Last week, on the third day of the Republican National Convention, Rabbi Aryeh Spero delivered the invocation. President of Caucus for America, Rabbi Spero is the author of Push Back, Reclaiming the American Judeo-Christian Spirit and a talk show host whose articles have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Jerusalem Post, Breitbart, National Review, Townhall, The Daily Caller, and The New York Sun.
He has testified before the House Judiciary Committee on religious liberty, and has spoken for the National Press Club, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and the Heritage Foundation.
The Jewish Press: Who invited you to give the invocation and when was the invitation extended?
Rabbi Spero: I was invited by the White House. They contacted me early last week.
Did you say yes right away?
Yes. It’s a great honor to be asked by the White House to speak at such a major event, and I am in favor of many of the policies that are part of the Republican and conservative outlook.
In your invocation, you offered a short but interesting religious interpretation of “Make America Great Again.” Can you expand on it?
The months in Philadelphia in 1787 during which America’s great founding fathers deliberated and formalized the structure of this country were touched by G-d.
It was a moment of revelation, as it were, during which these men achieved a wisdom and understanding on the nature of man and government that is singular in the annals of history.
But, like everything else in life, events and ideas need a reinvigoration. The original enthusiasm and exuberance needs to be rekindled for the nature of things is to grow stale and atrophy.
In Psalms, we say, “Chadeish yameinu ke’kedem – Renew our days as of old.” In other words, revive today with the fire and passion of those early, founding days. “Make America Great Again” can refer to such an endeavor: make us enthusiastic and excited about America and its founding ideals as back in the days of its origin.
After the salvation in Persia, the Jews of Shushan reaccepted and recommitted to the ways of Torah: “kimu v’kiblu.” Every society needs to make those renewed commitments to founding principles.
You also praised President Trump in your invocation. Are you a supporter of his or did you just praise him as a matter of courtesy?
I praised the president because in our Shabbat davening we have a tefillah in which we bless the president, his cabinet, and those that administer important functions in the country.
Beyond that, President Trump has officially recognized Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people and attached ultimate substance to that recognition by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
I am grateful to Hashem that I had the opportunity to praise a man who has so befriended and elevated Israel and its Jewish inhabitants and brought to fruition much of the word and hope about Israel expressed in our Scriptures.
I also know of the pride President Trump has in his Orthodox Jewish grandchildren and I find his loving acceptance of Orthodox Jewish life within his own family praiseworthy and deserving of blessing.
President Trump, like King Cyrus and President Harry Truman before him, deserves the health and strength for which I prayed. He is, at this moment in history, the foremost leader defending Western civilization and the many liberties we hold dear.
What’s your connection to the Spero Foundation? Does it still exist?
I’m the grandson of Ben Spero, who founded the Spero Foundation together with his brothers Leon, Earl, and Herb. The Spero Foundation was an outstanding Orthodox project, the first to print booklets in English explaining Jewish traditional topics.
They published the first pocket travel-siddur; invented the first make-by-yourself portable sukkah with canvas and a metal pole chassis; and published the first siddurim, Chumashim, and chapters of the Talmud for Holocaust survivors in the DP camps. They also sponsored and underwrote the first conclave of Torah leaders that formed Torah Umesorah.
They provided all these as gifts to the Jewish people, never as money-making ventures for themselves. They were selfless when it came to Yiddishkeit.
Beyond that, the Spero brothers were instrumental in forming the Young Israel movement, Telshe Yeshivah, and Hebrew Academy in Cleveland, and distributed pamphlets to inspire a younger generation toward mikveh observance. They also published Sanctity of the Synagogue, the first English-language book underscoring the importance of a mechitzah.
They were major supporters of Yeshivah Torah Vadaath in Brooklyn and of Ezras Torah in Israel. Most don’t know, but they invented, before Adwe, the first kosher l’Pesach toothpaste.
I am very proud of their printing the first formal zemiros book that we use at the Shabbos table. Never before was there a specific, dedicated “Zmirosel.” They also had the foresight to establish a printing press for Orthodox hashkafa in Cleveland, New York, and Jerusalem.
