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Lieberman’s Betrayal

That’s no way for a Jew to act, Senator

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Lieberman leaving a press conference in the U.S. Capitol last week.(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Much has been written in the progressive press about how Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman has betrayed, first, the party that elected him to the senate in the first place (and protected his seniority in the second place, when he got himself reelected to the senate as an independent); second, the Obama agenda that he supported as a candidate; and, third, the cause of universal health care and/or any health-care reform. Indeed, he is vulnerable on all of these counts.

But he is also guilty of a fourth betrayal. And it is this fourth betrayal that, in my view, accounts for much of the anger aimed at Lieberman, anger greater than that expressed at the Republican opposition, which has cynically voted as a bloc to block any health-care reform emanating from the Democrats. Lieberman’s fourth betrayal is the betrayal of his Jewish heritage.

It may quickly be pointed out that the neoconservative movement itself is populated mostly by Jews and that the so-called godfather of neo-conservatism, Irving Kristol, was himself a Jew. Therefore, some may think, it would seem illogical, irrational, and ahistorical to be angry at Lieberman for betraying his Jewishness by adopting a conservative stance. Maybe so. But in my (Jewish) judgment, it’s a fact.

And it’s a fact whether one regards Judaism as a religion or a culture. Whether one is Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform, whether one is a Zionist or an assimilationist, whether one is a Hasid or a heretic, what unites people of the Jewish faith, persuasion, or heritage is their internalization of the ethical imperative.

Whatever one’s politics, the threat of a fellow Jew to undermine all health-care reform if he does not get his way would seem to run counter to a people whose moral heritage includes wanting to take care of those less fortunate than themselves. (As Marissa Brostoff wrote in an earlier Tablet article, it all goes back to Maimonides, who in effect said that universal health care is an absolute necessity.)

Rabbi Jill Jacobs makes this clear in her new book, There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice Through Jewish Law and Tradition. “Jewish legal texts,” Jacobs writes, “impose on the community an obligation to provide financial and other resources for the ill.” No less a rabbinic authority than Shlomo Goren, chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel from 1973 to 1983, sounded a similar note when he argued during a doctors’ strike that “the government may not excuse itself from its responsibility toward the sick since the government is responsible for the health of the people, not the doctors.”

Cynics claim that Lieberman’s opposition to a competitive government-run health care option is prompted by all the private insurance companies in his home state, companies that have supported him through the years. But even if his principal objection is a matter of principle, his fellow Jews (and others) should wonder why not simply vote no rather than bring down the house (i.e., the Senate) and the whole health-care bill with it.

No wonder a people whose legacy is near-universal support for FDR’s New Deal are offended when one of their own invokes the public health insurance option as a pretext for undermining the principle of near-universal health care.

If Lieberman were a gentile, it would, for many Jews, be a mere political disagreement. But Lieberman being Lieberman, the feeling is that he should be ashamed of himself. And by the way, he should.

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David Kraemer says:

Thank you for saying this. There is no doubt that Lieberman has betrayed the Jewish heritage, which puts the saving of life at the absolute pinnacle of values. Lieberman should be ashamed of himself for many reasons, but his Jewish self should be most ashamed.

Paul Oksnee says:

So the only real Jew is a liberal Jew?
That would mean all real Jews are idiots.

Linda Arking says:

When Cap Weinberger advocated the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia, my dad, a Syrian Jew who came to the US at age 6 and was a lifelong liberal Democrat, scribbled on the margin of the newspaper, “They should take away his Jewish name.” The joke of course was that CW wasn’t even Jewish. When he came across an ethically challenged (let alone dishonest) Jewish salesman, he’d say loudly, “You should be ashamed to call yourself a Jew.” He even said it to the TV and it became a dfamily mantra. Imagine what dad would say about Lieberman!

Ken Donow says:

Navasky made an argument, you just engage in name-calling. Typical….

Daniel Moore says:

“what unites people of the Jewish faith, persuasion, or heritage is their internalization of the ethical imperative.”

Maybe, but I don’t think that this necessarily draws a straight line to government run health care. Or even to supporting this particular specific policy.
Take the individual mandate, for example. Forcing individuals to buy health insurance even if they don’t want it. It seems to me to be a pretty high-minded form of tyranny to force someone to buy something merely because you think it would be good for him.

I agree that all Jews should believe that they have an obligation to help their fellow humans. But this doesn’t translate into saying that all Jews must support this particular incarnation of government run health care.

fred lapides says:

My mean state govt–same as Joes–forces me to buy auto insurance. How is that fro depriving me of my rights?

Mr. Navasky equates Judaism with Socialism. The objections to the Democratic health care proposals are over government ownership, control and regulation. How much government involvement is in the nation’s interest? Senator Lieberman is trying to knock out the worst features of the proposals. Once enacted into law, the health care reforms cannot be undone. Senator Lieberman is doing his job as he sees best. He may be a bad politician, but he is not a bad Jew.

Fred Ehrman says:

Your condemnation of an honest senator’s Judaism for opposing the obscene senate bill is in a league with Sen. Reid’s comparison to the bill’s opponents with those who backed slavery. Most of the senators who voted for it had not read the bill(which you probably have not as well). In the parts that I have read about we would be better off scrapping the House and Senate versions and starting over again. Healthcare does need reform and American citizens (not illegals)should have provisions for healthcare. But these proposals are WORSE than nothing. To call Sen. Lieberman a betrayer of his heritage for voting his conscience reflects gross chutzpa or ignorance.

