For Jews, politics is not a mere avocation, it is the centerpiece element of their story.
As we approach the November elections, we find the emergence of two distinctive political camps within the American Jewish world. If Jonathan Woocher’s notions of an “American Jewish civil religion” held measure during the decades of the 1960s to the 1980s, then a new iteration of a defining Jewish political culture has emerged in these initial years of the 21st century.
Jewish voters know the scene well. Politicians show up at our synagogues, community events and Jewish homes for the aging—all talking up “Jewish values,” all trying to speak the language of the Jewish community.
This election season, we are seeing more of the same. Yet the trick for our community and congregations is to decipher who really means it. It is to judge our political figures not by how well they can pronounce certain Hebrew terms, but how effectively they act on our shared values.
This has been the season of remembrances. Twice in the past few weeks we have recited the Yizkor prayer in the synagogue in memory of relatives and friends no longer with us. And throughout the holy days the liturgy concentrated on our need — and God’s — to remember. We remembered our deeds, prayed for forgiveness and hoped for God’s selective memory to see the good in us and not the bad.
I’ve had many experiences in Jewish pluralistic settings, including social and prayer programs and camps, so I thought I was prepared to lead a pluralistic service trip for American Jewish teens this past summer. But I was in for an unpleasant surprise, one that has shaken my beliefs about religious tolerance among our own people.
In the upcoming election, the nation faces a choice of two candidates who present contrasting positions on virtually every meaningful issue. They see America differently and would lead the country along different paths. It is hard to recall another time when the differences were so divergent or important.
When I read or hear comments expressing suspicion of President Obama’s motives regarding the security of Israel, sometimes by people I respect and admire, I’m incredulous. The phrase “brainwashed” comes to mind. An individual who is brainwashed clings to his/her beliefs irrespective of any contrary evidence. It’s a “my country, my leader, my people, right or wrong” view of the world. Blindly embracing these beliefs is usually perceived as loyalty.
Two findings on intermarriage highlight the “New York Jewish Community Study of 2011.” First, there is a huge amount of intermarriage, and it is continuing; between 2006 and 2011, half of the non-Orthodox couples formed were intermarried couples. Second, measured by the study’s index of Jewish engagement, the intermarried score low, but those that do engage act comparably to the in-married. The critical question is, what attracts interfaith families to engage Jewishly?
Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein (1866-1934) was widely considered to be one of the more impressive Talmud scholars of his generation. In his “Levush Mordechai” (Ch. 30) he writes, “If anyone were to suggest doing metzitzah with the mouth, we would say the worst things about him because there is nothing more disgusting [than] placing a wounded [bleeding] organ into the mouth. Especially that organ.” His conclusion, however, is that “since it is a mitzvah, there is justification.”
There’s a lot of talk about Wall Street these days. Once upon a time I worked on Wall Street. Actually I worked in private equity, which means that I invested (other people’s money) in businesses hoping to grow them. Together with my partners, I did really some good things back in those days: I invested in businesses that grew and added to the GNP. I invested in businesses that grew and provided more jobs for people. I invested in businesses that made money for pension fund investors so that they could pay pensions to their participants.