Is Torah-true Judaism inherently aligned with
conservative politics, liberal politics, a combination, or neither –
Or is this the wrong way to think about the Torah?
Torah-true Judaism is inherently aligned with policies that foster love of G-d, respect for fellow human beings, and the wellbeing of society as a whole. We strive for a world of honesty, justice, peace, a world in which the ideals of our prophets can be realized.
Rabbi Benzion Uziel (1880-1953), late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, wrote of our responsibility for yishuvo shel olam, the proper functioning of a moral society. Judaism demands that its adherents live ethical and upright lives. Religious Jews must feel troubled by any injustice in society and must strive to defend and protect the oppressed. Striving to create a harmonious society is not merely a reflection of social idealism; it is a religious mandate.
Sometimes Torah values are more aligned with conservative politics, and sometimes they are more aligned with liberal politics. Our real concern isn’t with political labels, but with the over-arching values that conduce to a more righteous society.
Although our concerns need to relate to society in general, we can’t ignore issues that specifically impinge on Jewish life and on the State of Israel. If conservatives or liberals promote policies that are detrimental to our physical and spiritual welfare, we obviously must oppose them. If they advance bills that weaken or endanger Israel, we have the right and responsibility to object. Our universal commitment to society does not negate our particular commitment to our own wellbeing.
In spite of the many problems Torah-true Jews face, we are optimists. We believe, with the prophet Amos (8:11), that righteousness will prevail: “Behold, the days are coming, says the L-rd G-d, when I will send a famine in the land; not a famine for food nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the L-rd.” Amen, kein yehi ratzon!
– Rabbi Marc D. Angel is director of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals.
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Of course, the Torah is a conservative treatise. Nonetheless, it is unequivocally wrong to evaluate the Torah along political lines. The Torah is the d’var Hashem, the word of G-d, and thus the Torah is trivialized if we try to squeeze it into a man-made ideological construct. The Torah was not intended to strengthen conservatism or weaken liberalism, or vice versa, but rather to make us better, more moral and rational people who respond promptly and enthusiastically to G-d’s commands and propagate His ethical norms across the world.
Having said that, a cogent analysis of the question requires us to adopt some definitive framework of conservatism and liberalism. As the definitions and emphases differ, the conclusion may shift as well. But let’s take one common expression of the differences between conservatism and liberalism.
Conservatives believe in personal responsibility, limited government involvement in society, free markets, low taxes, the right to bear arms, accountability for one’s misdeeds, and traditional marriage and morality, and cherish loyalty, respect for authority, stability, and sanctity.
Liberals believe in big government that provides citizens with every conceivable need or desire; controls and regulates the economy to achieve desired social outcomes regardless of talent, effort, or fairness; individual liberty that allows even for the shattering of moral norms, high taxes to feed the government behemoth; rejection of traditional morality in favor of personal autonomy; strict gun control so that – ideally – government has a monopoly on force; and vitiating personal responsibility and excusing bad behavior by attributing it not to the criminal but to the society and community. Liberals generally reject biblical morality (at best, it is a private matter; at worst, morality is completely subjective) and perceive reason as the primary source of good conduct. Liberals inherently distrust authority and cherish openness to new experiences, diversity and change.
The Torah prizes personal responsibility (I wrote two volumes on “The Jewish Ethic of Personal Responsibility”), free markets tempered only by limitations on unfair competition, and an individual’s obligation to assist the downtrodden, and obviously an objective morality that is based on G-d’s word. There are liberal elements to the Torah but it is overwhelmingly the source of conservative ideas and values.
– Rav Steven Pruzansky is rabbi emeritus of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, N.J., and author of the new “Road to Redemption,” now available at Kodeshpress.com
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Neither conservative or liberal politics represent Torah politics. There are definitely aspects of each which are in line with Torah perspectives and ethics, and definitely aspects of each that are opposed to Torah perspectives and ethics. Believing in and relying on a secular philosophy or politic, believing that it can aid or harm one’s welfare in this world, borders on idolatry. A Torah Jew must support those aspects of conservative or liberal politics that will not only better serve the condition of Jews or Israel, but also promote justice, ethics, and morality in the world. He must also oppose those aspects that are at odds with the Torah’s perspective of justice, ethics and morality.
All in all, which political party to support depends on a clear Torah view of what support or lack of it will further Torah ideals in society. Therefore, da’as Torah of gedolei Yisroel and one’s own halachic guide should be sought.
– Rabbi Zev Leff is rav of Moshav Matisyahu and a popular lecturer and educator.
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There was a time not that long ago when most Jews both observant (all streams) and non-observant voted Democrat. That’s the way it was my father voted that way so did his father and so on.
And Jews were indeed found in elective office and we were proud of them, even though for the most part they were non-observant. Democrat back then meant being liberal in approach to the average citizen and more help for the “small guy.” Republican meant being conservative and tighter with the government purse strings and more aligned with the needs of big business and the elite. Basically these were two social philosophies.
