Rabbonim Break the Grip of Democratic Party in Special Election
First-time political candidate David Storobin scored a surprise win against veteran City Councilman Lew Fidler in a special election for a New York state Senate seat in Brooklyn. In a district with overwhelming Democratic voter registration, Mr. Fidler also boasted a record of providing financial assistance to Jewish institutions. But a powerful voice weighed in to erase these advantages from Mr. Fidler: some of the most respected Rabbonim of the generation.
The election day results yielded a win for Mr. Storobin by barely more than 100 votes. As of the writing of this article, the final result will turn on a count of absentee and paper ballots. Regardless of the outcome, the clear victor of this special election was the consensus of over 50 Rabbonim who ruled that for Orthodox Jews to vote for Mr. Fidler constituted mesiy’ayah (being an accomplice to sin) and a chillul Hashem (voiding the Name of G-d). Mr. Fidler was a dominant personality in a secure Democratic district, and for Mr. Storobin to come within striking distance of capturing the seat vindicates the courageous leadership of our Rabbonim.
Some of the big names that stand out from the list of over 50 Rabbonim include: Ha Rav Yisroel Belsky, Ha Rav Haim Benoliel, Ha Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen, Ha Rav Moshe Green, Ha Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky, Ha Rav Avraham Yaakov Nelkenbaum, Ha Rav Yisroel Neuman, Ha Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Ha Rav Yehuda Paranes, Ha Rav Avraham Schorr, Ha Rav Moshe Soloveichik, Ha Rav Moshe Wolfson, and Ha Rav Gavriel Zinner.
Under normal circumstances, the use of “special elections” heavily favors the political establishment. In special elections, there are no primaries where candidates could seek the nomination in a popular vote. Instead, the candidates are hand-picked by party bosses. In addition, a fellow City Councilman, David Greenfield, held a press conference where he invited speakers from several local institutions who had benefitted from Mr. Fidler’s grants to speak in his support.
Specifically, the Rabbonim held Mr. Fidler to task for sponsoring and voting for bills and laws on the City Council
creating a public sign in the Office of the City Clerk directing people to seek same-gender marriages in other states;
urging the U.S. Congress to pass a law recognizing same-gender marriage for immigration purposes;
urging the U.S. Congress to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy and force the armed services to openly accept same-gender relationships in its ranks;
urging the State Legislature to pass the “Dignity for All Students Act” to require all schools to teach, from kindergarten and up, respect and tolerance for same-gender relationships;
urging the State Legislature to pass the “Gender Non-Discrimination Act” to make illegal denying employment or firing an employee for publicly masquerading like the opposite gender.
The ruling of the Rabbonim was administrated, coordinated and published by a group of Orthodox activists called the Jews for Morality. The group was founded by Rav Avigdor Miller, arguably one of the most politically-engaged Gedolim of recent memory.
Some confusion arose from the direct application of the ruling of the Rabbonim. All 50 plus Rabbonim held that voting, funding or giving public support to Mr. Fidler is halachically prohibited. In addition, a large number of these Rabbonim also signed a separate statement holding it was a positive mitzvah to support the opponent to Mr. Fidler.
It appears that people working for the Storobin campaign bungled the difference of opinion of the Rabbonim between the negative “prohibited to support” Mr. Fidler, from the positive duty to “vote against Mr. Fidler.” Campaign advertisements for Mr. Storobin suggested that all the Rabbonim endorsed him personally as a candidate, leading four of the Rabbonim to issue statements clarifying their positions.
One of the Rabbonim, Rav Naftoli Hirsch Rottenberg, published a clarification in the Flatbush Jewish Journal, stating, “I gave my signature explicitly only to clarify that voting for a politician who supports same gender marriage constitutes a chillul Hashem… in the Flatbush Jewish Journal, it appears as though I were to endorse the opposing candidate.” Similarly, Rav Avraham Binsky wrote that “I do not want to appear to be supporting any particular candidate but I do want to make it perfectly clear that it is prohibited to vote for or assist any candidate who supports Toeiva.” For a different reason, Rav Chaim Krauss stated “It is definitively prohibited to vote for a candidate who supports Toeiva. Naturally, this refers to a situation where there will be more legislation pertaining to Toeiva as such an individual would surely vote for it… My psak was not intended for a situation where Toeiva would not be an issue. I have been given to understand, however, that legislation regarding Toeiva is still needed in the near term.”
But on the day of the election, Rav Yisroel Neuman, one of the senior Roshei Yeshiva of Beth Midrash Govoha in Lakewood, and Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky issued voice recordings of a message affirming their original statement and encouraging everyone to vote for Mr. Storobin.
The mainstream press has taken note of this recent resurgence in voting power in the Orthodox communities. Writing for the New York Times, Liz Robbins noted on March 21 that “Mr. Storobin, a vice chairman of the Republican Party in Brooklyn, had [support from] an Orthodox community that had begun to flex their political muscles in September.”
Separately, on March 22, she quoted state Senator Michael Gianaris, chairman of the state Senate Democrats election committee, who acknowledged that a trend “had shown itself in a couple of races consecutively. Orthodox Jews helped elect Bob Turner, a Republican, over David I. Weprin, a Democrat, in the Ninth Congressional District in September.”
The next battle looming are the primaries for U.S. Senate and Congress, Tuesday, June 26. The guidance from these Rabbonim may face a critical challenge in Queens, where all of the current candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, both Democrat and Republican, have voted, in some form or another, in favor of same-gender marriage.
Of the candidates for U.S. Representative, Democratic Assemblyman Rory Lancman personally voted several times in favor of same-gender marriage. Democratic Assemblywoman Grace Meng managed to absent herself the first few times, but provided her vote to make same-gender marriage become law. Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran, who is rumored to be seeking Jewish support, voted in favor of the same bills in the City Council that Mr. Fidler was condemned for supporting. Democratic City Councilwoman Liz Crowley voted for offending bills alongside Councilmen Fidler and Halloran.
Incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been challenged by three Republican candidates: Congressman Bob Turner, Nassau County Controller George Maragos, and attorney Wendy Long. Senator Gillibrand stepped in front of news cameras to urge for the passage of the same-gender marriage law. It appears that all three Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate have voiced support for the traditional definition of a family.
by Dovid Z. Schwartz
This report also appeared in the Queens Jewish Link.
(c) 2012 Dovid Z. Schwartz.
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