After much deliberation, Shmuley Boteach has decided to become the first rabbi ever to run for the U.S. Congress as a Republican. In interviews with Tablet Magazine last week and again today, he said his signature issues are the sanctity of marriage (for it), Obamacare (against it), and the War on Drugs (for it—he says he saw marijuana ravage the minds of fellow rabbinical students).
Boteach will run to represent New Jersey’s Ninth District—primarily Bergen County, in the north of the state across the Hudson River from New York City. The seat is currently held by Steve Rothman, a Democrat.
“Before you’re running, it’s hard to describe how excruciating it is psychologically and emotionally,” Boteach said today.
Last week, he said he was uninterested in contraception and same-sex marriage but hopes to “save the institution of marriage” through policies such as blue laws and tax-deductible marriage counseling.
Today, he extended his argument about Jewish values fitting Republican positions. He criticized “Obamacare”—albeit politely, saying he believe President Obama genuinely wants to help people—as placing a drag on business creation and reducing the choices available to patients. “The essence of the Jewish religion is freedom of choice,” he argued. “It makes it a scary religion. In other religions, salvation comes from someone else, but in Judaism it only comes from what you do. That’s scary, but I think it’s what America is built on.”
However, he did say that making sure people can get health care is important. “As a rabbi,” he said, “I’m torn on this.”
He was adamant about the War on Drugs. “I was amazed that Pat Robertson said that pot should be legalized,” he said. “When I was a rabbinical student, you know what students do? They smoke pot. I saw students slow their response time by smoking too much weed. I think pot impeded their control over their lives, their studies, their marriages.”
Boteach will be entering the primary with the endorsement of the Bergen County Republican Organization Committee, but not even counting the largely Democratic district, he faces an uphill battle to convince the party that his, er, unorthodox views are not at odds with conservative platforms.
“I’m running as a Republican and will be part of the party,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for other ideas.”