Fighting Long-Term For The Soul Of American Judaism
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Wed Mar 24 20:45:51 MST 2004
Notable News Now
February 19, 2004
The Free Congress Commentary
By Paul M. Weyrich
The Bush reelection campaign plans on making a real effort to reach out to the Jewish community in this year's election. There is good reason to think that, in the short-term, a substantial shift is taking place within the Jewish community post-9/11. An equally important question is whether social
issue conservatives can do more to reach out to a community that stands to be a strong and effective ally for decades to come.
There is good reason to believe that President Bush stands to do better with the Jewish community - one of the strongest constituencies for Democrats dating back to the New Deal - in this election.
Many Jews, particularly young Jews, appreciate President Bush's strong support for Israel. As the Commander in Chief of our nation's armed forces,
the President's wholehearted commitment to waging the War on Terrorism is also highly regarded. Even many liberal American Jews fully recognize that when Osama bin Laden and his gang of terrorists say they have lined up America and Jews in their sights, it is not an empty threat.
When the President met last fall with the outgoing Malaysian Prime Minister Mohathir Mohammad, he made clear that Mohammad's comment that "Jews run the
world" was "wrong and divisive" and that the Prime Minister's words stood squarely against what the President knows and believes to be true.
An equally important shift with long-term implications for social conservatives in America is the growing constituency of Orthodox Jews. Some
sociologists will argue that the growth of Orthodox Judaism is hard to measure. But as intermarriage takes its toll among the ranks of more secular
Jews, the Orthodox movement is giving shape to the future of American Judaism.
Orthodox Jews argue that their movement is growing, particularly with those younger Jews who find themselves disaffected from the move toward secularism in society and want to renew the traditions and lifestyle of their grandparents. Orthodox Jews have a higher birthrate than secular Jews or those who belong to liberal denominations. This is why they are likely to become the dominant voice of American Judaism for decades to come.
Orthodox Jews place great importance on the value of family life, and because of that they should be important allies of socially conservative Catholics and Christians. Orthodox Jews value the sanctity of life and will be much more likely to oppose abortion than liberal or secular Jews. Orthodox Jews want their children to receive a traditional religious
education and therefore favor school vouchers. They place value on the traditional form of marriage and do not favor "gay marriages." They understand the importance of being able to recognize God in the schools and in public.
Orthodox Jews are clearly at odds with the decline of values in our country as shaped and reflected by the mass media. In cities, it is not so easy to escape even if you watch what your children read and listen to and watch. Even the posters and billboards and magazine covers at news racks feature near- pornographic photography.
The trend toward a more assertive and growing Orthodoxy suggests that the defining movement of Judaism in the coming decades will be a reversal of
what represented the dominant thinking of American Judaism throughout much of the last century. The Orthodox Jews, at this point, appear unlikely to be
a majority of Jews but they will be a most influential and growing minority.
As Binyamin Jolkovsky, Editor and Publisher of Jewish World Review notes, "The concerns and lifestyles of Orthodox Jews are in many ways carbon copies of conservative Christians and evangelical Christians." He says Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have a strong following among younger Orthodox Jews. "You can go into yeshivas and hear Rush on the radio. He speaks to their concerns."
Most often, the Orthodox are thought of residing mainly in New York City, and many do live there. (Hassidim are considered to be Orthodox Jews, but
the denomination is much broader.) Orthodox Jews live in nearly every major American city - Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago - and
many are leaving New York City for the lower cost of living that can be found in New Jersey.
Conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews have worked well together in the past. Within the last year, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations added their voice in support for school choice in Washington, D.C. and to retain support for the continued legal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Unfortunately, conservative Jews and conservative Christians often come together to work on some selec
A stumbling block between the Jewish community, particularly those on the Left, and religious conservatives has been missionary activity by Christians aimed at Jews. However, this could easily be an issue that looses impact if Orthodox Judaism attracts Jews who currently identify with more liberal values. Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the Orthodox Union has stated: If a Jewish family is strong, if it emphasizes Jewish traditions and values, the chances that young people in that family will seek to leave the Jewish community diminish.
Jeffrey Ballabon, the Founder and President of the newly formed Center for Jewish Values, suggests on a posting on his organization's web page that "As Jews become more knowledgeable about their traditions, and those traditions become a part of their self- understanding, it will be harder and harder to maintain that there are Jewish imperatives to sacrifice the value of an unborn child's life on the altar of 'reproductive rights,' or to demand that all lifestyles stand on equal footing with the nuclear family, or to block parental involvement in education so that government teachers can stay employed."
Ballabon's organization is promoting the ideals of family values and limited government to the Jewish community, including the Orthodox.
If there is a challenge to social issue conservatives who are Christian, it is to work harder and in a more concerted manner with the Orthodox community in the years to come.
Clearly, the safety and security of Israel is one issue in which both conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews both share a strong interest. The fight to reclaim American institutions and our national mindset from the grip of liberal secularism is an equally important battle and one which we will often share common ground.
Jolkovsky, for one, urges much stronger joint efforts and continuous communications between the leaders of conservative Christian organizations and Orthodox Jewish groups. "Christian conservatives could do more to reach out to Orthodox leaders and inform them about what's going on and to work in tandem," he said.
Whatever share of the Jewish vote is won by President Bush this year, an equally important, long-term struggle is taking place for the soul of American Judaism. The Orthodox can help many young Jews discover a richness and meaning in tradition and a relationship with God that has been missing for too many young men and women in recent decades. But more than that, a resurgent Orthodox community working with conservative Christians can help
our country to regain its moral bearing in the next few decades to come.
Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.
Jewish World Review www.jewishworldreview.com
Center for Jewish Values www.centerforjewishvalues.org
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