The Election & the Jews
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz [“Politics, the Jews & the ’84 Election,” February] sees in the overwhelmingly Democratic Jewish vote in the 1984 presidential election not merely an aversion to a President who embraced the Moral Majority’s vision of a “Christian America”1 (and also, perhaps, to a compassionless politics of greed), but an imbalance in the cosmic order of things—the “alienation of the Jews as a political group from their rightful place in the American consensus” (emphasis in the original).
That is hardly surprising, for Mrs. Dawidowicz’s neoconservative colleagues have been telling us for some time now that Jewish organizations that continue their allegiance to traditional liberalism and that see the Moral Majority as a threat to American Jews not only fail to understand where the Jewish interest lies, but are out of touch with the majority of American Jews. To the great consternation of the neoconservatives, it turns out that it is they, and not Jewish organizational leadership, who are out of touch with American Jews. Indeed, we are now informed by those who only yesterday accused Jewish liberals of an arrogant elitism, that American Jews are under the spell of a “universalist mind-set” and fail to understand their own social and political interests.
Mrs. Dawidowicz argues for the absence of anti-Semitism in the religious Right. Furthermore, she asserts that the Moral Majority “speaks for religious Christians in their battle against the secularization and the debasement of moral values in contemporary life.” The Moral Majority does not pose a serious threat to the separation of church and state, according to Mrs. Dawidowicz, for the separation principle “does not entail the elimination of religion from society, [n]or does it entail the utter privatization of religion.” That, according to Mrs. Dawidowicz, is the goal of universalist Jews, secular humanists who conspire to fashion “a society in which religion is thoroughly privatized.” Presumably, Jewish organizations, including religious ones, who oppose prayer and Bible reading in our public schools are part of this secularizing conspiracy.
It is painful that so distinguished a scholar as Lucy S. Dawidowicz has allowed herself to engage in such mindless polemics. Does she really believe that the Moral Majority speaks for “religious Christians”? What about the mainline Protestant denominations, and much of the Catholic Church, who find the Moral Majority’s battles for the teaching of “scientific creationism” in our public schools, against the Panama Canal treaty, for restrictions on civil-rights protections, for increased censorship and diminished government aid to the poor—who find all of these “Christian” battles an embarrassment and a religious scandal? Aren’t they religious too?
And does Mrs. Dawidowicz really wish to give credence to anti-Semitic canards that Jews who oppose government-sponsored religion in our public schools are secularist enemies of religion who wish to corrupt the morals of American society? How strange of her to advance such mischievous notions!
Mrs. Dawidowicz’s insistence that the Moral Majority does not pose a serious threat to the separation of church and state can hardly be taken seriously. Can there be any greater threat to the separation principle than a campaign to elect “good Christians” to public office, amend the Constitution to abolish all restrictions on prayer in our public schools, and enact legislation (and constitutional amendments) that would bar abortions at any time and under any circumstances? (After all, Jewish law requires that a mother’s life take precedence over the fetus. That makes it a “free-exercise” issue.) All of these, and more, are on the agenda of the Moral Majority.
Fundamentalist Christian doctrine drains the term “Judeo-Christian”—a term very much in fashion these days among fundamentalists—of any possible significance. It is not the continuities with Judaism but the discontinuities—indeed its rejection of Judaism—that defines Christianity for the fundamentalists.
Many fundamentalists may nevertheless quite genuinely love Jews, as they insist they do, but that love is not the consequence of a sense of kinship and identity with Judaism. To the contrary, it is the exotic character of the Jew that distinguishes him in the affection of the Christian fundamentalist, as well as the hope of the Jews’ ultimate role in the establishment of Christ’s eschatological kingdom.
The welcome changes in Christian thinking with regard to Jews and Judaism described by Mrs. Dawidowicz are closely related to the rediscovery by modern Christian theology of the essential Jewishness of Christianity, not merely the historical fact that Jesus was a Jew. That kind of thinking is entirely alien to Christian fundamentalists.
Jews are not opposed to the widest possible influence of religion in society. What they oppose is government support and sanction for such religious influence. They do so not because they are enemies of religion—that notion is mischievous and defamatory—but because they understand that government sponsorship of religion would drastically alter the character of American political life, to the great disadvantage of all religious minorities, but most of all of Jews.
I agree with Mrs. Dawidowicz that the religious exclusivism of the Moral Majority does not “in itself necessarily spell anti-Semitism” (although those qualifications hardly leave much room for comfort). What it does spell, however, is a climate that is uniquely uncongenial to the cultural and religious pluralism so critical to the well-being of ethnic and religious minorities, and particularly of Jews. The absence of the pluralistic sensibility makes for an environment that is hospitable to the growth of anti-Semitism. As Mrs. Dawidowicz herself observes in the closing section of her article (a section that is strangely incongruous with everything that went before), “Judaism can flourish in an open and pluralist society.” At the very least, the religious exclusivism of the Moral Majority can fairly be said not to augur well for that openness and pluralism in which Judaism flourishes; and that, surely, is reason enough for Jews to oppose it.
In making her case for the Moral Majority and its lack of anti-Semitism, Mrs. Dawidowicz argues that the Church, which during the 19th-century struggle for liberty and political equality represented the old order which denied Jews their rights, is today no longer the enemy. “The anti-Semitism of the Christian churches has . . . dwindled to a shadow of its past,” she writes. What Mrs. Dawidowicz fails to note is that what distinguishes Christian fundamentalism from mainstream Protestantism and the Catholic Church is precisely its rejection of those modern liberal sensibilities which shaped mainline Christianity’s new understanding of Judaism, of religious conscience, and of religious tolerance and pluralism. There is an inescapable tension, if not a contradiction, between Jerry Falwell’s professions of love for Jews and his deeply-held conviction that only in Jesus can Jews find their salvation, a theological exclusivism that even the Catholic Church has modified.
