Donald Trump is probably going to come up at my family’s Passover seder tonight, just as a matter of statistical probability, since approximately 100 percent of my family gatherings get around to the subject of the current president of the United States. Also, of course, liberal Judaism has grown increasingly politicized, along with the rest of the culture. (Our temple sometimes appears to be a hub of progressive social and political activism, with a dab of religion on the side.) But the growing tradition of intermingling Judaism with politics has inspired a new counter-tradition of conservatives decrying just that.
“There’s a growing tendency among Jews — whether rabbis, teachers, community leaders, or laypeople — to employ Jewish texts to score political points,” complains Shmuel Rosner in the New York Times today. Last month, former George W. Bush aide Tevi Troy urged Jews not to politicize Purim. “Comparing Mr. Bannon, or any Trump aide, to Haman diminishes the true threats that Jews face in a dangerous world,” wrote Troy. “Many Jews want to defeat Messrs. Trump and Bannon politically. If they want to succeed, they should come up with a new vocabulary for political disagreement, one that maintains political credibility and avoids unnecessary demonization.”
Of course, this would not be such a problem if the sitting president did not bear such an uncanny resemblance to a villain from a traditional Jewish narrative. Like the Pharaoh, Trump is a builder fond of exploitative labor practices and an arch-nationalist, with a nasty habit of making deals then welching on his side of the bargain. To be sure, Trump bears an even stronger resemblance to Purim’s vain, sexually entitled, easily manipulated King Achashverosh.
Both Passover and Purim lend themselves easily to Trump-bashing because they revolve around a common theme deeper than the particulars of their stories: They celebrate a minority group’s survival against persecution, and contain larger warnings about the kinds of conditions that give rise to such persecution. They have become embedded in the Jewish religious tradition for the exact same reason that most Jews living in majority-gentile countries lean politically to the left. It was easy to conduct a seder without bringing up George H. W. Bush, or even George W. Bush. But Trump’s entire political identity fundamentally revolves around mobilizing the ethnic majority against racial minorities.
Obviously, Jews from politically mixed families might choose to steer clear of Trump, for reasons of comity and simple courtesy. Anybody is free to draw from the holidays the lessons as they see them. To me, discussing a parable of universality and openness to the stranger without invoking the ethno-nationalist man-child in the White House would make as much sense as saying nothing while frogs drop from the sky.