Beliefs Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion Politics

When John Kasich taught Torah

Governor john Kasich. Credit: ABC News
Governor john Kasich. Credit: ABC News

Governor john Kasich. Credit: ABC News

I like John Kasich, even though I do not agree with many of his positions. He seems like a mensch.

And that word — mensch — is one that he could have certainly thrown around, during his recent visit to Eichler’s Judaica, a religious book store located in heavily-Orthodox Borough Park, Brooklyn.

Governor Kasich was making a campaign stop at the store, and encountered a group of hareidim (so-called “ultra-Orthodox” Jews). After a few niceties, he began explaining the Torah to them — in a move that one wag called “goysplaining” — when a gentile explains Judaism to Jews.

There is a Yiddish (actually, Hebrew) word for that.

You got it — chutzpah.

Kasich and Ezra Friedlander, a Democratic strategist, got into a nice little scriptural debate over who is the most admired person in the Torah.

“I would say, Moses,” Friedlander said.

“What about Abraham? What happened to Abraham?” Kasich asked.

Friedlander explained that Moses presented the Torah to the Jewish people, and that he was the true founder of Judaism.

“What are you talking about? Get outta here,” Kasich dismissed the explanation. “The story of the people are Abraham – when God made a covenant with Abraham, not Moses.”

“In our prayers, we do mention Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but we refer to the laws as the laws of Moses and Israel,” Friedlander explained.

Switching topics, Kasich then asked the hareidim if they knew anything about Joseph.

“Have you studied Joseph? Did you hear the most important thing Joseph said to his brothers? ‘My brothers, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.’ Joseph may have been a little bit of a braggart, but they threw him in that ditch and then his brother saved him, and then they sold him into slavery, and that’s how the Jews got to Egypt. Right?”

So, as they would say in the yeshiva world — what is the RASHI (the below-the-line interpretation) of Kasich’s miniature Torah lesson?

Kasich was clearly intending to simply make relevant, friendly conversation — the way that a candidate would talk to Home Depot employees about, oh, nails.

Unfortunately, though, his discourse falls into a sad category of Jewish-Christian conversation — in which gentiles (mostly Christians) have tried to explain to Jews what the Jewish Scriptures “really” mean. This tradition goes all the way back to the beginnings of Christianity, in which Christians hectored Jews over the “fact” that the Jewish Bible predicted the advent of Jesus. (See Anti-Judaism by David Nirenberg). Take a tour of medieval cathedrals, and you will see the allegorical statue of the blindfolded woman, symbolizing the Jews who are blind to their own truths. And you don’t have to look far to see contemporary examples of non-Jews who are all too ready to explain the meaning of Jewish peoplehood and Israel to the Jews.

And, in fact, this is precisely what Kasich did subsequently — when he interpreted the blood on the doorposts of the Jews in Egypt as the blood of the lamb, Jesus. While this is a common Christian interpretation, to Jewish ears it is plain offensive and inappropriate. A bad move.

Kasich voted for Abraham — as the founder of the Jewish people — being “better” than Moses. His interlocutors preferred Moses — as the founder of the Jewish religion.

There actually is room for debate here. Rabbi Donniel Hartman engages in that debate in his new book, Putting God Second: How To Save Religion From Itself.

It is a larger conversation; is Judaism mainly a people (the Abraham argument), or mainly a religion (the Moses argument)?

Kasich was engaging in a very Jewish conversation.

Finally, the bit about Joseph. Kasich was telling the story of how, exactly, the Jews got into Egypt in the first place — because they followed Joseph there.

He was right.

But now, let’s dig a little bit deeper into Kasich’s interpretation of the Joseph story.

I will leave it to you to debate why he chose to mention the fact that Joseph was a “braggart.”

Or, perhaps (OK, OK — this is a stretch) — Kasich sees himself as Joseph — a “loser” who has, electorally, been in the “pit,” but who could (miraculously?) emerge from that pit and ascend to power.

I don’t know.

But I will say this: Kasich pointed out the part of the Joseph story that I love the most, as well.

“‘My brothers, you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.'”

