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Jewish World Review Sept. 28, 2000/ 28 Elul, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman -- THE JEWISH New Year begins tomorrow (Friday) night. Rosh Hashana, symbolized by the blowing of a ram's horn, is a blend of hope and fear, possibility and failure, daring and disillusionment.

Never have Jews been less exotic than this year, as Joe Lieberman runs for the vice presidency and reporters and photographers gather around him at the entrance of a synagogue. He exults in speaking of his faith as he also "educates'' America in the nature of Orthodox Judaism, although, perhaps in deference to the other more skeptical Orthodox, he has changed his self-description from "Orthodox'' to "observant.''

I watch sadder rather than wiser, as he compromises his testimony in the spotlight of a campaign, sacrificing himself through the hypocrisy and pragmatism that seem to be the requirements of a politician. Now I know how the evangelical Christians felt as they watched their beliefs fed into the trivializing maw of politics more than two decades ago when Jimmy Carter became the candidate.

The man who broke the silence in his party to criticize the president's tawdry behavior could not break from party lines on a single impeachment issue. The man who has been so concerned with the corrupting influence of the entertainment world now socializes with the rich and famous with hat -- a yarmulke is too small to carry the swag -- in hand.

What's worse is that he deliberately distorts his own heritage. When asked by Don Imus whether Judaism has a ban on interracial marriage or dating "or that sort of thing,'' he replied: "No, there is no ban whatsoever. Certainly not on interracial. And not on interreligious.''

That's simply not true. "There is a `clear and irrevocable Torah prohibition' against a Jew intermarrying,'' Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for the Orthodox umbrella group Agudath Israel of America, told Binyamin L. Jolkovsky of the, an Internet news site. "It has nothing to do with race, as anyone from any ethnicity can become a Jew if he or she is sincerely motivated and willing to undergo Halachic conversion.''

The rabbi offered a reminder to the senator: "He is running for vice president, not chief rabbi.'' Of course, that's all the more reason, he concedes that in "his new prominence, he must be very concerned not to seriously mislead anyone, Jew or Gentile, about Jewish religious belief or practice.''

When Joe Lieberman was nominated Jews joked that Democratic Jewish vote soar from 99 percent to 100 percent. That was an exaggeration, but only to degree. Only the other night at a Washington dinner party several Orthodox Jews who regard themselves as conservative Republicans told me they'll probably vote Democratic this year because there's an Orthodox Jew on the ticket. This was, however, before Sen. Lieberman told Don Imus that he "mumbled'' over certain synagogue prayers he didn't agree with.

The day after that an Orthodox believer called me close to despair, wondering what has happened to this wonderful man who no longer seemed to believe what he had always said he believed. "He's selling out everything, the very basis of his faith, the essence of his faith.'' No man can say what is in another man's heart, of course, and it's both arrogant and foolish to try to measure another man's relationship with G-d, and this is why mixing faith and politics can have such disastrous consequences.

You don't have to be Jewish to be puzzled by Joe Lieberman's performance on the trail. William Bennett, the onetime secretary of Education and "Book of Virtues'' man who is a close Lieberman friend, expresses deep disappointment over the senator's capitulation to the entertainment industry.

"I am a virtual absolutist on the First Amendment, but Senator Lieberman and I were doing more than `nudging' the entertainment industry'' he says. "We were trying to shame them.''

Mr. Bennett, a Roman Catholic, was outraged when he heard that both the senator and the vice president, an evangelical Baptist, sat without protest when a speaker at their fund-raiser told a tasteless joke at the expense of Christian faith.

"Seinfeld'' producer Larry David, no doubt thinking he was being ever so clever, said: "Like (Governor) Bush, I, too, found Christ in my 40s. He came into my room one night, and I said, `What no call? You just pop in?' ''

Says Bennett: "This is just further confirmation that the only kind of bigotry still permissible is anti-Christian bigotry.'' Indeed, this is particularly offensive to the fervent Christians, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who have been most fervent in defending Mr. Lieberman against the criticism that he was improperly speaking of his Jewish faith on the stump.

Daniel Lapin, an Orthodox rabbi who heads a group called "Toward Tradition,'' which brings together Orthodox Jews and conservative Christians, draws an analogy between the sound of the sound of the shofar and the sound of a child when you can't tell whether he's laughing or crying. That's how many Jews feel about Joe Lieberman: We don't know whether to laugh or cry.


09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate