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My Guest

Jonathan Neumann has written perhaps the seminal book on how modern Jewry has supplanted its traditional values and principles with Leftism, based on a perverse, sophistic reading of the concept of tikkun olam, “healing the world,” that demands devotion to social justice as the highest good and organizing principle of the Jewish religion.

By way of background, Neumann is a graduate of Cambridge University and the London School of Economics. He has written for various American, British, and Israeli publications, was the Tikvah Fellow at Commentary magazine, and has served as assistant editor at Jewish Ideas Daily.

I had Neumann on the podcast to discuss the triumph of tikkun olam-based Leftism as central to modern non-Orthodox Judaism, why Jewish social justice renders Jews qua Jews meaningless, the systematic debunking of this ideology, the correlation between tikkun olam and anti-Zionism, ramifications for U.S.-Israel politics and much more.

What We Discussed

  • Defining tikkun olam, and its link to social justice, leftism and Kantian ethics
  • How tikkun olam became the predominant ethos of non-Orthodox Jewry in the U.S. in a mere 40 year period — and its radical roots
  • The inextricable link between tikkun olam theology and the evolution of the Reform Jewish movement and its relation to the Social Gospel
  • The perversion of Jewish values and principles by those who have supplanted the religion with Leftism — based in a textually unsupported, fabricated concept of tikkun olam that Neumann systematically debunks
  • Why Neumann argues that “Jewish social justice effectively has no need for Jews qua Jews”
  • The correlation between tikkun olam ideology and anti-Zionism, in contrast to American Jewish leftism’s historical affinity towards Israel
  • Why and how Israel in U.S. politics has become effectively a one-party, Republican, issue — and the conflicting trends of the growing Orthodox Jewish community and the declining non-Orthodox Jewish community
  • Why Jews have historically gravitated toward the political Left

Thanks for Listening!

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Full Transcript

The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Ben Weingarten: Jonathan in this book [To Heal the World], you discuss the concept of tikkun olam as the seminal ethos essentially for non-Orthodox Jews. To understand how tikkun olam — and we’ll define that concept momentarily — became the social justice, leftist Judaism that we have in America and much of the world today, again among non-orthodox, you have to understand the religious tradition from which it came. And you walk through the history of Judaism, from roughly the mid-1800s to now, and its link to tikkun olam. Give us that background.

Jonathan Neumann: So it essentially starts with German Jewry, in, as you say, the mid-19th century, and they are living in a society that is permeated with Kantian ethics, and they’re looking for a way to be more German — kind of retain some kind of Jewish identity, but to stick out a lot less. They don’t go quite as far as the assimilationists and those who are looking to convert. They’re not going down the revolutionary direction of socialism, and they also are very much rejecting the kind of traditionalist rejection of modernity or, for that subset of traditionalists who are engaging with modernity but are very much keeping the rituals and the dream of returning to Zion eventually, which is a key part of it… So these German reformers as they became known are abandoning Jewish ritual or adapting it to more contemporary needs, and they drop this idea of returning to Zion. For them, Germany is the new Promised Land. Berlin is the new Zion. They’re not looking to go back to the land of Israel; they’re not looking to rebuild a temple or to restart a sacrificial order.

And then this ideology then gets transplanted to America, gets exported to America, as some of these German reformers emigrate to the United States. And here, too, you get also that kind of abandonment of, or adaptation of traditional practices. So for example, Saturday morning services — Sabbath services are the main kind of religious Jewish service in the week in the synagogue — gets moved to a Sunday in a lot of Reform temples. Even the use of the word “temple” instead of “synagogue” is a kind of a shift away from the idea that the Temple belongs in Jerusalem, that actually, these synagogues are kind of new temples here in America or Germany, wherever it is. So they drop the ritual, they drop the idea of Zion, and in its place, they have this Kantian ethical idea, and bring that to the United States. And that starts to get more and more political at first in the late 1800s. It starts as an abstract idea of thinking about a better society in some future time that you’re kind of hoping for. And then they get influenced by a movement called the Social Gospel in the United States in the very late 19th century and early 20th century. The Social Gospel as you know was called the “conscience of progressivism.” It was essentially synonymous with socialism. Some of the leaders of the Social Gospel were openly socialist, but it had a religious coloration unlike more traditional, as it were, socialism. So it was different in that respect. They considered it to be a kind of applied Christianity. Christianity was a set of theories about how man should treat his fellow man, and so on, and the Social Gospel which was political activism — radical left-wing political activism — was applying that Christianity. And they brought a lot of views from Bismarck’s Germany, which is where a lot of the leaders of the Social Gospel studied, and Bismarck was a pioneer of centralizing the power of the state. So they brought those ideas to the United States and they believed that only the state would be able to create the sort of socially just society that they were seeking, and they believed that had to happen before the second coming.

So they got very involved in this kind of political activism with these religious overtones, and Reform Jews got really taken by this and said, “Oh actually, we should be doing this as well.” And they get so into it, that their zeal and ardor end up surpassing even that of the Social Gospel. And that mentality has kind of stayed with this Reformist tradition ever since. And the Reform Movement changed a lot because of World War One, which kind of collapsed a lot of their presumptions about progressivism, where society was going, and then of course, World War II even more-so, and the Holocaust particularly for the Jews. So there was a kind of shift back to more Jewish. Traditionally Jewish rhetoric for the kind of thing that they were doing, and that’s where this phrase tikkun olam then started to become popular, obviously, a Hebrew phase and we can talk about that. So there was a kind of shift away from what we now call Classical Reform back then, but the centrality of this sort of liberal political activism is still very much there in Reform and non-Orthodox Judaism.

