“We know that in our midst here today and in our synagogues are many thoughtful, committed Jews who hold differing approaches—who look to you as a key articulator of their values, and hold views that we respect and seek to honor in inviting you to join us,” said Rabbi David Saperstein. “You embody the highest Jewish and American commitments to public service.”

Saperstein, a leader from the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), was politely introducing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), a keynote speaker during the URJ’s five-day biennial conference in December 2011. It must have been a tough speech to compose.

Cantor is a staunch fiscal and social conservative who agitates against gay rights, social welfare programs, and abortion rights. Saperstein, conversely, directs the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, a lobby organization with a long history of support for economic justice, women’s...

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