The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
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.
In other words, one cannot conscript biblical ethics and morality on behalf of a political cause – even if doing so makes one feel righteous and moral ? until one can at least show credibly that the cause would indeed resolve or alleviate real-world problems.
The PC biblical poseurs are too lazy to go out and actually acquire the analytic tools needed for assessing policy proposals. Learning economics, statistics, cost/benefits accounting, etc., requires effort and investment. The PC posturers prefer to practice effortless recreational compassion and armchair peacemaking.
Besides, the very first thing one learns in social science and in policy analysis is that all things have tradeoffs. That is the one truth with which leftist biblical poseurs and other PC preachers simply cannot cope. If a policy proposal has both costs and benefits (and which does not?) there is no way that selective scriptural quotation and appeals to ‘Prophetic Ethics’ can resolve the dilemma.
If a proposal to improve the quality of the environment also produces higher food prices or higher energy or transportation prices and so impacts living standards (especially for the poor), what is one to do?
Should the proposal be adopted or rejected in the name of justice and ethics? Social science has a tool for answering such dilemmas (namely, cost/benefits evaluation). Those who issue vague and highly generalized appeals to biblical ethics do not.
Similarly, one cannot rationalize any policy in the name of the Prophetic love of peace unless it can first be shown to produce peace. The Oslo ‘peace formula’ cannot be rationalized by an appeal to the biblical yearning for peace – unless it can be shown analytically to lead truly to peace. Those who think the Oslo process does not lead to peace are not only justified – they are obligated – to oppose it, precisely because of their yearning for peace and their ethical concerns.
Opponents of the Oslo process are no less fond of peace than its politically correct supporters, just more skeptical or analytically dissident. (For the sake of argument, I am intentionally ignoring those sections of scripture that seem to rule out territorial compromise in the Land of Israel altogether, even for peace.)
In some cases the PC Bible thumpers take positions in such clear contradiction to the scriptural ethics they claim to uphold that one does not know whether to laugh or cry. For example, not only is there no biblical case for ‘animal rights’ (although the humane treatment of animals is indeed mandated), but one of the most clear-cut messages of the Bible is that human interests always take priority over those of animals.
It?s true that the Bible does not explicitly prohibit vegetarianism, but there is absolutely nothing therein that mandates it, and much rabbinic commentary is concerned with the rules of kosher slaughter and diet.
Another example: While there is a clear biblical basis for charity, it is equally clear that the emphasis is on individual charitable acts over which the giver exercises control, choice and personal responsibility.
There is nothing that can be interpreted as mandating a massive welfare state that deprives individuals of control over their property; indeed, a good deal of biblical and rabbinic law concerns the protection and preservation of private property rights. The main rules of mandatory income-distribution regard funding Levites and priests.
Finally, it should be abundantly clear to anyone reading the Bible, even superficially, that ‘Prophetic Ethics’ are premised upon and augment – and in many cases are thought to be a means for achieving, protecting and developing – Jewish national existence and national self-interest. (Contrast this with the recent fatwa by Tikkun’s ‘Rabbi’ Lerner that the jubilee laws mean Israel has to give ‘back’ its lands to the Palestinians.)
The very same Jewish politically correct Bible thumpers who argue that ‘Prophetic Ethics’ mandate the Left’s political agenda are generally the first to distance themselves from (if not outright denounce) all acts and ideas designed to promote and protect Jewish national existence and national interests.
The hypocritical enthusiasm for ‘Prophetic Ethics’ on the part of the PC Bible thumpers is best understood as part of the overall trend of Jewish assimilation in North America. Liberalism has been the main avenue of assimilation for North American Jews. In effect, assimilationist Jews long ago substituted the liberal/left political agenda for Judaism as their religion. They are as zealously attached to this pseudo-religion as most Jews in the past were to authentic Judaism.
Like all religious beliefs, this devotion to liberalism is by definition non-rational. Assimilated Jews adhere to this religion of liberalism even when it is clearly harmful to their own self- interests, as in the case of the racial preference policy euphemistically known as affirmative action. They ignore violent anti-Semitism when it contradicts their new religion, as in the case of black anti-Semitism and Afro-fascism.
And the astronomical intermarriage rates of American non-Orthodox Jews reflect the fact that, once liberalism has replaced Judaism as the religion of the Jews, marrying a non-Jewish liberal is simply not looked upon as marrying outside the faith.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a play about a royal family of Danes. It uses Danish images and symbols and takes place, as it were, inside a Danish castle. But it would be absurd to represent Hamlet as a ‘Danish’ play. It is an Elizabethan English play. In the same way, the Jewish Politically Correct Bible thumpers use Jewish imagery and symbols in order to market the political agenda of the Left. But it is absurd to represent their position as one motivated by and expressing Jewish traditional ethics and Biblical morality. Theirs is a leftist ideology, and not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Jewish one.
About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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