To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.
When I was a lad we used to suffer from the frequent visits of missionaries who often canvassed our neighborhood, presumably because of the large number of Jewish families whose souls could be saved there.
Occasionally I would chat up these people, and at one point I asked about the training and preparation they undergo before taking to the streets to save our doomed souls. The missionary confided to me that she had learned 15 or 20 selected biblical quotations in a special seminar – including many especially chosen because the quotes were thought to hold persuasive power for Jewish listeners – and she simply pulled these out during missionary visits.
Doubtless some of the missionaries knew their Bible backward and forward, but the ones with whom I came into contact were apparently all one-day crash-course Bible thumpers. (I learned that all I needed to do to drive these neighborhood missionaries into a state of confused silence was to produce an alternative biblical quote not on their list of 15 or 20, or show them how their quotes of choice had been wrenched out of their overall context.)
This comes to mind because it is strongly reminiscent of a fad quite common these days among Jewish assimilated liberals and leftists in the United States. These people constitute the School of Jewish Politically-Correct Bible Thumpers. They advocate the ‘PC’ fads and programs of the American Left, while coating them with a thin veneer of supposedly biblical ethics.
Like the missionaries of my youth, they learn a dozen or so select biblical phrases, taken out of context, and argue that the Bible and traditional Judaism unambiguously require that one accept and support a left-wing political agenda. I assume that most readers of The Jewish Press are familiar with these folks.
Examples of Jewish politically-correct Bible thumping abound, the most outrageous, of course, being the Cheech-and-Chong ‘ethics’ and political platform of the editors of Tikkun magazine, featuring the ‘Politics of Meaning’ psychobabble promoted by ‘Rabbi’ Michael Lerner.
But many mainstream liberal leaders of the Jewish community also engage in biblical posturing in order to conscript scripture for support of liberal fads. Generally such ‘Bible-based’ PC preaching operates through conjuring up the ethics of the Prophets as scriptural underpinning for the Left’s political agenda.
The term ‘Prophetic Ethics’ is used to justify support for everything from affirmative action to abortion on demand, animal ‘rights’ to homosexual ?rights,? ecological activism to various and sundry redistributionist social programs.
The Oslo ‘peace accord,’ it should go without saying, was accorded a particularly hallowed place in the doxology of the Jewish politically-correct Bible thumpers.
What is one to make of all this? Let us begin by noting that the attempt by Jewish leftists to conjure up scriptural support for their political agenda might be somewhat more persuasive if these same people were practitioners of traditional Judaism. (Orthodox politically-correct Bible thumping is extremely rare, albeit not completely non-existent.)
In most cases, politically correct Bible thumpers are ‘scripturally motivated’ only under circumstances that they find convenient and with respect to those political causes they happen to find appealing. Otherwise they simply ignore everything else in scripture and halacha that does not fit their political agenda.
These folks are generally not Jews whose lifestyles are determined by biblical rules regarding, say, diet, Sabbath, sexual relations, etc. Indeed, when scripture clearly favors a moral or political position that is not fashionable, these same PC Bible thumpers suddenly decline to adapt themselves to biblical ethics.
At times they will go through contortions to force their supposed understanding of these ethics into a PC mold. For example, there is probably nothing as clear-cut as the biblical prohibition against homosexuality.
The very notion of ‘gay rights’ is completely antithetical to biblical morality; the Bible in fact explicitly labels sodomy a capital offense. (While such punishment was generally not literally applied in Jewish tradition, there is no doubt as to the disgust and condemnation with which the Bible views gay relations.)
But that did not stop the PC branch of the Reform movement from deciding that Reform rabbis can ordain gay ‘marriages.’ It is not clear why they did not at the same time decide that inter-species marriages could be ordained, as the biblical injunction against the latter is no more unambiguous than the prohibition against homosexuality.
Similarly, while the Jewish religious position on abortion is not identical with the one espoused by the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations, abortion on demand when a mother’s life is not in danger is hardly a position held by traditional Judaism.
One can accept or reject the scriptural view of homosexuality or abortion – it’s a free country. But if one is representing one’s political agenda as being biblically-based, why the arbitrarily selective distortion?
The biggest problem with PC appeals to ‘Prophetic Ethics’ and Jewish compassion is that there is absolutely no support in Jewish tradition for feel-good advocacy programs that actually exacerbate real-world problems.
About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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