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Saturday, August 24, 2002

Jewish Conservatives-Orrin Judd posts and responds to this long e-mail essay from David Cohen. Cohen concludes his essay with this paragraph
So more and more Jews are open to conservatism. There is nothing inherent in conservatism, at least as I've defined it, that prevents Jews from being true believers. Will their (our) conservatism look in all aspects like that of the paleocons or theocons. Of course not, not least because some paleocons and theocons will define conservatism as not being open to Jews. But can conservative Jews make common cause with Christian conservatives? Absolutely. Is this Jewish conservatism any less conservative than Christian conservatism? I think not.
One of the things we have seen over the last quarter-century is the divide in American politics stopped being on where you go to worship on the weekend but how often and how devoutly. The Catholic-Protestant divide we saw in the 1960 election is largely toast in modern politics, as we see Catholics Bill Bennett and Alan Keyes be embraced by "theocons." This also extends to Jews; Michael Medved subs for Rush and Toward Tradition's Daniel Lapine dances cheek-to-cheek with James Dobson. People who seek a Ten Commandments morality make common cause against the forces of secularism. Judd goes on to point out the demographic problems of the American Jewish community
But my suggestion now is that this question must be nearly reversed. We have to ask : what are the Jews if they no longer have a religion? I think Judaism, both here and in Israel, will have to go through something resembling the Great Awakenings that we Protestants experience here periodically (some folks think we're in the midst of the third Awakening now). Demographic trends--birthrates, intermarriage, etc.--point toward the inexorable decline and eventual disappearance of Jews as a measurable cohort of the world population. Even in Israel the long term trend--and they received an artificial breathing space with the immigration of Eastern Europe's fecund Jews after the Wall fell--leads to the disappearance of Jews. In the face of this there must be both a revival of Jewish belief and a conscious effort to boost birthrates. There must be Jews and they must believe in Judaism or else in just a few decades the end of Judaism may be in sight.
I'm not ready to call it a Jewish Great Awakening, but there seems to be a trend across the board of people wanting their place of worship to actually practice their faith. In Protestant churches, the less devout people stay home while the faithful will find churches that actually preach God's word. In Judaism, synagogues are nudging themselves in a more conservative direction, with Reform synagogues paying more attention to the rituals they used to scorn and Conservative synagogues striving for a richer, fuller life of worship that will mean something to their children. However, we're starting out with a more theologically liberal Jewish polity; while about 30-40% of Christians would be considered theologically conservative, only about 20-25% of Jews would be. Barring a massive non-Messianic revival within the Jewish community, Jewish conservatism would be limited by its theological liberalism. You would then tend to see a Jewish conservatism that has more of a libertarian streak, sounding more like David Brooks than Michael Medved. I think part of what makes unprefixed conservatives nervous about Jewish (and other) neocons like Brooks or Kristol is that seem to respect moral authority more than they celebrate it, seeing a looser faith leading to a looser believe in the falleness of man. We still need all the help we can get in putting together a truly moral majority and such folks need to be part of the mix. Remember that our political allies don't need to be theological allies. The GOP tent includes Mormon Orrin Hatch and Christian Scientist David Dreier. While we might have theological differences, we can make common cause on political things we agree on while still competing in the theological arena. I don't see a good reason why conservative Jews wouldn't fit under the tent as well.

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