Run, Rabbi, Run! Shmuley Boteach Goes From Neverland to Capitol Hill

The family man and former Michael Jackson confidant looks to take his brand of religious conservatism to Washington

AS HE HAS IN HIS PAST PURSUITS, Mr. Boteach is hoping his connections to some big names in the political world help his congressional ambitions. Fittingly, for a man who’s campaigning as a nontraditional Republican, his closest political confidantes are unexpectedly bipartisan—Democratic Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Republican House Minority Leader Eric Cantor. Mr. Booker, almost inarguably the most visible Democrat in New Jersey, is the former Rhodes scholar Mr. Boteach made president of the L’Chaim Society at Oxford. He also now serves on the board of governors of This World.

Mr. Boteach has reportedly asked Mr. Booker not to make any endorsements in his congressional race. However, Mr. Boteach denies discussing the endorsement issue with Mr. Booker, saying he wouldn’t put his friend in a position “where he was forced to choose between his party … and our friendship.”

“I’m not asking him to stay out. Cory and I have talked a great deal about the race. I would never,” Mr. Boteach said. “It’s more than a friendship, he’s like a brother to me. Ours is an intense, intimate, very unique friendship that has had so much history. I mean Cory, he and I have studied Judaism for thousands of hours together.”

Mr. Boteach got to know Mr. Cantor later in life. He said he met the GOP’s top congressman when they were both in Israel at the same time and Mr. Cantor agreed to speak to a Birthright group Mr. Boteach was touring through the Holy Land. Since then, the rabbi said they regularly meet for Torah study. Mr. Cantor’s political action committee, ERICPAC, which stands for “Every Republican Is Crucial,” gave the maximum $5,000 donation to Mr. Boteach’s campaign. Mr. Boteach said Mr. Cantor’s support for him hasn’t only been monetary.

“Eric Cantor is a man of real humility and friendship. It’s amazing how much time he has given me, how much guidance,” Mr. Boteach said. “I’m not talking about politics, I’m talking about life.”

Neither Mr. Booker or Mr. Cantor responded to requests to comment for this story.

Mr. Boteach regularly touts his big-name buddies, but support from lesser known sources—his wife, Debbie, and their nine children (ages 3 to 23)—will likely be even more instrumental to his congressional bid. Mr. Boteach’s campaign is a family affair. At their father’s speech in Bergen County, Mr. Boteach’s oldest son, Mendy, manned a video camera while two of his eldest daughters kept tabs on their younger siblings.

On stage at the event, Mr. Boteach stuck to his theme of focusing on a discussion of traditional values rather than social issues.

“Our party is supposed to be a party that doesn’t bash gays, but that promotes marriage,” Mr. Boteach said. Our party is supposed to be a party that isn’t seen to just deny what a woman’s choice would be, but to encourage the respect of a man toward a woman so she’s never forced into that decision as to whether she’d have an abortion or not, because she’s married to a guy who’ll support her and wants to raise children with her and will create a family with her. Where is the positive articulation of our beliefs?”

After the speech, Mr. Boteach took his wife and children out for a meal. At home, the Boteachs organize their family Torah study sessions and meals by staying in touch on an intercom system that operates throughout their home. On the road, mobilizing the entire clan is a complex endeavor that involves a convoy of three cars and regular cell phone calls back and forth. On the night of the speech, the family ran into a road block because it was past closing time at the first two area kosher restaurants they tried to visit. Eventually, they settled on an agreeable Chinese restaurant.

Before they arrived at their destination, Mr. Boteach saw someone he knew in the street and called for the family motorcade to halt. It was the principal of the Hebrew Day School where his young son, Yosef, is enrolled.

“Yosef says he doesn’t have to do homework, because his dad’s running for Congress,” the principal said.

Shmuley laughed.

“I’ll have to talk with him about that,” the rabbi said earnestly.

Run, Rabbi, Run! Shmuley Boteach Goes From Neverland to Capitol Hill