Where were the Spero brothers from?
The Spero brothers were all born in Cleveland, most in the 19th century. They were thoroughly American in outlook, yet dedicated to the Orthodox Judaism of the old world. They established mikvehs, afternoon schools, and, together with a few other dedicated laymen, laid the foundation for what would become American Orthodoxy and its miraculous resurgence after World War II.
The Foundation no longer exists. The last project to close – around 15 years ago – was its famous Free Loan program. My grandfather Ben, Dov Ber, was eager to lend money without interest to Jews in temporary distress or those wanting to start a shop or small company. He and his brothers were businessmen and believed in work, davening, and tzedakah.
During and after the war, Ben signed thousands of affidavits guaranteeing jobs for Holocaust survivors wishing to enter America as citizens. My grandfather’s business, Spero Electric, guaranteed employment and funded most of the Foundation’s projects.
Several Jewish news outlets ran hit pieces on you after you gave the invocation. What was your reaction?
I’m not surprised. Many secular and liberal Jewish news outlets and organizations have demonstrated over the past four years a hysterical, ungrateful, cruel, and toxic attitude towards our president.
Gratitude is a characteristic that we associate with good manners and Judaism. In contrast to their partisanship, I am abundantly grateful to President Trump for how he has helped Israel and protected the Jewish nation from threats from Iran and Hamas.
In contrast to Obama, President Trump has also asked his Secretary of Education to demand that college campuses cease their harassment of Jewish students and their unsavory sponsorship of professors and lecturers who demonize Israel, Zionists, and students on campus who support Israel.
It is these wrong-headed organizations that have much to answer for. It is they who need to explain to American Jewry how they can enthusiastically support the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and marxist Black Lives Matter organization while demonizing a man who – prior to and after becoming president – has been an outstanding friend of Israel and the American Jewish community and has denounced anti-Semitism specifically more times than any president in U.S. history.
What is your radio show about and how long is it?
I have a radio show weekday nights from 8-9 p.m. Eastern on CRN Digital Talk, crntalk.com.
It’s open to whatever the callers want to speak about, but I do the show to speak about current events from a philosophic, historic, and biblical perspective. Thankfully, we live in a country where most citizens still respect the wisdom offered by the Bible and the great philosophers and thinkers who contributed to the American paradigm.
I also like to mix in some humor and musings about life in general, which distinguishes it from being a purely political show.
Considering that many Americans see Jews as ultra liberals, how do the listeners of your show react to hearing you voice conservative ideas?
The people who tune in already know who I am. I have a couple of Jewish callers who on the air bemoan the ultra liberal, leftist attitude of Jewish organizations and fellow Jews. I feel their pain.
How and why did you first get involved in advancing the conservative cause?
It began when I first started learning Chumash, which is decidedly conservative socially and rooted in the idea that man, as a moral free agent, is personally responsible and accountable for his actions.
Actions require discernment. Being created in the image of G-d means that we’re supposed to be like G-d – thoughtful, independent beings who can rise above dependency into self-sufficiency, who can grow and mature and do what has to be done.
We are required to help those in need, but not in a model of redistribution of wealth or socialism. Rather, as individuals assisting those who want to help themselves or are unable to fend for themselves.
Beyond Chumash, when reading history, one sees the necessity for a strong nation capable of defending itself and protecting its borders and citizens.
I was also moved when reading of the ideals of the Founding Fathers, as well as the hard work, grit, strength, endurance, self-sufficiency and pride of those Americans who burst forward to plant the American landscape with farms, villages, and cities. Beyond doubt, liberty, capitalism, and rugged individualism were and remain the primal ingredients in shaping a great and unique country such as America.
Defending Israel and defending America are, for me, a majestic and worthwhile endeavor. I love both countries and will fight for them.
I consider the battle for the soul of America to be a battle of high spiritual importance. We are fighting to defend traditional family life and many of the wholesome virtues first brought to the world through the Chumash and by Shlomo HaMelech in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.