When Obama addresses Jewish audiences, he comes across as a liberal rabbi. He presents Jewish values as synonymous with progressive politics and draws heavily upon American Jewish history, name-dropping noted civil rights rabbinic activists like Abraham Joshua Heschel and Joachim Prinz. The American story, he seems to say, is the Jewish story—an ever-advancing universalistic ethic.

Booker, on the other hand, though committed to similarly liberal ends, presents more like his Orthodox mentors. He leans on traditional texts, from the weekly Torah portion to the Pirkei Avot, and is more likely to reference Hillel than Heschel. He keeps a stack of religious books on his desk, including an Artscroll Tanakh—the imprint of Orthodoxy’s most prolific publisher. When speaking Hebrew, his pronunciation sometimes slips into Ashkenazic, rather than the Sephardic-inflected tones of Modern Hebrew favored by non-Orthodox Jewry. And like his Chabad companions, Booker does not conflate Judaism with one particular political platform but rather plays up its spiritual uniqueness.

It would be tempting to dismiss these affectations as accidents of proximity, the incidental result of Obama and Booker being introduced to Judaism by different teachers. But they are not. They reflect deep-rooted divergences in both men’s political outlooks. …

Barack Obama has built his political career on downplaying difference. …

But where Obama conflates, Booker differentiates. He celebrates the sharp edges of identity that Obama works to soften—even when they are in tension with his own ideals. … He respects the dignity of difference, and the integrity of identity, which endears him even to those—like many in the Orthodox community—who do not share his progressive political views.

Yair Rosenberg, “New Jersey Senate Candidate Cory Booker Knows His Torah. So What?”  Tablet (12 August 2013) {http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-news-and-politics/140767/cory-bookers-jewish-story?all=1}

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