December 17, 2017

ONE OF THESE THINGS IS NOT LIKE THE OTHERS:

Exploring the Bonds of Judaism and Conservatism (Peter Berkowitz, December 08, 2017, Real Clear Politics)

For their part, American Jews have much for which to be grateful. A people accustomed since antiquity to life on the margins in the best of circumstances and, in ordinary times, to vicious persecution as a daily menace, Jews have prospered spectacularly in America. Emancipated from legal liabilities and social opprobrium, they have risen to the top of most every profession. The age-old scourge of anti-Semitism has been largely relegated to the fringes of American society (though the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement on American campuses lends credence to the supposition that anti-Zionism is the new guise of anti-Semitism). 

Nevertheless, American Judaism is rent by division and discord. It has long comprised three movements -- Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox -- with a fourth, the ultra-Orthodox, steadily growing in size and influence. The movements disagree, and sometimes bitterly, about the legitimacy of intermarriage, the laws of conversion, and the status of women in religious ritual and public life. 

Over the last few decades, moreover, a perilous rift has opened among American Jews on the question of Israel. More and more Reform Jews are estranged from the Jewish state because it continues to control approximately 3 million West Bank Palestinians. In contrast, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews tend to think that the territories they call by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria rightfully belong to Israel and are crucial to the country's ability to defend itself from the jihadist threat that surrounds it. 

The co-chairs of the Conference on Jews and Conservatism -- Roger Hertog, president of the Hertog Foundation and chairman of the Tikvah Fund (I teach for both); Eric Cohen, Tikvah's executive director; and Aylana Meisel, Tikvah's director of strategic initiatives -- are acutely aware of the challenge. They believe, however, that the ties that bind the traditions present a golden opportunity. As Cohen and Meisel argued in a 12,000-word manifesto in Commentary magazine that launched the movement, "Like Judaism itself, conservatism still honors the importance of fidelity to tradition, communal obligation, and the role of religion in sustaining a moral society." 

The conference's major speeches and policy breakout sessions reflected the fledgling movement's core principles. These include the embrace of individual freedom, human equality, and civic responsibility along with dedication to the preservation of a distinctively Jewish way of life and the celebration of the achievements of Jewish civilization. In addition, the JLC seeks to protect religious liberty for all. It aims to defend parents' right to educate their children in schools that reflect their religious beliefs. It undertakes to bolster enduring marriages and strong families built around the gift and responsibilities of raising children. And it champions Israel as the sovereign nation-state of the Jewish people and as America's strategic and moral ally. 

While much of that is worthwhile, the notion that sovereignty can be based on racial identity is neither conservative nor American. Indeed, a state of Israel that remained democratic even as Jews became a minority would retain its sovereignty, while one that abandoned democracy would not.

Posted by at December 17, 2017 11:08 AM

  

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