Popular author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach seeks to become first rabbi in Congress

Published: Thursday, June 21 2012 11:00 a.m. MDT

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, author, speaker and reality TV host, is the GOP candidate for the 9th Congressional District in New Jersey. If elected, he would be the first rabbi to serve in Congress. One of his main campaign issues is to strengthen marriages and he would push for a tax deduction for marriage counseling expenses.

Shmuley for Congress campaign

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ENGLEWOOD, N.J. — The gated driveway and stately stone architecture belie the inviting but chaotic scene in the kitchen of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's home in this well-to-do community of Bergen County.

Several of his nine children are hustling about to get ready for school, while Boteach (pronounced bo-TAY-ahck) entertains a guest over a breakfast of grilled cheese sandwiches with red onions and green olives.

It's 7:30 a.m. and the only time Boteach can receive his guest before doing a television interview and then taking off to attend a wedding in Israel. If the Orthodox rabbi has followed his normal routine, he's running on 4-5 hours of sleep, having been up until 2 a.m. writing.

He wishes he were more structured and organized, he says, especially now that he is running for Congress as the GOP nominee for the newly drawn 9th Congressional District.

"Running for office is all consuming if you want to do it effectively. It almost renders a permanent feeling of inadequacy," he said in a phone interview two weeks later. "Maybe that's why politicians are so insecure. No matter what you've done you haven't done enough — haven't raised enough money, haven't reached out to enough voters."

A long shot to become the first rabbi elected to Congress, Boteach faces eight-term Congressman Bill Pascrell in a heavily Democratic district. But the 45-year-old author, speaker and TV reality show host exudes confidence when he says his message of stronger families, dignity rooted in economic self-sufficiency and a stronger American voice against tyranny and terrorism is resonating with voters.

"I am running an unconventional campaign," Boteach said of his strategy to "earn" media coverage rather than buy it. "We are getting a lot of coverage, and we are very proud of that because we have something the media feels is newsworthy."

America's Rabbi?

While new to politics, Boteach is a seasoned veteran when it comes to attracting media praise — or criticism. Among the 27 books he has written are the attention-grabbing titles "Kosher Sex," "The Michael Jackson Tapes" and "Kosher Jesus." The book about Jackson was gleaned from taped interviews when Boteach was the pop star's spiritual adviser.

He is host of the TLC reality show "Shalom in the Home" and on talk radio with the "Oprah and Friends" network and WABC in New York.

He has leveraged his multi-media exposure to claim the self-given title "America's Rabbi," which has earned him some disdain from fellow rabbis.

"He is loved by some and hated by others. He is at times the staunchest proponent of traditional Jewish life and values, while also doing things that make that same community cringe," wrote Rabbi Joshua Strulowitz of Congregation Adath Israel in San Francisco in his blog post "What is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach?"

But Strulowitz also gave props to Boteach for developing a personal brand that has made the former Oxford rabbi into the Jewish leader many Americans and the media turn to for insight into Jewish culture.

"Shmuley is independent, fearless and famous, and so he is allowed to be the de facto voice of the Orthodox community to the outside world," Strulowitz wrote. "I think the Orthodox community has a lot to learn from him in spreading our message and representing our community."

Boteach doesn't expect to be everyone's favorite rabbi within Judaism. His most recently book, "Kosher Jesus," was denounced as heresy and dangerous by fellow rabbis. Still, the Jerusalem Post recently named him among the 50 most influential Jews in the world.

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