14 September 2005

American Jewry: Serving Two Masters

"Conservatism is not an ideology, but stands against ideologies... The conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: Human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent." - Russell Kirk

Main Entry: ide·ol·o·gy :
1: visionary theorizing
2 a : a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture
b : a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture
c : the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program

How can Conservatism, defined as a belief in the permanence of an objective moral order and a constant human nature, not be considered an ideology, as defined in Webster's Dictionary? Granted, these assertions don't necessarily constitute a sociopolitical program in the strictest of terms; they can, however, act as the foundation for such a program. Even so, conservatism can be considered a manner of groupthink that contains a vision theorizing how the world operates, thereby making it an ideology.

This definition of conservatism, quoted in a recent book review on TownHall.com, highlights one of my growing concerns regarding the Conservative movement in America, post-2004 Election. The vocabulary of this definition leads the reader to believe conservatism to be some sort of faith, risen above the earthly "ideologies" of politics and political movements. When any political idea becomes a concept someone "believes" or puts faith in, that political idea transcends the threshold of governance and enters the world of the divine, a place where no political ideology belongs.

So, what does this mean for the Jews of America who identify with the Conservative movement(s)? It brings us back to the eternal wrestling match of the diaspora: Soul v. World, or rather Ruach v. Olam Hazeh. How do we, Israel, negotiate between our faith in G-d and our actions and interactions in this world? When a political ideology becomes a religious belief, where and how do we draw the line?

Diaspora Israel, from its nascence, has trod from one extreme to the other in the "drawing the line" spectrum. Extremely right-wing Orthodox Jews embraced the legalism of the Torah to such an extent that some sects completely cut themselves off from gentile society, while extremely left-wing, often atheistic Jews have become both followers and leaders of radical political ideologies in the gentile world, thereby cutting themselves off from the House of Israel. The most obvious example of this can be found in the convention of the Socialist movement by Jewish-born Karl Marx. Rebuking his Jewish inheritance, Marx sought human answers to human questions, developing what would be the most pagan-oriented political movement in world history.*

The most diverse shades of grey in the assimilatory spectrum can be found among the history of American Jews, who range from the socially conscious Roosevelt Democrats who often proved to be the most assimilated of the bunch, to the more modern-day Jewpublicans, who tend to identify with both Conservative and Orthodox Judaism. While these groups are far from protesting along Wall Street or davening in the closet, they nevertheless exemplify the same traits inherent in Israel's Diaspora mindset, traits defined by the very meaning of our name as a people: Israel, or, "struggles with G-d."

Truthfully, we are no different in the Diaspora than our ancestors were when they lived in the land 3,000 years ago. Today we seek to fit into the gentile mold around us. We claim earthly leaders, we disregard Torah, we justify pagan behaviors, and we turn our back on G-d to worship idols. Of course, our contemporary actions don't have quite the same Biblical ring to them. Voting for a President doesn't sound unBiblical, and, of course, it is not. After all, HaShem set up a system of leaders for the nation of Israel, and declared that it was He who put leaders on their thrones. However, granting an elected official powers that superceed the authority of G-d contradicts scripture completely, proving that when the Israelites begged for a King "because other nations had kings" HaShem was right to roll His eyes in frustration.

George W. Bush garnered a sizeable, unprecedented percentage (somewhere between 35 and 40%) of the Jewish vote in the last election, despite having proposed the then-tabled "Road Map to Peace" a plan that required the redrawing of Israel's borders. When the Road Map was taken off the table and put into action shortly into Bush's second term, the same Jewish organizations that wholeheartedly supported Bush's reelection campaign either remained silent, or came out in support of redrawing the borders of Israel, and evicting Jews from their homes. Why?

The July 4th edition (oddly enough) of the New Yorker magazine included an article titled "Real Insiders: A Pro-Israel Lobby and an FBI Sting" by Jeffrey Goldberg. Discussing the background behind the "AIPAC Scandal" that broke shortly before the 2004 Presidential elections (how someone can be accused of "spying" for an ally- arguably the greatest ally- of the United States by the United States I'll never know... sorry, Mr. Pollard) Goldberg ends his rather potent, thought-provoking piece with: The theme of this year’s AIPAC conference was “Israel, an American Value,” and, for the first time, “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, was not sung. The only anthem heard was “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Reading that reminded me of a Passover Seder I attended at a Reform household in Texas. The family had drafted their own Haggadah for the occassion. The trimmed-down version included some special features not found in the original, such as a series of rather kitschy, goyisch Pesach jokes, the type which neither Moshe, Elijah, nor HaShem would find humorous. Oh, and extra glasses of wine for everyone. The real kick of the evening was to be found on the last page of the telling-- as we "children" raised our glasses to toast L'Shanah ha'b'a b'Yerushalayim, Next Year in Jerusalem, the adults cut us off. "Why should we toast to Israel? Why do we want to go there? America is our home, and we are grateful for this! We love America! Come on, everyone- let's sing G-d Bless America!" And they did. And our jaws dropped.

