One Jerusalem had a bloggers interview with Norman Podhoretz, noted neo-Conservative and editor of Commentary Magazine for over three decades before his retirement. The topic was his new book, “Why are Jews Liberals?” I was one of the bloggers who participated in the call. You may listen to the One Jerusalem bloggers interview, here. The New Republic literary editor, Leon Wieseltier reviewed the Podhoretz book in The Sunday New York Times. Wieseltier produced this imagery of Podhoretz’s thesis:
… Podhoretz invents “the Torah of liberalism”. If it were not absurd, they would not believe it, and then it is absurd. As if from the pulpit, he scolds that “where the Torah of contemporary liberalism conflicts with the Torah of Judaism, it is the Torah of liberalism that prevails and the Torah of Judaism that must give way.
So American Jewish liberals are not only bad Americans, they are also bad Jews.
This portrayal of Podhoretz was a bit over the top, even for Wieseltier. However, Wieseltier and most American Jews and their spiritual leaders have done something very self destructive; they have deluded themselves that doing ‘Tikkun Olam’ (‘repairing the world’ in Hebrew), social justice and community outreach is Jewish. What Podhoretz has affirmed in this new book is that this is a distortion of Torah Judaism. This distortion by liberal rabbis and lay leaders is used to justify support of anti-Israel Orwellian extremists like J Street and outreach to Muslims as we have illustrated in “Chelm on the Charles River.”
Prior to today’s bloggers interview I discussed this with Rabbi Jon Hausman who pointed out that ‘Tikkun Olam’ social action has become the equivalent of the 614th Commandment that observant Jews are obliged to practice in their daily lives. It is not the case according to Hausman, himself a politically conservative Jew Hausman pointed out that Tikkun Olam is not mentioned in the Torah. It is in fact a Cabbalistic term heralding the advent of the Messiah. It is not something that a Mitzvot observant Jew practices, referring to the 613 principles and laws of behavior found in the Torah, according to Hausman.
I posed that question to Podhoretz during the One Jerusalem bloggers call. He concurred with Rabbi Hausman’s observations. Tikkun Olam had been distorted by liberal Jews. He noted an observation made by a non-Jew who had attended High Holyday services at a Reform Congregation, who said that it seemed like “the Democratic party at prayer with holidays thrown in.” Podhoretz observed that both secular and even religious Jews are “simply trying to put a Jewish ‘hecksher’ (rabbinic ruling) on the Torah of liberalism.”
How did American Jews arrive at such a state of denial and overwhelming allegiance to the Democratic Party and liberal causes? Further, was there any hope that stubborn adherence might finally be breaking down?
Podhoretz chronicled the pathway of Jewish liberalism from its origins during the age of French enlightenment and emancipation of Jews in the early 19th Century. What passed for the political right in Europe opposed Jewish emancipation. Jews who entered politics in the 19th Century typically joined moderate to extreme leftist groups. While according to Podhoretz, Jews on the political right in 19th Century Europe were apostates. When more than 2 million eastern European Jews migrated to America beginning in the 1880’s, according to Podhoretz they carried these attitudes with them. They chose the Democratic Party as the closest counterpart to the European left. Podhoretz noted that since 1928 75% of American Jews have voted for Democratic Presidential candidates. The only exception was Jimmy Carter’s failed re-election campaign in 1980 when 45% of Jews voted for Reagan. Jews, unlike other American ethnic groups have overwhelmingly and consistently shown commitment to the Democratic Party. During the most recent Presidential contest, only African Americans showed higher levels of commitment to the Democratic party. Jews, according to Podhoretz,, would find moving to the right “the moral equivalent of conversion” or religious apostasy.
That was the pattern until 1967 when the Israeli Victory in the June Six Day War occurred. What happened was a great reversal. The Left who previously had supported Israel now became hostile to Israeli interests. Israel was no longer 'David, it became Goliath’ in the eyes and minds of the Left. The Right, on the other hand according to Podhoretz, became sympathetic to Israel, probably because it successfully demonstrated force of arms to secure its sovereignty. The largest bloc of supporters came from Christian Evangelicals, who in Podhoretz’s view, now represent "the single most pro-Israel force in the U.S."
American Jews, as Podhoretz noted, “remained adamantly stiff necked, refusing to recognize this fundamental change.” They were analogous, according to him, to the”British at Singapore in 1942, fighting the last war “against the onslaught of the victorious Imperial Japanese forces. Thus, in Podhoretz’s view, Jews have ended up substituting “the Torah of liberalism for the Torah of Judaism and began a long history of association with its enemies on the left” -the malaise of foolish Jews cited in our NER article, “Chelm on the Charles River.”
Podhoretz noted natural Conservatives, among contemporary Orthodox Jews. The Orthodox he noted are heavily influenced by scripture and the least liberal politically among American Jews, because of doctrinal conflicts with Jewish law. According to Podhoretz, “three quarters of American Jews are in one bag, while the remaining Orthodox typically are conservative. “
Harkening back to Wieseltier’s comments, Podhoretz propounded his book’s thesis that “the religion of liberalism superseded Torah Judaism and that the majority of American Jews were Tertullian-like believers in the absurd. “
Podhoretz thought that the new Jewish lobby group of choice at the Obama White House, “J Street was reflective of the intransigence of the radical liberal left.” He noted that President Obama had “dignified J Street” by excluding from the mid-July meeting of American Jewish groups ‘center right’ Zionist Organization of America. The “buyers’ remorse” among American Jews, Podhoretz opined, may be emanating from the centrist groups who now have Obama revealed as a false Messiah. Podhoretz depicted Obama as equivalent to the Shabtai Zevi of the 17th Century, who lead Jews astray in an era of, millenarianism, before he was forced to convert to Islam or face death ordered by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV.
Only the mid-term election of 2010 will tell us whether a political shift has occurred among American Jewish voters. The evidence for that may be implied in the results of the Traditional Values Coalition survey of likely Jewish Democratic voters. That survey found significant concern among American Jews about Obama pressing on Israel with demands for a freeze on settlements and arbitrary division of Jerusalem as part of a two state solution to allegedly achieve Middle East Peace. Podhoretz's controversial views will likely stimulate debate, especially among those stubborn stiff necked American Liberal Jews he castigates.