Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Why are so many Jews liberal?

The above is the subject of an email I received today.  It is a reprint of an article by Dennis Prager.
Frankly, I found this article to be just plain ridiculous.  The title of this post may change from Why are so many Jews liberal, to Prologue as this is the starting point of my discussion of on the problem with the Jewish community.  This was not where I was planning to start, but felt that this was a very good place to begin as the it will begin to define my thinking on the issues, much as the article that I also commented on today will begin the discussion that I have in mind.  The way I will discuss this article is to copy it as is, the writing below that is in red will be my responses to the points of discussion by Mr. Prager.
Why are so many Jews liberal?
By Dennis Prager

The most frequently asked question I receive from non-Jews about Jews is, why are Jews so liberal? I find this very hard to believe.  I don't know what the most frequently asked question I receive is, but it is more theological, or religious not political.  So Mr. Prager is obviously not being literal here, but I find this to be part of the problem with the article as a whole.

The question is entirely legitimate since Jews (outside of Israel) are indeed overwhelmingly liberal and disproportionately left of liberal as well. For example, other than blacks, no American group votes so lopsidedly for the Democratic Party. And the question is further sharpened given that traditional Jewish values are not leftist. That is why the more religiously involved the Jew, the less likely he is to be on the Left. The old saw, "There are two types of Jews — those who believe Judaism is social justice and those who know Hebrew," contains more than a kernel of truth.    I found this paragraph to be very offensive personally and more than slightly distorting.  First of all, since he points it out in the article, I would say that at least half of the people in Israel would qualify as 'liberal' and actually I would go so far as to say that even most of the  'right-wing' of those in Israel are politically not as far right as Mr. Prager would seem to be implying in this paragraph, after all on the political spectrum Israel would likely qualify as a socialist country based on the type of government/economy that sustains it.  Further, Jews are probably traditionally Democrats in the US because of social issues, but I don't believe that as many are going to be as extreme as Mr. Prager seems to want to imply.  I also find his 'old saw' to something of a fascination.  While I have never heard this before, from my experience, the more religiously involved Jews are probably similarly divided between the two parties as the rest of the American Jewish community.  Mr Prager is attempting to follow the political stance of separation.

In no order of importance, here are six reasons:

1. Judaism is indeed preoccupied with social justice (as well as with holiness and personal morality), and many Jews believe that the only way to achieve a just society is through leftist policies. First he says that only un-knowledgable Jews believe that Judaism is about social justice and then tells us that it is.  The inconsistency is rather confusing to me, but I would belabor the point.  I disagree with the premise of this point.  As I pointed out before, I think that many Jews feel that the 'right-wing' in this country is not as in-tune with what Judaism teaches are the ideals of social justice as the 'liberals' in this country do.  Basically the idea that many Jews in this country have is that social justice is the most important of the 'preoccupations' and that is where his debate should be if he wishes to discuss this type of issue.

2. More than any other major religion, Judaism has always been preoccupied with this world. The (secular) Encyclopedia Judaica begins its entry on "Afterlife" by noting that "Judaism has always affirmed belief in an afterlife." But the preoccupation of Judaism has been making this world a better place. That is why the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) is largely silent about the afterlife; and it is preoccupied with rejecting ancient Egyptian values. That value system was centered on the afterlife — its bible was the Book of the Dead, and its greatest monuments, the pyramids, were tombs. My discussion here is going to be based on my 'limited' religious education and the reading that I have done.  My first disagreement is with the idea of Judaism dealing with the afterlife, this is, to my education, a personal rather than a theological decision and therefore not really of interest to this discussion other than as a red hearing to used to 'discredit' those that Mr. Prager is attacking in this article.  Judaism is very much 'preoccupied' with making this world better, the idea of 'Tikun Olam' is really the idea, but even a political conservative can be interested in the improvement of the world around them, the difference between the to ends of the political spectrum as what is making the world better.

3. Most Jews are frightened by anything that connotes right wing — such as the words "right-wing" and "conservative." Especially since the Holocaust, they think that threats to their security emanate from the Right only. (It is pointless to argue that Nazism stood for National Socialism and therefore was really a leftist ideology. Whether that is theoretically accurate doesn't matter; nearly everyone regards the Nazis as far Right, and, therefore, Jews fear the Right.) The fact that the Jews' best friends today are conservatives and the fact that the Left is the home of most of the Jews' enemies outside of the Muslim world have made little impact on Jews' psyches.    I guess one can't attack  'liberal Jews' without bringing up the Shoah and the Nazi's.  Again I felt that this point was very much a red herring in the discussion, and his parenthetical aside rather useless. Just because the name of the political party contained the term socialism doesn't make it a socialist movement any more than the Bolsheviks movement in Pre-Soviet Russia were the majority simply because that is what they called themselves.  As the old saying goes 'What is in a name?'  Beyond this I really have no additional comments on this point, after all  to discuss the rest of this point is lend additional validity.