Michael says:

Sen. Lieberman is no traitor to Jews or Americans, and there are plenty of people who feel the same as me.

I hope you accomplish 1/10 of what Lieberman has accomplished with your life.

What a joke.

M. Jacobs says:

This from Victor Navasky, who, as Editor of The Nation from 1978 until 1995, and its publisher and editorial director 1995 to 2005 and from 2005 it’s publisher emeritus as well as part owner, was responsible for creating one of the most virulently Far Left anti-Israel magazines. It’s Middle East correspondent is none other than Robert Dreyfuss, who prior to libeling Israel for The Nation, wrote for the antisemitic Lyndon LaRoche publication Executive Intelligence Review. The Nation also employs the loathsome Max Blumenthal.

Matthew B says:

There are some fundamental inaccuracies — more aptly, distortions — and poor logic in Navasky’s piece.

Firstly, the Democratic party turned against Leiberman when he ran for re-election, which is why he ran as an independent. The party leaders “protected” his seniority — only once he had demonstrated his popularity by winning re-eclection despite their efforts — so that they could include his vote and committee powers in the Democratic plurality, notwithstanding their professed opposition to him immediately prior to his re-election. In other words, they, not Leiberman, “betrayed” their principles.

Secondly, why would a “No” vote — simplistically siding with the bill’s opponents — have been a better idea than trying to make the bill into something he could support?

Lastly, as Hillel said, “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” Why denigrate one of the very few members of Congress willing to stand on principle and not party? Shouldn’t Leiberman’s principled approach suggest that we pay him MORE heed, rather then less, when he raises an objection to something

Mark Michaels says:

While I understand that some segments of the Jewish community may not agree with this article, as Navasky points out, one can go to Talmud and Maimonides to support his position. And clearly, early Zionists agreed, which is why Israel was developed as a democratic socialist state. And as an article recently in The Forward pointed out, many Rabbis in Connecticut agree with this position. Accordingly, it has been and is my wish that 3 Rabbis would come together and conduct a Bet Din to consider excommunicating Leiberman for his actions.

Jonathan Cohen says:

Mr. Navasky makes the astonishing argument that universal health care– and therefore the specific legislation now before the Congress– is required by Jewish law and values. Apparently, Maimonides says so. I’m curious to know what other Congressional bills Maimonides favors. It would make it so much easier to know what to support, not to mention eliminate the need for distracting debate. And since the Torah is pretty clearly AGAINST gay marriage, I guess that’s a settled matter. Next bill, please, Torah scholars!

This past week, The Shalom Center invited our members and subscribers and others to join in signing an Open Jewish Letter to Senator Lieberman, calling him to account as an “observant Jew” for failing to uphold two cardinal commands of Torah: pekuach nefesh, “saving life” – which in rabbinic teaching transcends almost every other command of Torah, including observance of Shabbat; and tzedek tzedek tirdof, “Justice justice shall you pursue.” As of December 22, 1950 Jews, including more than 150 rabbis and cantors, have signed the Open Jewish Letter to Lieberman.

Also among the signers are many full-time Jewish-community professionals or Jewish-studies professors. Many signers wrote additional notes about how outraged they are by Lieberman’s behavior and how ashamed they are as Jews by what he has done.

We are still welcoming the names of signers, and will add them to those we have sent the Senator.

To sign, click here.

The entire letter and other comments on whether and how the Jewish community m,ight establish communal responsibility for ethical behavior ny public figures is posted on our Home Page at —

— Rabbi Arthur waskow, director
The Shalom Center

I had high hopes for Tablet. I hoped it would be a source for interesting Jewish content. Unfortunately, it is clearly dominated by a very particular segment of American Jewry who have no real connection to authentic Judaism, and who will hijack their Jewish heritage to serve their own purposes. To say that Jews who do not support this health care reform bill, with all of its complexity and unknown ramifications, have abdicated their Jewish responsibility to care for the sick is ludicrous.

Burton Paikoff says:

I am very annoyed with Joe Leibermans adamant stance against the Public Option in the Bill.Claiming to be an Orthodox Jew and then violating some of the most important aspects of the TORAH,such as “Charity for the Poor, Justice,Justice,Justice,(as you can see just as it repeat on the Shabat as well as the High Holy Days). I also wonder if he will net the publc in what the Insurance Companies have offered or already given to him to take the stance he has taken.

Rosalind Hanckel says:

Affordable health care is not a liberal or conservative matter…It is an ethical matter. All “real” Jews care about the well-being of their fellow human beings and the saving of a life is, as David Kraemer says, “at the absolute pinnacle of /Jewish/ values.”

Judaism in no way advocates for legal requirements for universal health care. Insofar as it supports such things, they are as individual mandates to CHOOSE to obey mitzvot, etc.

However, the Torah DOES make similar provisions in the context of a theocracy run by Orthodox rabbis according to the comprehensive dictates of the Torah, with a focus on Jews, Torah Judaism, and the preservation of the Jewish community as the messengers of the same.

