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Kosher Republican

Shmuley Boteach wants the government to extend blue laws and subsidize marriage counseling—and he’s running for Congress as a Republican

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NBC News’ Meredith Vieira interviews Rabbi Shmuley Boteach for Dateline NBC in September 2009. (Virginia Sherwood/NBC NewsWire/Getty Images)
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Today Shmuley Boteach announced that he’s running as a Republican in New Jersey’s 9th Congressional District.

If Rabbi Shmuley Boteach had his way, businesses would close on Sunday, marriage counseling would be tax deductible, Wall Street would be less greedy, and our conservative politicians would drop their obsession with same-sex marriage and contraception.

That’s the platform—the Republican platform—that Boteach will promote in New Jersey’s 9th district if he decides to run for Congress. He’ll make an official decision on Tuesday, though he’s already filed with the Federal Election Committee.

It’s hard to square Boteach’s support for such initiatives with fundamental GOP principles of small government and free markets. But the rabbi insists there isn’t a discrepancy between his proposals and the ideology of the Republican Party.

“The point of government is to step in when it’s necessary,” he told me in an interview late last week, just before he was set to speak at a Republican candidates’ forum in Hoboken, N.J. “You send in the troops. You do things in an emergency. I think the divorce rate is an emergency.” By thinking about the divorce rate as a national disaster—Boteach himself is from a divorced family, an experience he says left deep scars—he makes the case that it’s the government’s job to intervene, just as it would, say, in a hurricane. “These would be limited measures of a few years,” he explained, “where we would try to rescue the institution of marriage.”

The second plank of his platform takes on what Americans do with their weekends: “My purpose is to recreate an American Sabbath,” he said. Boteach lives in Bergen County, one of the nation’s few jurisdictions that still has blue laws, forcing businesses to close on Sundays. While for years he’s waged a high-profile campaign to encourage “family Fridays,” as a lawmaker he says he’d promote quality family time partly by extending blue laws across the country.

When Boteach talks about values, he’s not just talking about the family. He believes that the economic crisis was exacerbated by a culture that equates money with happiness and confuses greed with entrepreneurship. It’s when values are eroded, he believes, that the government feels the need to step in.

“The more values, the less government interference there will be,” he said. “If Wall Street hadn’t been greedy, we wouldn’t need Dodd-Frank,” Boteach said of the 2010 financial regulation law, although he acknowledged that many Republicans dislike the law and that he shares some reservations. “It’s not a great law,” he added.

Boteach knows he faces an uphill battle. New Jersey’s 9th district is overwhelmingly blue, and even more so after the 2011 redistricting plan that forced Democratic Congressmen Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell into a competitive primary. Close friends like Newark Mayor Cory Booker and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have warned Boteach that it might not be worth the struggle.

If elected to Congress, Boteach said that he would seek counsel from Booker and Cantor, in addition to friends like Harvard professor Noah Feldman and Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens. But first he’ll have to convince a Republican base increasingly dominated by social conservatives fixated on same-sex marriage and contraception and Tea Party stalwarts who are staunchly against big government.

There are some issues where Boteach will certainly appeal. He calls the current tax system “insane,” supports school vouchers, and criticizes President Obama for his “mixed record on Israel.”

Other of his views are sure to rankle social conservatives. “The social-sexual obsession is destroying America and the Republican party in particular,” he said. “How are we going to fix marriage by focusing on gay men?”

He continued: “If you look at the social-sexual obsession, it is largely fueled by our patriotic Christian brothers and sisters—good people, but in Christianity sexuality plays an outsized role with its focus on the abstinence of Jesus, the celibacy of Paul, and the virginity of Mary.”

In February, Boteach got a taste of some of the skepticism he might face when he went on Fox Business’ Varney & Co. to discuss his platform. While two years earlier, he got a very warm welcome when he argued against the estate tax, this time the panelists were taken aback.

“If all you’ve got is the creation of an American Sabbath and making marriage counseling tax deductable. I’m not sure I can support your candidacy,” said Stuart Varney.

“I don’t care if people don’t like my specific proposals,” Boteach said. “I want to start the conversation. If you don’t like my proposal, what’s yours?” he said. “Start having the conversation and stop talking about contraception.”