4. Liberal Jews fear most religion. They identify religion — especially fundamentalist religion and especially Christianity — with anti-Semitism. Jews are taught from birth about the horrors of the Holocaust, and of nearly 2,000 years of European, meaning Christian, anti-Semitism. They therefore tend to fear Christianity and believe that secularism guarantees their physical security.    I will get in to issues of secularism elsewhere at another time, but I will argue this point on two fronts.  First is that secularly oriented people tend to discount religion.  And I will not use the word fear because as with many other things in this article, Mr. Prager is dismissing his target of choice with a use language.  I don't think 'liberal Jews' fear religion, actually some are religious, but people who are secular discount religion as being important no matter what their political affiliation.  My issues with Christianity are religious and personal, not political or related to the Shoah and our sorted history with our neighbors of the last 3,300 years of time not just during the 'Christian era.'  I also disagree with the final sentence in this point.  After all my 'physical security' or sense that it is endangered has nothing to do with being or not being secular.

5. Despite their secularism, Jews may be the most religious ethnic group in the world. The problem is that their religion is rarely Judaism; rather it is every "ism" of the Left. These include liberalism, socialism, feminism, Marxism and environmentalism. Jews involved in these movements believe in them with the same ideological fervor and same suspension of critical reason with which many religious people believe in their religion. It is therefore usually as hard to shake a liberal Jew's belief in the Left and in the Democratic Party as it is to shake an evangelical Christian's belief in Christianity. The big difference, however, is that the Christian believer acknowledges his Christianity is a belief, whereas the believer in liberalism views his belief as entirely the product of rational inquiry.   Once again Mr. Prager finds a way to offend me with out really making a good point.  Apparently one can't be a liberal Jew, socialist Jew, or feminist Jew in Mr. Prager's mind. I am not really sure if Marxism fits in this point, and will refrain from actually discussing it.  As far as environmentalist Jew, this seems to me to be repetative to me.  After all we are charged with protecting the world, and I personally feel we have done the opposite. The issue Mr. Prager is discussing in this point is really more of his own world view of 'liberals' and those he disagrees with rather than anything of any real world issue.  I think I have addressed the problem I have with this, oh and Mr. Prager if for some reason you actually read my response, what you are accusing a 'liberal' of could also be said to be the same for a 'conservative' who is of a secular belief system as well, just because the 'modern' image of the conservative is that of the 'Christian Evangelical Extremist' doesn't make that image any more correct that the idea of the 'secular anti-religious liberal.'

The Jews' religious fervor emanates from the origins of the Jewish people as a religious people elected by G-d to help guide humanity to a better future. Of course, the original intent was to bring humanity to ethical monotheism, G-d-based universal moral standards, not to secular liberalism or to feminism or to socialism. Leftist Jews have simply secularized their religious calling. If I could record laughter for the end of this point I would have loved to. (Bwa hahahahahaha, will have to do.)  Naturally in order to continue to make his points Mr. Prager continues to 'tear down' those he disagrees with.  I would also dispute one other point here.  I am not sure I would agree with how this part of the point was made.  After all, were we elected by G-D or did we choose/were chosen to be responsible for this task.  One has only to consider that small change in concept in this point to understand where I differ from Mr. Prager on much of what he is saying in his article.

6. Liberal Jews fear nationalism. The birth of nationalism in Europe planted the secular seeds of the Holocaust (religious seeds had been planted by some early and medieval Church teachings and reinforced by Martin Luther). European nationalists welcomed all national identities except the Jews'. That is a major reason so many Jews identify primarily as "world citizens"; they have contempt for nationalism and believe that strong national identities, even in America, will exclude them.   I would first like to refer Mr. Prager to the idea that many early zionists were also secular Jews who felt that Jews would always be outsiders in Europe where we didn't belong, and were striving to return us to our homeland.  The simple fact that so many of the early zionists were secular very much disputes this whole point number 6.  Of course if Mr. Prager had acknowledged this small point it would have brought down the whole house of cards of his arguments in this article.  I have to say I know of very few jews who identify themselves as 'world citizens' and would like Mr. Prager to provide additional information on that point.

Just as liberal Jews fear a resurgent Christianity despite the fact that contemporary Christians are the Jews' best friends, leftist Jews fear American nationalism despite the fact that Americans who believe in American exceptionalism are far more pro-Jewish and pro-Israel than leftist Americans. But most leftist Jews so abhor nationalism, they don't even like the Jews' nationalism (Zionism).   If one is afraid of nationalism than any nationalism is bad and it's opposite is the only good.  My fear of the 'resurgent Christianity' is related to a fear of what will happen to the Constitution in the US as it is being slowly subverted in the name of Christianity, and in the name of security.  This does not bode well for the country as a whole.  Nationalism is no more 'evil' than anything else, but it is easy to state that others believe this is so.  And 'modern Christianity' in not pro-Judaism, and is only pro-Israel as it suites their religious needs of the end-times.

If you believe that leftist ideas and policies are good for America and for the world, then you are particularly pleased to know how deeply Jews — with their moral passion, intellectual energies and abilities, and financial clout — are involved with the Left. If, on the other hand, you believe that the Left is morally confused and largely a destructive force in America and the world, then the Jews' disproportionate involvement on the Left is nothing less than a tragedy — for the world and especially for the Jews. Ah yes, then end of the argument is designed to further support his overall red herring argument, and of course continue to make certain that those who read the article will be drawn to the conclusion that he is really trying to make.  That point is simple - Liberal Bad, Conservative Good. Those who disagree - are out to destroy America.  Why do conservatives feel that the only way to discredit an idea is to say that it is destructive to America, or that those who hold the idea is out to destroy America?  I disagree with Mr. Prager, but firmly believe in this country and the direction it SHOULD be going in.  I just feel we are a bit off track at the moment.  I don't want to change the world, just change this one sided view of it.

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