So which is it? A Torah theocracy in which citizens must follow the dictates of the Torah to provide health care for other Jews (and gerim toshavim)? Or a secular democracy in which there are no such requirements, but in which the Torah advocates choosing these priorities?

The Left cannot have it both ways, saying that people should be free to marry Gentiles, break Shabbat, and eat pork, but must be LEGALLY BOUND to buy healthcare for others.

I agree with Zach: let the Left defend its positions as Jewish with the support of the Torah, Mishnah, and Talmud (if it even knows the difference)! Vague liberal platitudes and simplistic readings of texts (probably in translation, translated into English by liberal “rabbis” with an agenda) don’t count. Show it to me on the daf! And if you can’t, what does that say about you: do you believe it because it is Judaism, or because you “need to believe it”?

Eric Slaton says:

Declaring that Judaism demands support for any particular politician, political party or piece of legislation is the exact opposite of the truth. When non-Jews do the same, Navsky et. at. are quick to denounced them in the strongest of terms. Jewish “Progressives” have come to believe that what what they think came from Sinai. Chutzpah is too generous a term. Delusions of grandeur is closer to the mark.

Judaism does demand that we care for others, but the obligation is on us as individuals.

michael levine says:

I believe that Lieberman would support a true health insurance reform bill that also amongst other items ,included some sort of meaningful tort reform within it. The bill to which he rightfully objects is a shameless mockery of a true bi partisan legislative effort and is meant to further the left wing agenda of the Obama administration. .It has been cobbled together with shameful bribes and handouts. For the former editor of The Nation which pursues a very leftist agenda to state that Lieberman betrays his Jexish heritage by not adhering to the old Socialism that enticed so many Jews in the first half of the 20th centurt is nonsense. The bill as written is a disaster and Joe should very much be against it.I am happy to be amongst those Jews like Kristol and Krauthammer who believe that the bill should be defeated .

Andre Weiss says:

When I read the headline, I said Oh My God, has Joe succumbed to the worst of the traits of the New Democratic Party and its Jewish constuents and abandoned Israel. Thank God, no. He took a principled position on the healthcare issue and the way it has been handled. Or maybe he just didn’t want to see Nebraska secede from the Union.

There is plenty of betryal by prominent Jews on the core Jewish issue of Israel, not on a matter where differences of opinion should be respected. Just say nein to the NEW Jewish Left.

Lieberman has betrayed much more than his Jewish
upbringing. He has betrayed the many people who counted on him to act for them — not for himself — not for the insurance industry he is so close to.

Senator Lieberman is not designing an ideal health care system. He is voting with the 60 in his caucus to reform the mixed system that we have today. The likely plan that he is supporting extends coverage to nearly all of the citizenry, with subsidies where necessary, and makes insurance an honest business. His vote is consistent with the view of many experts that an adequate national system can and should come in two steps– (a) today, cover the population, and (b) later, choose the best system after that grand responsibility is truly understood and widely accepted. The creation of a nationally-regulated system that covers all will end the century-long debate over whether the government has a role in ensuring that all are covered well. Of course, it is possible that private insurance could fail, even with subsidies and regulation. German and Switzerland have excellent private systems similar to the one proposed; neither of these systems makes profits for shareholders. If US companies are unable to deliver care while making a profit, then the nation as a whole will necessarily embrace a bolder government role. But it is too early to argue this point to half of the US electorate, and the experience of other countries shows that it is important that a national system have consensus support to remain fully funded. States, of course, can go further, if they wish. Senator Lieberman has acted responsibly in a complex situation that not all fully understand. Jews value prudence.

Louis Trachtman says:

This is the most foolish article I have ever read in Tablet. I credit Lieberman with having a true “Yiddisher kop” and not kowtowing to those, who would push through rapid and harmful changes to the American health care system. Go Joe!

It is very obvious that Sen. Lieberman did not follow his own conscience. In tne fall he favored both a public option and other features of health plan being proposed. He did the insurance companies bidding. The companies are ecstatic with the Senate bill. the proof is the increase in their stock values since the bill was passed. Sen Lieberman is rightly called” The senator from Aetna” He ought to say the Al chait prayer.

Lawrence Lewitinn says:

So, wait, is Navaksy arguing for more religion in politics? Sounds more the argument of someone from the far Right than someone supporting health care. Let’s carry out this logic: What would Navasky say of the moral imperatives of devout Christians to act on legislation?

Should Sen. Lieberman’s Jewish ethics also require him to propose legislation to outlaw abortion unless granted permission by a beit din, outlaw driving on Saturday mornings, limiting profits to a maximum of 16.6% and impose strict regulation on mills which produce cotton and wool blends? And I’d hate to think of what would happen to Red Lobster.

I’ve been scouring through the Torah, Talmud, and just about every other Jewish text to find where it is written that this particular legislation is the only way to improve the health of the people. I mean, Navasky is pretty clear and adamant that this bill is basically a Halakhic imperative.

Or — perish the thought! — maybe this bill really was full of garbage that would make health care worse for Americans. Maybe Lieberman really was doing the moral thing by making sure it didn’t pass.

Lieberman swore an oath to the Constitution of the United States, a document which does not mention this particular bill or even universal health care in general. Throwing religion (or, cultural heritage or whatever) into his job is how you end up eventually with Iran.

