Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Why are Jews Liberal?--A Symposium"

"Why Are Jews Liberal?" was a September 2009 symposium at Commentary magazine, which I just ran across. Five noted Jewish writers--David Wolpe, Jonathan D. Sarna, Michael Medved, William Kristol and Jeff Jacoby--responded to that quesion asked by Mr. Norman Podhoretz, in his book of the same name. Just about all the of the five point out that the disease of liberalism does not affect those who are serious about their Judaism--the Orthodox.

The short essays by each of the five are very interesting, and, in as much as one cannot answer the question "Why are Jews Liberal?" without at least roughly defining liberalism, the essays go beyond the specific Jewish/liberal question. Some examples:

Jonathon D. Sarna: "Nor is it (liberalism) a ‘substitute for religion,’ it is a religion in its own right, complete with its own catechism and its own dogmas and . . . obdurately resistant to facts that undermine its claims and promises....Jewish liberalism endures, Podhoretz concludes, because turning conservative, in liberal eyes, is nothing short of heresy—or worse, apostasy."

Michael Medved: "For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn’t solidarity with Israel; it’s rejection of Christianity....Jewish voters don’t embrace candidates based on their support for the state of Israel as much as they passionately oppose candidates based on their identification with Christianity—especially the fervent evangelicalism of the dreaded “Christian Right.”

The anti-Christian obsessions of American Jews lead not only to skewed perceptions of our true friends and enemies but also to anomalous definitions of “Jewish issues.” Much of the communal establishment insists, for instance, that their support of same-sex marriage and “abortion rights” expresses timeless Jewish values. Why and how? In 3,000 years of well-documented tradition prior to, say, 1970, there was not the slightest hint of any sort of endorsement of homosexual coupling. Moreover, Jewish law has always frowned upon abortion, authorizing the procedure only in extreme cases where the welfare of the mother is profoundly threatened.

The liberal belief that Jews should be pro-choice and pro–gay marriage has nothing to do with connecting to Jewish tradition and everything to do with disassociating from Christian conservatives."

Jeff Jacoby: "Most American Jews, on the other hand, seem to have learned from an early age that to be Jewish is to be a liberal Democrat, no matter what. No matter that anti-Semitism today makes its home primarily on the Left, while in most quarters of the Right, hostility toward Jews has been anathematized. No matter that Israel’s worst enemies congregate with leftists, while its staunchest defenders tend to be resolute conservatives. No matter that Republicans support the Jewish state by far larger margins than Democrats do. No matter that on a host of issues—homosexuality, abortion, capital punishment, racial preferences, public prayer —the “Torah” of contemporary liberalism, as Podhoretz calls it, diverges sharply from the Torah of Judaism. As Why Are Jews Liberals? convincingly and depressingly demonstrates, the loyalty of American Jews to the Left has been unaffected by the failure of the Left to reciprocate that loyalty.

David Gelertner: "The world of contemporary liberalism is wider than Jews and Judaism.... Western Europe is full of reactionary liberals....In fact, we can study Western Europe not only as a related case but also as a hint and a warning about the American Jewish future—because Europe is far ahead of America in the modern-liberalism department. In America, liberal aspirations are moderated by the Gulf Stream of a basically conservative, religious citizenry.
So what’s happened in Europe?

In much of Western (especially northwestern) Europe, marriage seems to be dying...Up-to-date Englishmen on the topic of science versus religion sound, too often, like smug low-church curates in Trollope holding forth on the British Empire versus the filthy natives....European sex (casual or not, hetero- or homo-) seems to have developed the moral significance of an ATM transaction on a street corner...

The strangest aspect of modern Europe is its tentative yet progressing love affair with death. (We think of Keats listening, darkling, to his nightingale.) The death wish is plain among Europeans who shrug off birthrates so low (and immigration rates so high) that their nations will be gone within a few generations. The death wish probably plays a part in the fervor some European nations (especially Germany) feel to lose themselves in the European Union, and in the outright enthusiasm in parts of Europe for assisted suicide. Modern Germany often cremates the dead with no rites and no comment, making death as humdrum as taking out the garbage."

Posted by Gibbons J. Cooney

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