Dear Senator Obama

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

Dear Senator Obama,

I have thought long and hard before writing this letter. I listened most carefully to your recent speech in Philadelphia in which you made clear your relationship with your Pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Frankly, I still have grave misgivings about your relationship with this controversial Minister. Let me explain.

It is well accepted that Jesus lived a Jewish life in accord with the very same principles of Jewish religious practice evidenced by the Pharisees; the revered Rabbis of the Jewish People. Yet there were areas in which he broke with them. One pronounced example is recorded in the Sermon on the Mount in the Book of Matthew and expanded upon in the Sermon on the Plain recorded in the Book of Luke.

In the former he states, “…But I tell you do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone sues you to take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” In the later he states, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…Do to others as you would have others do to you.”

Judaism provides for self-defense and in certain situations requires pre-emptive strikes against those who, without a doubt, are bent upon your injury. As for giving up what is rightfully yours, Judaism provides for adjudication and not submission. In sum, Judaism does not see pacifism as a virtue.

This unique Christian concept gave rise to Christian pacifism, expressed in every Christian denomination. And while there are theological disputes as to the practical application of these seminal words of the Christian Messiah, everyone agrees that Jesus’ pacifism is fundamental to Christian religious doctrine.

You noted that the Rev. Wright’s emphasis upon caring for the needy, the outreach of his Church in addressing community needs, his Christian action, had a tremendous impact upon you. I fully understand. Yet his many pronouncements which you term as “hate” speak, his cursing the United States, seem not to place any question before you when considering his role as a Christian Minister. All the more is this the case as you justify his remarks by referring to the tragic and painful African-American experience. One would have expected that as a Christian Minister he would have brought to bear upon his own deep-seated hate and frustration the soothing balm of Christian love and charity as evidenced by his personal Savior. I find this difficult to comprehend as you claim an intimate, almost family like relationship with your Pastor. Were you never prompted to question him as to why as one who has taken on the mantle of teaching the message of Jesus and more importantly, guiding his flock in fashioning their lives through the teaching of Jesus, he continues to harbor hate in his heart, manifesting that hate for perceived and real enemies in his sermons? Not only did he not “pray for those who mistreat you” as taught by Jesus, he cursed these folks in his sermons.

Surely in your years as an active member of a Christian Church, you have read the Scriptures I have referenced or at the very least learned of Jesus’ unique sense of pacifism. Why are you not troubled as a believing Christian that your Pastor parts ways with a fundamental teaching of Jesus or at the very least is unable to curb his own hate transforming it into love for his enemies as Jesus requires of the faithful?

As for his anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian remarks – I respect his right to harbor any opinion he wishes regarding the Middle East conflict no matter how pathetically ill informed it may be. Nevertheless, his drawing a parallel between South African apartheid and Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians defies all logic. Israel, as you well know, is a parliamentary democracy, which guarantees the rights of all its citizens, no matter their race or religion. Muslim Arabs, citizens of the State of Israel, have the right to vote as any other citizen. The Knesset, the Parliament of Israel, includes members who are Arab Muslims. How an intelligent man can interpret the conflict in question as Israel manifesting an apartheid system against Arabs is unconscionable.

I would have thought that as a Christian he would express alarm relative to the manner in which fellow Christians are generally treated in Muslim dominated lands. One need but consider the radical demographic change in Bethlehem, under Israeli authority a thriving Christian city and now under the Palestinian authority a Muslim one as the Christian population has fled. The Rev. Wright’s hate speak may reasonably be defined in this instance as unadulterated anti-Semitism.

I know Illinois State Senator Ira Silverstein who has the greatest of admiration for your abilities and intelligence. He, as you know, shared an office with you when you served in the Illinois State Senate. I have listened to your speeches and remarks in the various debates. I agree with Senator Silverstein’s assessment. However, I am still left with a gnawing question. Given what I have stated above one would conclude that a person such as yourself, an intelligent well thought out and believing Christian, would have left the Rev. Wright’s Church a long time ago. I have been given to understand that one of your strongest supporters, Oprah Winfrey, did leave his Church.

I would appreciate hearing from you regarding the above. Whether you are successful or not in your bid for the Presidency, I believe you will continue to play a significant role in American politics. Your response to your affiliation with the Rev. Wright is perplexing to many Americans I have spoken with, Christians, Jews, White and Black. Frankly, your explanation in Philadelphia, rather than clarifying the situation, has brought more questions to the fore.


Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation

Chicago, Illinois