Bush Man

Netty C. Gross

I asked a rabbi who teaches Torah classes to Jewish members of Congress if President George Bush has his own rabbi, someone like Richard Nixon’s Baruch Korff, who established the Committee for Fairness to the President in 1973, as the Watergate scandal was unfolding, or Bill Clinton’s Menachem Genack, head of the Kashrut Division at the Orthodox Union. He shrugged and then came up with the name of Daniel Lapin. It made sense, given the president’s Evangelical affiliations: Lapin, 58, a South-African born, Seattle- based Orthodox rabbi, is the darling of the Christian Right. He believes the separation of religion and state is a terrible idea; that Christians have every right to proselytize Jews (“Let the Jews be educated enough to reject it”), and that only a “Christocentric America makes for a safe and prosperous Israel.” In December 2000, Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, a Jewish-Christian conservative lobby, was the only rabbi present – of some 30 religious leaders, including one other Jew – at a meeting convened by Bush in Austin, Texas, to discuss his “faith-based” initiatives for providing social services via religious institutions. But Lapin himself, looking relaxed on a recent trip to Israel in a white polo shirt, slacks and a black yarmulke, says he’s not “Bush’s rabbi.” He does, however, say that he plays a “minor role. I don’t want to be a name-dropper.” Sipping coffee at a posh Jerusalem hotel with his wife Susan listening in, Lapin says that after the Austin meeting, he was appointed to a presidential commission that met in the White House or the adjacent Old Executive Office Building, at the president’s invitation. Though gatherings became “less frequent” after 9/11, they still go on. Lapin is vague on subject matter but says the president, “who has aged noticeably” since the two first met back in Austin, did discuss Iraq with the group. The rabbi says he’s no longer the only Jewish cleric attending but declined to name others. But there’s always kosher food; it’s “not even an issue,” he notes. “It’s a hard-working White House,” he sums up solemnly, noting early- morning pre-work (Christian) prayer sessions, “but no pressure on Jewish staff” to attend. The Lapins have seven children, ranging in age from 13 to the early 20s, who have been for the most part home- schooled, a practice particularly popular among right-wing religious Christians. It reflects, explains Lapin, rural distrust of the Establishment and “a traditional outlook.” Didn’t it drive you mad to have seven kids at home all day, I ask Susan. “No,” she beams, “I love it. Raising my children is my career.” She says a special room in the house functioned as a classroom; the kids were expected to be there by 8:30 a.m., after prayers and breakfast, dressed and washed. But how did you know what to teach? “You learn with them,” she enthuses. Susan notes that home-schooling is catching on with Orthodox Jews; she belongs to a “cooperative” of the parents of some 400 kids, sharing tips and resources. Daniel Lapin, who has defended Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” as a “religious Christian experience,” says what Jews don’t appear to understand is that Evangelicals “genuinely believe that God has blessed America because it has blessed its Jews.” And it’s because of his religious belief, says Lapin, that Bush’s commitment to Israel “transcends that of any previous American president.” “Why do Jews still align themselves with the liberal and left-wing policies, such as abortion rights?” he muses. Days later, I run into an official of a large American Jewish women’s organization that is passionately pro-choice and lobbies for liberal causes. A new concern, she says, is the future shape of the Supreme Court now that Clinton appointee Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is ailing. She fears a right-leaning tilt with new appointees. And unlike in the Clinton years, she says, her group is simply no longer invited to the White House. “We are out of the loop. Laura has her Christian ladies and that’s it.” And, of course, there’s Rabbi Lapin.

Copyright c 2004. The Jerusalem Report

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