Don’t Treat the Torah as a Collection of Left-Wing Policy Prescriptions

Jan. 25 2018

“I might not know that much Torah,” a participant in a Jewish youth program once told Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, “but I certainly can’t believe that every issue in the world comes under the general heading of ‘Justice, justice, shall you pursue.’” Yet, Salkin writes, it is twisted hermeneutics of precisely this sort that have become commonplace in all denominations of American Judaism. According to this approach, nearly every standard policy prescription of the progressive left can be read into a handful of verses like the one cited above or the now-ubiquitous kabbalistic term tikkun olam (repair of the world):

The problem with this has less to do with what liberal Jews say about these matters than with how such Jews justify their positions. They tend to attach Jewish texts to the issues at hand, and to do so sloppily. . . . In citing Jewish texts to bolster political stances, liberal Jews too rarely unpack what these texts meant in their original context. More rarely still do they admit to stretching their original meanings. . . .

Take, for instance, the command to “love the stranger,” which appears multiple times in the Pentateuch:

Who was the biblical stranger (ger)? Quite simply, a non-Israelite who lived within a Jewish polity, i.e., the land of Israel. Jews had to provide for the welfare of the stranger, often an impoverished laborer or artisan, “because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Let us . . . acknowledge that, as it stands, “loving the stranger” fails to offer the concrete policy prescriptions that we might want from it. That hasn’t stopped some from using the quote as a basis for [proposals regarding] immigration policy [in the U.S.]. . . . Moreover: two people might be positively disposed toward those who wish to become Americans while simultaneously disagreeing about what constitutes sensible policy on U.S. immigration at a given moment. The biblical text offers us very little guidance here, other than raising a lofty ethical standard. . . .

[I]t’s past time for us to admit that too often our political and social stances come first and are then followed by interpretations of Jewish texts that serve as retroactive justification. Today, American Jews find themselves in sociological, economic, and political environments that are wholly unlike those of the Jewish past. While we can draw on the past for inspiration, there are very few policy recommendations to be found there.

What would happen if we reversed the preferred order of the day? If we first approached the Jewish texts themselves, wandered into the rabbinic tradition and later commentaries, and then discerned what our social and political stances might be?

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More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Tikkun Olam, Torah

The Democrats’ Anti-Semitism Problem Involves More Than Appearances

Jan. 22 2019

Last week, the Democratic National Committee formally broke with the national Women’s March over its organizers’ anti-Semitism and close associations with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Also last week, however, the Democratic leadership gave a coveted seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to the freshman congresswoman Ilhan Omar—a supporter of boycotts of Israel who recently defended her 2012 pronouncement that “Israel has hypnotized the world” to ignore its “evil doings.” Abe Greenwald comments:

The House Foreign Affairs Committee oversees House bills and investigations pertaining to U.S. foreign policy, and it has the power to cut American arms and technology shipments to allies. So, while the Democrats are distancing themselves from anti-Semitic activists who organize a march every now and then, they’re raising up anti-Semites to positions of power in the federal government. . . .

There is no cosmetic fix for the anti-Semitism that’s infusing the activist left and creeping into the Democratic party. It runs to the ideological core of intersectionality—the left’s latest religion. By the lights of intersectionality, Jews are too powerful and too white to be the targets of bigotry. So an anti-Semite is perfectly suitable as an ally against some other form of prejudice—against, say, blacks or women. And when anti-Semitism appears on the left, progressives are ready to explain it away with an assortment of convenient nuances and contextual considerations: it’s not anti-Semitism, it’s anti-Zionism; consider the good work the person has done fighting for other groups; we don’t have to embrace everything someone says to appreciate the good in him, etc.

These new congressional Democrats [including Omar and her fellow anti-Israel congresswoman Rashida Tlaib] were celebrated far and wide when they were elected. They’re young, outspoken, and many are female. But that just makes them extraordinarily effective ambassadors for a poisonous ideology.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, BDS, Congress, Democrats, Nation of Islam, Politics & Current Affairs