Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Does Orthodoxy Equal Social Conservatism?

Rabbi Dov Fischer
Most people that read this blog know that my political leanings are center-right. Which means that on most issues my views tend to reflect the more socially conservative point of view. There are however, some issues that I feel very strongly about that are in the domain of political liberalism. For example, on abortion I am pro choice. On gun control I favor stricter controls on gun ownership. On most other matters, I am in the conservative camp. For example I oppose gay marriage. And favor school choice (voucher programs).

My political views are informed by my religious views. I am pro choice because I believe that abortions should be safe, legal, and rare (to quote former President Clinton). Although abortions are generally not permitted by Halacha, there are circumstances where it is not only allowed, but required. If it is made illegal, than any legal exception in that law may not match our Halachic exception, making it unavailable to us when we deem it necessary. Keeping abortions legal (i.e being pro choice) makes abortions  available to us whenever we need them - without having to worry whether our Halachic needs match the government’s legal requirements.

Rabbi Dov Fischer has written an article in Arutz Sheva that practically equates Orthodoxy with political conservatism. In contradistinction to the vast majority of Jews who are not Orthodox and liberal. 

I think he is right. But sometimes that leads to political views that are not in the best interests of Orthodox Jews. Abortion is a case in point. Most Orthodox Jews are pro life. And believe that abortions should be made illegal. I believe this is the official position of Agudah as well.

How can this view be reconciled with the reality of Halacha? They would answer that in the main abortions are indeed against Halacha, and that we should reflect that view politically. If abortion is made illegal how would we get them when they are Halachicly required. I’m not sure how they would answer that question.

That being said, I would agree that the socially conservative way of looking at things more closely resembles the Orthodox way of looking at things. Here’s why.

Social conservatives take the bible’s view more literally than do social liberals. Which is how Orthodox Jews see the bible. When the Torah says something is forbidden, we believe it – as do social conservatives.  This is for example why Orthodox Jews eat only Kosher food and observe Shabbos.

Social liberals either ignore the bible - calling it an archaic document written by man that is irrelevant in our day - or twist interpretations of biblical verses into matching their own political views. Views that are often based on whatever the spirit of the times demand. Rabbi Asher Lopatin who supports gay marriage, a concept that needs an extremely novel twisting of  a passage in the Torah in order to match today’s liberal approach to it.

Most Orthodox Jews reject these kinds of novel interpretations.  We realize that not everything that society deems appropriate – actually is appropriate.

This is why Orthodox Jews, Evangelical Christians, and the Catholic Church are so often on the same side of an issue. We see the bible in more literal terms. I truly think that a careful examination of the political views will bear out this correlation. 

Rabbi Fischer’s statement about Orthodox Jews being rock ribbed conservatives tend to be accurate if recent voting patterns are any kind of indicator. As he points out: 
Every serious study of Orthodox Jewish voting patterns reflects that, in precincts where Orthodox Jews live, Republican candidates win, and they win yuge.  This political conservatism reflects the Orthodox Jewish community’s more traditional religious and social values.  
(Yuge. That’s cute.)

One can clearly see that Rabbi Fischer is one of those rock-ribbed conservatives. I am not one of those. As noted by the aforementioned exceptions. I should add that although I am bound by Halacha, I freely admit that some of my liberal leanings makes that difficult for me sometimes. (Yes, I have questions. But I don’t reject Torah law just because I can’t answer them.)

Rabbi Fisher is not alone. Jonathan Rosenblum is another prominent Orthodox Jew whose values are socially conservative.  He describes what he heard at the Tikvah  Fund Seminar he attended recently. (The Tikvah  Fund is a conservative enterprise designed to promote conservative ideas in the Charedi world): 
THE FEATURED TEACHER this year was Yuval Levin, America's premier young conservative intellectual. Levin is editor of the public policy quarterly National Affairs. Besides being a policy wonk, he is a political theorist. His book The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the intellectual arguments underlying much of contemporary political debate.
Any understanding of why Torah Jews tend toward the conservative side of the political spectrum, and why most baalei teshuvah move rightward politically as they become more observant, begins with Burke. Burke was acutely sensitive to the limits of unaided human reason, while respectful of the societal institutions that reflect the accumulated wisdom and experience of human societies over many centuries. Paine was the opposite. He extended no deference to existing institutions unless they comported in his mind with abstract principles of justice derived by human reason, in which he had boundless confidence. 
I think this is essentially what I am saying. 

What about Orthodox Jews that have liberal views? Clearly there are many (mostly modern) Orthodox Jews that do tend to be more liberal. But in my view, they have a difficult time reconciling their views with those of the Torah and need to rely on the kinds of ‘twists and turns’ of Torah law resorted to by Rabbi Lopatin with respect to gay marriage.

I believe a far better approach to political views is to look at neither conservative or liberal principles. One needs to look at the Torah as their guide and decide which direction to take based on that. This is what I do, which makes me a right leaning centrist politically.