The overwhelming majority of those who see such church-state issues as prayer in the public schools as a matter of overriding Jewish interest—not a “marginal issue,” as Mrs. Dawidowicz would have it—are not secularists. Mrs. Dawidowicz’s confusion on this subject is the result of a misapplication of European categories to the American experience, despite the fact that she herself calls attention to the distinction between the two experiences elsewhere in her article. European liberalism, whose enemy was the Church, was therefore decidedly secularist; but American liberalism was not only not opposed by the Church, it was invigorated by it. Opposition to government establishment of religion was not fueled by anti-clerical impulses, as it was in Europe. That is why the opposition to violations of the separation principle continues to come, in the main, from religious organizations.
I agree with Mrs. Dawidowicz that the failure of the Democratic party’s leadership to repudiate Jesse Jackson was intolerable, and should lead, for Jews, to pragmatic political consequences. Most Jewish liberals made no bones about their disgust with the spinelessness of Democratic leadership on this issue. I personally called on Walter Mondale to “screw up his courage” and repudiate Jackson, and said that if he failed to do so, he would not deserve the Presidency. I am convinced that if the alternative to Mondale had been a Republican candidate who would not have embraced Jerry Falwell, the Jewish vote would have split more evenly between the two parties. Indeed, the Jesse Jackson phenomenon could have given the Republican party an unprecedented Jewish majority, and the Democrats would have deserved fully the rejection.
But Jews understood—correctly, I believe—that of the two dangers, Falwell represents the greater, for all of his professions of love of Jews and Israel. However gutless the behavior of the Democratic leadership, including that of Mondale, no one seriously believed that they shared Jackson’s anti-Semitism. On the other hand, Reagan and the Republican party publicly declared their support of Falwell’s “Christian America,” in which prayer and Bible readings are returned to our public schools and battle is waged with “secular humanists.” Most Jews understood (is it conceivable that Mrs. Dawidowicz does not?) that for the religious Right, the term secular humanism is broad enough to accommodate Jews, all their mindless prattle about the Judeo-Christian heritage notwithstanding.
The Jewish vote for the Democratic party in 1984, far from suggesting some compulsive and irrational universalist mind-set, represented a hard-nosed assessment by American Jews of where their interests lie.
American Jewish Congress
New York City
To the Editor:
As a Zionist and social democrat who voted the Democratic ticket in 1984, I appreciate Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s honest analysis of the position of American Jews in the recent election. I stress “honest” because she forthrightly raises issues that troubled many Jews: the Democratic party’s shabby failure to repudiate the Jackson-Farrakhan combine explicitly and its pussyfooting on quotas in particular. How about Israel? I shall not pretend that I cast my ballot with an easy heart or full conviction. Many of my veteran political comrades were uncertain as to their choice to the last. Consequently, cries of outrage at Mrs. Dawidowicz’s prescription for American Jewry should take into account that more Jews were tempted to vote the Republican ticket than succumbed. The election results do not reflect the measure of hesitation that preceded entry into the voting booth.
This confession, however, should not be construed as an admission of error. A path is chosen for its ultimate direction rather than the number of potholes on the way. I do not propose to reargue the issues of the last election, but it is a mistake to assume that Jews ignored the legitimate areas of their concerns when they interpreted their interests as safer with the Democratic party. An explanation of the Jewish voting pattern by reference to a “misguided and ossified universalism” may hold good for American Jews still enthralled by the Left. But what about the larger number of Jews who long ago abandoned a spurious internationalism and vigorously assert the morality of Jewish nationalism among the plethora of nationalisms espoused by the Third World? How about Jewish liberals who from the 30’s on steadily sought to expose the anti-Semitic, despotic character of Stalinism at a time when many a current neoconservative was still wearing ideological blinkers? A “universalist mind-set” does not explain the average American Jew, emotionally pro-Israel, innocent of messianic fantasies, who preferred the “liberal agenda” while objecting to particular aspects of the Democratic campaign.
Jewish apprehension about the role of religious fundamentalists in the Reagan administration did not stem from fear that they “threaten the dream of universalist Jews.” Jewish emancipation went hand in hand with the separation of church and state. True, the flourishing Jewish life that resulted had, as a corollary, assimilation. But to suggest that “secular emancipated Jews” oppose the Moral Majority because they yearn for a “mythic brotherhood” is hardly tenable. The most assertively Jewish achievement of our time, the foundation of the state of Israel, was carried out by stridently secular, emancipated pioneers who settled Palestine. In the United States, secular, emancipated Jews are in the forefront of the advocacy of Jewish rights and of support for Israel.
Jews mistrust the gospel call for a “Christian America,” though Jerry Falwell may personally be amiable and well-disposed, because they have a long historic memory. They know that exhortations for a “Christian nation” have generally heralded the brutal abandonment of Christian tenets. Today the most vicious hate-mongers of the extreme Right automatically include “Christian” and “white” in their specifications for national redemption. If, as Mrs. Dawidowicz rightly points out, the anti-Semitism of the Right is less virulent and persuasive than that emanating from Soviet Russia, it is because in a great democracy bigotry is given no sanction by virtue of constitutional rights, among them the separation of church and state.