The Democrat party post World War II became more vociferous in supporting the State of Israel. Yet it was Republican President Richard M. Nixon who came to Israel’s aid in what might have been its most pressing time.
Generally, as far as espousing proper morality was concerned, both parties were about the same, thus the difference between the two was, as noted above, either more liberal with the purse string or more tight-fisted.
It is important to note that Torah-true Judaism is in itself all about morality as Divinely commanded. Today the Democratic agenda is not really liberal but has been hijacked by the forces of the far left, many of whom do not look favorably upon us as Jews, though ironically Jewish Hollywood and the broadcast media they control has been a major catalyst of this move to the left.
In spite of all of this, it behooves us as Jews, in this the most wonderful land that our people has ever encountered in the entire history of our Diaspora, to not completely attach ourselves to any one social philosophy and proclaim that as the exclusive path of Judaism. But as for morality, that is a different matter, though we do not wish to foist our beliefs on any other and in fact some are of the opinion that we are enjoined from so doing, yet there comes a point where enough is enough and the Torah directs us not to turn a blind eye to the evil that is ever rampant in “Sodom and Gemora.” Our children and their children will have us to blame if we look away from the left’s agenda that is on a track to make their lives increasingly more difficult, not only in this land but in all the western democracies, including in the State of Israel. So G-d help us!
Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu, Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah editor of The Jewish Press; he also serves as chairman of the Presidium of the Rabbinical Alliance of America He can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected].
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My rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik, was once giving a parsha shiur (which he gave every Thursday). In one of his shiurim I distinctly remember him saying:
“The problem with many Jews is that they adopt their religion (the Torah) to their lives and not their lives to their religion (the Torah).”
The Torah and Judaism in general are unique and stand by themselves. As a Jew, our Torah is our guide and we follow its principles, whether it agrees with society or not.
Having said this, there is no question that the Torah and our Sages try to make every effort not to contradict the specific culture that we live in, as in the law of “dina d’malchuta dina,” but if there is a conflict then one must follow the principles of the Torah and not those dictated by society
In conclusion, the Torah does not align itself with any political views, as it stands alone in its principles and direction.
– Rabbi Mordechai Weiss lives in Efrat, Israel, and previously served as an elementary and high school principal in New Jersey and Connecticut. He was also the founder and rav of Young Israel of Margate, N.J. His email is [email protected].
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Whether Torah-true Judaism is inherently aligned with conservative or liberal politics probably depends on how we define these terms. Encyclopedia Britannica defines conservatism as a political doctrine that emphasizes the value of traditional institutions and practices. Conservatives believe that human beings are driven by their base instincts and destructive desires and that traditional political and cultural institutions can curb those instincts and desires.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines liberalism as a political doctrine that emphasizes the value of protecting individual liberty along with the concern that government can pose a threat to that liberty. Therefore, liberals try to create a system that gives government the power necessary to protect individual liberty but also prevents those who govern from abusing that power.
The Torah emphasizes values that are consistent with both conservative and liberal political concerns. Consistent with conservatism, the Torah believes that we are born with a yetzer hara, an evil inclination, and yet we can overcome this inclination by living a life of traditional Torah values in a community with strong traditional institutions that promote these values. Consistent with liberalism, the Torah emphasizes the importance of caring for every individual when it commands us to take care of the stranger, widow and orphan and when it reminds us 36 times that we were strangers in Egypt. Additionally, the unique halachot that a king must observe highlight the Torah’s concern about the potential abuse of government power. Therefore, it is difficult to assert that Torah-true Judaism is inherently aligned with either political view.
– Rabbi Jonathan Muskat is the rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside, a rebbe at Shulamith High School, and a pastoral health care liaison at Mount Sinai South Nassau.
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There was once a time when this would have been an interesting question. However, in the world we live in today, the current political scene has become so vastly unhealthy and has become so influenced by the current mode of thinking that I think a Torah perspective has to be devoid of any of the influences that we see now in the world, particularly that which is known as the progressive liberal stance.
What may have even stemmed from an interest in advancing human condition and helping people has become so perverse and so far off field, and so agenda driven, that it is now the enemy of humanity. What now is foisted as the liberal progressive position is destructive on so many levels, the least of which is taking a formerly recognized psychiatric condition and giving it the prestige of a constitutionally defended right, among many other examples.
The point being, when you take a stance that is so against anything that society recognizes as healthy and well and take a stance that veers so far off from what we for millennia recognized as healthy normal behavior, and you posit is as the advancement of humankind – that is the enemy of everything that we know. And the ultimate state that this agenda seems to be driving to is anarchy. In that sense it’s certainly a Torah perspective, and more than that a basic human perspective, that would demand avoiding anything that seems in any sort of way or form what’s currently known as an aggressive liberal position.
– Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier is founder of The Shmuz and author of 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make (available at theshmuz.com).