Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Why Roy Moore’s defeat matters

U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, right, listens as his wife, Kayla Moore, speaks at a campaign rally Dec. 11, 2017, in Midland City, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) (Caption amended by RNS)

(RNS) — “On the first night of Hanukkah, the voters gave to me, a Doug Jones victory.”

Roy Moore deserved to lose the senatorial election in Alabama.

Yes, his politics are troglodytic (great spelling bee word!)

In fact, that was the least of it.

Roy Moore deserved to lose, because nine women have accused him of sexually predatory behavior. Moore’s reputation is so unsavory that he was actually banned from at least one Alabama shopping mall.

Note well: This is a guy with a thing for the Ten Commandments, and whose major marketing strategy was that he was pro-life.

Roy Moore also deserved to lose for religious reasons.

Roy Moore trafficked in religious bigotry. He has said that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress. With that one statement, he trashed the very essence of American democracy.

Roy Moore trafficked in anti-Semitism.

Exhibit A: his attack on George Soros, the Jewish billionaire philanthropist.

“He is pushing an agenda and his agenda is sexual in nature, his agenda is liberal, and not what Americans need. It’s not our American culture. Soros comes from another world that I don’t identify with.”

To top it off, Moore suggested that George Soros was going to hell.

“No matter how much money he’s got, he’s still going to the same place that people who don’t recognize God and morality and accept his salvation are going,” Moore said. “And that’s not a good place.”

George Soros was born in Hungary and immigrated to the United States in 1956. He is a survivor of the Shoah. He funds many liberal and leftist causes, some of which I do not find attractive or compelling.

Rare is the right-wing heart that does not have a cold spot for George Soros. Right-wing Jews have accosted me about Soros (as if I, as a centrist, am his apologist). They have forced me into conversations about how Soros survived the Shoah as a teenager — as if anyone can possibly judge how a young person, in extremis, might choose life over death.

But the right wing uses George Soros as the boogeyman for every liberal cause that they despise. Roy Moore upped the ante of hatred. He made George Soros the ultimate symbol of the Other. Soros is not us. He is a foreigner. He has a sexual agenda – this, from a man who could not even go to a Cinnabon in a local mall!

Make no mistake about it. Roy Moore was drawing on an old, pernicious stereotype about Jewish men – that they are oversexed pornographers.

That wasn’t even a dog whistle; that was a shofar blast.

Then, there’s Roy’s wife, Kayla.   

“Fake news would tell you that we don’t care for Jews. And I tell you all this because I’ve seen it and I just want to set the record straight while they’re here. One of our attorneys is a Jew. We have very close friends that are Jewish, and rabbis, and we also fellowship with them.”

For those of you who find the use of nouns as verbs to be irritating – even, hell-worthy – “fellowship” is Christian evangelical speak for “hanging out with.”

This is, of course, the classic “some of my best friends are … ” gambit. It only comes up when the person who utters it has been accused of anti-Semitism, or racism.

Several years ago, I was at an interfaith meeting. An evangelical Christian minister approached me.

“I just have to tell you – you people are so smart! A few years ago, I had a legal problem, and the first thing I did was to get me a Jewish lawyer!”

For the record, that lovely encounter occurred in Phenix City, Ala.

And, no – that’s not a typo. That’s how they spell it.

Just sayin’.

We call that sort of thing philo-Semitism – the love of Jews – which theoretically is the opposite of anti-Semitism.

Except, philo-Semitism has something in common with its evil cousin.

As Jonathan Karp and Adam Sutcliffe have written in Philosemitism in History: Like anti-Semitism, philo-Semitism traffics in distorted and exaggerated views of Jews and Judaism.

So, what’s wrong with liking having a Jewish lawyer? Isn’t that a compliment?

Louis Brandeis, Elena Kagan and all that?

Well, yes — and no.

Because the positive quickly morphs into the negative. “That Jewish lawyer we have is so smart” becomes “Jews are smart” becomes “Jews are always willing to try to put one over on you.”

Liking Jews – either too much, or for the “wrong” reasons – can become a counterfeit benevolence. Philo-Semites, in the words of Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, are often “antisemites in sheep’s clothing.”

Finally, one more thing about Moore’s loss.

On the one hand, it has restored my faith in human beings. The citizens of Alabama will not have to suffer the indignity of sending a very problematic bigot to Washington to represent them.

But, on the other hand: While I am glad that Roy Moore lost, he got far more votes than anyone could have rightly imagined.


And even the lights of Hanukkah can’t quite pierce that darkness.

This story is available for republication.

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.