While the support of evangelicals for Israel is a welcome by-product, its rationale is reminiscent of John Adams’s approval of Mordecai Noah’s grandiose plan for the restoration of the Jews in 1818: “I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent Nation.” Once restored, Adams hoped that in time they might become “liberal Unitarian Christians.” As fundamentalists promise that the wars of Gog and Magog must precede the conversion of the Jews, their vision of the Jewish future is even less reassuring than that of Adams.
In comparing Jesse Jackson’s unsuccessful candidacy for the Democratic nomination with the enthusiastic embrace of the Moral Majority by the President, Jews reasonably concluded that the latter was potentially more dangerous. They also concluded that the fragmentation of the United States into religious groups was as divisive as the emergence of competing ethnic blocs and as inimical to American democracy. Perhaps more so, because the enhancement of the majority gave power to the already powerful.
Why did an affluent group follow the voting pattern of the poor and the blacks, thereby, according to Mrs. Dawidowicz, indicating their “alienation” from the “national consensus”? Consensus seems too ambitious a designation for an election result or even an undeniable trend. Were Jews who voted for successful Democratic gubernatorial candidates alienated? Would Republican Jews be dismissed as alienated if the Democrats were to win? The dismal implication of this diagnosis is that only those on the winning side are properly integrated into American society. Must Jews nervously bet on an election like a horserace to prove that they belong?
I have already mentioned that Jews advocated the primacy of individual versus group rights and support for Israel with a vigor that Mrs. Dawidowicz underestimates. And it should be noted that Walter Mondale’s record in regard to Israel, unlike Carter’s, was impeccable. The national debate also revolved around large questions of nuclear war, social justice, abortion, equitable taxation, the deficit. Indifference to these issues would have betrayed a tragic alienation. To many of us the course outlined by Mondale and Mario Cuomo seemed more rational as well as more generous than the mellifluous Social Darwinism of Reagan. As for Israel, I put greater faith—without undue illusions—in a principled conviction of the justice of the Zionist case than in the calculations of shifting military alliances.
In voting as they did, Jews were not lemmings driven pathologically to self-extinction. Rather, they showed characteristic intellectual independence, a readiness to forgo a better tax break in favor of broader national and international concerns, and an instinctive reverence for a Jewish tradition older than the “dream” of the French Revolution—that of prophetic Judaism. Should they lose these qualities, Jews will finally be thoroughly alienated from the essence of Judaism and of American democracy.
Santa Monica, California
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz, whose The War Against the Jews, 1933-1945 gave her national prominence, has a new campaign. Jews were told to be a nation of priests and a holy people; now she wants the Jews to become a Republican lobby group. Her reasons, briefly, are these: anti-Semitism on the Left is worse than the anti-Semitism of the Right; Republicans may be counted upon to support Israel; Democrats will propose domestic quotas that will inevitably disenfranchise the Jews. These are genuine concerns, yet for Jews to abandon a social agenda that reaches back not just to Al Smith, as the Jewish New Right seems to think, but to the 8th-century B.C.E. prophets, would be a terrible dereliction.
Maybe the sort of religious naiveté I represent will not appeal to all Jews, but then again, neither did that of the prophets.
Like Mrs. Dawidowicz or Letty Cottin Pogrebin (“Anti-Semitism in the Women’s Movement,” Ms, June 1982), I was shocked by the new anti-Semitism of the New Left. Unlike them, I wasn’t surprised. Or dissuaded. Mrs. Dawidowicz implies that Jews who remain liberal are helping anti-Semitism. This could be, perhaps, maintained in syllogistic logic, but I don’t think it translates well into metaphysics. If the Left should declare a partiality for air, should Jews stop breathing? . . .
I don’t expect blacks to be philo-Semitic either, but for different reasons. Jewish “charity” to blacks is well known. The recipients of charity may be grateful, but there is always an undercurrent of resentment. Too bad Jews couldn’t practice the highest form of charity—suggested by Maimonides—and arrange it so that neither the givers nor the recipients knew each other.
I am also impressed with James Baldwin’s reading of black attitudes toward Jews stemming from the Ocean Hill-Brownsville scuffle of the late 60’s. He suggests that if blacks are anti-Jewish it’s because they’re anti-white and Jews are the handiest white group to dislike. Jews sell real estate to blacks and, until recently, don’t fight back when attacked. What’s more, they holler bloody murder and that attracts attention in the wider white world. If one is fighting for a spot on the six o’clock news, attacking Jews is a good way to get it.
People who know people who know Jesse Jackson tell me that he really is anti-Semitic. That would be unfortunate, but it cannot deter me from fighting for justice for all, including Jesse Jackson, Reggie Jackson, and Michael Jackson. Mrs. Dawidowicz chides Jews for not, to a person, abandoning the Democrats because they didn’t dump Jackson; he thinks they did.
Using Jackson’s gaffe as a smokescreen, Mrs. Dawidowicz camouflages the more serious remark of Bailey Smith that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.” She is right when she says this is not an anti-Jewish statement. Smith could have said Muslim or Hindu (perhaps even Catholic?) in place of Jewish. The fact is, however, that he didn’t, and the theological sophistication of his statement will be lost on many Bible Belt folks for whom, after all, Muslims and Hundus are exotic foreigners, maybe even heathens, but who “know” why Jews are particularly unable to gain God’s attention. And it’s not because some of their prayers are in Aramaic. . . .
In order to sustain her position, Mrs. Dawidowicz downplays the recent upsurge in conservative insistence on prayer in public schools. The problem may appear trivial to Jews whose children’s schools close on Yom Kippur, but it has a different feel in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where my son’s classmates cannot pronounce his name (Ephraim) correctly. Recently the president of our borough council wrote a none-too-literate letter to the local paper deploring the fact that the ACLU had pressured Carlisle to prevent Gideon New Testaments from being distributed in school, as is done in the surrounding communities.