This health care bill was wrought with terrible features cobbled together by, well, people who were putting self-interest above country. To say that Lieberman is a traitor to Jews for opposing it is an insult to me as Jew. I also think Lieberman as a Jew should continue being loyal to his oath to the Constitution on behalf of the people of Connecticut and the United States. That isn’t just him being a good Jew, it’s also good for the Jews — and Americans — too.

I’m a politically left-of-center Orthodox Jew, and not a particular big fan of Joe L. anymore, but I have to disagree with the premise of this piece. Lieberman has a job to do, and it seems to me that to call him out as a “bad Jew” for his political choices makes you no different than those misguided souls who call their co-religionist Congressman a “bad Catholic” for allowing any pro-choice provision to get into a piece of legislation.

Maybe Joe L.understands that more government always begets more hunger.

The question of whether one could derive an injunction or guiding principles about universal healthcare from Jewish legal texts is a legitimate one. And Victor Navasky’s argument makes sense to a large extent. Yet, does it really apply to Senator Lieberman? The current version of the Senate bill Senator Lieberman voted for so far (first vote was last Monday and the bill is heading toward a final vote on Thursday) includes a so-called “individual mandate” (requiring everyone to purchase health insurance) that would, in theory, achieve universal coverage. With this vote, isn’t Senator Lieberman in line with his Jewish heritage, as described by Mr. Navasky?

Sandor Burstein says:

Senator Lieberman is not only a disgrace to Judaism, he’s a disgrace to humanity. As I read the comments (above)I was appalled by the ignorance and biases of the correspondents. Get back into the woodwork, you idiots! (And that includes me.)

Rich J says:

Now that Lieberman endorsed the smoking ruin of a reform bill – minus the public option – how can earlier commenters defend his sincerity. He was simply pimping for for the insurance companies who will take care of him and his family in return.

Is is not un-Jewish to be on the take?

S’iz schver tsu sein a yid!

Marca C says:

I do not agree with and condemn Senator Lieberman’s stand on a great many things, but I come up short of applying a religious test in condemnation of him as a Jew. We can disagree with someone’s actions and words without standing in judgment on the condition of his soul. I remember those who told us that we should not vote for Paul Wellman because he was a bad Jew, having married a shiksa, but both Paul and Sheila Wellstone stood firm in defending Jewish principles.
Who of us have read the health care bill? All I know of it is what I read in the New York Times, and have understood little enough of that. It might very well turn out that Lieberman is right, that the bill as it stands today is bad law and does not achieve what it purports to stand for. We can disagree without attacking the integrity of our opponents. We have an obligation to study the matter thoroughly. If we enter into serious dialogue with Lieberman and try to determine why the man reached his conclusions, we might change our own opinions or find cogent arguments to convince him he is wrong.

Marca C says:

“Wellstone”, not “Wellman”! I know that! When you get to my age you’re allowed these little lapses!

I’m not really sure you can say that most neo-cons are Jewish. Sure, the movement was started as a very different thing by some profs at CUNY who were Jewish, but I would venture to say that in its current form, the movement is predominantly a Christian movement, especially post-Bush.

Anyway the logic in your opening paragraph, even though it was in the spirit of a devil’s advocate, is an improper converse: identically, you could say most billion-dollar Ponzi-schemers are Jewish, that doesn’t say much about how characteristically Jewish it is to Ponzi scheme. So you should actively point that out. Unless you directly call that kind of statement into question you’re choice of devil’s advocate is perpetuating some problematic thinking.

There might be some merit to Navasky’s argument if the Senate bill actually reflected reasonable reforms rather than greater bureaucracy, increased government control, higher taxes, higher insurance costs, massive giveaways and exceptions for powerful senators, mandates spelling out minimum and costly benefits without the ability to select a cheaper policy, crippling of Health Savings Accounts, mandated coverage for the young and healthy or fines for not carrying coverage, reduced services in general and particularly for Medicare recipients, etc. There is no meaningful reduction in costs in this bill, no competition across state lines & no tort reform. Medicare will still be bankrupt in under 10 years. This bill is not the right approach to health care reform & should be defeated in its entirety,.. At least Lieberman got rid of the Public Option and the lower age for Medicare eligibility which were even worse and would have bankrupted the nation even sooner. I appreciate his help.

I M Romanov says:

It’s an old saw that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. May I offer a corection to two misstatements above.
Matthew B wrote “the Democratic party turned against Leiberman when he ran for re-election.” Not true. As I recall, he lost his party’s primary. His constituents voted against him. He had his party’s support but not the voters.’

Several writers made the point that Lieberman was “voting his conscience.” Mr. Navasky was quite clear in saying that Lieberman is free to vote his conscience but he is wrong in using the arcane and archaic (and may I add, in my opinion, undemocratic) rules of the Senate to hold the bill hostage to his point of view, rwgrdless of whether the reason is conscience driven or lobbyist driven.

There’s a fundamental point here that seems to be completely ignored, either through ignorance or careful avoidance…

There’s no such thing as a “right” to anything that others are required to provide for you, like health care. If someone else has to produce it and supply it, you have no right to claim it as yours simply by dint of being alive. Period. The very notion is ludicrous. But in this ‘ends justify any means’ culture, this foundational point is routinely ignored.

