican Jewish Coalition will be doing a mitzvah, as well.