America is home to many Christians; it is not a Christian nation. Clever conservative arguments to the effect that our Founding Fathers, unlike their French revolutionary counterparts, did not intend that we privatize our faith do not go to the heart of the matter. . . . Prayer in public schools is a concession none of us should be willing to endorse. . . .
Harry Truman . . . recognized the state of Israel eleven minutes after it was proclaimed. Maybe his motives weren’t simon pure; neither, I’m sure, were the motives of Nixon and Kissinger when they stalled the Israeli army in 1973. The Democrats’ track record on Israel since 1945 is certainly no worse than the Republicans’.
Will the Democrats give us quotas? I cannot find anybody around here under state level who has even heard of the proposal. In other words, it remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the present administration has given us Watt and Burford, Donovan and Meese, B-l and Star Wars. Jews, like other Americans, have more than one item on their agenda. To imply otherwise, as Mrs. Dawidowicz does, gives aid and comfort to the anti-Semites who claim that Jews have a double loyalty. Even worse, perhaps, because she wants Jews to give their first loyalty to Israel. My heart . . . is in Jerusalem, but I live here.
No Jewish argument is complete these days without reference to some bit of East European wisdom. Mrs. Dawidowicz extols Schneur Zalman of Lyady, who rooted for the Czar against Napoleon because he correctly foresaw that where Napoleon triumphed Jews would inevitably have it too easy and consequently forsake God. By the same logic, she must be happy that the liberal Czar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881 because that brought on so much salutary oppression. . . .
Whether pogroms brought Russian Jews closer to God I cannot say. They did, thank God, bring almost two million Jews to the United States where they are now able to aid those left in Russia, Ethiopia, or Israel. I do not see that becoming Republican is the only or the best way to do this.
Stanley N. Rosenbaum
Department of Classics and Religion
To the Editor:
I would hope that Lucy S. Dawidowicz is correct in her estimate that “most Jews who voted Democratic believed that they were voting for the age-old liberal agenda, for the extension of rights to those still deprived of them.” Surely there is nothing discreditable about voting for such an agenda, but I submit that she has overlooked other issues of concern, issues that reveal serious shortcomings in the Republican program.
The Reagan administration, for all its trumpeting, failed to produce a single foreign-policy success. Its Middle East program was a tragic disaster; its Central American policy has been an embarrassment to our NATO allies . . .; and our refusal to accept judgment in the World Court did nothing to enhance American prestige.
Our domestic policies, likewise, have been suspect. Looking behind the Republican façade of America as a “shining city upon a hill” with a flourishing economy and a bright future, many Jews perceived an administration during whose first term more people were unemployed, more banks failed, more farms were foreclosed, and more businesses bankrupted than in any comparable period since the Great Depression. They also saw six million more Americans fall below the poverty line and wondered whether it was worth going $800 billion deeper into debt for so questionable an achievement.
On the Jewish agenda, Mrs. Dawidowicz cavalierly dismisses the anti-Semitism of right-wing fundamentalists, accepting their disclaimers without question and ignoring their obvious resolve to create a Christian America. Furthermore, she overlooks such anti-Israel stalwarts in the Republican camp as Jesse Helms in order to focus upon the bigotry of Jesse Jackson and the growth of black anti-Semitism. All are equally reprehensible, and both parties are culpable for enlisting such support. . . .
Mrs. Dawidowicz takes issue with Democratic affirmative-action programs as a means of effecting economic redistribution, and applauds the unanimity with which Jewish organizations have opposed them. But she fails to take into account that these same organizations have themselves consistently and properly fought against discrimination to their own constituency. Should other groups be denied that privilege? . . .
I understand the misgivings with which Mrs. Dawidowicz views quotas, because traditionally they have been abused to the detriment of Jews. I must disagree, however, with her wholesale denunciation of quotas as a threat to American survival. Quotas are simply a means to an end. They should be condemned when they frustrate the democratic process, not when they are intended to correct injustices within it. . . .
But is it not an indisputable fact that the solution to our racial problems depends largely upon greater access to employment and educational opportunities for our disadvantaged minorities? And are not affirmative-action quotas among the few substantive means for providing such access? Do quotas pose so great a threat to the Jewish community that Jews cannot extend a hand to their less fortunate neighbors, so they may stand erect and with a measure of dignity? Are Jews to abandon them and condemn yet another generation of blacks, Hispanics, and Asians to the bleak and shabby lives that have entrapped their parents? . . .
Mountain View, California
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz must be under the impression that the Democratic party is a leftist revolutionary organization, while the Republicans stand conservatively for flag and family and are at the same time the party of prosperity.
Even though Mark Twain may have once thought the Jews have no political savvy, they are intelligent enough to see through the Madison Avenue propaganda machine. . . . Jewish voters must have been scared of the enormous trade and budget deficits which have led in the past to economic collapse and astronomic inflation when the day of reckoning came. . . . The Jews may also have been dubious about Ronald Reagan’s phony religiosity which he used to gain the support of the religious Right. They also knew about the bigots and hatemongers who hid behind the Moral Majority but were present to the last man at the prayer breakfast at the Republican convention in Dallas. They may also have questioned why, when the Republicans talk of getting Uncle Sam off our backs, the government should be permitted to interfere in matters of abortion and even pry into citizens’ bedrooms. . . .
