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Rabbi Shmuley Wants To Bring Shalom To The House

We've heard much about big money pouring into some of the congressional races around the country, and now some of that money is breathing new life into the campaign of one unlikely candidate.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author of books such as Kosher Sex and Kosher Jesus, and the host of Shalom in the Home, a reality show that worked with struggling couples, is running for Congress in New Jersey's 9th District.

Boteach is hoping to unseat Democrat Bill Pascrell in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Up until a few weeks ago, no one really took Shmuley's campaign seriously — not even the Republican National Committee. That is until a superPAC created to support him received half a million dollars from the billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who is also backing many other pro-Republican groups.

Now, the RNC believes the ultra-Orthodox rabbi might have a shot.

Guy Raz, host of weekends of All Things Considered, caught up with Shmuely this week, and the rabbi acknowledged that after spending his life working to build bridges, it's not so easy to fight a political campaign.

Interview Highlights

On running a political campaign

"What I'm trying to do in this campaign is translate my values into the political arena. A lot of things on Shalom in the Home, I'm actually trying to do in politics. The United States really needs new values; I think that the erosion of our economy has to do with the corrosion of our values.

"The problem with values in America is that whenever you want to talk about values that really harm the country, like greed and entitlements and the breakdown of the family, we can't ever talk about those things because we get caught up in gay marriage, abortion and contraception. I call it the social-sexual trifecta; these things never go away."

On whether he hesitated when deciding to run for office

"No, I never really thought that if I was going to be less popular I shouldn't do this. Even my critics will confess that I'm not someone that's pursued popularity; I've been very disliked for many of the positions that I took. I published Kosher Sex in 1999, and in my community it was really frowned upon. So it was never really a consideration that I would be disliked because I would bifurcate my audience and would suddenly be seen as a Republican. If anything, what made me hesitate was the question of whether I could achieve my goals in politics the way I've tried to do."

On the economy

"Right now the debate on the economy is, the Democrats say, 'You Republicans are cold-hearted. You want to end social programs, and you want to give tax breaks to the rich.' The Republican Party's response is: 'You Democrats are tax-and-spenders. All you're going to do is create a financial meltdown by just spending every penny we have.'

"My language on the economy is, can't we all agree that what people most want is human dignity, and dignity comes from self-sufficiency and self-reliance? Nobody likes to be dependent on anyone else, and everyone loves to be independent. So the focus of our economy has to be to create greater financial independence at people of all strata."

On the superPAC and his chances at winning

"We have no clue what the superPAC is going to do with their funding, so what I have to do is only focus on the things that I can control. We can control our own fundraising. We can control our own messaging. ...

"I've discovered, [though] it's only my opinion, the reasons there is no new ideas in politics is that nobody has time to think. All you're ever doing is raising money. You have no time to really switch on your brain, and to really think through new policies and new ideas. I've really tried to do things differently. I do not spend hours and hours fundraising, much to the chagrin of the professionals that surround me. I've said to them, 'If our ideas are good enough, we won't have to pay for media.' "

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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