Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Religion and Politics

One of the most consistent things about elections and the Jewish community is that the vast majority of observant Jews vote for the right-wing party and the vast majority of non-observant Jews vote for the left-wing party.
For many, there seems to be an invisible connection between religious observance and politics. Strict Orthodox observance pushes one to the right while heterodox or non-observance push one to the left. Some might explain the non-religious leftist trend as being due to the form of religion they do accept, one in which social justice and other politically correct values are treated as authentically Jewish. This means that leftist parties reflect what they believe are ideals consonant with Judaism.
However, that doesn't seem to explain why Orthodox Jews generally vote to the right. Now, not all observant Jews do. There's a piece in Yediot Acharanot today from a self-styled left-wing Orthodox Jew on why there should be no connection between one's religion and one's politics.
I think an analysis of what consitutes left wing and right wing nowadays is in order to understand this phenomenon.
The classical definition of liberalism goes as follows:
Central to the classical liberalism of the nineteenth century is a commitment to the liberty of individual citizens. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly were core commitments of classical liberalism, as was the underlying conception of the proper role of just government as the protection of the liberties of individual citizens. Also central to classical liberalism was a commitment to a system of free markets as the best way to organize economic life.
Curiously, trying to track down a definition of classic conservatism is far harder. At any rate, perusing the definition above leads to a clear but potentially confusing conclusion - the values mentioned are not associated with liberals today but with conservatives! After all, when one looks at the greatest assaults on freedom of thought, religiou, press and association, the sources all string from what are now defined as left-wing politically correct groups. Somewhere in the last 100 years, liberals and conservatives swapped definitions.
Unfortunately most people didn't get the memo on this. If you assert to someone who today identifies as a "liberal" that he must therefore be in favour of censorship, social engineering and thought control, he would vigorously disagree. If you defined a conservative as someone who advocated a laissez-faire approach to society, you'd be told you were wrong. However, this is precisely where liberals and conservatives find themselves in today's society.
Seen this way, the voting breakdown in the Jewish community now seems to make sense. Consider that most dominant secular views are diametrically opposed to traditional Jewish ones. Pick a topic - abortion, euthanasia, birth control - and one quickly sees a great divide between "them" and "us". For non-religious Jews, the divide isn't there. Having defined being Jewish as being a good "liberal" there is no contradiction in voting for left-wing parties. On the other hand, right wing parties that oppose the leftist positions resonate more with traditional Jews.
So can an Orthodox Jew vote for a left-wing party? For me, that's an entirely separate issue. It is my personal opinion that most left-wing groups, especially when it comes to Israel, represent nearly or openly anti-Semitic positions vis a vis Israel's right to exist within secure and defined borders. If one can find a left wing party that preaches Jewish values regarding social justice like helping the poor but that opposes abortion on demand and supports Israel against its enemies, then one might have a case. But since most left wing parties accept "the total package" it makes no sense for a traditional Jew to support such a group.


Devorah said...

It's unfortunate that Republicans have become defined by their stance on abortion. While it is true that Republicans are mostly pro-Israel, and this is why I continue to vote this way, I have a terrible time with their stance on Roe v. Wade.

You seem to feel that birth control and abortion are somehow not "jewish values". I beg to differ. Especially with regards to birth control. Where on earth do you get that Jews aren't allowed access to it? Abortion is a necessary element to a society. You need access to a safe abortion. Women who are raped have had hetarim to have an abortion. A friend of mine actually told me that her sephardi Rav said that an abortion was a possibility, when the doctors discovered she might be carrying a severely disabled child. It's my understanding that under forty days, the embryo isn't considered living according to halachah. Which is why Leah was able to daven for a change in sex of her child.

What about cases where the health of the mother is an issue? Some of these cases come up in late term pregnancies. (And when terminated, are called "late term abortions". Not, "saving the mother". Another friend had one of these.)

