Could this rabbi be a first in Congress?

Oct 24, 2017

By Mark Oppenheimer

Since the founding of the republic, there have been dozens of Protestant ministers in Congress, and a handful serve right now. Two Catholic priests, too, have served in the House of Representatives. But despite the large number of Jews elected to Congress, not once has a rabbi been elected. In fact, only two have ever run, and neither had much of a chance: In 2012, pop-advice author, television rabbi and Michael Jackson confidant Shmuley Boteach lost badly in his New Jersey district, and in 2008 Dennis Shulman — who got a great deal of attention for being blind and thus a rare disabled candidate — lost to a popular incumbent, also in New Jersey.

Which means that Robert B. Barr, who plans to file papers today to be a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in Ohio’s 1st District, is notable not only for being that rarest of birds, a running rabbi, but also for being the first who seems to have a good shot at winning. If he is the eventual nominee, his opponent would be Republican incumbent Steve Chabot, who lost once already, in the Obama landslide of 2008, before reclaiming his seat in 2010.

Barr, 62, is at once the most traditional rabbi (of the three) ever to run for Congress, and the least. He’s the most traditional because he has been a pulpit rabbi, at Congregation Beth Adam, outside Cincinnati, since 1980 — doing weddings, burials, bar mitzvahs, the whole megillah. By contrast, Boteach, a rabbi of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect, was primarily a celebrity  who hosted the reality TV show “Shalom in the Home,” on which he used Jewish wisdom to help dysfunctional families get along better. In Shulman’s case, although the media focused on his rabbinic calling, he was a long-term psychotherapist who got ordination later in life  and never led a congregation.

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