The Outrage over Changing One’s Mind

July 9, 2012

By Rabbi Howard I. Needleman

There is a growing fervor among conservative legislators and citizens that they were wronged by the vote of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on the constitutionality of Obama’s health care legislation. There are recent reports that Justice Roberts initially held an opposing opinion before changing his vote and upholding the individual mandate, which is the central tenet of the new health care law. I find the vitriol directed at Justice Roberts to be both misguided and undermining to the court’s standing in our political process.

As members of the Jewish community, we take very seriously the idea that it is permissible to change one’s opinion after deliberation and gentle persuasion. We are often reminded in our holy scriptures that God’s opinion and decree had been averted after listening to the persuasive arguments of our prophets. It was just recently in the Torah that we read in Parshat Shelach L’Cha of God’s great anger at the Israelites after their being swayed by the report of the scouts that they wanted to return to Egypt; God’s initial reaction was to punish them with utter annihilation. It was only after Moses’ intervention that the people were spared and, as a compromise, were forced to wander in the desert for 40 years. If God’s decrees can be swayed by the counsel of Moses, why is it so hard for “the right” to accept that Justice Roberts’ opinion of the health care law’s constitutionality can change over time and affect his vote? Nothing but our Ten Commandments is set in stone—and even for these we needed more than one copy. I applaud Justice Roberts not only for his opinion, but, even more so, for having the courage and conviction to change it.

Rabbi Howard I. Needleman is Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth David in Commack, NY, and a 2012-2013 Brickner fellow. Photo courtesy of the Supreme Court.

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