(JTA) — Two non-Jewish members of Congress announced the formation of the Congressional Caucus for the Advancement of Torah Values Wednesday in an effort “to pledge our friendship to our Jewish friends,” according to a statement by Republican Don Bacon, who is co-chairing the caucus.
“This Caucus is going to be so important in a bipartisan way. We have to be able to have the strength so we know what’s good, what’s bad, what’s moral and what’s not moral,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who is the caucus’ other chair, said in a statement.
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Cuellar, one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress, appeared to be the only member of his party present at the meeting. A photo from the meeting showed Republicans Kat Cammack, Dan Meuser and Brian Fitzpatrick in attendance in addition to Bacon and Cuellar.
(Coincidentally, Cuellar’s home was searched by the FBI Wednesday in a “court-authorized law enforcement activity” according to an FBI statement provided to news outlets.)
None of the 37 Jewish members of the current Congress appeared to be participating in the new caucus.
The meeting was also attended by Rabbi David Hofstedter, the Canadian founder of an Israel-based organization called Dirshu. The mission of the organization, founded in Toronto in 1997 but now based in Jerusalem, is to encourage the study of Torah.
Speaking to the group at the opening session, Hofstedter claimed that “Torah values” were the “foundation of the USA” and repeatedly mentioned freedom of religion as one of those “Torah values.”
He also spoke about antisemitism and criticized the closure of synagogues and yeshivas in New York during the height of the COVID lockdowns, and called those closures “uneven-handed” and “inconsistent with city and state policy.”
The new caucus is drawing criticism from Jewish Democratic leaders.
“There are many challenges facing Jewish Americans, including the insidious threat of antisemitism,” tweeted Haile Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America. “With all due respect to our non-Jewish friends, the creation of this caucus is not the way to address them, nor are our “Torah values” in need of your advancement.”