Statement from Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, on the Importance of a Smooth and Swift Transition to the Biden Administration

November 18, 2020

Statement from Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, on the Importance of a Smooth and Swift Transition to the Biden Administration

WASHINGTON - Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and wider Reform Movement:

More than two weeks have passed since election day and more than ten days have passed since it became clear that Vice President Joe Biden won a strong majority of both the popular vote and the Electoral College. Joe Biden is President-elect of the United States and should be provided with the recognition and resources that will allow for a smooth and secure transition to a new administration.

More than 79 million Americans cast their ballots for President-elect Biden – the largest vote for any presidential candidate in history – and more than 73 million Americans voted for President Trump. The United States remains deeply divided. As a Jewish people, we know something about division. Throughout our own history, we have been divided on questions that touch every aspect of life, from the sacred to the quotidian. Among the most famous was a disagreement between the ancient sages Hillel and Shammai that questioned whether Jews should mark the eight nights of Hanukkah by increasing or decreasing the number of candles in the chanukiah. Hillel said we should strive to increase light in the world. Shammai argued for remembering the Maccabees’ diminishing oil by decreasing the candles each night. Hillel won the day, but the larger lesson in this and the more than 300 debates between the houses of Hillel and Shammai was that each argument had to be made “for the sake of heaven.” That is, when there is disagreement, it should happen with the goal of making the community stronger.

President Trump has disputed the election’s outcome, pursuing a variety of lawsuits in multiple states and using Twitter to sow seeds of doubt about the legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s win. President Trump is, of course, entitled to pursue this legal strategy. Even in a page of Talmud, a consensus opinion on the issue in question is given prominence, but the voices of dissent are given space to make their case. But the tone, tenor, and content of the President’s statements are dividing Americans from one another rather than drawing us closer. Instead of arguing “for the sake of heaven” our country today seems ever closer to being torn apart.

The challenges facing our nation are as significant as at any moment in our history, starting with the coronavirus. At home, with more than 11 million Americans infected and over 1,000 Americans dying every day, the smooth transition to a new administration tasked with managing this crisis is literally a matter of life and death. And for all of us who care about the United States’ influence as a global leader, as well as a strong U.S-Israel relationship, ensuring that the United States is respected abroad begins with a respectful transition to a new government at home. Our national security is undermined when the very institutions of our democracy are undermined.

Let’s argue for the sake of heaven. When we do, we argue for the sake of each American here on earth. It is time for President Trump and the General Services Administration to facilitate the transition to President-elect Biden.


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose nearly 850 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 2,000 Reform rabbis. Visit for more.