To hear Boteach talk to Noah Feldman and Tablet’s Bari Weiss about whether or not he should run for Congress, click here:

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D'vorah Elias says:

Shmuely Boteach is a joke. This guy is a media whore and not much more. I mean, come on! This so-called rabbi has a bobble head of himself! What self-respecting rabbi has a bobble head of himself. I first heard about him shortly after Michael Jackson died and he was claiming to have been “Michael Jackson’s rabbi”. Last time I heard, Michael Jackson was still a Baptist and had not yet converted to Judaism. I saw Boteach on the Dr. Phil show not too long ago and felt nothing more than a keen sense of embarrassment that this guy goes around representing either Judaism or the Jewish people. And now he wants to go into politics??? Unbelievable. Next we’ll hear that he wants to run for President. The guy is a megalomaniac. People like that are best left ignored. He’ll probably turn into the Lindsay Lohan of the rabbinic world!

tk_in_TO says:

@ D’vorah Elias: watch your lashon ra and dont label people ‘megalomaniacs’ in such a cavalier fashion. We should be respectful in dialogue, regardless of counter opinions.

Hershl says:

Interesting article.

Why does he think he will win?

“If you don’t like my proposal, what’s yours?”

That’s a winning campaign slogan right there.

Asher says:

How would closing businesses on Sundays help those of us who do not shop on Shabbat? The Christians must decide against shopping on their day of rest for themselves otherwise it will be like prohibition, a stupid law observed mostly in the breach, forced on the majority by a zealous minority and serving as a tool for insincere and unscrupulous politicians. People don’t need government enforcing their observance of their day of rest. Besides, how can you have an American Sabbath when the Sabbath was ordained by Hashem? There is only one true Sabbath. It is Shabbat from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. It is a remembrance of the work of creation and of the exodus from Egypt. This is not what Christians honor or remember on Sunday. What would follow the closing of businesses; prohibitions on yard work, washing of cars etc.? Would Jews have to observe two days of rest? Please tend your own garden, Rabbi. Jews should be the first to stand against government regulating religious observance. We have too many power-mad, money-hungry “clergy” trying to regulate secular life in our country. Please do not fall into their perverted ways.

M. Burgh says:

Blue laws are unconstitutional. The state has no business enforcing religious practice, or personal lives in the context of marriage. Boteach is no different from Santorum in his attempt to turn back the US to 1613.

Dan O. says:

The Sabbath is threatened by the ability to buy alcohol on the weekend? lol

Perhaps the Sabbath is threatened by there not being enough time for a dual-income family to run our errands during the week and still read to our kids and get them to bed.

Stagnant wage growth, increased work hours threaten the Sabbath much more than blue laws.

Elise Hietikko says:

I enjoyed the message, thanks. I am a strong Christian and appreciate the observation that Jesus and the early Christians did not hold Jesus to be the Christ.

It seems terrible to me for Christians to believe that Jesus as Christ is the only way to salvation, when surviving scripture at that time omits those verses, and history strongly points at Jesus becoming Christ due to imperial efforts of Roman Emperor Constantine I.

On the other hand, Jesus was celibate, and Mary a Virgin after having Jesus? That is not Christianity in general, that is Catholic, really different. And I think that Jesus would view divorce as a natural disaster and use govt resources for marriage counseling, straight and gay. But not for war. He would also feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the prisoners (& outlaw solitary confinement) and cloth people who needed warm and/or UV-resistant clothes.

masortiman says:

my alternative proposal

fight unemployment and low wages that strain families, and lead to divorce.

A position rooted in Judaism that just might win some gentile votes.

masortiman says:

“While for years he’s waged a high-profile campaign to encourage “family Fridays,” as a lawmaker he says he’d promote quality family time partly by extending blue laws across the country.”

Blue laws in this country have always been state and local option. Even if they ARE constitutional, its very unlikely that even a conservative SCOTUS would hold federal blue laws (other than rules impacting the federal govt itself, but its already mostly closed on sunday) to be constitutional.

But perhaps R Boteach sees no point in deferring to an inconvient but ancient document with a confusing tradition of interpretation?

