Vice President Joe Biden spoke at length Tuesday night about the influence of Judaism on the United States, dating back to the country’s founding and to the present day as Jews helped shape views on gay rights.
“The truth is that Jewish heritage, Jewish culture, Jewish values are such an essential part of who we are that it’s fair to say that Jewish heritage is American heritage,” he said. “The Jewish people have contributed greatly to America. No group has had such an outsized influence per capita as all of you standing before you, and all of those who went before me and all of those who went before you.”
Biden spoke for nearly 20 minutes at the American Institute of Architects building in Washington, at times improvising after asking that the teleprompter machine that had been set up in the event space be taken down. (He joked about President Obama’s reliance on the machine, but later gave Obama credit, noting he “sends his best” but is “otherwise occupied with a few problems.”)
“You make up 11 percent of the seats in the United States Congress. You make up one-third of all Nobel laureates,” he said. “So many notions that are embraced by this nation that particularly emanate from over 5,000 years of Jewish history, tradition and culture: independence, individualism, fairness, decency, justice, charity. These are all as you say, as I learned early on as a Catholic being educated by my friends, this tzedakah.”
“The embrace of immigration” is part of that, as is the involvement of Jews in social justice movements.
“You can’t talk about the civil rights movement in this country without talking about Jewish freedom riders and Jack Greenberg,” he said, telling a story about seeing a group of Jewish activists at a segregated movie theater in Delaware. “You can’t talk about the women’s movement without talking about Betty Friedan” or American advances in science and technology without mentioning Einstein and Carl Sagan, or music and Gershwin, Bob Dylan and “so, so, so many other people.”
“I believe what affects the movements in America, what affects our attitudes in America are as much the culture and the arts as anything else,” he said. That’s why he spoke out on gay marriage “apparently a little ahead of time.”
“It wasn’t anything we legislatively did. It was ‘Will and Grace,’ it was the social media. Literally. That’s what changed peoples’ attitudes. That’s why I was so certain that the vast majority of people would embrace and rapidly embrace” gay marriage, Biden said.
“Think behind of all that, I bet you 85 percent of those changes, whether it’s in Hollywood or social media are a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry. The influence is immense, the influence is immense. And, I might add, it is all to the good,” he said.
Jews have also been key to the evolution of American jurisprudence, he continued, namedropping Brandeis, Fortas, Frankfurter, Cardozo, Ginsberg, Breyer, Kagan. “You literally can’t. You can’t talk about the …read more