Psalm 82 and Election Day
The Jewish morning prayer service ends with the Psalm of the day. Psalm 82 concludes the service on Tuesdays, which is also Election Day in this Country. I find it an interesting coincidence that the Psalm, written more than two millennia ago and admonishes hypocritical leaders who favor the powerful over the poor, is read on Election Day. When I read it, I always imagine a biblical era prophet chastising contemporary Republicans.
The Birnbaum Siddur or Prayerbook reads right to left with the odd pages written in Hebrew while the even pages contain translations of the Hebrew text in archaic King James style English. I choose to pray with Birnbaum when it's an available option, over books with easier to understand English, because I'm used to its liturgical translation. Although I know how to read Hebrew and recite some prayers in that ancient tongue, I understand little of the language and pray mostly in English. Using other English translations throws me off.
Containing just 8 sentences, Psalm 82 is among the Bible's shortest chapters. Below is the Birnbaum version of the Psalm.
"G-d stands in the divine assembly; in the midst of the judges he gives judgment. How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality toward the wicked. Do justice toward the poor and fatherless; deal righteously with the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the poor and needy; save them from the hand of the wicked. But they neither know nor understand; they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken. I thought you were angels, that you were all sons of the Most High. Yet you shall die as men do, and fall like any prince. Arise, O'G-d, rule the earth, for thou hast dominion over all nations."
When I mention this passage to religious Democrats, they agree with me that it proves the Bible advocates liberal economics. When I mention it to Republicans, they say it does not demand government intervention to help the poor, only individually donated charity.
They defend this claim by asserting that Conservatives donate more to charity than liberals, citing Syracuse University (My alma-mater) professor Arthur Brooks's book “Who Really Cares, The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism”. The book's thesis is that Conservatives and religious people give more money and time to charity than liberals and secularists.
According to the study, religious people of all political persuasions give more money to charity than the secular. The Conservative devout contribute slightly more money than their progressive religious counterparts, but liberals of faith donate more time. Overall, Conservatives give more time and money to charity than liberals, because religion is the variable that most influences charitable participation and there are more religious Conservatives than liberals. However, liberal secularists, agnostics and atheists give much more than right wing non-believers. It seems that Conservatives are altruistic only if they fear eternal damnation.
The same people believing helping the needy is the responsibility of individuals not the government, have no problem with government intervening in issues like abortion and Gay marriage.
I recently co-moderated with a Republican member of my synagogue,a Jewish oriented presidential surrogates' debate, between Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler (NY 8 Congressional District Manhattan/Brooklyn)who pinch hit for Obama and former Pataki aid and Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Greg Menken, who subbed for McCain. These debates have taken place across the country with Nadler, Mark Green and other Jewish politicians playing Obama and people like Menken representing McCain.
Menken's Republican Jewish Coalition has been guilty of the sin of Lashon Hora, Hebrew for slanderous speech. The organization has been funding advertising in Jewish media falsely positioning Obama as being anti-Israel and misstating who his Mid-East advisors are. In response to the ad campaign, the Obama team ceased sanctioning these events if they involved the Republican Jewish Coalition. So technically, Nadler represented Menken's Democratic counterpart, the National Jewish Democratic Council, instead of Obama.
The format designed by my co-moderator who organized the event, consisted of the audience writing down questions, which the moderators would ask the debaters. The event started late and most of the questions were devoted to foreign policy and guilt by association, so there was no time to discuss economic issues when it was scheduled to end.
I implored Menken to stay an additional 5 minutes to discuss economic issues and he refused. I remarked that it was just like a Republican to avoid discussing economic issues. He reacted by calling my behavior unprofessional. My co-moderator volunteered to step in for Menken and we unofficially continued the debate, with me becoming the sole moderator. The debate ultimately deteriorated into the two representing their own opinions, rather than either presidential campaign's policies.
I asked Nadler and his new Republican debate opponent, about what the Torah says about economic issues. Nadler, I thought blew an opportunity to talk about economic justice and gave the Republican an out when he said both sides think they are pursuing moral economic policy. I find the Reagan/Bush/McCain redistribution doctrine of financing tax cuts for the rich by cutting programs for the poor as being completely at odds with the Torah and any other religious book or philosophy.