According to Donald Trump, I’m a Rabbi Who Hates Judaism

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty

Donald Trump—who pals around with white supremacists; who invented fictitious “very fine people” marching beside neo-Nazis in Charlottesville; who has endorsed a Holocaust denier for governor of North Carolina; who has committed fraud, sexual assault, and defamation, and who stands accused of even more grievous crimes—has informed me that I hate my religion.

By way of background, in addition to working as a journalist, I am a rabbi with a Ph.D. in Jewish Thought from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I lived in Israel for three years. I have written half a dozen books on Jewish spirituality and mysticism. And, as part of how I understand Jewish values, I have criticized the Israeli government, joined the call for a bilateral ceasefire in Gaza, and used whatever platform I have to support those working for peace, coexistence, and a just, two-state solution in Israel/Palestine.

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My tradition teaches that we must pursue justice, that we must not oppress the stranger, and that it is holy to work toward a more peaceful world. So, rooted in those values, I have also supported those working toward a more equitable society here in the United States, toward addressing the existential threat of climate change, and toward promoting greater freedom and equality for historically marginalized communities, including people of color, women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and others.

But, quoth Trump, Jews who support Democrats and question the wisdom of Israel’s far-right government “hate their religion.”

For the record, that’s around 70 percent of American Jews, depending on the year.

Of course, as with everything Donald Trump says, it’s best not to take these words too seriously. He’s not playing three-dimensional chess here, triangulating how to peel off votes of moderate Jewish voters. He was shooting from the hip, as always, this time on a podcast hosted by his former aide, and longtime member of Hungary’s antisemitic far-right, Sebastian Gorka. And really, compared with calling immigrants “not people,” maybe Trump saying that 70 percent of American Jews hate their religion isn’t so bad.

But of course, it is bad, because this is a particularly fraught moment for American Jews. Like many others (inclding Muslims and anyone with a connection to Palestinians), we are traumatized and torn apart by the massacres, rapes, and kidnappings of Oct. 7; by the continued plight of over 100 innocent civilians being held hostage in hellish conditions by Hamas; and by the horrifying suffering of over a million innocent Palestinians in Gaza.

We are also terrified by the rise in antisemitism, a fear that is constantly being exploited by politicians and pundits with their own interests and agendas.

And we are divided. Many of us are demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, while many others support Israel’s right to defend itself and argue that Israel has done what any nation would do under similar circumstances.

Still others oppose the Zionist project entirely, while many have worked hard to reconcile our support of the Jewish state with our strong opposition to some of its policies, including the way this war has been prosecuted.

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And truth be told, we have not done well in navigating these disagreements. We are attacking one another, even as others are attacking us, and some have made the same outrageous claim that Trump made: that the people I disagree with aren’t Jewish at all, or are engaged in antisemitism, or are in some way less than human.

This happens on the far left and the far right: Zionists are genocidal colonizers, Anti-Zionists are hateful antisemites; Zionists are Nazis, Anti-Zionists are Nazis; Zionists have no human decency, Anti-Zionists have no human decency.

Mostly, we are exhausted.

It is in this context that Trump’s despicable, insulting, false, ignorant, self-serving, vulgar, incendiary, and, yes, antisemitic tirade arrives.

Perhaps a bit more context is relevant.

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After Oct. 7, Trump did not display one iota of empathy. Rather than blame the Hamas murderers, he blamed Israel for not having stopped the attack, and said it would never have happened under his watch. While our dead were still uncounted, while partygoers lay raped and murdered in an open field, Donald Trump was making the tragedy about himself, exploiting it for his selfish gain.

This is the man who, according to around twenty percent of Americans, God has chosen for leadership. This repugnant piece of filth who thinks only of himself, who dares to question the sincerity of my faith and that of millions of other American Jews, for whom there is no insult too debased, no boast too vulgar, no lie too outrageous to utter.

Trump is clearly gifted in summoning the worst, darkest aspects of human nature and alchemizing them into cult-like devotion to himself; like all con men and demagogues, he is a kind of intuitive genius. But he has no moral center, no spiritual core. The man is an empty shell of grasping, egoic dementia.

So, in a sense, I forgive him these latest offenses. One might as well blame the wolf for killing the lamb; he’s just following his nature.

But I also know this: that while there are millions of people who think that such behavior is to be tolerated or even cheered, there are millions more who have had it with his depravity, with his endless incoherent tirades, with his extremism and inhumanity—an inhumanity most clearly on display when he is dehumanizing others.

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Which is why, uncharacteristically for me, I remain optimistic about the coming election. Even through the gauzy fog of the right-wing infotainment universe, a whole lot of ordinary Americans—folks who are just trying to hold it together and live their lives—see Trump for who and what he is.

That includes these latest remarks. According to Trump, any Jew who disagrees with him is a bad Jew who hates their religion. According to Trump’s diehard followers, he’s absolutely right.

But according to decent Americans, the kind of people who swing presidential elections? I think they know a scoundrel when they see one.

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