- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2000

NEW YORK The Middle East crisis has riled this city's wary and watchful Jewish community. Yet even before the first shot was fired on the West Bank, virtually all Jews living here from West Side liberals to Brooklyn Orthodox were already caught up in a spirited debate over the virtues of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman.

"If you talk about Jewish angst, you have to see the intersection of two forces: anguish over Israel's dilemma, and Lieberman their champion backing off from what made him so appealing in the beginning," said Fred Siegel, professor of history at the Cooper Union for Science and Art.

The emergence of the Democratic vice-presidential candidate as a national figure at this time is of particular concern to Jews. Some reservations about him have risen from the nature of Judaism itself, others out of anger at the Jewish legislator's adjustment of key political views since he was added to the Democratic ticket. Fear of anti-Semitism is a factor among older Jews with stark memories of World War II.

Fewer New York Jews marry outside their faith than in any other area of the country. So if anything aroused indignation especially among conservative religious Jews it was the senator's statement on a nationwide radio show that in traditional Judaism there is "no ban whatsoever" on intermarriage.

The response was volcanic from the city's Orthodox community.

"Joe Lieberman told a lie," wrote state Rep. Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Jew, in the New York Post, emphasizing that intermarriage is clearly not allowed. "In trying to appeal to every one, Joe resorted to patent dishonesty.

"I have gone from being excited about Joe Lieberman's candidacy to being totally turned off," continued the Brooklyn Democrat, who is an avid supporter of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the New York Senate race.

What threw fat onto this fire was Mr. Lieberman expressing his "respect" for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, known for his description of Judaism as "a gutter religion." Speaking on a radio program, Mr. Lieberman even said he would like to meet with the black minister, prompting condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League and other national Jewish groups, most of which have headquarters in New York.

Not surprisingly, the meeting has not taken place.

"Lieberman is an opportunist trying to heal the chasm between Jews and Farrakhan in order to sustain the black constituency with the Democratic Party," said Herb London, a Jewish conservative and president of the Hudson Institute. "The anti-Semitism has come from the black left."

Much of the angst is a result of the divisions in Judaism itself, between observant and nonobservant Jews and between so-called modern Orthodox Jews, like the vice-presidential nominee, and more traditional Orthodox Jews the fastest-growing segment of the Jewish population. In New York City, the latter strict Hasidim are centered in sections of Brooklyn, such as Borough Park and Williamsburgh, with politically aware liberal Jews concentrated in Manhattan.

From the beginning, traditional Orthodox Jews have been eager to see how Mr. Lieberman would reconcile the demands of public office with the prohibitions of his faith, such as not talking on the telephone or traveling on the Sabbath.

Democrats like to recount how Mr. Lieberman has slept over at Mr. Gore's house, rather than ride or fly home when his work lasted beyond sundown. In reference to the Jewish tradition that forbids one to even turn lights on and off on the Sabbath, Mr. Lieberman tells how he found Mr. Gore turning lights on for him in the bathroom and bedroom while he was a guest there.

"So who could imagine," Mr. Lieberman says he exclaimed at the time, "that the vice president of the United States would be my Shabbos goy," in a reference to Gentiles who perform Sabbath tasks for observant Jews. The vice-presidential candidate's suggestion that certain Talmudic scholars told him there were exceptions for public officials has raised a storm in the Orthodox community.

The senator also has publicly changed his previous conservative positions on affirmative action, school vouchers, Social Security and stamping out Hollywood smut peddlers, whom he recently told, "We will nudge you, but we will never become your censors."

Understandably, GOP vice-presidential candidate Richard B. Cheney remarked in their last debate that he preferred the "old Joe Lieberman" to the new.

Jason Moaz, associate editor of Jewish Press, the largest Anglo-Jewish newspaper, says that among Orthodox Jews, which the paper represents, disenchantment already has registered. "Finally the rest of the country," he says, "has an opportunity to see someone who takes Judaism seriously he's no Seinfeld and here he is misrepresenting the Orthodox position."

While the senator is expected to receive the overwhelming majority of Jewish votes, some political observers believe Mr. Lieberman has alienated the moderate or right-of-center Jews, what Bruce Teitelbaum, a political adviser to Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, calls "the Giuliani Jews," who voted for the mayor in two elections.

"Even Jewish Republicans who would not vote for Gore were so enthusiastic about the Jewish part they were giving Gore a look," Mr. Teitelbaum says. "That's dissipated now because of the backpedaling."

"I think he brings religion into the picture too much, the whole moral thing, too Godlike, like a TV preacher instead of a politician," said marketing consultant Lois Zuckerman, a Jewish registered Republican.

But most liberal Democratic Jews welcome Mr. Lieberman's presence on the ticket. Rhoda Salter of Manhattan, a Polish-born Jew and retired social psychologist, is favorably impressed with the senator, who reminds her of an uncle. "He's a certain kind of Jew, educated, bright, good-natured, and Talmudic. They should all be like that." But she has reservations about Mr. Lieberman's tendency early in the campaign to embellish his remarks with references to the Deity. "I hope he doesn't use his religion as part of his campaign for office."

Moral questions were very much on Mr. Lieberman's mind when he wrote in his recently published memoir, "In Praise of Life," that by the mid-1980s the Democratic Party had moved too far to the left in the last 20 years. A key reason? "We cast out religion and faith as having virtually no presence whatsoever in politics and public life."

Jackie Mason, the comedian best known for his scathing political observations, scoffs at these musings. The moral values Mr. Lieberman espouses are exactly what the Gore ticket needed, he said in an interview, adding: "But there is no bigger fake on earth. He uses it as a gimmick."

Alluding to the now-infamous Hollywood fund-raiser where participants reportedly told dirty jokes and ridiculed Christianity, he said it was "nothing but filthy jokes, which Lieberman supposedly didn't hear. But when they called him the greatest senator on earth, he heard it. He's a sick liar."

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