The Rav Raps on Rahm

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This is a how-to guide. Fame is an arbitrary thing, where the spokesperson for a certain person or issue is rarely the most-qualified to speak on it — and this is even more applicable when it’s rabbis being thrust in front of the microphone. First the press went quote-happy on Rabbi Barry Freundel when he was Joe Lieberman’s rabbi; now that we’ve got another Jew in Washington, and since Jews love to read about themselves (and buy papers), Rabbi Asher Lopatin is getting his moment in the national spotlight.

rahm emanuel in the new yorkerI first realized the utter ubiquity of this phenomenon this morning, in that sleep-deprived haze of the subway, when the man next to me was reading the New Yorker and I kept seeing Rabbi Lopatin’s name. (Rabbi Lopatin was our rabbi when we lived in Chicago last year, and is possibly the most courteous, press-friendly and all-around inoffensive rabbi ever, a perfect foil for Rahm’s dad.)

As far as dirt to be thrown, there’s probably no one better to sidestep it than Rabbi Lopatin. When asked about Emanuel, he said, “I don’t know him in a political way, but I wish all our congregants were as loyal to the synagogue and as engaged as he is.â€? And, in the next line, he offers a putative apology for the Rev. Jeremiah Wright: “Sometimes we spiritual leaders say things we don’t mean.”

Any kind of interview is a war between the interviewer and the interviewee, each with a specific agenda. Even if both sides have the same goal — that is, a glowing and Obamaesque portrayal — each is going to want the subject portrayed just slightly differently. And really, what good is having a press-savvy rabbi if they’re just going to sidestep blows, and not offer an agenda of your own? Lopatin, when faced with explaining just why he gave his blessing for Emanuel to step out of services to take a conference call about the bailout: “There’s no doubt that somewhere in the world there would be a serious risk to lives and personal survival if the financial system melted down,” he said, and “to save a life, you can violate almost any commandment.â€?

(And, of course, Rabbi Lopatin offers his own reading of Emanuel’s brother’s character on Entourage. But you’ll have to read the article for that.)

Posted on November 14, 2008

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