I call it the Louie B. Mayer syndrome. Found commonly among American Jews between the ages of 40 and 70, this common, infectious disease can be transmitted generationally, educationally, and habitually. Symptoms include: overzealous American patriotism, an almost complete lack of identification with the Jewish religion, a desire to avoid all aspects of the Jewish culture not considered Judakitsch (pop culture approved), and a complete lack of emotion regarding or involvement with the State of Israel.

According to one writer at Arutz 7, "AIPAC unabashedly promoted [this year's] conference as being 'to support the disengagement.'" AIPAC, the organization bullied by the FBI, whose members have been accused of "spying" for America's greatest ally, was publicly turning its back on Israel at one of the most crucial junctures in her modern history. Why? To draw attention away from the scandalous spying accusations? To buddy-up to the re-elected administration in hopes of cutting a deal? To make politicians-- left and right-- happy?

AIPAC was not alone. Charles Krauthammer, one of the most infamous conservative commentators used his nation-wide platform as a syndicated op/ed writer to support the Disengagement as Israelis were being ripped from their homes in the name of "peace".

Type the word "disengagement" into the Weekly Standard search engine and you get one article where the issue is headlined. Dated June 16, 2005, and titled "Disengagement" the author ends his analysis with, "...the consequences of the pullout not happening (for any reason) would be dire and wholly unpredictable--almost as unpredictable as what Israeli politics and society will look like in September, after disengagement; if it happens." This from the publication founded by two American Jewish neoconservatives, John Podhoretz and Bill Kristol (the latter remains an editor). A minyan of Rebbes couldn't have come up with a better, more publishable non-opinion.

Ben Shapiro, new to the fame of the conservative scene and nominated by Ann Coulter to sit on the Supreme Court, said absolutely nothing about the matter. He did, however, feel free to identify with Orthodox Judaism within the promotional literature for his new book. Wait a minute. Isn't George W. Bush losing support from the American Orthodox community over the Disengagement issue?

The old joke goes, get ten Jews in a room and you'll automatically have 12 opinions. However, when it comes to Jewpublicans in the spotlight commenting on the Disengagement, you get three slightly varied shades of grey: a. pro, b. maybe, c. the kind of silence that speaks volumes, or d. all of the above.

Louie B. thought America was his savior. Judging by their actions, you'd think today's conservative American Jews have put all their faith in Republican Party politics; if there are any doubting Thomases among them, they aren't vocalising their skepticism.

The climax of the Hollywood moguls' (for it was held by more than Louie B.) faith in America was delivered by the President's messenger shortly before World War II. The message, delivered by Roosevelt friend and former U.S. ambassador Joseph Kennedy, went something like this: "Stop villifying Nazis in your movies, because if you don't, and we get involved in the war in Europe, Americans are going to blame it all on you Jews."

The denouma, however, would prove much more potent. The anti-communist witch hunts of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, that commenced before the war with the sole purpose of dethroning the Jews of Hollywood but were put on hold after Pearl Harbor, resumed after the establishment of modern Israel in 1947. Unrelated to McCarthy's investigations, HUAC (a Senate committee established and populated by virulent anti-Semites) targeted the same Hollywood Jews who had helped America win the war. This time, there was no stopping HUAC: the golden days of Hollywood were over. The Jewish studio chiefs were eventually forced out of the businesses they had built from nothing; the industry started on the downhill slope, never to reach the same pinnacle of success again.

So, what of today's conservative Jews? Will they suffer the same fate? Are they already? The Charles Krauthammers, Bill Kristols, and Ben Shapiros would probably counter the above-stated example with the argument that HUAC occurred under the democrat administrations of Roosevelt and Truman, in a desperate attempt to believe that their faith in Republicanism will save them. However, the principle remains: American Jews put their faith in a government that not only stabbed them in the back, but twisted the knife, and by all appearances, they're doing it all over again.

To any logical thinker the analogy is clear: the AIPAC investigation was the stab, the Road Map the twist. Where do American Jews draw the line between faith in government and faith in G-d? In Louie B.'s era, the stake was business. Today, the stakes are infinitely higher. American Jews are now being forced to choose their master: the United States government, or the G-d of Israel. The choice cannily insinuates a self-imposed eviction. Only, this time, the territory in question is made up of our souls.

"A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire."

*See "Marx and Satan" by Richard Wurmbrandt, as well as the biography of Karl Marx in Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals".


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