Mel Jenkins says:

If a person presents himself or herself as operating from an ethical/religious orientation, as Senator Leiberman does, then it is appropriate to measure actions against the standards of that body of thought. This is what Mr. Navasky has done. He is to be thanked.

If there is a desire to refute the points made about Senator Leiberman’s behavior, it should be made in the context of the ideals he has claimed as his guides.

The same evaluations made by Mr. Navasky should be done for the other 99 Senators. The question that occurs to me is, how many of other faiths have been willing to challenge their elected leaders actions in this, and similar, contexts?

condour says:

A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, “Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him.”

“Please don’t kill my son,” the baby’s mother screamed. “Your Majesty, I love him very much, but give him to her. Just don’t kill him.”

The other woman shouted, “Go ahead and cut him in half. Then neither of us will have the baby.”

Solomon said, “Don’t kill the baby.” Then he pointed to the first woman, “She is his real mother. Give the baby to her.”

Everyone in Israel was amazed when they heard how Solomon had made his decision. They realized that God had given him wisdom to judge fairly.

By saying “it’s my version of reform or no one’s”, Lieberman is the second woman. He clearly cares more about

Many of the commenters are putting forth the red herring argument that Lieberman’s stand is a principled stand against more government, as though Lieberman is disagreeing with the bill as a whole. In fact, he generally supports the notion of healthcare but has specific, petty, and often nonsensical quabbles with the Public Option and the medicare buy-in. He’s fine with the mandate and the subsidies, which are by far the most heinous portions of the bill from a libertarian’s standpoint. So he already disagrees with most of on the substance.

Where his behavior has been atrocious is his willingness to “cut the baby” — to foresake the portions of the bill which he *ALREADY BELIEVES* will save lives in order to stop the PO and Medicare Buy-in. This is crass political maneuvering.

Of course, we don’t live in the time of Kings, and no Solomon can decree that Joe be ignored. This is the strength of our system; it doesn’t excuse his poor behavior.

Can we got off of this liberal trip that Modern day progressive moors are a Jewish imperative? If today it is something obligatory is another issue – but to make it a betrayal of one’s Jewish heritage is ridiculous.
If we are indeed to take a lesson from Jewish precedent, we would organize health reform on a community level (something a community organizer should be familiar with), based on the rule that the poor of one’s own city come first – not a bloated national system.

If Lieberman were honestly opposed to the Health Care bill because of legitimate policy concerns or differences in ideology, then I would strongly disagree with Navasky’s characterization that Lieberman’s political actions were anti-Jewish. However, Lieberman has yet to present a coherent argument for his obstructionism, instead offering rationales that are blatantly untrue (claiming that the bill would increase the deficit when all CBO projections show otherwise) and suddenly opposing policies that he previously supported (expanding Medicare) merely because more liberal Senators approved of them.

It’s clear to me that Lieberman’s motivations for his actions are personal, rather than political. He has shown a tendency to bear grudges and to grandstand simply for the sake of getting attention. One gets the impression that he has little interest in what the final bill looks like, so long as it makes his personal enemies unhappy. When someone places their own petty desires above their responsibilities to the public good, then I believe it is fair to criticize that person as acting against Jewish values.

John, I’m confused by your statement that there’s no such thing as a right that someone else must provide for you. As Americans, we’re used to being entitled to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How are we supposed to enjoy our lives without the security provided to us by the police and military forces? And how are we supposed to enjoy our liberties without the laws our government has passed to protect them and the judicial system that enforces those laws?

Nadav, rights are inherent in the individual. Our government was established, in large measure, to ensure that rights are not infringed, and if they are, that there are mechanisms in place to compensate and punish. Hence, it is wholly appropriate that we collectively pay for government services designed to protect the rights we hold as individuals, such as police, military and the judicial system. This upholds the importance of the rights you and I possess.

Now, this is the really important part when it comes to a discussion about health care being a right, so please pay close attention. The police are there to protect you against the infringement of your rights by others. The military is there to protect you against the infringement of your rights by others (even though many Presidents have abused this power, obviously). And the judicial system is there to protect you against the infringement of your rights by others (including the government, thankfully). But none of these government services is, in and of itself, a right you hold. They are services put in place to protect your rights.

Do you see the central theme? It’s protection against other people, whether they act alone or in concert with others. So, the question as it pertains to health care becomes: who are the other people involved in your illness or your need to see a dentist or eye doctor on a regular basis? And if you answer that maybe you’re ill because of the neglect or abuse of another person, then my response would be to sue them or file criminal charges. They are liable for your health care costs, as they are the infringers of your rights. Otherwise, your need to take care of your health – no matter how noble that desire is – in no way imposes a burden upon your fellow citizens to pay for those services. You see, unlike the police, military, and courts, when you get sick, no rights have been infringed. Health care, in other words, is not a legitimate government service provided in protection of any right you possess. Hope that clears things up for you.

I’m not going to argue with your libertarian philosophy here, because it isn’t worth my time and I don’t have the space. I’ll just say that I (and most Americans and most academic political philosophers) disagree with you. I think that people do have positive economic rights, and that nobody has any right to any of the income or wealth that the free market gives them because they don’t truly deserve it- the only reason to allow inequality is to improve the well-being of the least well off (or, if you’re a utilitarian, the average). Read detailed explanations of the philosophy of John Rawls for a modern, secular explanation, because it doesn’t seem like you’ve heard this before.