When the Jews weighed the Reagan administration’s position on Israel and the Middle East, many wondered if there really were a foreign policy. While Jeane Kirkpatrick was definitely pro-Israel, Caspar Weinberger was not. Our government bungled badly during the Lebanon episode by stealing the victory from the Israelis. Those who listened closely to the news were aware that our foreign-policy successes were unspectacular when compared with our foreign-policy failures. . . .
To sum up: there were more than stereotyped voting patterns involved in the Jewish vote in 1984.
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s article was very illuminating, particularly to a non-Jew such as myself. Among the passages I found most interesting was the one concerning the religious consequences of the Six-Day War. A myth has grown up around the war to the effect that Israel was in mortal danger at that time and, as Mrs. Dawidowicz writes, that its victory was a miracle.
I was stationed in the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv then as Deputy Chief of Mission. We kept close contact with Israeli forces and from our posts in the Arab countries we also gained a pretty clear idea of the kind of opposition Israel would meet once the fighting started. The general guess in the embassy was that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would require at most a week to demolish the Arab armies. It actually took the Israelis one day less than that.
The result was a foregone conclusion from the moment that the fighting started with the Israeli surprise air attack which destroyed most of the Egyptian air force on the ground. Israel’s life did not hang in the balance. If a miracle occurred, it was the meticulous training and preparation for war by the Israeli armed forces. They were fully mobilized and ready to move when Defense Minister Moshe Dayan gave the word. The poorly trained, poorly motivated, and poorly led Arab forces were no match for the IDF.
It is difficult to understand why the myth that Israel was in real danger has evolved. Mrs. Dawidowicz suggests a partial answer. The war apparently came at a time when there was a need to regenerate faith among many Jews. In satisfying that need, the nature of the actual war became transformed and unconsciously elevated into a miraculous event.
William N. Dale
U.S. Ambassador (ret.)
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz makes a reasoned and civil, if politically partisan, criticism of Jewish voting patterns, but what I am especially struck by after reading her article is the profound ambivalence among five or six million American Jews concerning their religious identity, and the perplexing effect that internal crisis continues to have upon their response, as voters, to external events. It follows, I think, that until a substantial number of Jews resolve in their own minds and agree on what it means to be Jewish, and on what the Jewish role in America is to be, their collective behavior at the polls will remain a mass of contradictions.
I am not sure how long this consensus will take to form or how it will be reached, if ever. Right now the field is wide open. How do American Jews define themselves? As participants in the biblical covenant—Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform? As supporters of the state of Israel? As descendants of Jews? As non-Christians? As seekers after messianic redemption? As neoconservatives, secular humanists, gays, feminists, socialists, libertarians? And how can one frame a political agenda for “Jews” if “Jew” may as a practical matter mean any one or more of these things, or a myriad of others, as indeed seems to be the case in America? I don’t feel I am exaggerating the problem.
I think Mrs. Dawidowicz would like to discover and help develop an integral contemporary Judaism, or at least Jewishness, along with its secular political manifestation—perhaps (though here I may be way off base) something akin to the Moral Majority or the efforts of the Catholic bishops. Understandably, she wants to rescue Jews from extremes: from the formless vacuity of universalism, from the dense insularity of fundamentalist Orthodoxy. That is a noble undertaking with which many would undoubtedly sympathize, but, as she surely knows, to effect such a self-transformation is an enormous task. . . . The task is further complicated, as she herself implicitly acknowledges, by the fact that religious Jews have traditionally viewed themselves as separate to the point of isolation; their secularized counterparts often seem to relish being merely marginal. . . .
I do not mean to be entirely pessimistic. Zionism and the state of Israel, having reintroduced the Jews qua Jews to history, have now been cross-fertilized by the more traditional religiosity of the Diaspora, as Amnon Rubenstein suggests in his recent book, so that what may be emerging is a new Jewish synthesis, revolving around the state of Israel but capable of enunciating sectarian values and objectives within a secular context. Perhaps as American Jews, as participants in this dialectic, gain an increasing sense of their own unique worth as purveyors of a spiritual truth, they will act less as onlookers, supplicants, and vicarious stand-ins for alien causes and more as affirmants of specifically Jewish interests. This will no doubt be a difficult process, but to the extent it succeeds in returning to the Jews of America a heightened sense of unity and resolve, it will be little short of revolutionary. . . .
Seth A. Halpern
Scarsdale, New York
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s “Politics, the Jews & the ’84 Election” is insightful and refreshing. However, her remarks at the end of the article deserve a somewhat critical response from at least one member of the Orthodox wing of the Jewish people. . . .
The tradition of Jewish religious separatism does not derive from Jewish memories of life in Europe, as Mrs. Dawidowicz suggests, but has its source at Sinai, in the timeless traditions of the Jewish people. Jewish religious separatism in the United States in 1985 is not a half-baked nostalgic reaction to 19th-century European persecution, but rather the practice of a spiritual value which has as its purpose the preservation of the Jews as a holy nation. The Hebrew word for “holy,” kadosh, has the equal and simultaneous meaning of “separate.”
Mrs. Dawidowicz asserts that Jews “need to know the art of politics as well as the books of the Torah.” I wonder whether this is true. My reading of Jewish history informs me that whenever Jews have become enthusiastic about political movements, those same movements have inevitably turned against the Jews with a vengeance. In this century alone, we have witnessed the tragic failure of German assimilation, the emergence of political Marxism into a deadly anti-Semitic force, and in this country, with the apparent acquiescence of the Democratic party, the illogical rise of black anti-Semitism. Politics has been a cruel lover when the Jews have become enamored.
