Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Is Judaism Politically Conservative or Liberal?

A meeting of the Orthodox Jewish left (TOI)
I must admit being mildly amused at a new Orthodox Jewish movement in Israel calling itself  ‘Smol Emuni’ -  the left-wing faithful .  

As reported in the Times of Israel, this movement is a reaction to the rightward shift of most of mainstream Orthodox Jewry. Which is why Israel now has the most extreme right wing government in its history. By far! Obviously the left does not feel comfortable among Jews who do not share their progressive values.

The funny thing is, I get why they did this. And I even agree with some of their reasons. Among them them being upset at a more aggressive policy with respect to settling all of Eretz Yisroel… and no longer valuing the idea of land for peace. 

Land for peace is an idea embraced by leading rabbinic figures of the recent past. Like R’ Elazer Menachem Man Shach and R’ Ovadia Yosef.  This was point was driven home by Adina Bar-Shalom, R’ Ovadia Yosef’s daughter who addressed the over 600 left wing Orthodox Jews at Jerusalem’s Heichal Shlomo synagogue recently. Here is what she said: 

“Haredi society has changed its face. Nationalism and extremism have taken it over,” she said. She noted that her father, who’s still held in the highest regard among Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Israelis, supported “land for peace” initiatives with the Palestinians. “Today, you can’t mention peace,” she said. 

Indeed. Religious Zionism has gone from a position of moderation to one of extremism bereft of any  compromise.  

On the other hand, I am troubled by the Orthodox Jewish left’s embrace of values that are deeply controversial. Such as the embrace of an egalitarianism that rejects Torah based traditional values - replacing them with egalitarian values like ordaining women for the rabbinate.

As others of greater stature than I have noted in the past, Judaism should not have any modifying adjectives that risk placing it outside the orbit of Jewish values delineated in the Torah and interpreted by the sages. There ought not be Jewish feminists, Jewish Republicans or Jewish Democrats.  Our values do not align with the all the values of those or any movement that is not sourced in the Torah. 

That some of their values might align with Torah is a function of coincidence. In some - perhaps many cases their values are the opposite of the Torah. 

One may ask, if this is how I feel, why do I call myself a Centrist? I think the reason should be obvious. My values are  based on Torah values. Which  I interpret as  best as I can based on my education and life experiences -

This means that in some instances I align with political conservatives and in others I align with  political liberals. I embrace the feminist values that align with Torah values and reject those that do not. That usually places me in the center. Which is not some mathematical midpoint between the two extremes but is based on an analysis of whether an issue is in line with the Torah or not. Sometimes I end up on the right and sometimes on the left.

So as much as I am dismayed by an Orthodox movement that identifies as left wing, so too am I dismayed at an Orthodox movement that identifies as right wing. That is not what Judaism is about. But now that extremism on both ends of the political spectrum has become so popular, you would never know it. 

I think that this development is responsible for the widening chasm among observant Jewry. By our observance of the Mitzvos - we have far more that unites us than that which divides us. Instead we have right wing Orthodox organizations like CVJ calling fellow Orthodox Jews on the left a Chilul HaShem. It is why Orthodox Jews on the left embrace egalitarianism while so many Orthodox Jews on the right supported Trump. Neither of which are Jewish values.

The sad part of all this is I do not see anything changing. We apparently are so married to our left or right wing ideologies that common sense itself has disappeared. There seems to be an inability by either side to see the other side of an issue. Each claiming that the Torah is on their side. Both sides often managing to find sources in the Torah or Chazal to bolster their views. 

This is illustrated by the fact that Orthodox Jews on the right believe that the Torah forbids conceding one inch of biblical Israeli land to a non Jew. Once we have recaptured it - as in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) - we are forbidden by Jewish law to give it back under any circumstances. There are indeed Torah based sources that corroborate that view. 

On the other hand ,some of the greatest religious figures of  recent history believed that we are required us to concede land for peace if that were the way to achieve it. A position favored by the left.

Not only is this not going to change, I see it only getting worse as we drift further apart politically; away from the values of our forefathers; and continue inserting political values into scripture where they do not really exist. 

I hope I’m wrong. But I doubt it. Nevertheless I will end with the hopeful message issued at that gathering by Bar-Shalom: 

Arrogance and pride aren’t appropriate or acceptable. Friends, let’s be a bit modest. I believe in mankind, I believe in us, in the people of Israel, and in peace. Our job at this time is to put out the flames of hatred that are consuming us  

To that I say Amen.