In his book Why Are Jews Liberals, Norman Podhoretz described a “Torah of Liberalism” as the guiding political philosophy of contemporary American Jews.
Lacking religious devotion to the ancient Biblical text and Rabbinic tradition, or to the ritual observances practiced by “Orthodox” Jewry, Jewish Americans affiliated with liberal denominations, or disaffiliated completely from religious life, not only mimic predominant secular, urban political faith, they often lead it.
For many decades, prominent political movements of the Left—Communism, socialism, feminism, environmentalism, statism, welfarism, gay rights activism, and pro-abortionism—have been led by Jewish atheists, academics, and activists replacing God-based religious belief and behavior with a secular “social action” agenda. Podhoretz argued these Jews are religiously passionate, it’s just that their religion is now liberalism (not classical liberalism but modern progressivism).
The common Hebrew term heard at left-wing Jewish seminaries, synagogues, temples, summer camps, and communal organizations is “tikkun olam,” translated as “repairing the world.” The actual historical term, “L’taken olam b’malchut shaddai” was once an idea that served the social order, for example, by endorsing capital punishment to protect the community. Some leaders of the American Jewish establishment now selectively hijack Jewish law to authorize a range of social justice warfare intent on moving objectively nuanced and long-debated Jewish ethical concepts into subjective partisanship.
The death penalty in the United States, like much of American Constitutional law and state laws, finds foundational support in western Judeo-Christian common law, which is deeply influenced by Biblical concepts and their varied interpretations over the centuries. Again, while Rabbinic law promoted cautionary safeguards for capital punishment, such as requiring witnesses, the only law found in all 5 Books of Moses is, in fact, a mandated death penalty, starting with Genesis 9:6. (“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”).
On social issues, though, Jews generally still lean hard left, and on no issue more so than abortion. Every Jewish voter has said or heard: “I’m with you on economic growth and national security, but the Surpreme Court!”
Christian Biblical interpretations which assert that life begins at conception differ mildly from Rabbinic interpretations which prioritize the mother’s life if threatened by the fetus. Other Jewish scholarship suggests that life begins at viability of the fetus, though potential human life, from conception, is to be valued and protected. Once the door was opened for sensitivity to exceptional cases, however, the Jewish left drove a train through nuanced legal tracks, and now asserts a fictional Jewish authorization for all abortions, directly the opposite of the emphasis of the tradition.
Why would the people who are taught to “choose life,” (Deut. 30:19) be the strongest advocates for unfettered abortion? Theoretically, they are correct to be championing individual freedom and government non-interventionism, but frequent Jewish advocacy against the 2nd Amendment, or religious liberty, or free speech on campus, and in favor of tax and spend big government, public sector unions, affirmative action racial quotas, and an entire Federal Registry of administrative state regulatory rule over citizens, dispels the case that left-wing Jews are closet libertarians.
This author argues that as a long-suffering minority, Jews’ fear of the cross (Christian theology competing within a diverse, pluralistic, rule of law nation) has sub-consciously created a reflexive anti-establishment “civil rights” mentality meant to “defend” against public expressions of religious faith, or public laws rooted in Biblical concepts as interpreted by the majority culture. If the Christian majority is for it, many Jews are against it.
Secular Jews have a long memory of Catholic Church oppression in Europe and a deep distaste for the “Right,” even in an American context where Christians are overwhelmingly philosemitic and pro-Israel, and therefore remarkably patient with leftist Jewish hostility and ingratitude.
The Colonial settlers of America asserted they were founding “A New Zion.” The American Constitutional framers were not only conversant with the Old Testament, they gave their children Biblical names, and several founders promoted the Exodus from Egypt as the Great Seal of the United States. Contrast this sentiment with Voltaire, the leading European Enlightenment leftist philosopher, who castigated Jews.
But American Jews attending synagogues that act as pseudo precincts for a “Democratic party serving bagels” aren’t taught the truth about historic leftist anti-Semitism. Fortunately, in recent years, numerous Russian, Persian, and Israeli immigrants, all of whom are sensitive to tyranny and inhospitality to Jews, along with the high birth-rate Orthodox community, have changed the balance of Jewish political demographics. Portions of New York City which once voted lopsidedly Democrat are now more competitive. The national Jewish vote was 10 percent Republican in 1992 but now approaches 30 percent.
The Jihadi mass-murder of Americans on 9/11, and its defense and justification by many Muslim clerics worldwide, caused thoughtful American Jews to recognize that not only the Jewish state of Israel but the entire West faced a generational enemy in radical Islam, necessitating a national security commitment similar to America’s heroic defeat of Nazism in World War II and our nation’s ultimate victory in the long twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism.
Jews were viciously oppressed by Soviet tyranny, though Jewish liberals historically were split between bi-partisan hawks who supported U.S. foreign policy containment of and confrontation with the Russians, and pacifists who recoiled from challenging “the Evil Empire” and even opposed Ronald Reagan’s Ballistic Missile Defense agenda, whose technological legacy (Iron Dome, David’s Sling, and Arrow BMD systems) keeps Israeli children alive today. Today, many pro-defense Democrats are now Republicans, while the support for Israel is collapsing among those on the Left.
After decades of unrelenting Palestinian barbarism, and the more recent movement of leading Arab Sunni states toward Israel as a potential ally against rising Shiite Iranian regional hegemony, most Israelis have rejected the fantasies of “peace in our time” appeasers. The Israeli left has consistently failed to defeat the conservative, pro-American leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has been irrelevant to the stunning rise of Israel’s economic “Start-Up Nation.”
Alienated Jewish liberals in the United States, however, see Bibi as a Republican, and so American Jewish support for and identification with Israel has declined dramatically amongst the crowd which cannot stomach Jews with guns, a strong Israel Defence Forces, and the normal difficult moral and military choices any army must make against enemies who would murder every last Jew (or Christian) in the tiny Jewish homeland and the broader Middle East. In fact, some of the leading Israel-bashers on campuses are Jewish leftists who either are living out fantasies of utopianism or are utterly alienated from Israel as religious-based, capitalistic, nationalistic, and pro-American.
President Barack Hussein Obama’s unrelenting hostility to Israel created a dilemma for pro-Israel liberals and an opportunity for the American Right. President Donald John Trump has swiftly moved the U.S. Embassy to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, rejected the Iran Nuclear Deal, devastated ISIS, and removed the United States from the anti-Israel U.N. Human Rights Council.
Time will tell if GOP affinity for the Jewish state will overcome the social progressivism of American Jewry, rooted in an instinct for subversion of established order and self-protection as a beleaguered minority, even when that minority has achieved so much in a free nation which has befriended them. Hanging out with the victim-based interest groups of the Left has not proven to be good for the Jews, by the way (see Linda Sarsour).
American Jews remain a revolutionary people, whose special gifts to the West, including Biblical and ethical imperatives that challenge tyranny, disorder, and immorality, now are rejected by the Left, but are still credited as foundational to American greatness by those of us who reject the Left.
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