Look, I’ve always disliked Boteach because I don’t think shame is good thing. Also, being Jewish, I am of course a Democrat, like every other intelligent, reasonable person in America at the moment.

But hey — as Republicans go, Boteach has a POINT. They are sooooo big on religion but they won’t enforce their own Sabbath because it interferes with commerce. If they really loved our American forefathers, as they claim, they would enforce the Sabbath, just like the Puritans did.

They are soooo worried about gay marriage, but their leaders (exception Romney) marry, divorce, marry again, sleep around, and use contraception pretty much every other day. Jesus actually condemned divorce — if they were following their own religion instead of imposing it on everyone else — they *would* be more worried about our divorce rate than gay marriage.

In short, the Republicans deserve Boteach. He’s good medicine for them. I hope he becomes a thorn in their side. If he starts speaking at churches instead of synagogues, that would also be a personal relief for me.

Andy L says:

At last, a Republican I could vote for. I hope the Republicans get totally crushed in the upcoming election, and staggering from their defeat, they find Boteach and follow his example. The country needs two strong political parties, and right now the Republicans are simply crazy. Good luck to you Boteach, may you lead the way back to sanity.

As a Jew, I am embarrassed by this idiot.

He wants the marriage counseling tax deduction because, wait for it, ………… he is a marriage counselor.

Please, go away.

marjorie reednick says:

my jewiish name is miriam shiphrah.i have a a comical story in response to your Kosher husband when we married came from a shull attending kosher home in PA I came from a 90% jewish city outside of boston primarily reform jewish. only attend for bar/bat mitzvahs weddings etc.1st year married our home across st. from reform syn.we walk to shull every sabbath we had the biggest fight.he told me he was a republican and i was a liberal left wing jfk democrat.but we had a wonderful loving marriage inspite of it.After he die young 45 I join modern orthodox and became intensly involved.spiritual baruch hashem.

Glenn Bergenfield says:

This is definitely his year, what with discussions of colonies on the moon, English as the “primary” language of Puerto Rico and the offering of contraceptives in a health care plan as a violation of the free exercise clause. I see that not every nutty idea is out there. Iran is threatening nuclear annihilation of the West. Syrians are being murdered in droves, the Islamo-fascist leaders continue us on a course toward war.

But this rabbi thinks the big issue of the day is that married couples need more counseling and that suburban families need more family time. These are pastoral concerns of his suburban milieu.

Even if this was important and correct, I don’t want the government telling me what to do on Sunday.

“Sell crazy some place else; we’re all stocked up here.”

Debrarae says:

He wants the GOVT to SUBSIDIZE Marriage counseling? I think that the Government paying for things, needs to stop.

The more the government pays for, the more power the government has in our lives.

Queen Esther says:

We need an alternative to Steve Rothman. Granted he has supported Israel. However, he voted for every government-spending bill he could find – “Affordable” Health Care, etc., Now we are on the brink of an economic collapse. I ask you, my fellow Jews, how does that help Israel?

Rabbi Boteach does stand for entitlement reform (not elimination) and the dignity of the individual and has the ability to articulate it as no one I have heard so far. He believes in a values based government. If we had honest government,we wouldn’t be in the condition we are today. I see him being on the “right” track.

Isn’t marriage-counseling already tax-deductible? You can take it as a medical deduction.

MARTY says:

The world has seen what Jewish advisers to the Bush Crime Family helped do as far as the Middle East is concerned… Nothing i worse for the U.S, Israel & the Arabs then a Jewish teapublican.

These self serving profits of hate are keeping the world against Israel because of the stance of a very few… Jewish teapublicans are in total the worst thing we can have in government & I would rather vote for a grammer school drop out then a Jewish teapublican…..

dmark49389 says:

Rabbi Boteach is a tireless self-promoter, a failure on TV, and is obviously looking for some way to crawl back into the limelight. His fifteen minutes of fame is up. Shouldn’t he be home with his wife and several children, training them up in the way they should go? Sorry, Schmuley.


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Kosher Republican

Shmuley Boteach wants the government to extend blue laws and subsidize marriage counseling—and he’s running for Congress as a Republican

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