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That engenders the third reason why Jews remain tenacious Democratic voters. The fact is, few Jewish Democrats vote with Israel as their main concern, or even as a major concern. There are also Jews who, by reasonable standards, can be construed as anti-Israel. They make common cause with Israel’s enemies, support boycott of and divestment from Israel, oppose Jewish settlement in the heartland of Israel and favor the establishment of another Palestinian state, and/or are openly hostile to Israel exercising its right of self-defense – ever, under any circumstances. Some Jews even oppose the Jewish national idea, and think Israel itself is illegitimate.
The one common denominator is that all those Jews vote for the Democratic Party. They are not the only Jews who vote for the Democrat, but all such Jews do vote for the Democrat.
Thus, the fourth reason why most Jews are Democrats – since Israel’s fate is of tangential interest to many – is that they are more aroused by the social agenda than by any other concern, including Israel. Many Jews are obsessed with abortion rights, and see it as a sacrament – an iconic act of freedom and self-expression. They are fanatics about individual rights and freedoms and loathe any constraints on personal behavior. Jews, in fact, seem uniquely intimidated by the so-called threats to these newfound freedoms. And they are in the forefront of transforming traditional society – supporting same-sex marriage, alternative lifestyles, and the abolition of any notion of objective morality. Strange, one might think, because Jews introduced to the world the concept of objective moral norms transmitted to us by the Creator of the universe.
But most Jews are widely estranged from their faith – fifth reason – and do not perceive their Judaism as shaping or influencing their world view, except insofar as they distort the Torah’s values and ideas and assume they correspond to The New York Times editorial page. Most can speak of Jewish values only in the most amorphous terms – and perceive as uniquely Jewish the platitudes (“be a good person”) that are common to every religion. Most have limited exposure to Torah. That is why the Orthodox voting patterns are almost the complete opposite of the non-Orthodox. The closer one is to tradition, the more one will gravitate to conservative ideals. That there are exceptions, of course, only proves the rule.
A sixth reason bores into the credibility of the statistics and raises the great enigma of Jewish life today: How many Jews actually live in the United States? The survey questions are asked with trepidation, because a large percentage of American “Jews” are not Jews according to Jewish law. As we know, a Jew is defined according to tradition as a person born of a Jewish mother or converted according to halacha, Jewish law.
With intermarriage in the non-Orthodox world hovering around 70 percent, how many of the “Jews” counted in these surveys are in fact Jews? For example, the children of non-Jewish mothers are not Jews according to Jewish law, even if they feel Jewish and were bar-mitzvahed. Likewise, the children of Jewish mothers who intermarry are Jews – but are they really representative of Jews in terms of ascertaining a “Jewish” vote – especially since most intermarried children by far are not raised as Jews or educated as Jews?
It might very well be that if we exclude hundreds of thousands of halachic non-Jews from our count as Jews, the differences in voting patterns between Jews and other mainstream groups as revealed by the polls might not be as dramatic. Since it is difficult to count Jews in America, the surveys themselves are suspect. It would explain, though, why support for Israel has dwindled as a major issue for Jewish Democrats.
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Finally, most Jews today are committed secularists who are uncomfortable with any expression of faith in the public domain. The Democratic Party is therefore their natural home, even if American history and politics have been informed by faith from the very founding of the country. The Democrats have moved on from that premise, and in their desire to transform the United States, have disconnected it from those roots.
About the Author: Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is the spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2009). His writings and lectures can be found at www.Rabbipruzansky.com.
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