The first Jewish _____ How much does it matter?

Rahm’s ambition was—and probably still is—to be the first Jewish Speaker of the House.

In my view, this is identity politics at its worst.

As a Jew myself, I absolutely delight in the accomplishments of fellow Jews. I also delight in the accomplishments of fellow immigrants, women, journalists, Chicagoans and any other groups to which I feel I belong.

In a situation like this though, I cringe at the use of “the first Jewish_____” Would it really be meaningful for American Jews if Rahm Emanuel became the Speaker of the House? Are American Jews really such a disadvantaged group? Furthermore, how Jewish is Rahm? I’m well aware that the questions of who is a Jew and what does it mean to be Jewish are hotly debated, but I think most of us can agree that when we think of Rahm, we don’t exactly equate him with Moses. Therefore, if he were to become the Speaker, would it really be a giant leap forward for Jews or would it just be the latest career success for an adept politician who just happens to be Jewish? I feel it’s the latter.


  1. Anonymous May 24, 2010

    I think it’ll be a huge deal when the first Jew becomes President. And Rahm, whatever one might think of his character, is a rather religious Jew. I know he’s in Israel as I write this celebrating his son’s Bar Mitzvah.

  2. Anna Tarkov May 24, 2010

    Carol, that’s interesting. I had no idea Rahm was religious. However, if he is fairly observant, surely he must realize that his character cannot be divorced from his religious views? If I’m not mistaken, Jewish tradition places more importance on being a good person than on things like keeping Kosher.

  3. Anonymous May 24, 2010

    I suggest you go to Charlie Rose’s webpage and look up the 1998 interview with Rahm. It’s a very good interview — quite possibly the most interesting I’ve seen with him — it shows a completely different side of him, and — the reason I mention it — he talks a bit about religion. Including how working in the White House has made him more religious, and the fact that he has his rabbi come to the WH about once a fortnight to study the Bible with him.

    The thing most people seem to misunderstand about Rahm is that he isn’t foul-mouthed because he’s mean-spirited or egotistical or something like that, but because he’s deeply passionate about making things better, and considers getting something done to be far more important than what people happen to think about himself in the process. (And no, I don’t always agree with his views or methods or language, but — unlike most these days, it seems — I don’t question his motives. I believe he really does try to have the concept of tikkun olam as the guiding principle for this life. And he may quite possibly be the most loyal person I’ve ever come upon.)

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