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Dorff: Haman-McCain analogy not meant literally

Rabbi Elliott Dorff said he was simply using a common Hebrew expression and was not implying that John McCain was the equivalent of Haman when he introduced Barack Obama on a conference call Wednesday afternoon.

The Orthodox Union blog and another rabbi on the call felt Dorff’s remarks were too partisan. Dorff, vice chairman of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and a professor of philosophy at the American Jewish University of Los Angeles, said his statement that backing Obama was a case of ahavat Mordechai and sinat Haman (love of Mordechai and hate of Haman) should not have been taking literally. He was merely using the Hebrew colloquialism, which is Rabbi Elliott Dorff said he was sinply using a common Hebrew expression and was not implying that John McCain was the equivalent of Haman when he introduced Barack Obama on a conference call Wednesday afternoon.

The Orthodox Union blog and another rabbi on the call felt Dorff’s remarks were too partisan. Dorff, vice chairman of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and a professor of philosophy at the American Jewish University of Los Angeles, said his statement that backing Obama was a case of ahavat Mordechai and sinat Haman (love of Mordechai and hate of Haman) should not have been taking literally. He was merely using the Hebrew colloquialism of the term, which in this case meant he supported Obama both because he like the Democrat and disliked the alternative.

As for charges that his speech was partisan, Dorff replied, “I was told to describe why I was for Obama.” He then stated that “Senator McCain has voted for President Bush’s policies 95 percent of the time, and he promises to continue those policies if elected President. That, though, is disastrous.”

Dorff then proceeded to list numerous policies of the Bush administration that he did not like – from budget deficits to the Iraq war to the neglect of infrastructure – and concluded by praising Obama’s platform.

He noted that his speech was delivered from an outline, but he has since written it out because of the dozens of requests he received for copies of it from other rabbis on the call. Among those who loved it was Rabbinical Assembly president Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg, rabbi emeritus of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C. – who told Obama, when he got the opportunity to ask a question, that he wished the candidate had been on the line to hear it.

“From my perspective,” said Wohlberg, the Dorff speech “laid out the problems that need to be addressed.” And he agreed that Dorff’s Haman comment was not meant to be taken as a literal comparison, saying that if one scrutinizes “every element” of a phrase “it comes out sounding more harsh than intended.”

Or as Rabbi Jack Moline of Aguadas Achim in Alexandria, Va. said, referring back to a campaign controversy last week, “Sometimes lipstick is just lipstick.”

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