Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Judaism vs Universalism

One of the interesting contradictions within secular liberalism is how it demands post-national universalism for the Western world while embracing the exact opposite for the Third.  North Americans and Western Europeans are expected to submerged themselves in moral relativism and multicultural non-judgementalism while any "foreign" cultures, no matter how homophobic or misogynistic, are to be respected and treated as special.
For some so-called "streams" of Judaism this has never been much of an issue.  The Reformers, in particular, have made the ideals of secular liberalism into their new version of Judaism without much apology.  The Conservatives, on the other hand, have striven for decades for a middle ground position embracing both selective aspects of Jewish "tradition" while adjusting whatever aspects of Torah they didn't like to better reflect politically correct positions of contemporary society.
Like any balancing act the time comes when a side has to be picked and it is obvious that over the last thirty to forty years that Conservatism has picked the side of Reform.  There is an increasingly blurry divide between the two movements which allows for all manner of cooperation and even occasional mergers where resources or space are tight.  This should not be a wonder to anyone.  Unlike Orthodoxy where membership is determined by attitudes, beliefs and lifestyle, Conservatism and Reform memberships are based on what temple/synagogue you send your dues cheque to without any reciprocal expectations.
In many areas this acceptance of secular liberalism as a substitute for Torah values has been relatively innocuous.  As opposed to unlabelled am haratzim who act in ways contrary to Jewish ones, these folks simply act in similar ways but use the label "I'm a Reformative Jew!" to justify their actions.  However this has rarely caused much a schism across the greater Jewish community.  Reformatives might not keep kosher, for example, but they have no rules against it which means your local JCC can spend extra to keep a kosher kitchen without much expectation of objection from the local non-religious folks.
Sometimes a schism is caused but again, it is usually more because of a need for convenience than outright rebelling against Torah values.  The recent debate over the opening of the JCC in Baltimore, MD is an example of this.  No one from the non-religious side was demanding the JCC open as a reflection of their Jewish values.  They just didn't see the point in closing it one day a week.
However a line is being crossed now that is significantly more important in terms of the greater Jewish nation.  In its drive towards demanding post-nationalism for the West, secular liberalism has focused on Israel (big surprise!) as a particularly villainous state because of its insistence on being a "Jewish" state instead of a "state for all its citizens".  Israel is also unique in this regard as it shares space with one of the darlings of the secular liberal left, the so-called Palestinians.  Remember that while secular liberals demand post-nationalist universality from Western groups, it is perfectly find accepting nationalist fervour.  The same folks who condemn Israel for putting restrictions on where a Gay Pride route might be in Yerushalayim go silent when the so-called Palestinian Authority announces that in an independent Palestine homosexuality will be a capital crime.
How has this affected the Reformatives?  Well for Reform one need look no further than its former chief, Eric Yoffe and its frequent statements supportive of the position of those who would like Israel to be wiped from the wipe.  Then there is their current chief who is a supporter of one of the most pernicious anti-Israel groups in America, J-Street.
The question is how this is affecting the Conservative who, traditionally, have been strong supporters of secular Zionism, especially through their day school programs and the network of Ramah camps.
Well the answer seems to be in and it's not pretty:

But if the new crop of Conservative rabbis has anything to say about it, Conservatism may not occupy the center for very long.  That, at least, is the message of a recent report by the movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, based on a survey of political views among "Generation Y" rabbinical students—born in the mid-1970's to mid-1990's—and the Seminary's somewhat older rabbinical alumni, ordained since 1980. 
At first blush, the report purports to show what one would hope to find among the rabbinate: a solid Jewish identity and strong attachment to Israel.  On closer examination, this identity appears increasingly filtered through a universalistic and liberal political perspective.  Among American Jews as a whole, according to the Pew Forum, 38 percent identify themselves as liberal; 39 percent call themselves moderate.  In contrast, 58 percent of the Conservative rabbis surveyed—and 69 percent of the rabbinical students—called themselves liberal.  It's hard to defend the center when you're not in it.
These rabbis and rabbinical students are "pro-Israel," but they are redefining what "pro-Israel" means.  As liberals, they hold an optimistic view of human nature: Though Palestinian leaderssee their conflict with Israel as a zero-sum game, it seems hard for the rabbis to acknowledge this grim fact.  Instead, they get their understanding of events in Israel from ideologically reinforcing left-oriented sources: liberal media outlets, Facebook posts, and Haaretz.  These sources help explain the conspicuous disconnect between the next generation of Conservative rabbis and mainstream American Jews on the subject of the Arab-Israel conflict.  More than three-quartersof American Jews, according to the latest American Jewish Committee survey, believe that the Arabs' goal is not merely the return of the "occupied territories" but the actual "destruction of Israel."  Only 30 percent of the JTS rabbinical students agreed with a similar statement.

