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Contentions

A Sad Mix of Judaism and Radical Politics at “Occupy Wall Street”

Last week, a self-described “new media activist” posted a Facebook event page for a Kol Nidre service at the “Occupy Wall Street” protests. The turnout the event generated, as well as the discussion it has so far provoked, are deeply troubling trends that all who care about the Jewish future would do well to take seriously.

During the years, those whose politics tend toward the right have had to accustom themselves to the unthinking sanctimony of leftists who rage against any semblance of an alliance of religion and right-wing politics (recent examples include Rick Perry’s summer prayer rally, Glenn Beck’s Washington, D.C., event, and the endless parsing of President Bush’s speech for secret evangelical codes), grandly invoking religious principles when it suits their politics. This has been the case for causes as far afield as immigration reform and environmentalism.

Rarely, however, has a movement so radical in its aims been tied so explicitly to a religious tradition as was the case with this past Friday’s service.

In case anyone might be mistaken into thinking his was simply an outreach-style undertaking for the unwashed Jewish dozens in Zuccotti Park in need of atonement, the event’s  Facebook page, supporting blog posts, and other statements by organizers make plain the venue was seen as a destination to bring Jews to, not a place where Jews simply are, as, say, when someone puts up a Shabbat tent at a Phish concert. The goal was to convince Jews not to “spend the holiday safe and warm in our cozy synagogues” but to “join the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park, and hold our Yom Kippur services there amongst the oppressed, hungry, poor and naked.”

It must be said there is of course justification to be found for specifically economic protests of a leftist variety in the prophets, perhaps most especially Isaiah. But it stretches truth far beyond the breaking point to claim such texts based on conditions in ancient Israel offer much guidance for the policy questions of our day, or impel a religious believer to a particular side of the political aisle. (Indeed, when it comes to social issues we are forever lectured against using biblical text in support of a political position, no matter how clear the text’s language.)

More often though, the organizers’ attempts to combine Judaism and today’s fashionable politics are simply incoherent, as in the bizarre twisting of the Kol Nidre oath from a personal plea into a complaint against predatory lenders. Far from blushing, they forthrightly deem being a “participant in capitalism”
a sufficient sin worthy of penitence.

The one new development this service’s organizers may have hit on is the utilization of the Jewish religious tradition in service to their radical politics. Let their successes be few, and the passage of their movement from the American Jewish scene swift.



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