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On Cory Booker’s Jewishness

The Newark mayor and Senate hopeful has got some game

Adam Chandler
June 25, 2013

Today over at Bloomberg, Jeffrey Goldberg wisely throws a little chin music at Peter Beinart for suggesting last week that Cory Booker–Newark’s mayor and early frontrunner in New Jersey’s senatorial race–has troubled himself by associating with rabbis Shmuley Boteach and Shmully Hecht, whose views on the Middle East seem outside the Democratic Party.

I won’t sum up Jeffrey’s argument, as always it’s a good read, but his piece did hit on the fact that Cory Booker knows A LOT about the Jewish faith for not being of the Jewish faith. Goldberg mentions a conversation between Booker and his daughter.

Booker turned his attention to her. “What’s your parasha?” he asked, using the Hebrew word for portion, a reference to the section of the Torah she would soon be reading. I could see, across my daughter’s then almost-13-year-old-face, a bit of confusion and a trace of panic, but she answered: “Vayera,” which is the action-packed chapter in the Book of Genesis that includes, among other things, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Amazing parasha!” Booker said. He then quoted — in Hebrew — one of its more famous lines. And he shared his expert exegesis on the portion’s broader meaning — notably, the lessons that any troublemaker worth her salt could derive from Abraham’s audacious decision to negotiate with God about the future of these two sinful towns.

Naturally, we’ve been obsessed with the Jewish musings of Cory Booker since he made his way onto the scene, joining a Jewish fraternity at Yale, overseeing the creation of the world’s biggest matzah (336 matzot big!) when the Manischewitz headquarters opened up shop in Newark, and, of course, for this tweet, which he sent out as the East Coast hunkering down for the storm Nemo earlier this year.

Yes, I can tweet out a Dvar Torah if that would help. RT @mjbarash: do you think Hebrew School should be cancelled tomorrow?

— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) February 8, 2013

So when Goldberg claims that Booker knows more Torah than even Jewish members of the Senate, perhaps he’s right. Maybe we’ll find out in the fall.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.