BUT- Navasky’s piece is about Jewish ethics. And what your two posts don’t seem to mention is the connection between your libertarian argument and the teachings of Judaism. That’s because you can’t- Judaism doesn’t teach anything like “you have no right to claim it as yours simply by dint of being alive.” Judaism teaches the opposite. I’m guessing, partly because you didn’t mention any connection to Jewish ethics, and partly because of your name, that you aren’t Jewish. So let me give you a short explanation of some of the ethical differences between Judaism and Christianity. Christianity is all (or mostly, depending on the variety) about what you believe- your faith. It doesn’t really care very much about suffering in this world, because so long as you believe in Jesus, you’re saved in the next world, where there will be justice. (e.g. Mother Teresa admitting she only cared about the poor to convert them.) Judaism believes in helping people in this world for its own sake, and that our acts in this world are what matters. We need to make justice in this world- we’re commanded to do so as Jews, and in fact, many teachings say that the Messiah will not come until we have earned it by sufficiently repairing the world. And justice as defined by Judaism is improving the material quality of life of people, especially the poor, the sick, and the weak. It’s true that the religion doesn’t require or detail a specific structure to how a health care system is set up- that’s why I think Navasky is wrong about Lieberman’s betrayal of Judaism because of his resistance to the public option (although, btw, I do support the public option and single payer as a matter of secular policy). But the religion is very clear that the healthy have a duty to take care of the sick. That is not compatible with the libertarian philosophy you promoted here. And that’s why nobody else on the message board has said what you said- it simply is not relevant to a discussion on Jewish ethics.

Spencer de Vere says:

Seems i’ve heard that absurd, revolting case put before. “Any negro who doesn’t vote for welfare increases isn’t a real negro ?”

Taken to its logical conclusion, you are saying that socialism (communism?) is a Jewish thing…and that any Jew who prefers freedom is a traitor.

The joys of tribalism…

hana blume says:

I’m not a particular fan of Senator Lieberman. But Victor Navasky’s lecturing anyone about “betraying” Jews and TABLET’s providing him the forum for doing so is morally repugnant.

jakeoff says:

wow another leftest rag.

Does anyone believe the author is not being extremely selective in his appeal to “Jewish values”? Does the author support imposing such values as they apply to sexual morality, abortion and charging interest?

Moreover, charity and otherwise helping the poor are certainly Jewish values, but its superficial to argue that means any proposal to legislate new obligations on people, that its supporters suggest help the poor, is consistent with Jewish values. The debate is over whether this specific legislation will actually help the poor or will have unintended consequences that exacerbate their problems (e.g., creating job losses; bankrupting the country).

Senator Lieberman, did not vote wisely on the health care reform issue and he has put all American Jews and non-Jews in a very difficult and costly economic situation.

Stuart Rose says:

There have been many pointed responses here to Navasky’s slanderous and distortion filled attack on Lieberman.
Let me just thank Michael for reminding us that it was the Democratic Party that betrayed Lieberman when they tried to unseat him by supporting Ned Lamont.
Zach correctly notes Lieberman’s opposition to the first versions of the health reform bill was based on sound fiscal- and moral grounds.
Indeed, maybe the tzaddik Arthur Waskow, who’s trying to wrangle up a prove-your-orthodox-bona-fides campaign against Lieberman, would like to tell us how a bill that takes a huge bite out of Medicare(and will result in degraded care over time as more and more doctors refuse to accept Medicare, and as the government limits the procedures it covers) advances the cause of pekuach nefesh.
Finally, why doesn’t Navasky do a little hesbon ha-nefesh himself and admit that his support for Alger Hiss was so bloody wrong-headed?

Victor, Lieberman may be righto or wrong, but he is not the Senator of Jews.

He is a Senator of Conn. and it’s up to them to to decide if he should be reelected.

I doubt you would like it if a leftist Jewish Senator was accused of being not Jewish enough, or too Jewish.

I don’t think you are an antisemite but such views are in essence antisemitic.

You should know better, Victor.

Well’Well it don,t take long for fellow Jews to turn on each others does it.
instead of putting the blame were it belongs on the Obama administration.
who should stay out of the medical
health department.If anything Sen.Liberman should be commended for his
bravery to stand his grong against the current. which is not an easy thing to
up against a tide. how ever He was not alone in this. Our Lousiana, sen landew
mary also held out agaist the tide and allso had to put up with angry hostile
supports of the Obama bill .
if this is a demicratic system we live
in them people right to disagree.
also you no right to question this mans
religion what gives you the right to do
that . you seem to have made your self jugde and jury. remeber your not G-D.

sincerly karenJohnson

p.s. i believe mrs.landrew mary is a demercrat.

An old D.C. saying is that there are two things ordinary mortals should never see: the making of sausage and the crafting of legislation.

I may disagree with what Lieberman has done, but I won’t throw out the “betrayal” label. He represents his State of Connecticut and acts within his conscience. And that conscience is a Jewish one. Even if other Jews disagree with him, it’s possible for people to have disagreements in good faith.

stanley labinger says:

Navasky,Goldstone-birds of a feather flock together.

Senator Lieberman may be hypocritical, vengeful, corrupt and a bad Jew but Mr. Navasky’s post crosses a dangerous border that conflates religion, ethnicity and politics in an amalgam from which Jews have never benefited.

