22 September 2009

Why Are Jews Liberals? Because They Are Jews.

Several congregants called my attention to the September 10th Op-Ed piece by Norman Podhoretz in the Wall Street Journal. In short, Podhoretz - a noted Conservative with a capital "C" politically - decries the fact that American Jews so firmly identify (and vote) with the Democratic party. His postulate is that American Jews have replaced Judaism with Liberalism as their religion. His hope is that disillusionment with the Obama administration's Israel policies will bring America's Jews where they rightfully belong - to political conservatism and the Republican Party.

Notwithstanding my own political beliefs, I have three criticisms of Podhoretz' reasoning:

1) The Fallacy that Orthodox Judaism is "Torah True" - One of his points is that the group that is most "true" to Judaism are the Orthodox whom one tends to find, certainly on the spectrum of social issues, farther to the right. The myth is that Orthodox Judaism represents a constant in Jewish history, rather than an attempt to freeze Judaism at the moment just before Jews were emancipated and freed from the ghettos of Europe. It is the Reform (and around the world Progressive) belief that Judaism has and always will change and progress. The Torah demands animal sacrifice, the stoning of witches, and a tithing of all produce - neither we nor the Orthodox are this "Torah True".

2) The Fallacy that Jewish Values are Particularistic - One of the principal places in which differences can be found between liberal Jews (both religiously and politically) and conservative (politically; religiously most often Orthodox) is the understanding of which mitzvot are particularistic - meant for Jews alone; and which are universal. Put simply, when "Love your neighbor as yourself" applies not just to the people of your particular community - be it Syrian, Williamsburg, or Bobover, you might feel more inclined to support public education and less to want to siphon public money into private religious schools. Podhoretz takes this to the nth degree when he equates Jewish values with who "our true friends" are. "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt" does not mean be paranoid that everyone is out to get you, rather it is the very reason that Jews (as Podhoretz laments) earn like the wealthiest of Americans and vote like the poorest.

3) The Fallacy that Liberals Hate the US Constitution - It is a straw man argument to say that because liberals, in Podhoretz's words ,"mainly see when they look at this country is injustice and oppression of every kind" that they are committed to the overthrow of the American way of life. Rather, liberals feel that we need to continually hold up our society to the mirror of the Constitution - to make sure that we are maintaining the ideals upon which our Republic stands. After all, the most recently proposed changes to that document (outlawing flag burning, defining when life begins, limiting marriage) were not from the liberal side.

I can only hope that Podhoretz is wrong and that American Jews will continue to heed the prophetic voice of our tradition. As we will read from Isaiah on Monday morning for the Yom Kippur morning haftarah:

Is this the fast that I look for? A day of self-affliction? Bowing your head like a reed, and covering yourself with sackcloth and ashes? Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I look for: to unlock the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every cruel chain? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house? When you see the naked, to clothe them, and never to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58)

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