With national and international crises making headlines, the New York City mayoral race has all but receded to the back pages. But with the first of three scheduled debates between the two remaining major party candidates less than a week away, voters will finally be able to concentrate on substantive issues and policy rather than the circus we were treated to over the summer.
New Yorkers who voted in the September 10 primaries rejected two scandal-ridden candidates, one running for mayor, the other for comptroller, while turning thumbs down on a mayoral candidate whose lifestyle many of us find morally objectionable.
The rejection, however, was far from unanimous; tens of thousands of voters had no problem casting their ballots for the candidates in question. Indeed, the very fact that their candidacies were not just tolerated but even celebrated by some opinion makers reflects the collective state to which we've sunk. The primaries may have ended a month ago but their aftermath still resonates, and what that says about us as a city and a culture will be relevant long after the new mayor is sworn in.
The liberal elites have sullied our society to such an extent that the moral depredations of Messrs Weiner and Spitzer and the publicly flaunted lifestyle of Ms. Quinn not only failed to disqualify them as candidates but possibly enhanced their positions. Rather than challenge the audacity of Weiner and Spitzer re-emerging from the political wreckage of their own making, many media outlets and politicians touted them as public servants worthy of our understanding and forgiveness.
Meanwhile, gay rights activists, ever bent on furthering their agenda, castigated any opponents of Quinn as intolerant prigs. Indeed, just how far we've fallen as a society really comes into focus when one considers that during his first campaign for mayor in 1977, Ed Koch, not wishing to alienate traditionally-minded voters, appeared everywhere with former Miss America Bess Myerson at his side in order to dispel rumors he was gay. Today, candidates in cities like New York feel little or no need to reassure traditional voters, and such Koch-style subterfuge on their part would be considered an outrage.
Apparently, few red lines of decency remain to be crossed in today's media-driven culture. And this erosion of what once were widely held doctrines of civility and morality in a country built on Judeo-Christian values has infiltrated our own Orthodox Jewish precincts.
Jewish leaders have, over the years, become increasingly involved in city politics – a perfectly understandable and indeed necessary element in improving and protecting our Jewish way of life. However, some Jewish leaders and organizations have stepped over the fragile boundary between Jewish political gains and possible breaches of Jewish law by endorsing candidates whose views and lifestyles are anathema to Jewish law and tradition.
That approach threatens our ability to differentiate between what is acceptable in the secular culture we live in and what is acceptable within the parameters of our own Jewish world. We should not countenance changing opinions to go along with the changing times.
This is an increasingly difficult task considering the barrage of information hurled at us daily via round-the-clock news, advertisements, social media, and just living in a culture where very little that is condemned by Jewish law or norms is considered wrong by our secular peers. What was generally understood to be improper and offensive thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago is now not just tolerated but held up as the standard.
And it is even more difficult for those of us educating the next generation. Language and behavior that in the past would have elicited wide eyes and full-throated disavowal now barely garner a blink. Years ago, many lessons of right and wrong were shared by Torah-observant Jews and the wider community in which they lived. Today, parents and teachers are challenged with instructing children on the need to differentiate between what the secular culture says is right or wrong and what the Torah has to say on these matters.
Most of us cannot separate ourselves from the world we live and work in, but we can maintain our own boundaries through the Torah values we impart to our children and with which we conduct our own lives. And we can use those values to guide us through the morass of cultural red lines that society has repeatedly crossed – and, more important, to recognize there were red lines to begin with.
These recent political primaries should be a lesson in just how far society has strayed from the basic mores it long took for granted – and how difficult but imperative it is for Orthodox Jews to retain our own.