Monday, June 21, 2021

The Orthodox Liberal

The Conservative Supreme Court - Is it good or bad for the Jews? (JTA)
One of the most perplexing things about Orthodox Jewry in America today is the segment that identifies as liberal. 

That segment is relatively small if judged by the percentage of Orthodox Jews that voted Republican in the last election. A poll cited by the Times of Israel taken just before that election showed that 83% of Orthodox Jews said they were going to vote for Trump. 

What was it about Trump that they supported? It was surely not his personality. It was far more about his policy towards Israel. But it was also a sense that the conservative polices he implemented more closely reflects their values. 

This is of course not to say that Orthodox Jews support everything the Republican party supports and oppose everything the Democratic party supports. That should certainly not be the case. I do not support Republicans on every issue. But in most cases the values they support are the values I support. 

And yet as can be easily seen right here on this blog, there are still Orthodox Jews that are diehard liberals. They will argue that the liberal values are far more closely aligned with Torah values than is conservative values.

The latest illustration of Orthodoxy siding more with conservative rather than liberal values is in a JTA article about a recent unanimous Supreme Court decision:  

Orthodox groups, driven by concerns about religious liberty, sided with Catholic Social Services. Many cheered the ruling.

“Today’s historic ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is of critical importance to the American Orthodox Jewish community,” Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s Washington director, said in a statement. “As a minority faith community in the United States, the robust legal protection for religious practice is an existential issue for us.” The Orthodox Union had joined a slate of Christian groups defending the agency.

Liberal and civil rights Jewish groups, meanwhile, expressed disappointment — but also relief that the court’s decision was narrow and unlikely to impinge on other church-state separations.

“This Supreme Court decision is a devastating loss for Philadelphia children in foster care, who are harmed when the religious beliefs of government-funded agencies override the best interests of the children,” said a statement from the National Council of Jewish Women, one of several groups to file a joint brief on behalf of Philadelphia. 

It should be quite clear from this that Orthodoxy’s perspective is politically conservative, while Heterodoxy’s perspective is politically liberal. 

Which begs the question, How can there be Orthodox Jews that more often side with Heterodoxy’s liberal approach than they do with Orthodoxy’s conservative approach? Are they less Orthodox? 

Of course they are not less Orthodox. How then does one explain why there are so many of them? Even if the above mentioned poll is accurate, that leaves 16% of us that are liberal. 

Or are they? It is quite possible that even among those of us that voted against Trump did so because of who he is. Not what he supported. But for argument’s sake, let us say that they did not vote against Trump so much as they voted for Biden - because they supported his policies. They can claim that his policies are more in line with Orthodoxy and explain why. But the plain fact is that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews disagree with them. 

The best explanation I can give for this conundrum is that  historically in America - being a liberal had always served the Jewish people better than being a conservative. Being a liberal meant seeking equality for the Jewish people in a country where subtle antisemitism prevented us from getting into good schools and universities, getting into the professions, being promoted to the top escje;omns pf corporate America, being barred from country clubs and some hotels, and generally sneered at by blue blood Republicans who in their hearts were antisemitic. 

It was the fiery liberal that stood up for us when we needed it most. Liberals helped us overcome those prejudices. They fought for our civil rights. They fought to abolish restrictive codes in schools etc. They fought against corporate polices barring us from reaching top postions. In short they fought fought for a pluralistic society that would see Jews equal to non Jews in every respect. 

Perhaps most significantly, it was the liberal that fought the subtle antisemeitc bigotry (in both parties) that characterized much of American politics back in the 40s. Policies that kept immigration quotas low so that European Jews could not escape the Holocaust. And after the Holocaust, support for Israel was also far stronger among liberals than it was among conservatives. 

It is therefore hard not to appreciate the liberal attitude that fought so diligently for the freedoms the Jewish people in America  enjoy today. I certainly do. 

Which is why I too was a liberal back in the days of JFK. His political values mostly reflected mine. But today, most of those values are held by conservatives. Liberals have moved on and found new underdogs to fight for. The more liberal one is, the more he wll fight for the Palestinians. 

Today, it is the conservative that by far supports Israel over the liberal.  The liberal will minimize the significance of that support. But the plain truth is that the more liberal one is, the more likely one will be to criticize Israel and sympathize with Palestinians. 

That should be obvious. Which is why it perplexes me that there are still Orthodox Jews that are liberal. Do they not see what I see? Do they not see what the OU sees? The OU is perhaps the largest mainstream Orthodox institution in America.  Can they not see that the values that once made them support liberals are now in the home of conservatives? 

I guess not.