Apparently, Barack Obama told a visiting contingent of Conservative Jewish rabbis that he probably knows more about Judaism than any other president—on the same day that he referred to “Polish death camps.” For that last remark he apologized, but the one about Judaism is far more telling. In the first place, the claim is transparently absurd. We can quickly pass over the fact that John Adams and James Madison, among the most educated men in the world at the time, knew Hebrew as well as Latin and Greek and just say that the president is, to put it mildly, punching above his weight here. So let’s move on to the fact that every president until the modern era knew more about Judaism than Barack Obama because the Bible was the one book every literate person knew, and the Bible includes the books Christians call the “Old Testament,” and a working knowledge of the Old Testament certainly is the best introduction to “Judaism” there is.
Earlier presidents did not learn the Talmud, of course, but if Barack Obama ever has, that would come as news to me. There is no indication from Obama’s own writing that he is especially Bible-literate, and we can presume that his notorious pastor of 20 years used the Bible primarily as flavoring for his political duck soup. I have no doubt that, among presidents closer to our time, Jimmy Carter was far more conversant in the lore of Biblical Judaism, for all the good it did his corrupted soul when it comes to the Jewish state.
In response to President Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage, the Reverend Franklin Graham put out a statement that said this:
On Tuesday, my state of North Carolina became the 31st state to approve a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. While the move to pass amendments defining marriage is relatively new, the definition of marriage is 8,000 years old and was defined not by man, but by God Himself. In changing his position from that of senator/candidate Obama, President Obama has, in my view, shaken his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage. It grieves me that our president would now affirm same-sex marriage, though I believe it grieves God even more. The institution of marriage should not be defined by presidents or polls, governors or the media. The definition was set long ago and changing legislation or policy will never change God’s definition. This is a sad day for America. May God help us.
About this statement, I have several thoughts, the first of which is that the definition of marriage has changed even within the Bible during those 8,000 years. For example, among the wealthy in ancient Israel, polygamy was a commonly accepted practice. Sarah gave her handmaiden Hagar to Abraham. Jacob married two sisters (Rachel and Leah). Esau had three wives. And marriages were often arranged. So even the Bible’s definition of marriage hasn’t been quite as static as Graham insists.