Jewish political activism has not sustained the Jews throughout their age-old historical journey. As numerous civilizations have waxed mightily only to disintegrate and vanish into nothingness, it has been the Torah, specifically the study of the Torah, which has preserved the Jewish people against all logic, and which continues to sustain and nourish the most viable and only segment of the world Jewish population which is growing in numbers.
Michael A. Koplen
New York City
To the Editor:
Toward the end of her otherwise excellent article, Lucy S. Dawidowicz expresses her disappointment with religious Jews: “America . . . has demonstrated that Judaism can flourish in an open and pluralistic society. Does this not justify a greater confidence, on the part of the religious Jews, in America?”
To reply: in that “open and pluralist society” only the Orthdox Jews have flourished, and then only in reaction to the licentiousness and tawdriness around them. Other Jews are busy assimilating, justifying every excess on the basis of aesthetics, and voting Democratic.
Earlier Mrs. Dawidowicz noted that “. . . Orthodox Jews tended to vote Republican.” Surely this is a sign of maturity—if not of enlightened self-interest. Orthodox Jews don’t mind that evangelicals might believe that “God doesn’t hear the prayers of the Jews.” That’s their problem, not ours. It goes with the territory—that is, anti-Semitism is a given. It’s the fact of discrimination that outrages me. . . .
As for that “. . . Jewish intellectual [who] expressed his attitude toward the United States with singular frankness: ‘No country on earth has been better to the Jews than the United States; but it is not our country,’ ” why be so upset? He is merely stating the obvious Orthodox Jewish position: God did not give the United States to the Jews; He gave the land of Israel. In short, we are sojourners in the land. . . .
Those of us who have raised our children appropriately, and have seen them make aliyah, know that it is only a matter of time until we follow them. Until then, we will deal honestly with our fellow men, obey the laws of the land, and continue to act in a responsible manner (read vote Republican). That is, we will give our votes to those whose actions (taken on balance) appear to be most consonant with our long-term interests.
U. Harold Males
University Heights, Ohio
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz is right to be disappointed in the Jewish vote for Reagan last year, but she omits several important reasons why more Jews did not vote Republican. The first is timing: the New Testament faux pas at the Republican convention and Senator Laxalt’s “Fellow Christian” letter came several months after Jesse Jackson’s anti-Semitic remarks and pseudo-apology. The second reason is the unfortunate fact that most American Jews do not see affirmative-action quotas as a danger to themselves, their group, or their nation. They view reverse discrimination as a temporary burden, a kind of racial reparations for slavery and segregation. . . . A third reason Jews voted for Mondale is the fact that they could vote with their hearts rather than their heads without its costing them anything. They knew Reagan would (and should) win anyway, so why not say “thank you” to a decent man who had been their friend before he lost his way?
But unless the Democratic party comes back to the political Center before 1988, a majority of American Jews will join Mrs. Dawidowicz and me in saying “thank you” and “goodbye” to the party of their fathers.
To the Editor:
I find myself in substantial agreement with Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s fine article. However, I believe she has not sufficiently emphasized the influence of the church-state issue generally on Jewish voters. . . . I believe that without this issue, the majority of Jews would have voted for Reagan. . . . Many Jews, however, would still have voted for Mondale. Such people were merely following the voting patterns of their grandparents and parents, . . . though the reasons for the earlier votes no longer exist, and, in fact, have not existed for many years.
Similarly, in the past Jews perceived that there was greater anti-Semitism among conservatives than among liberals. They may have been right, but things are different today. My son has just received job offers from three large, establishment Chicago law firms that did not have a Jewish lawyer in their ranks when I graduated from law school in 1958. . . . The fact is that doors that were closed a generation ago are now wide open to Jews; but these doors would not be open very wide under a system of quotas. . . . It is groups on the Left that now espouse programs that are either openly-anti-Semitic or certainly against the present interests of Jews. . . .
There were also those Jews who said that . . . Jews should support Mondale to continue the tradition of “social consciousness” with which Jews have been identified for generations. I believe that Jews today . . . want to have programs to help needy people, and I do not believe that this feeling is any less among those Jews who voted for Reagan. 1 voted for Reagan; I do not want people to go hungry or be without shelter, but that does not mean that I, or the hundreds of thousands of Jews who voted for Reagan, should support programs that have not worked in the past to alleviate poverty and that in fact have made the problem worse. . . . Disagree with me if you will, but it is wrong for Jews to tell other Jews who voted for Reagan that we have lost our social consciences. We are looking for new ideas and programs that will work. . . .
Each generation must be guided by the past, but must also base its thinking on present realities.
Philip J. Schiller
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s article has prompted this Christian Zionist to comment. . . .
American Christian fundamentalists, who trace their spiritual ancestry back to the Puritans, Baptists, and the religiously persecuted of Europe, who fled the Old World in search of the “Promised Land,” can clearly identify with Israel’s passion for freedom, sanctuary, security, and biblical fulfillment. Thus it is historically sound and mandatory that the current resurgence of evangelical/fundamentalist social activism in the political arena bear with it this spiritual identification with the people of Israel and world Jewry in general. . . .
What is more, a powerful and elaborate system of Christian fundamentalist theology that vindicates this American-Israeli identification permeates virtually every branch of American evangelicalism. No, it does not resemble the theology of the post-Reformation Church in Europe with its church/ state systems that gave birth to indifference to the Jews and to the Holocaust of Hitler, nor is it subject to the shifting sands of political alliances so endemic within the liberal wing of the American Church. . . .
