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Many Reason to Back Obama, Following Hillary's Defeat

October 23, 2008 By:
Deborah E. Lipstadt
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Sen. John McCain Sen. Barack Obama

I am one of those 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling. I was a Hillary supporter. I did not support Sen. Clinton because she was a woman, but because I liked her policies and record. But, as is often the case in life, my hopes were not to be.

Once that became clear, I sat on the sidelines, watching and wondering. Now, I am firmly in the Obama/Biden camp. I have been both pushed and pulled in that direction. I am there as an American, a woman and a Jew.

John McCain is a firm pro-lifer, having voted against choice more than 120 times in his career. His running mate opposes abortion, even in the case of rape and incest. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with these beliefs, I object to having someone's personal views forced upon everyone else when it entails such a private family matter.

Jewish Law on Abortion
Furthermore, this view potentially conflicts with Jewish law, which holds that when there is a threat to the life of the mother, her life takes precedence over that of her fetus -- and leaves abortion decisions up to a woman and the rabbi with whom she consults.

Many traditional rabbis take into consideration the issue of mental stress on the mother, permitting abortions in the case of Tay-Sachs and other genetic diseases.

Were McCain and Sarah Palin to write their pro-life beliefs into law, their policy could create both a direct obstacle to Jewish law and severe invasions into our private lives.

McCain's views on abortion are not, however, my primary reason for not supporting him. I find myself diverging with him on a far-broader array of issues.

The Torah repeatedly instructs us to care for the "widow, orphan, poor and the stranger." It is a fundamental tenet of Judaism that those who are blessed with "more" have an obligation -- not a choice -- to help those who have less. Taking care of the needy in Jewish tradition constitutes doing tzedakah, not charity. There is a world of difference between the two.

Where's McCain's Sense of Fairness?
The root of charity is "caras," as in dear -- caress, care. The root of tzedakah is justice. Jewish law prefers that people give charity lovingly and kindly. But Jewish law teaches, even if you don't care to give, that you are obligated to do so. How, then, could I support McCain, who has voted against the minimum wage at least 10 times? How could I support someone who believes in the privatization of Social Security?

How could I support a candidate, McCain, whose health-care program would leave millions uninsured and tax the health-insurance benefits we now receive from our employers?

And then, of course, there is Israel, to which so many of us are deeply and viscerally connected. Groups of Jews who oppose Barack Obama want to strike fear into people's hearts on this issue.

Obama's record has earned him praise from AIPAC and Israeli leaders, as well as condemnation from Palestinian leaders.

Many Jews, myself included, were deeply disturbed by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's most controversial comments, but there is nothing in Obama's record to indicate that he adheres to Wright's views. I was glad to hear Obama forcefully and publicly denounce them.

When Palin first ran for mayor of Wasilla, she did so as the town's "first Christian mayor." What does that have to do with being a leader?

Is this someone you want a heartbeat away from America's oldest president, a man who has had multiple bouts with cancer?

Finally, let's talk about the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the middle of many people's election ballots. Jews have prospered in this country in countless and unimaginable ways. America has given us tremendous opportunities.

While no one should vote for Barack Obama because he is black, the fact that a black man is a nominee for the highest office in the land constitutes an affirmation of the fact that, at long last, some of the final barriers of discrimination are crumbling. For Jews, it is yet another reminder of the blessings this country has offered them and other minorities.

For me, the choice is clear.

Deborah E. Lipstadt is the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University.


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