With the Presidential race in full swing now that the Iowa caucuses have taken place, it was more than with a modicum of interest that I read about a recent poll revealing that ten percent of Americans were less likely to vote for a Jewish presidential candidate, while eight percent of Americans were more likely to vote for a Jewish presidential candidate. Although my attitude is “polls be damned”, still and all I began thinking about the Jewish factor in presidential elections. Despite the fact that I have absolutely no desire to assess any data, I nevertheless ask that you consider the following three questions, which will hopefully never reach the desk of any pollster:
What is more important to you, a Jew running for president, whose Judaism is purely an accident of birth in every aspect, or a non-Jew running for president who is a staunch supporter of Israel? Whether we like it or not, there exists a Jewish vote in this country, despite the fact that at best, we are a paltry 2% of the population; whether we like it or not, of the Jews who do vote in this country, there are those who select their candidate based solely on that candidate’s attitude (perceived or real) towards Israel. Perhaps neither is a factor for you, in that come Election Day, your sole concern is which candidate is a better choice to lead this country in the direction you feel this country ought to take.
If it makes no difference to you whatsoever whether or not a presidential aspirant is Jewish, does a Jewish presidential aspirant’s level of Jewish observance matter to you? Would you prefer a Jewish president who at best attends synagogue services on the High Holy Days and whose Shabbat observance is limited to Shabbat dinner every Friday night, or would you beam with pride at a Shabbat observant president (who will set Shabbat aside in times of national security) who davens three times a day and eats strictly kosher? Is it safe to say that an Observant Jew as president of this country is perceived to be less of a threat than a devout Catholic or is there no difference? Does the same hold true when comparing an Observant Jew with a pious Protestant?
Are you more troubled by the fact that 10% of voters in this country are less likely to vote for a Jew running for president than you are proud of the fact that 8% of voters in this country are more likely to vote for a Jew running for president? Please understand that among the 10% there are Jews who would prefer not to see a Jewish president because they are concerned or perhaps better stated afraid of any anti-Semitic backlash, should a Jewish president take any unpopular positions, become involved in a scandal, or see the economy tank during his presidency. Alternatively, among the 8% there are bound to be non-Jews who see a Jewish president as being endowed with special qualities by virtue of being a member of HaShem’s chosen. If there are non-Jews in this country who see a Jewish doctor and a Jewish lawyer as possessing fabulous skills, then perhaps they regard a Jewish president much the same way.
Whether or not we will live to see a mezuzah at the front doorpost of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue makes for good discussion. “Do we really care”, is an entirely different question. The very fact that we can even entertain these questions says a great deal about these United States of America. It also says a great deal about us as Jews.
* Bayit is Hebrew for house