Humanistic Jewish Leader Hopes to Become the First Rabbi in Congress October 18, 2017

Humanistic Jewish Leader Hopes to Become the First Rabbi in Congress

One of the Democrats running for Congress next year, and someone who has a reasonable chance of winning his seat, is Robert B. Barr. The House candidate from Ohio’s 1st Congressional District would be running against incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Chabot.

What makes him especially unique is that, if elected, he would become the first Jewish rabbi elected to Congress.

Even more unique? There’s a good chance he’s not very religious.


According to Mark Oppenheimer in the Washington Post,

… while Barr’s professional life looks rabbi-ish (to coin a term), his Judaism is seen, by some, as well outside the mainstream. Although ordained a Reform rabbi, Barr founded a congregation, Beth Adam, that belongs to none of the major branches of Judaism. It is widely identified with what’s loosely called humanistic Judaism, a small movement in which Barr is considered a leader.

It raises some fair questions: Does Barr subscribe to Jewish religious beliefs? Or is he a secular Jew who doesn’t believe in God?

Barr, playing it strategically, didn’t give a straight answer… except to say he wasn’t an atheist.

“I’m not an atheist,” Barr said, in an interview yesterday. When asked what he does believe, he demurred.My relationship to God has always been private. Everyone should have that right. I have never made the congregation about my personal beliefs.”

It’s essentially the same answer given by Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Democrat from Maryland who won his seat in 2016 and who many atheists hoped would be the only open atheist in the current Congress. But when pressed by the media — and despite murmurs among those who know him fairly well — Raskin made clear in May of 2016 that he was “one hundred percent Jewish.”

All of this is fine, of course. If they’re being honest, then there’s nothing wrong with religious people in Congress who believe it’s a private matter. Especially if they support church/state separation. Hell, I wish others would follow in their footsteps. But if they’re only using a religious label for political reasons — because anything religious is better than not being religious in the eyes of voters — than it’s just frustrating. We won’t be able to overcome the stigma unless qualified candidates are willing to use the word without making a big deal about it.

That doesn’t mean he won’t get my support. Barr is fiercely against the GOP agenda, and damn near anyone on that side of the aisle deserves your vote.

(Image via Facebook. Thanks to Brian for the link)

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