A retired physician in our congregation just got me a subscription to Commentary, a Jewish magazine about conservative politics. I think he is worried that I am drinking the liberal Manischewitz of American Jewish life (it is true that I have softened in some areas).
I only recently came to understand that Commentary is a Jewish magazine. My friend gives me photocopied articles at times, but I thought the interest in Israel in the magazine came simply as a matter of course for conservative politics. In case anyone is unaware: the current liberal crowd is anti-Israel and would just as soon see Israel disappear and Israel’s greatest friends in the world are conservatives. This point is really a fact and not debatable, but I’ll be interested to see if anyone wishes to oppose me on that statement. Of course, it is possible to be liberal and pro-Israel, but I think those who try to hold that line should really ask why they feel so alone in their liberal circles.
I just received my first issue of Commentary and it is refreshing to hear Jewish voices speaking for conservative values I share: tolerance and respect for religion in the public sphere, opposing tyranny and dictatorships, opposing Islamic radicalism, opposing the legalization of abortion on demand, and supporting economic policies of the more Maimonidean sort (Maimonides believed that charity is helping people help themselves).
The founding editor of Commentary, Norman Podhoretz, has a new book out, Why Are Jews Liberals?, and in the September issue of the magazine, six Jewish writers comment on the book. I read their ideas with great interest and I am saving the most surprising for last (and I promise, it has to do with Messianic Judaism specifically).
David Wolpe, Rabbi and Author of Why Faith Matters
I love David Wolpe. Of course, I don’t know him, but when Monique Brumbach recommended his book, I ordered it that day on amazon and I am glad I did.
I’m not sure of Wolpe’s political views, but of the six commentators, he sounds the least conservative politically. His answer: Jews are outsiders, marginalized, and identify with the marginalized. Since the marginalized communities vote Democratic, most American Jews have an instinct to follow suit. Wolpe admits that liberalism tends to be anti-Israel and anti-religion in the public sphere. He also, accurately in my view, admits that liberalism is “faith in the power of government.”
Still, his challenge to conservatism in this brief response to Podhoretz rings true:
I suspect that until conservatism convinces most Jews that they have a sympathy and a practical program for those who are real or putative outsiders, it will remain, among Jews at least, distinctly the minority movement.
Jonathan Sarna, Brandeis Professor and Author of American Judaism: A History
Sarna argues that the true Jewish heritage, as expressed by British Chief Rabbi J.H. Hertz in a previous generation, is conservative. He says that Reform Judaism is largely the reason American Jews vote liberal. The political views of the shtetl and of Orthodox communities today is decidedly conservative, he says.
Sarna thinks that as liberal Jewish communities decline (low birthrate, high assimilation) and Orthodox communities increase (high birthrate, low assimilation), American Jews will increasingly become conservative politically.
William Kristol, Editor of the Weekly Standard
In a beautiful response, Kristol says:
I’m going to stop worrying about American Jews. They’re not worth the headache. Either they’ll come to their senses or they won’t, and there’s not much I (or anyone else, I suspect) can do about it.
Kristol recommends we stop Jewish navel-gazing and encourage a different kind of conversation in Jewish communities: about the “glories of Judaism” and not demographics. He proposes that Jews support with their money and their time Jewish education and not Jewish communal affairs. There should be more focus on the well-being of Israel and an acknowledgement that Christians are Israel’s greatest friends and more likely to support israel than most Jews in America.
Jeff Jacoby, Op-Ed Columnist for the Boston Globe
Jacoby, interestingly, says that Jews have been making self-destructive political choices since the days of the appointment of Saul as king of Israel.
The primary motive, he thinks, in Jewish liberalism, is a desire to fit in with society. And while liberalism in the past served Jewish issues, such as FDR’s strong leadership in opposing Judaism’s greatest enemy on earth, the opposite is true now. Liberals want to help and legitimate Judaism’s enemies and Jewish conservatives (a la Lieberman) who support the good of Israel and the demise of Israel’s enemies find themselves scorned.
Jacoby’s assessment of the religious appeal to liberalism to a secular American Jewry is priceless:
It is reassuring for liberal Jews to believe that all people are fundamentally decent and reasonable . . . in a world in which nothing is ever solved by war . . . that America is a secular nation, that God and religion have no place in the public square, and that no debt of gratitude is owed to the Christians who created this extraordinary society in which American Jews have thrived . . . that crime is caused by guns . . . that humanity’s biggest problem is global warming . . . that big government can create prosperity . . . that the biblical prescription for tikkun olam–healing the world–is a synonym for the liberal agenda . . . that Jews are no different from anyone else, that they are not called to a unique role in human events, and that the best way to be a good Jew is to be a conscientious citizen of the world.
David Gelernter, Yale Professor and Author of Judaism: A Way of Being
Gelernter’s unique contribution to this discussion is to suggest looking at Europe as a way of seeing where liberalism is heading. His warnings are a terrifying call to put down the Manischewitz.
European liberalism has made people into mere animals, philosophically speaking. Sex is now akin to “an ATM transaction.” Marriage is for the “lower orders” and partnership, loose and open, is preferred. Attitudes about religion ironically have made liberals into the raving fundamentalist low-church preachers of the day. Europeans are watching their own death, with declining population realistically depleting them nearly out of existence in a few generations. The dead are disposed of with no ceremony much as people dispose of animals. Gelernter concludes:
. . . man should be as happy as an animal among animals, should aspire to nothing higher, and should be inspired to worship the earth and himself if he must worship anything.
There is hope, nonetheless, as Jewish religious genius is capable of rising up and changing the direction of history.
Michael Medved, Syndicated Radio Host and Author of The Five Big Lies About American Business
The most surprising I saved until last. Michael Medved says that the primary motive in Jewish liberalism in America is the drive to oppose Christianity because opposing Christianity is the only meaningful way most American Jews can feel Jewish. Having abandoned Israel (75% of American Jews have never visited!) and Jewish religious life (only 16% attend worship weekly), American Jews are insecure in their Jewishness. The only way to feel part of the tribe without joining a synagogue and becoming devote to Judaism is to vote and talk liberal.
Liberalism is the new bagels and lox.
Medved speaks of both Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews in a positive light, which surprised the heck out of me. He notes that a liberal rabbi can have a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel speaker and will be applauded for it. But if the same rabbi were to bring in a Messianic Jewish or Jews for Jesus speaker, they would be looking for work immediately. Any opinion is preferable to the idea of Christianity or of Jews believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior (his words, not mine).
Medved’s solution would be for the American Jewish community to pursue Judaism instead of settling for being merely anti-Christian and for American Jews to embrace their Christian friends and find common ground. It’s a shocking proposal because it makes so much sense and yet seems so unlikely.
A Lesson for Us
Christians would do well not only to support Israel, but also to support Judaism. If more Jews read the Torah, let me suggest that more Jews would be open to Yeshua as Messiah. Rather than being anti-Judaism, I wish more of my Christian friends would follow the converse of Medved’s advice and pursue common ground with Judaism.
As Messianic Jews, I think a lesson for us is to embrace Christianity and Judaism. As intermarried couples are our mainstay, we have both Jews and Christians in our synagogues. We can serve both and we can be a bridge between both worlds and we don’t have to turn our backs on Jewish identity to do so.
We are the Jewish branch of the community of Yeshua and Christianity is the non-Jewish branch. We are one olive tree and that tree is Jewish.
With larger Judaism, our relation is different. We are part of Judaism, a part calling for reform within based on the teachings and redemptive actions of Messiah Yeshua. Our voice will not always be welcomed, far from it, but we can’t stop raising our voice from within.