“If I Forget Thee O Jerusalem...”

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” - George Washington in his Farewell Address to the nation

All Americans – Republicans, Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives – recently witnessed an event that requires sincere and fundamental introspection on the part of our nation. Of course I'm speaking of the vote taken at the Democrat’s convention to restore two planks that were traditionally part of their platform; the recognition of Jerusalem as the united capital of the State of Israel, and the role that G‑d plays in the very foundation of our democracy. In a sense both these planks speak to the same proposition. As our first President clearly stated, humanity unwilling to recognize the Deity and His direction, “these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens,” is doomed to failure.

As Micah prophesised:

And it shall be at the end of the days, that the mountain of the L‑rd’s house shall be firmly established at the top of the mountains, and it shall be raised above the hills, and peoples shall stream upon it.
And many nations shall go, and they shall say, “Come, let us go up to the L‑rd’s mount and to the house of the G‑d of Jacob, and let Him teach us of His ways, and we will go in His paths, for out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

That law is embodied in the Judeo-Christian ethic; the keystone in the arch upholding our American way of life.

I cannot capture in words the emotions I felt when, on three separate occasions, the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, who was chairing the Convention, was thwarted in his attempt to garner a rousing voice vote to reinstate these two principles in the platform of the Democrats. His frustration and frankly his shock when confronted with the emphatic no vote from the rank and file of the delegates in attendance was obvious. Unable and unwilling to allow the omission of these two propositions to stand, he declared that his “impaired” hearing revealed that he had received the two thirds vote necessary to reinstate these planks in the platform.

I know what the spin doctors are saying. The Congress of the United States has already voted into law that Jerusalem, united Jerusalem, is the capital of the State of Israel and that, as speaker after speaker demonstrated by invoking the Deity in their remarks and finishing with the traditional “and may G‑d Bless the United States of America,” the Democrats do believe in the role of the Deity in the forming and sustaining of our blessed nation. For me, this does not bring closure to this unfortunate occurrence.

There is an attitude in America today, which not only negates the important role of religion in American life, but sees religion as something irrelevant or even worse, detrimental to society. Witness the remarks of Caroline Kennedy, who, while claiming to be a proud Catholic, nevertheless spoke of a woman’s right to determine when she wishes to have an abortion without the meddling of government. Although I am not a Roman Catholic, I am well aware, as are most Americans, that the Roman Catholic Faith has a fundamental theological position against abortion even to save the life of the mother. How can one claim to be a Catholic, and state a position that is in opposition to her church’s doctrine? Ms. Kennedy is acting in a manner that is all too common among Jews, when proud Jews take positions on moral issues in diametric opposition to the Judaism upon which all of today’s denominations are premised – Rabbinic, Pharasitic, Judaism. The answer, as far as I can determine, to this obvious paradox, is that the individual, while proud of his/her religious legacy, that of Catholicism or Judaism, nevertheless feels that legacy has little relevance to informing the moral determinations he/she makes. As our first President rightly asks, “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?” How can our very system of justice and equality persevere without a commitment to the simple oath of, “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me G‑d” if the very value of G‑d, His Will, is irrelevant to the individual?

We have much to think about in this season of introspection and repentance. Surely the very structure of “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” this nation that has given us so much of what we have craved for thousands of years, suffering the ravages of Diaspora, deserves, may, requires that we each review in our heart and soul how best we can participate in and enhance as equal citizens and as proud Jews these United States of America.