You may not realize it, but western Pennsylvania’s Jewish values are being debated right now in the special election to succeed former Rep. Tim Murphy. The winner of this election will represent those values in Washington.
As a native Pittsburgher with deep roots in the Jewish community going back multiple generations, I believe that there is a clear choice for who will best represent these values. That person is Conor Lamb. It most definitely is not Rick Saccone.
There are many reasons to not vote for Rick Saccone in the upcoming special election to fill the seat left empty by the disgraced Murphy. That Saccone recently boasted of being “Trump before Trump was Trump” would — given President Trump’s repugnantly callous response to the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, his reckless attacks on our country’s intelligence agencies and his flouting of democratic norms, to name a few — be enough on its own.
So would Saccone’s full-throated endorsement of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” despite overwhelming evidence proving such techniques are little more than torture and are ineffective at extracting truthful information.
And that’s to say nothing of his well-known proclivity for dining on lobbyists’ dimes despite public, vocal denunciation of money in politics.
Any one of these things would be enough. The word dayenu comes to mind. Had Saccone said he was “Trump before Trump was Trump,” dayenu. Had Saccone compared himself to Trump without being a torture apologist, dayenu. Had he been a torture apologist without being in the pocket of lobbyists, dayenu.
As Jews, we simply can’t vote for him. It would contradict our values.
One of my favorite Jewish concepts is that of tzedakah. I learned about this at Congregation Beth Shalom, where I attended Sunday school growing up in Squirrel Hill. It’s a value of which we’re all likely familiar: As Jews, we’re expected to be charitable, to look out for those less fortunate than we are, to do our part to help those in need.
There’s more to it than that, though. The literal translation of the Hebrew word tzedakah is “righteousness,” and it isn’t an expectation — it’s an obligation. We are obligated to help others. We are obligated to be charitable. It is a vital tenet of our faith.
How, then, can members of our community vote for a man who has justified his mercenary, hardline approach to cutting Pennsylvania’s state budget with these words: “When [special interests] line up, I mean even good causes like Alzheimer’s or food banks, and they say they need more money, I ask where we should take it from. We don’t have the money.”
He said it despite claiming $18,665 in per diems for personal use in 2016, one of the Pennsylvania legislature’s top claimants. He said it despite spending 20 percent more from his taxpayer-funded expense account than the average Pennsylvania legislator.
We can’t support someone who spurns those in need while lining his own pockets with taxpayers’ money. Such a candidate isn’t just incompatible with our beliefs; he is antithetical to them.
Meanwhile, Saccone’s opponent, Conor Lamb, has a history of public service, of standing up for those who need the help most. After serving in the Marines, Lamb worked as an assistant U.S. attorney at the Justice Department’s Pittsburgh office, working with local law enforcement to combat the heroin epidemic.
Making sure that all Americans have access to affordable health care is an important part of Lamb’s platform, as is reforming our too-often onerous student loan system. He has shown himself to be committed not just to charity, but to righteousness, to using his office to serve his constituents and not himself.
In Bava Batra, the third of the Talmud’s three tractates, it’s written that “tzedakah outweighs all other commandments.” Whether you choose to translate that word as “righteousness” or “charity,” one thing is clear: Saccone embodies neither while Lamb represents both. As Jews, our choice this election is clear. PJC
Joel Rubin, a Pittsburgh native, is a former State Department official and founding board member of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.