Some of my best friends are Orthodox Jews. I admire what the Jewish people have contributed to humankind through the centuries and appalled at what humankind has done to them in return. That's why it is good that another barrier has been broken with the selection of Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut to be Vice President Al Gore's running mate.
Not all Jews, not even all Orthodox Jews, believe in the same doctrines or apply them to their lives and public policies in the same way. This is also true of Christians and Muslims. Some Catholic politicians in recent years have refused to go beyond ``personal opposition'' to abortion when they had the power to at least limit the number of abortions. John F. Kennedy felt it necessary to assure Protestants the Vatican would not dictate to him on matters of public policy (or, as it turned out, private behavior). President Clinton, who has often said Kennedy was his role model, takes a similar approach when it comes to his Southern Baptist roots, embracing the mantle of religiosity but rejecting the demands the Scriptures make on private as well as public life.
Lieberman observes certain rules when it comes to the Jewish Sabbath (no driving or riding in cars, no talking on the telephone). He also eats only Kosher food. It was said of Jimmy Carter that his public expressions of his private faith encouraged many people to walk a similar path. God knows we don't have a surplus of public figures who take their religious beliefs seriously. Perhaps Lieberman can be helpful as a religious example to others.
Some of my Orthodox Jewish friends - Michael Medved, the movie critic; Dennis Praeger, a Jewish intellectual and radio talk-show host; and Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who needs no introduction - observe the traditional formalities of their religion but go further and seek to apply them to moral issues. They regularly speak about human behavior and how their Jewish-informed consciences shape their worldview. They would argue, I think, that being Jewish requires bringing more to the common table than Kosher food.
They are all instructed by their faith and Jewish law on such controversial topics as abortion and outside-of-marriage sex. However, Lieberman has voted against any restrictions on abortion, including the partial-birth variety (though he favors parental notification for a minor child), and he has voted for legislation that expands homosexual rights.
These days in America you are allowed to be ``religious'' so long as you do not take faith too seriously. If there is a disconnect between personal faith and public policy, much of the public and all of the mostly pagan media will allow politicians to practice their ``superstitions'' in private. But if politicians seek to apply faith to public issues, they are labeled ``religious fanatics'' or, worse, ``fundamentalists.'' No need to fear that Lieberman will acquire such labels. While he has walked the safe road of bashing Hollywood and music producers and artists who pollute the cultural soul, he won't apply a similar standard of right and wrong to subjects that might jeopardize his political life.
At the 48th National Prayer Breakfast in Washington last February, where 3,000 multi-faith participants gather annually to pray for the nation, Lieberman was the featured speaker. He said, ``Our economic life and so much else is thriving, but there is evidence that our moral life is stagnating.'' He spoke of ``compelling evidence that our culture has coarsened, that our standards of decency and civility have eroded, and that traditional values in our society - faith, family and community - are in a life-and-death struggle with the darker forces of immorality, inhumanity and greed.''
Lieberman suggested that the way out of the morass is a national turning to God. Such a turning will result in what he called ``social and humane legislation.'' While Lieberman has articulated the problem, he has been less forceful in offering legislative solutions, even though legislation without a ``national turning to God'' will solve little. While only God can judge Lieberman's faith, the voters will soon have the chance to judge how well he has applied it to public policy.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times
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