Martin E. Marty, the University of Chicago church historian, is pathetically wrong in his assertion that “Israel is about nineteenth on their [i.e., the Christian Right’s] list.” Countless statements affirm solidarity with Israel from within the fundamentalist Church—most strikingly, the much publicized support by Jerry Falwell and his declaration that the United States is free and strong today because it supports Israel and is a haven for the Jews. In 1985 alone, we have had the following statements: “America needs Israel more than Israel needs America,” Hal Lindsey (author of The Late Great Planet Earth); “If need be, we must lay down our lives for Israel,” June Hunt (daughter of H.L. Hunt); “. . . we must not waffle, but support Israel unreservedly,” Jimmy Swaggart. . . .
It is my hope and prayer that we shall discover those forums and opportunities in which our humanitarian and biblical convictions will give rise to a stronger relationship between American Jews and fundamentalist Christians, notwithstanding the differences that persist on both sides. . . .
Doulgas W. Krieger
To the Editor:
Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s superb “Politics, the Jews & the ’84 Election” stands alongside previous articles in COMMENTARY . . . as being nothing less than a document of liberation for American Jews.
How long can the mass of Jews remain quietly in the bottom of the Democratic party’s Left pocket, accepting every provocation, turning away from all concern with self-interest, and obsessively identifying with those least like them in American society? . . .
The 1984 election taught three lessons:
- The Democrats can take the majority of Jews permanently and utterly for granted, and they need not consider either Jewish views or interests. . . .
- The Republicans, who appear to be the rising political force in the United States, have little hope of reaching the bulk of Jews, even though their policies might serve Jewish interests; thus they might just as well write the Jews off. . . .
- The black community will face no rebuke and pay no price for the worsening anti-Semitism coming from within its ranks.
These are dangerous lessons. . . .
Bruce J. Schneider
Costa Mesa, California
To the Editor:
. . . Throughout the 1984 presidential campaign, I felt uneasy, oppressed, and at times threatened as a Jew by the free-floating anti-Semitism expressed by Jesse Jackson and tolerated by other Democrats, and, above all, by the absence of effective Jewish political leadership. There seemed to be no Jewish leadership at all to fight these anti-Semitic issues honestly and openly.
But I did not really understand the deeper issues until I read Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s article. As always, Mrs. Dawidowicz writes with clarity, precision, and a comprehensive knowledge of Jewish history. . . . I hope that many of us will be stimulated by her article to think about the significance of Jewish political survival and perhaps to feel less afraid to take action. . . .
Lucy S. Dawidowicz writes:
Reading myself as summarized by my critics is like looking at my reflection in a fun-house mirror.
For the sake of his students, I hope that Stanley N. Rosenbaum is a better exegete of classical texts than he is of COMMENTARY articles. I don’t think there’s anything I said that he got right. For example, he charges me with wanting Jews “to become a Republican lobby group.” But what I wrote was that American Jews ought to stake out an independent political position, “resisting an automatic commitment either to the Democrats or to the Republicans.”
Messrs. Fajans, Selig, and Rosenbaum rise to the defense of the Democratic party with recycled prose and failed political solutions. Mr. Fajans’s position on quotas is a clue to his standards of political morality: “Quotas are simply a means to an end.” The end, he leaves us with no doubt, justifies the means.
William N. Dale may deserve high marks for his prescient estimate of Israel’s military capacity in 1967, but he fails in his history. His version of the 1967 war has a disturbing ring. I would like to remind him that for months before the Six-Day War Israel had been relentlessly subjected to Arab terrorism. In May, the attacks from Syria accelerated. At about the same time Egypt demanded that the UN withdraw its Emergency Force stationed on the Egyptian-Israeli border. Egypt then blocked Israel’s access to the Straits of Tiran and moved its troops into the Sinai. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq began mobilizing their forces. On May 16, 1967, Radio Cairo declared: “The existence of Israel has continued too long. . . . The great hour has come. The battle has come in which we shall destroy Israel.”
Even as Israel mobilized its forces to defend its life against that threat of destruction, Israeli rabbis were consecrating extensive burial grounds for expected Jewish losses. That, pace Mr. Dale, was the historical reality, not a national myth. Has he noticed that the Arabs have never concealed their wish to destroy Israel, even until today? That’s why Jews everywhere hope that Israel can continue to maintain the same level of military superiority today that, fortunately, it had in 1967.
My critics address themselves for the most part to the troubling subject of church and state, the political block over which many Jews stumbled in the last election. Fearful that the assertive and aggressive political stance of evangelical Christians, as exemplified by Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, is sanctioned by President Reagan, my critics worry that somehow or other such advocacy of Christian interests in politics will bring about an establishment of Christian religion in this country. In their alarm, they have never spelled out what form they expect that establishment to take.
In their opposition to the Christian Right and to its legislative ambitions (to abolish federal funding for abortions and to introduce voluntary prayer in the public schools), my critics invoke two principles with which they hope to ward off the dangers they fear may overtake them. The first principle they adduce is this nation’s commitment to maintaining “a wall of separation between church and state,” by which they mean maintaining the present legal status of church-state issues. The second is their view of religious pluralism as the American way of life.
My critics believe that the Christian Right is undermining the “wall of separation.” The phrase is Jefferson’s, which he used in 1802 to characterize the two clauses of the First Amendment—“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It had for long been accepted that the no-establishment clause meant that Congress would not establish a national religion, or that it would make no law respecting the then-existing state religious establishments, that is, Congress would not prohibit those establishments. (The state religious establishments in Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts continued to exist into the 1820’s and 1830’s.)