I love it when non-Halachic Jews tell Orthodox Jews how to act. I also love it when Judaism is conveniently distilled into one teaching: “wanting to take care of those less fortunate than themselves.” (Or “tikkun olam,” for example.)

Maybe Mr. Navasky should worry about his own neshama before condemning another Jew for not being “Jewish” enough.

This is honestly one of the most offensive opinion pieces that I’ve read in a long time. A core principle of Judaism is a profound respect for differences of opinion; a cursory reading of the Gemara should make this clear to all, but the most obtuse. Ours is a profoundly non ideological religion, so the idea that one’s adherence to Judaic principle is defined by strict adherence 21st Century American liberal political ideology deeply misunderstands Jewish cultural heritage and thought.

There’s simply nothing in the Torah or Jewish law that compels Jews to support a Government run health care system. It’s possible, no likely, that two different Jews could believe that the current Health Care bills before congress, including the one that formerly had the public option, would either be for the best, or make things worse for Americans. Holding Jewishness up to a political ideology, any political ideology, is not a place where Jews should want to go.

Religion and Politics do not belong in the same room…So Leibermans being Jewish has NOTHING to do with his job…if it did, he would be fired. Secondly…Seeing as the US was built on Christian values…after the land was stolen from the natives….thirdly…the health care reform bill…which 95% of the people here are complaining about have not read it. Do you really think Taxpayers should pay for illegal Alien health Care? Do you think they should get the right to vote? If you do, then Israel should take them and have your citizens pay. By him opposing the bill…he has shown MORAL values…and obviously did his job in reading the bill. And as a senator..he is first and Foremost an AMERICAN as he took an oath..and his duty is to the PEOPLE not the just the Jews. He did the right thing..his decision was what was best for real american citizens holding citizenships and American Birth Certificates…he did what was best for AMERICAN Jews, Muslims, Christians ect.
This has nothing to do with Jewishness or a lack there of.

The chutzpa of the left to claim that their version of Jewishness is the correct one is personified by Navasky.

Good people can disagree about the health care bills. Unfortunately, many on the left in the US, Navasky included, no longer tolerate dissent or disagreement.

Torah does not call for government health care, nor does it require left-wing political views, especially not so-called “social justice.”

The unfortunate accident of there being so many Jewish Communists and Socialists has led to much oppression – oppression and murder in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, of Jews and non-Jews, but especially of “religious” Jews.

j davis says:

Neuter the blue dogs!! The Dems need to get rid of vermin like Lieberman and Baucus.

Greg Solomon says:

The big secret is that the current bills as passed in each House leave millions of people uninsured. Proponents of this kind of health care “reform” care not one whit about the poor, but merely want more governmental controls on more aspects of our healthcare system. I would think that any elected official who is concerned about those who are least able to afford insurance would distance himself from this overly complicated and insanely expensive legislation that does not even pretend to reach the stated goal of universal coverage, no matter what his religion may be. If someone cannot afford adequate coverage, the government should help him pay his premiums until his income improves. If someone cannot get insurance at all due to pre-existing conditions, the government should help him by making direct payments to the professionals and facilities providing his care. The rest of us, the government should let alone. Because of the mindset that Jews must stick together, it’s natural for a lot of Jews to think that quasi-Socialist approaches are the best solutions to all of our worst problems. In Israel, this kind of thinking yields mixed results: it works really well in the areas of healthcare and security, but not very well at all when it comes to all of the tax sheckels and foreign aid money squandered by the Histadrut and the Jewish Agency. In case you hadn’t noticed, though, this ain’t Israel. There is no mixed bag here. Virtually EVERYTHING that our government touches quickly degenerates into a joke or a nightmare . . . or both! It is often said that government interference is the main reason that healthcare is already so expensive here in the States. The additional interference of Obamacare can only make matters worse. Calling Sen. Joe a bad Jew because he doesn’t want to impose yet another joke and/or nightmake upon his fellow citizens is pretty crazy. He is struggling to strip away the bad and keep the good. Personally, I don’t see any good there, but I’m not going to call him a bad Jew for failing to vote a flat no against this entire sordid scheme as I believe he should. That would make me no better than this libellous denizen of the lunatic left who wrote this bit of drivel.

Mitch, you’re full of it:

First, John (Yehonatan) is a JEWISH name, so I’m sure he’ll thank you for not assuming he’s a gentile from that fact alone.

Second, it is blatantly obvious that you have no understanding of Judaism. I mean, ACTUALLY no understanding of Judaism: you have not read one page of Talmud if you think that the Jewish conceptualization of private property rights is not so deeply ingrained in Judaism as to be inseparable. Judaism says that you own your property, to the exclusion of all others, and that right is not merely the product of a society allowing you to keep what is yours for some abstract social goal.

It might interest you to know that the first, the VERY FIRST PAGE of Talmud that a cheder talmid learns is that concerning lost property (Baba Metzia 21a). The next several hundred pages are much more of the same. That is, the fundamental teachings of Judaism are concerned first and foremost with the legal obligations towards others, along with the moral obligations.

