Daniel Gordis's Hapless Americans Aren't Quite so Hapless

Awareness of tragedy and evil doesn’t necessarily engender vigor and resilience—it can just as plausibly nurture fatalism and a sense of helplessness.

A team prepares meals at the Temple Israel synagogue kitchen in Boston on Sept. 1, 2020. David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

A team prepares meals at the Temple Israel synagogue kitchen in Boston on Sept. 1, 2020. David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images.

Response
Oct. 19 2020
About the author

Shalom Carmy teaches Bible and Jewish philosophy at Yeshiva University and is an affiliated scholar at the university’s Cardozo law school. He is also the editor emeritus of Tradition, a journal of Orthodox thought.


In “How America’s Idealism Drained Its Jews of Their Resilience,” Daniel Gordis holds that American Jewry suffers from not being resilient in crisis. He offers two reasons. One is that popular American culture is largely predicated on unearned optimism and is thus unprepared for bad outcomes or intractable challenges and hostility; Jews who think this way are at a loss when confronted by perennial hatred and violence against them. The other is that liberal trends in Judaism have downplayed the particularistic elements in Judaism in the name of universalism. In North America it is Orthodoxy that has preserved a more realistic awareness of living in a difficult and often tragic world and it is Orthodoxy that has sustained the traditional awareness of the glory and danger inseparable from Jewish singularity. As for Israel, Gordis is willing to treat non-Orthodox Jews together with the Orthodox.

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