When you deny access to all, you deny access to all mentioned above. Do you really think that there will be special dispensary police that will give abortions to those who need it? To those who are in danger? Answer? No. And by restricting abortion in this country, you raise the rate of maternal fatalities, not lower the rates of abortion. That's actually a statistical fact.

Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

Devorah's point are well taken. When instruction Agudah on what stance they should take in regard to the civil position on abortion, Rav Moshe Feinstein told them that they must be pro-choice, that a woman must be allowed to make this decision in concert with her religious authority. We must be allowed to follow Halacha which has a spectrum of opinions on abortion. We cannot be limited by parameters from an outside system which may at times challenge the ability of someone to follow Halacha. The pro-life stance includes views that would forbid abortions even when they are halachically mandated. It is thus, in the opinion of Rav Moshe, to support a view that allows for greater autonomy so a Jew can follow Halacha.

One may question, though, whether this could be viewed as a support for autonomy in general or whether Rav Moshe was taking this position vis-a-vis the possibility of a non-Halachic authority. While I cannot speak for Rav Moshe, there are clear other indications that Torah does, to some extent, value autonomy. Coercion must always be approached with great caution -- even with a Torah theocracy. This must also be remebered within this debate.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Devorah said...

Thank you, Rabbi Hecht. I appreciate your insight! I don't usually get that kind of response about pro-choice discussions. Usually I'm blasted for incorporating "immoral ideas" based on "non-Torah values". And I usually doubt myself as such.

Still, what still sways me is that overturning Roe v. Wade seems a Christian idea more than a Jewish one. I was shocked when I first learned that Christians (Catholics in particular) do not believe that "health of the mother" should allow for an abortion. To their view, both lives are equally sanctified, and thus a mother should die during pregnancy, rather than abort the child, since it must have been "God's Will". This can be seen in the legislature of countries like the Dominican Republic, which recently banned all abortions in their country, regardless of circumstance. I fear very much that this view pervades the thinking of pro-life advocates. And that perhaps this immoral stance (also from a non-Torah viewpoint!) colors the ultra-orthodox in their way of thinking. In this group I include myself, of course.

I would like to see Rabbi Feinstein's teshuvah inside, though. Especially considering the Noahide laws, that many say concern abortion (and are stricter than Jewish law). I am fully aware that my pro-choice views seem to be in opposition to most religious Jews, and that's very upsetting to me. It would be a great relief to see that R' Feinstein felt similarly, though I doubt that he is as permissive about the idea as I am.

Garnel Ironheart said...

First of all Devorah, I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that I have a Catholic approach to abortion. From up here in the Great White North, my perspective is that Republicans are indeed against abortions under any circumstances while Deomcrats see it as just another form of birth control. I subscribe to neither of those positions but, like Rav Hecht, hold that Jewish law allows for the procedure in certain limited cases. Certainly there is a rich halachic literature on abortion in Jewish law and the circumstances in which it is permissible.

I do have to disagree with your statement "there are clear other indications that Torah does, to some extent, value autonomy". In fact, it is my understanding that this is absolutely not the case.

In secular law, a person's body is his/her own private property, therefore the patient retains complete control over all health care decisions in that regard.

However, halacha recognizes the body as a "loaner" from God for the person's neshama to use while in this world. As a result, there is an obligation on each individuals to do that which is best for the maintainence and upkeep of the body at all times. That's one reason suicide is so frowned upon in Jewish law. In addition, it means that such things as refusing medically necessary treatment, something permitted in secular law, is not allowed in Jewish law. Thus the Jewish patient is very dependent upon medical advice as to which the best course of action is to take.

BTW, for some examples of teshuvos on abortion:
(IM=Igros Moshe, EH=Even HaEzer, CM=Choshen Mishpat, TE = Tzitz Eliezer, SH=Shevet HaLevi)
IM EH 3:21, 4:73
IM CM 2:69-70, 71
TE 14:100, 101-102, 15:3
SH 5:193

And those are just a few.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

But since most left wing parties accept "the total package" it makes no sense for a traditional Jew to support such a group.

Same for the right wing parties...