Interestingly, there is no mention of the imposition of a legal obligation to health care. Sure, there are moral obligations, but along with the rest of Judaism, those are things you must choose when and how much to do. The choice is yours.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Siddur, taken from a Mishnah that Jews say EVERY MORNING, VERY FIRST THING:

“The following have no prescribed measure (shiur): … deeds of kindness.” (from Birkat HaShachar,

You can tell me that I should feel obliged to do something, you can even tells me that (your interpretation of) Judaism tells me that I should do it. BUT, you CANNOT say that Judaism requires me to agree to be COMPELLED to do ANYTHING.

Let us all just agree…Joe is a Putz

This article says two very important things- one true and one patently false.

First, the true. Yes, Lieberman is a disappointment to the Jewish people. His inability to pick and stick with one side of any political debate or argument brands him as a flip-flopper on a good day and a traitor on a bad day. Only problem, he’s a Jew everyday.

But the idea that Lieberman lets down the Jewish people by being liberal is absurd. Judaism is about having convictions and beliefs, doing what is right even when and especially when it is unpopular and about having the freedom to make up your own mind. Judaism is not about being a liberal or being a conservative. Saying that all Jews should be liberal is taking away that freedom of thought and action which is crucial to politics AND Judaism.

Amazing that an assimilated jew thinks he can decide who is a “good Jew” or a “bad Jew”

Apparently you can all quote the parts of the Talmud to support their condemation of Sen. Joe, but missed the part where we are taught about Loshen Hara and where we are taught about the proper way to “correct” another Jew.
We are NOT to attempt to embarass other Jews in “public”. We are also to REFRAIN from any type of “correcting advice” if it will not be taken by the person to which it is aimed.

So how do you justify picking and choosing which laws to follow in a vain attempt to justify your own negative behaviors?

MS Yid says:

Would we seek a medical advice from Mr. Victor Navasky? Would we seek his advice on marriage,parenting…investments? And why not?
BECAUSE HE IS NOT AN EXPERT in those issues! So why would we consider giving any validity to what his thoughts are regarding what is Jewish and what’s not? Had he studied volumes upon volumes of true Jewish philosophy?
Does he have a never-broken tradition instilled in him and does he himself seek guidance from a learned wise Jew?
Judged by his arguments he is unfortunately stands very far from true Jewish System of Values…so his opinions regarding that matter are worthless. So, before making waves regarding Judaism and political issues in this country – Mr. Victor Navasky should first spend great deal of time to get very familiar with Torah and the Constitution.

Captainchaos says:

Mr. Navasky’s analysis tends towards the glib as he fails to come to grips intellectually with just what it means to be a liberal, and a Jew; and for that matter the interaction of and the impact upon the latter by the former. Contemporary liberalism in its teleology posits as the end of Man self-authoriality and consequently the unfettered will, yet also strives for the ‘goods’ of the maximization of freedom and security. All is constructed, there is nothing of the essence in Man. Aside from the fact that that is rankest delusion, there is the inconvenient consequence that contemporary liberalism is actually self-defeating of the ends it claims it wishes to secure, namely the maximization of freedom and security. What is it that members of my generation may well say when accused of being bad liberals, or bad Jews, or bad what-have-you? ‘Piss of you stodgy old reactionary, it’s my life!’ The troubling thing is contemporary liberalism doesn’t provide much traction contra.

This from the man who continues to claim Alger Hiss was innocent. What a clown.

sharon teig says:

If Judaism is about anything valuable, it is about ethics and justice..given Lieberman’s position as a politician, he degrades the idea of “jew”. He has such an opportunity to be a mensch, but sadly, shows himself to be only a bad politician.

Sam Prince says:

Senator Lieberman’s behavior is simply one more reason why those who profess to be Shomrei Mitzvoth should find a different symbol than wearing a kippah. In the past decade we have seen Jack Abramoff, Bernard Madoff, Rubashkin (Iowa meat processor scandal), the 5 Rabbis from New Jersey who went into the kidney business, among several others. What we have learned from all of these men is those who stand up and wear the ornaments of Jewish religious observance cannot be trusted to actually do the correct thing when it comes to daily business practice.

Senator Lieberman is merely another example of so-called Shabbat & Kashruth observers who fail to understand what it means to do Tzedakah.

Emmett Grunzweig says:

I think Lieberman is an empty suit, and a obnoxiously self-righteous empty suit at that. Nevertheless, Navasky’s piece bespeaks a rather pathetic ethical provincialism. If Lieberman were Senator Smith, his What the hell does bad Jew mean that isn’t covered by rotten person? All the usual right wing blather you stir up is no reason to be pleased with yourself for this nonsense. It doesn’t take much to set that crew off.

People need to understand being American also as well as our jewish decent is difficult,NOT ALL BETRAYAL,Theres personnal safety issues that a lot of people dont understand and need to consider.Im sure its sometimes difficult to meet everysingle persons expectations,hes not god give the man a little more encouragement not just critic,Also it takes team work,Cant just expect one person to solve entire problem,Perhaps just needs a more supportive attitude and ideas from staff and us others,Other than that I vote its not all betrayal.

From a decent,slav,jewish polish,greek and arab muslim,I love each of my cultures each a muslim and jewish without betrayal of either.To be that and American is very difficult sometimes,As with politics its hard to please everyone,More patients and ideas needed,besides critic,some people need some extra help.


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Lieberman’s Betrayal

That’s no way for a Jew to act, Senator

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