Family Values and Rabbis

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Somewhere around late 1992, I went to spend Shabbos at the home of someone who is now a popular rebbe in YU (R. Moshe Schapiro of the Gottesman Library went with me*). This fellow’s father was just as much a character as the son, which is saying a lot. One thing I remember distinctly was the father saying at the Shabbos table that he felt that Dan Quayle’s relatively recent “Murphy Brown Speech” was so great that it was sufficient reason to vote for Quayle for president if he ever ran (which he hasn’t). That speech, regardless of the Murphy Brown reference, is what brought “Family Values” to the political arena (link). Whether you like it or not, it changed the political landscape.

It seems that this famous speech has an interesting history. Quayle’s chief speechwriter at the time was a member of an Orthodox synagogue and based a portion of the speech on her rabbi’s recent sermon:

On Thursday, May 21st, 1992, Lisa Schiffren, then a member of my synagogue, called to ask what I thought of this already famous speech… “If it’s okay with you, I will fax it to you?… Take a look at the paragraphs I have highlighted…”

[T]hree paragraphs were marked — three paragraphs that paraphrased, quite closely, three paragraphs from the May 9th sermon on values I had given.

I called Lisa at her office where she worked as Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief speechwriter and asked her what this all meant. She told me that the vice-president, for several weeks, had been discussing with his staff the idea of taking a strong public stand on an ethical issue that he cared about. After hearing my sermon in shul on Parshat Kedoshim, she had come forward with the suggestion that he might want to advocate something that would be called “family values”. The rest, as they say, is history.

(R. Barry Freundel, Contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s Response to Modernity pp. viii-ix)

  • If you read this in the Gottesman Library, please shout over to R. Schapiro that he’s mentioned on this blog. Unless you are Menachem Butler, in which case you already did that before getting to this footnote.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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