That traditional reading was upset in 1947, when the Supreme Court in its Everson decision offered a radically new interpretation of those clauses. The Court then promulgated a doctrine of government neutrality not with regard to all religions—which had been the prevalent view—but vis-à-vis religion on the one hand and non-religion on the other. Everson laid the foundation for new definitions of “an establishment of religion,” which the Founding Fathers had not had in mind.
Consider the matter of Bible reading and prayer in the schools. It was only a mere twenty-two years ago, in 1963, that the Supreme Court, eight to one, in the Schempp-Murray decision, ruled that Bible reading and the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public schools were unconstitutional. That decision cited Everson as a precedent. In those not so distant days, classroom devotional exercises were conducted in about half the school systems in the country and the Bible was read in 42 percent of the school systems. Both practices were more prevalent in larger communities than in small ones, in the East and the South more than in the West and Middle West.
A Gallup poll taken a few weeks after the Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling showed that 70 percent of the respondents disapproved of it. In some places that disagreement was translated into defiance or circumvention of the decision. At best there was grudging compliance. Many school systems began to look into the possibility of substitute practices, such as voluntary prayer, silent meditation, inspirational readings, and teaching about religion.
Schempp-Murray was handed down on the eve, so to speak, of the counterculture. One might venture to say that it heralded things to come.
We are now in a new cycle of history and a changed cultural climate. As social and political circumstances have changed, so have the legal readings of the First Amendment’s no-establishment and free-exercise clauses, as well as of other matters of fundamental rights. While the Bill of Rights has remained intact since it went into force in 1791, its parts have been subjected to a variety of interpretation since then. By now everyone knows that the Supreme Court does not sit in a legal air bubble but, to cite Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., a former chairman of Americans for Democratic Action, operates as “part of our nation’s political process.”
Indeed, the Supreme Court has established its own precedents for reversing its earlier decisions. The most famous such instance is, of course, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Earlier this year, the present Court’s Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority, a case about the federal government’s right to regulate the wages of state and local employees, overturned the National League of Cities v. Usery of 1976. No one can predict whether a future Court may reverse the Everson or Schempp-Murray decisions in the course of considering a new case on a related subject. The present legal status of church-state questions is susceptible of change.
The outcry against the Schempp-Murray decision came not only from the fundamentalists and Yahoos who didn’t give a hoot for the sanctity of the Constitution. In fact, one of the decision’s severest critics then was Erwin N. Griswold, dean of Harvard Law School, an eminent constitutional lawyer. He believed that the Court should not have decided, on the basis of absolutist ideas, issues which affect “a spiritual and cultural tradition.” He argued that the no-establishment and free-exercise clauses of the First Amendment did not require that all trace of religion be kept out of any sort of public activity. “Must we deny,” he asked, “our whole heritage, our culture, the things of spirit and soul which have sustained us in the past and helped to bind us together in times of good and bad?”
Dean Griswold’s complaint addressed not only the principle of separation, but also that of religious pluralism, to which Jews give such devoted lip-service. But Griswold did so from a perspective many Jews don’t often consider—that of the Christian majority in this country. His argument in 1963 was not much different from that of many Christians in 1985, including those who, like him, honor the Constitution, including its no-establishment clause.
Religious pluralism, like the no-establishment clause, can be interpreted in different ways. For the most part, however, Jews have tended to see religious pluralism only as the accommodation of the majority to the minority. That accommodation is effected by eliminating all public manifestations of the majoritarian religion that may offend believers of minority religions or non-believers. The consequence has been that religious believers do their thing privately, within the walls of their religious institutions or at home. Only such expressions of religion or religiosity as are stripped of their particularity are tolerated in public. They are the trappings of our “civil religion.”
One would hope that our otherwise latitudinarian society would provide alternative possibilities which would allow religion into the public space of our culture. After all, we do permit public manifestations of cultural pluralism by legitimating pornography. I, for one, would prefer to see a crèche on West 42nd Street than to look at what’s there now. Jews ought to rethink what is entailed in the idea of religious pluralism. They might give some thought to how Judaism and Christianity can flourish within their own milieu and in the larger society, even in concert, in the freedom of America. Otherwise, the mechanical tribute paid to the virtues of religious pluralism has no substance.
Seth A. Halpern is right that I would like to see a more aggressively Jewish community, though not necessarily a more aggressive Jewish community. Nor would I like, thank you very much, a Jewish version of the Moral Majority.
American Jews now have, in my opinion, a unique opportunity to shape the future of American Judaism. We are entering a new period in our history. The old Jewish secularism or secular humanism (to use the dated terminology with which Henry Siegman chooses to identify the dated philosophy) has shown its bankruptcy as a viable Jewish tradition and a conduit for Jewish continuity. We have witnessed the rise and fall of at least two generations of Jewish secularists. They have lived off the capital of traditional Judaism and have by now exhausted their patrimony. It may be my own idiosyncratic view, but I believe that it is no longer sufficient to be a Jew just by supporting Israel (though that is a sine qua non for being a good Jew) or by being sentimental about Yiddish or by attending a bagels-and-lox UJA meeting. Being a Jew means something more than that. But this is not the place for a sermon.
We are now in the second decade of the extraordinary religious revival to which I alluded briefly in my article. The resurgence of religious commitment in this country, in Israel, even in the Soviet Union, and everywhere else Jews live should encourage us to define ourselves as Jews who are members of a religious community, citizens of the United States, and part of the Jewish people. Once we’re clear about who we are, then we’ll know better what counts for us.
1 For a discussion of Christian fundamentalism, see the article by Richard John Neuhaus, “What the Fundamentalists Want,” beginning on p. 41—ED.