April 21, 2003


How to understand freedom (Jonathan Rosenblum, Jewish World Review)
We are commanded to make our holy days contemporary. As the Haggada puts it, "In every generation each person is required to view himself as if he himself were escaping from the enslavement of Egypt..."

In his laws of the Seder, Maimonides instructs the father to point to contemporary examples of slaves in order to make the bitterness of our slavery in Egypt tangible. The quest for contemporaneity, however, can be easily distorted. In recent years we have witnessed a proliferation of Haggadas designed not so much to make the experience of the Exodus alive through current examples, but to completely remove the story from its particularistic Jewish context. The goal is not to relive the birth of the Jewish people as a nation, but to universalize the Jewish experience in a modern-day context. This universalizing tendency can be found in various "Freedom" Haggadas, in which the narrative is likely to devote as much time to Selma, Alabama, as Egypt, to Nelson Mandela as Moses.

Lost in the process for Jewish participants at those "Seders" is any deepened sense of connection to their people. Yet it is far from clear that anything is gained in terms of identification with other oppressed people, if recent events provide any clue. Opinion polls consistently showed American Jewish support for Operation Iraqi Freedom to be significantly lower than that of the general American public. Jews were over-represented at antiwar rallies.

While these facts at least give lie to the claim of Pat Buchanan and many others that the war in Iraq was foisted on an unwitting American public by Israel and its "Amen corner" in the United States, they do not say much for Jewish concern with enslaved people.

Notable by their absence from every antiwar rally were any Iraqis. Organizers were concerned lest hearing about the suffering of the Iraqi people under Saddam Hussein might deflate the moral superiority of the demonstrators as they held aloft their witty signs about President George W. Bush being the greatest threat to mankind since Hitler and ignored completely the more than one million dead attributable directly to Saddam.

Yet the Jews marching at the antiwar demonstrations were most likely to be those who demand that their Haggadot be au courant and who read the Torah, if they read it at all, as a brief for the Left wing of the Democratic Party.

IN TRUTH, it would be hard to find a better modern-day example to make the slavery of Egypt real for us than the affliction of the Iraqi people under Saddam.

The paradoxical political position of many American Jews as regards the war to free Iraq calls to mind a discussion that David Cohen and I had last August, which we'll simply republish here:
Posted by Orrin Judd at April 21, 2003 10:18 AM

Interesting reading, although I cannot share your assessment that one cannot believe that human nature is flawed if one does not believe in God and the Bible. Doesn't seem that much exists that isn't flawed in some way.

Although I am a secular person, I am generally comfortable with your four themes of conservatism. I take 2) and 4) as they stand. I amend 1) to substitute flawed for sinful and delete the references to God here and in 3).

I do not mean this to sound flippant. I have been trying to work through these issues my entire 50 years. I guess you would label me as culturally Christian. I find all this New Age and 30 days to a better life stuff amusing in many ways and subscribe to none of it myself. Wouldn't it just be easier for these people to believe God, if they feel they are missing something in their lives?

I do believe that there are acts so heinous that they can be described as evil. I am greatly troubled by abortion. I endorse school vouchers, especially if they get children out of the cesspools that are our inner city schools. I am not uncomfortable with displays of faith in our government and schools - just don't ask me to join in myself.

I support (a buttress, not a pillar) a role for religion in a society. But not too much. Taliban and sharia law, anyone? Unfortunately, it seems that Christianity is probably uniquely compatible with a tolerant, liberal, democratic and capitalist society.

I do have a deep respect for those who walk the walk. One of the people I admire most is our departed Cardinal Bernardin.

Thought provoking, as always.

Posted by: Rick T. at April 21, 2003 12:34 PM


The pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty refers to that as "freeloading atheism", the desire to retain Judeo-Christian morality without having any coherent theoretical basis for it. I'm comfortable with that so long as folks recognize both where they got their morality and what's at risk if they get rid of its source.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2003 12:51 PM

I take your point and will not disagree. One of the primary issues I have always had is the "coherent theoretical basis" for believing as I do.

That said, I have never been able to understand the viewpoint that a book - translated from a translation and written many years removed from the events it describes - and a relationship with a Being without physical substance is anymore coherent than what I have now.

With all due respect.

Posted by: Rick T. at April 21, 2003 3:06 PM


Over three billion people share a belief that they were created by that Being and are therefore required to grant the dignity of their fellow men and follow His laws. It doesn't much matter whether it's true or not. The question is, what do you replace Him with that they'll all agree on? Since there's not even a theoretical argument that can underpin a common morality, I think we're left with the choice of God or no morality. I've no personal experience of God, but I refuse to accept the idea that morality isn't real. Therefore I believe.

Posted by: oj at April 21, 2003 3:28 PM