That’s all about faith. That’s all about the fact that there is always something bigger going on, and that we cannot know about, and that sometimes our seemingly pitiful and even irrelevant actions bear the imprint of the Divine Map.

Just sayin’…..

John Kasich is a man of faith. And this, bottom line, is a good thing.










About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


Click here to post a comment

  • John Kasich cut funding to schools and local governments to make up for the money Ohio lost when he cut taxes on the wealthy. People have been hurt by this “man of faith.”

    Ask the elderly in my neighborhood who no longer have a senior center to go to because of his cutbacks. Ask the parents of children with disabilities who know they will have to die first before the state will fund a place in a group home for their child. Ask me when my car skids on the ice because my municipality had to cut back on snow removal and salt.

    And the list goes on. He’s no mensch, no matter how much you want to spin it.

  • This from a quote from John Katich:

    “”Flanked by Hasidic publicist Ezra Friedlander, Kasich then launched into a brief appraisal of the links between Passover and, um, the blood of Jesus Christ.

    “The great link between the blood that was put above the lampposts” – er, you mean doorposts, governor — “the blood of the lamb, because Jesus Christ is known as the lamb of God. It’s his blood, we believe …””

    I can only say that I hope that Katich does’t know about Blood Libel, because this sounds like Blood Libel. The Christian Churches have blamed Jews for Jesus’s death for centuries and this sound suspicious as well.

  • Hebrew Bible or Old Testament has been interpreted and explained by every organized religious group and denomination to advance its own agenda.

    Better for a politician to argue over the size of the Federal Government.

  • I think braggart applies–at least when Joseph was young. He was obviously favored by his father, a tattletale, and didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut: “I had a dream and you were all bowing down to me!” I bet his brothers thought he was obnoxious.

  • Susan, the blood libel refers to the accusation that Jews murder Christian or Muslim children and use their blood to make matzah for Passover. Kasich definitely wasn’t referring to that. He was referring to the Christian re-interpretation of the Passover sacrifice, which instead of commemorating the lamb’s blood allowing the wrath of God to “pass over” the Jewish people on the night of the tenth plague, it is Jesus, the “lamb of God,” whose blood (crucifixion) provided expiation for the sins of humanity. As R’Salkin points out, this is problematic from a supercessionist perspective if you take it that way — but it’s not blood libel.

  • No question that Joseph was an obnoxious brat and his brothers saw it that way. Would you have reacted differently if you were one of his brothers, hearing his dreams and seeing his father’s favoritism? Of course, Joseph was only continuing a pattern: Jacob the usurper conspiring with his mommy to steal Esau’s birthright; Isaac crying out [midrash on “Yitzhak”] to his mommy because Ishmael was being mean to him. This is why the traditional Jewish blessing for boys is “May you be like Ephraim and Menashe,” These two, Joseph’s sons, were the first brothers in the Torah to get along with each other.

  • Rabbi – Very cool the way you make fun of Kasich without being nasty or overly serious about it. You, sir, are the mensch.

  • Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin,
    What bothers me about Judism, and its offshoots Christanity and Islam, is their teaching that all other religions are false. (For that reason, many Romans called them Atheists.) Is there any movement in the Jewish religion today to admit that this intolerance was/is wrong?

  • Well, Jews have never felt that non-Jews are going to Hell, just because they are not Jewish. If he or she are a good person and live a good life that is all that is necessary. If I thought that Christianity or Islam were true, I would convert. Personally I believe that If Christianity works for someone, its true for them, but its not true for me. There are certainly numerous Christians who are trying to prove exactly that. I asked a Black Baptist minister if the Jews who died in Auschwitz are now in Heaven or Hell, He reluctantly admitted they were in Hell.

    Reconstructionists, a new American developed denomination, have dropped the concept of the chosen people.

  • Thanks Susan. Would that others, like the minister to whom you refer, were so charitable. I speculate that monotheism logically requires that other speculative views (like polytheism) are false. The other most serious problem with monotheism, is how it fails to explain conflict – hence the necessity of the devil, which well…., creates another god!