U.S. Rabbi Faces Dissent for Slamming Obama

Following a blog post insulting the U.S. president and his supporters, members of Rabbi Steven Pruzansky's large Orthodox congregation in New Jersey circulated a petition taking him to task.

NEW YORK – A rabbi at of one of the largest Orthodox Jewish synagogues in the United States, known for his extreme right-wing views, has been chastised this week by prominent members of his community for a recent diatribe against United State President Barack Obama voters, in which he attacked him viciously and questioned the intelligence of those who had cast a ballot for him.

“One might reasonably object that not every Obama supporter could be unintelligent,” Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, head of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey, wrote in his weekly blog right after the election results, which he termed “a nightmare,” were published. “But they must then rationally explain how the agenda can be paid for, aside from racking up multi-trillion dollar deficits.”

Pruzansky, who heads a congregation with several thousand members, also referred condescendingly in his blog to U.S. immigrants, whom he said were accountable in large part for the Obama victory.

“The new immigrants to the U.S. are primarily from the Third World and do not share the traditional American values that attracted immigrants in 19th and 20th centuries,” he wrote. “It is a different world, and a different America. Obama is part of that different America, knows it, and knows how to tap into it.”

The blog post, titled “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire,” was published a day after the elections. Following its publication, several members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Teaneck, including a member of the synagogue’s executive board, began circulating a petition via email among members of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun calling the rabbi to order. In the petition, the congregation members wrote that while they did not question Pruzansky’s right to freedom of speech, the blog “insults and denigrates” members of the community.

Asked to respond, Pruzansky said in an email, “Unfortunately, you are making a mountain out what is not even a molehill. A handful of members took personally what was a generic statement, in line with today's American cultural norm of taking offense easily, repeatedly and quickly. In a shul of 2,000 people, this type of disagreement is not really uncommon. In fact, I'm surprised it is not more common. But I respect their right of free speech and am not in the least disturbed by their letter.”

This is not the first time Pruzansky has found himself at the center of controversy. In 1995, Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who had been a longtime member of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, left the synagogue in protest of inflammatory remarks made by Pruzansky against the Rabin government, including use of the term “the Rabin Judenrat.” Pruzansky came out strongly against former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon 10 years later over the evacuation of settlements in Gaza.

Among his other prominent positions in the Jewish Orthodox world, Pruzansky is a trustee of the Rabbinical Council of America and is on the board of the Beth Din of America, where he serves as a judge as well.

Prominent members of the Jewish community of Teaneck, which has one of the highest concentrations of Modern Orthodox Jews in the United States, noted that Pruzansky’s extremist views have driven away many members of his congregation over the years. Since he was appointed rabbi of Bnai Yeshurun in the mid-1990s, they pointed out, at least seven new Modern Orthodox synagogues have sprung up in Teaneck, to serve, among others, many of his detractors.

In blog posts in the weeks leading up to the elections, Pruzansky referred to Obama as the “affirmative action president” and described the president’s strategy as “pandering to liberal women, Hispanics, blacks, unions, etc.”

AP