One of the most telling statements in the article is "These rabbis and rabbinical students are 'pro-Israel,'".  Like everything else they have done with Judaism, they have redefined what "pro-Israel" means to avoid admitting that they are becoming anti-Israel.  Pro-Israel for them means demanding of the Jewish state things that would lead to its initial emasculation and ultimately to its destruction.  It means providing support for its enemies and those groups that would assist them in the name of "universal values" like social justice.  Given the choice between traditional Jewish attachment to and support of Israel is the face of international hostility they have chosen to side with the enemies of the Jewish people since that position leads to less of a conflict with their innate secular liberal values.
What's interesting to note is that, just like on the issue of women rabbis and egalitarianism, it seems these rabbis are disconnected from many of their followers.  I'm certain this isn't much of an issue since once of the tenets of secular liberalism is a self-righteous "And I know better than you so if you disagree you're wrong".
What this worsening of their position might ultimately lead to is a fracturing of the movement between those who are essentially indistinguishable from Reform and those who still feel a positive attachment to the enduring Torah values of the last 3500 years.  Time will tell.


Anonymous said...

We have seen the universalist approach applied again and again in the last few hundred years, and the supposedly enlightened world civilization is now staring into a moral/spiritual/material abyss. This may indicate a problem with this approach. If a unified Jewish people had taken the lead to live exclusively by Torah values in the sight of all humanity, things now would be far better.

Friar Yid said...

If a unified Jewish people had taken the lead to live exclusively by Torah values in the sight of all humanity, things now would be far better.

As an old classmate of mine once said, "And if I had a perpetual motion machine, I would have a perpetual motion machine."

The problem many Jews have is not with Jewish values per se, but the fact that plenty of so-called religious Jews don't follow them, either. There are plenty of Orthodox Jews in the world claiming to live "exclusively" by "Torah values" who are also selfish, violent, cruel, bigoted, and numerous other things the Torah rails against. So before laying all the world's-- and the Jews'-- problems at the feet of the so-called universalists, perhaps you might take a look in the mirror.

Maybe if the Orthodox world wants the rest of us to follow "Torah values," they should try leading by example.

Y. Ben-David said...

To understand the bizarre thinking of the "progressive" Left that opposes Jewish nationalism but embraces radical Palestinian nationalism, rejects Orthodox/religious Judaism but praises radical Islam, I heartily recommend readint this article by Prof. Ernest Sternberg:

In short, he points out how the "progressives", which he calls "purifiers" believe the world is doomed unless "purified" by eradicating "Empire" which is essentially America and its capitalist system and its illegitimate offspring, Zionism. Anyone, and I mean ANYONE who opposes Empire and Zionism is an ally of the purifiers. Since the Al-Qaida hates America and the purifiers also hate it, Al-Qaida should be viewed as a potential ally. This leads to the bizarre demostrations which are called "Red-Green-Brown" in which Marxists/Communists (the "Reds) march arm in arm with Radical Muslims (the "Greens") and Neo-Nazis (the "Browns) even though they have nothing in common except for antisemitism and hatred of the US. Read the article to understand the pernicious nature of this rapidly spreading philosophy.

SJ said...

I find orthodox leftists to be more annoying than secular leftists.