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October 2013 AD
Jews are not United
responding to Norman Podhoretz's book
"Why are Jews Liberal?
For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn’t solidarity with Israel; it’s rejection of Christianity.
This observation may help to explain the otherwise puzzling political preferences of the Jewish community explored in Norman Podhoretz’s book.
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.”
This political pattern reflects the fact that opposition to Christianity—not love for Judaism, Jews, or Israel—remains the sole unifying element in an increasingly fractious and secularized community.
The old (and never fully realized) dream that Zionist fervor could weave together all the various ideological and cultural strands of American Jewry looks increasingly irrelevant and simplistic.
In an era of budget plane flights and elegantly organized tours, more than 75 percent of American Jews have never bothered to visit Israel. The majority give nothing to Israel-related charities and shun synagogue or temple membership.
The contrasting components of the American Jewish population connect only through a point of common denial, not through any acts of affirmation.
Imagine a dialogue between Woody Allen and a youthful, idealistic emissary of the Hasidic Chabad movement—who might well be the proud father of nine religiously devout children. Both the movie director and the Lubavitcher may be publicly identified as Jews, but they share nothing in terms of religious belief, political outlook, family values, or, for that matter, taste in movies. The one area where they find common ground—and differ (together) from the majority of their fellow citizens—is their dismissal of New Testament theology, with its messianic claims for Jesus.
Anyone who doubts that rejection of Jesus has replaced acceptance of Torah (or commitment to Israel) as the eekur sach—the essential element—of American Jewish identity should pause to consider an uncomfortable question.
What is the one political or religious position that makes a Jew utterly unwelcome in the organized community?
We accept atheist Jews, Buddhist Jews, pro-Palestinian Jews, Communist Jews, homosexual Jews, and even sanction Hindu-Jewish meditation societies.
“Jews for Jesus,” however, or “Messianic Jews” face resistance and exclusion everywhere.
In Left-leaning congregations, many rabbis welcome stridently anti-Israel speakers and even Palestinian apologists for Islamo-Nazi terror. But if they invited a “Messianic Jewish” missionary, they’d face indignant denunciation from their boards and, very probably, condemnation by their national denominational leadership.
It is far more acceptable in the Jewish community today to denounce Israel (or the United States), to deny the existence of God, or to deride the validity of Torah than it is to affirm Jesus as Lord and Savior.
For many Americans, the last remaining scrap of Jewish distinctiveness involves our denial of New Testament claims, so any support for those claims becomes a threat to the very essence of our Jewish identity.
Many Jews therefore view enthusiastic Christian believers—no matter how reliably they support Israel and American Jews—as enemies by definition.
Rather than acknowledge the key role played by Christian Zionists (prominently including Harry Truman) in establishing and sustaining the U.S.-Israel alliance, liberal partisans love to invoke 2,000 years of bloody Christian anti-Semitism.
Today, however, the echoes of that poisonous hatred, complete with seething contempt for the allegedly disloyal and manipulative -“Israel lobby” in American politics, turn up far more frequently in the newsrooms of prestige newspapers or the faculty lounges of Ivy League universities than they do in Baptist churches in Georgia or Alabama.
Nevertheless, the association of members of such churches with the Republican party has served to limit GOP progress with Jewish voters. President Reagan appealed powerfully to the Jewish community (as Podhoretz documents in his book), but one of the chief factors that prevented a significant, long-term partisan shift involved the increasing association of Christian conservatives with the Republican party.
In 1992, Jewish voters deserted the Republicans in part because of the troubling record of the first President Bush on Israel but also in response to the prominent, passionate “culture war” speech at the Houston convention by “Pitchfork Pat” Buchanan—a rare conservative who combined support for Christian Right domestic issues with bitter hostility to the state of Israel.
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.
According to this argument, Catholic and evangelical attempts to “impose” their values on social issues represent a theocratic threat to American pluralism that has allowed Judaism to thrive.
The one segment of the contemporary community least concerned with this purported menace is the Orthodox—the less than 10 percent of the Jewish population that gives nearly as disproportionate support to Republicans as their Reform, Conservative, and secular Jewish neighbors give to Democrats. The reason for this contrasting response goes beyond the Orthodox tendency to agree with conservative Christians on most social issues and relates to their much greater comfort with religiosity in general. The Orthodox feel no instinctive horror at political alliances with others who make faith the center of their lives.
Those who seek to liberate the bulk of American Jews from their reflexive and self-defeating liberalism must do more than show the logic of conservative thinking. They should recognize that Jews, like all Americans, vote not so much in favor of politicians they admire as they vote against causes and factions they loathe and fear.
Jews fear the GOP as the “Christian party,” and as the sole basis of Jewish identity involves rejection of Christianity, Jews will continue to reject -Republicans and conservatism.
Podhoretz poignantly describes the way many Jewish Americans have adopted liberalism as a substitute religion. A more positive, engaged attitude with our real religious tradition would lessen the resentment toward religious Christians and, in an era when even Albania, Moldova, and Iraq have built functioning multiparty democracies, introduce for the first time in nearly a century a true two-party system to the Jewish -community.
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