Ben Weingarten: Tikkun olam is in a sense the link between a Reform Movement that had become unwed from actual Jewish values and principles, and it provides in some sense a religious veneer for the social justice leftism that had become endemic in the non-Orthodox Jewish movements. So let’s start at the very top, which is, define tikkun olam.

Jonathan Neumann: Tikkun olam literally means “repair the world,” more poetically “heal the world,” hence the title of my book. It’s an idea that Jewish radicals, in particular in the ’70s and ’80s really kind of lifted out of context and popularized. They have appropriated this phrase and concept that appears in various different guises in the Talmud, in Rabbinic writings, in Jewish mysticism, kabbalah, in Jewish prayer. And they’ve lifted it out of context, and given it this meaning, social justice. So they were doing the social justice activism for many decades already, in the community, but then they decided to get this kind of Hebraic appellation and they’ve taken tikkun olam. There’s no basis for this attachment of this phrase to social justice. There’s no basis for it in the Jewish canon or the Jewish tradition, but that’s what they’ve done. And part of it was this way of saying, “Oh this is a particularly Jewish thing that we’re doing, this social justice, and we’re calling it tikkun olam.”

Ben Weingarten: I wonder if you would walk through how it was that this phrase, which as… You go through in great detail in your book has no basis actually, in the text, and when it does exist in the primary Jewish texts, it’s been clearly perverted in its usage and its definition… I wonder if you would explain how it is that this phrase which was barely in the sort of ether as of, call it forty years ago, has now become the predominant descriptor of why it is that Jews imbibe and work towards imposing leftist values and principles in America, again, among, non-Orthodox which is an important distinction to make here…

Jonathan Neumann: I mean firstly as you say, it is mostly amongst the non-Orthodox, but the non-Orthodox are about 85 percent of American Jewry. American Jewry’s not a huge demographic… But it’s a politically very active one. So this is quite a big phenomenon. You already started to get inklings of this interest in tikkun olam as a phrase before World War II. Then it started to build up a bit more after World War II, but again, very, very quietly. It was only in the ’70s that Jewish you might call hippies — part of the counter-culture, essentially — they kind of got into this and started using this term more and more to mean leftist politics. And in particular in the ’80s, people like Arthur Waskow, Michael Lerner, who founded Tikkun Magazine in the ’80s really kinda popularized it. And these people, some of them like Arthur Waskow were involved in the more militant elements of the Civil Rights Movement, strong protests against the Vietnam War and founded a think-tank that was at the very least a propagandist for the Soviet Union, and sympathetic to its agenda, and a lot of people say actually had concrete links to the Soviet Union. Michael Lerner was part of the Seattle Seven, and so on.

So you know these people are very much part of the more general radical political milieu. They weren’t particularly Jewish. Their radicalism was premised on there not really being a difference between Jews and non-Jews. So this was not a particularly Jewish endeavor that they were undertaking. But then for whatever reason, they started to get more interested in Judaism, and the Judaism that they were interested in was this social justice Judaism, of non-Orthodox… Going on for several decades by the time you get to the late ’60s and ’70s. And then they really kind of pushed this idea forward with, as I said, publications like Tikkun Magazine, and essentially a lot of Jews — and not just in this country but around the world — are not particularly familiar with the Jewish tradition. So it’s not that difficult to tell them that the Jewish tradition says certain things that it doesn’t actually say. And Jews themselves have been liberal in this country for a very long time. They were already pretty liberal before FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt], but FDR was really the unifier of what was quite a disparate Jewish community. Everybody came together, a] in support of his policies, in his liberal policies in the New Deal, but also b] eventually as a savior of the Jewish people in World War II. So, they have since essentially stuck with the Democratic Party, and with liberal politics. A majority of Jews have voted for the Democratic candidate for president in every election. The only one that was anywhere near close was 1980 with [Ronald] Reagan and [Jimmy] Carter because of Carter’s policies, I think on Israel and also generally the country was fed up with him, and his administration. So the Jews are stuck with the Democratic Party throughout.

So here you have this tikkun olam movement that’s saying, “Oh, conveniently the politics that you all believe is also what Judaism believes… Isn’t that a nice and convenient coincidence for everyone?” So your politics are essentially a substitute for your religion, and that’s essentially where we’ve got to now that, Judaism has basically become a wing of the Democratic Party in this country, and for these people, Jewish ritual is political campaigning. That’s how you do worship — you go out onto the street, and you protest.

Ben Weingarten: And you assert that that is a perversion of Judaism. You have a line, a very profound line in your book, and you say: “Jewish social justice effectively has no need for Jews qua Jews.” Expound upon that.

Jonathan Neumann: So this is part of a wider issue. Tikkun olam is a theology of its own in order to ground liberal politics in Judaism, for which there isn’t really the kind of basis that they think there is. They have to essentially create a whole new religion, and the way they do that is by going back to the story of Creation because that’s the shared providence of all of mankind. In traditional Judaism, the Creation story is a very important teaching, but when it comes to moral obligation, the principle basis for that in terms of the way that a Jew relates to a fellow Jew is in Revelation, the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The reason for that is because the Revelation created the Jewish people, one people, under G-d, eventually to live in its own land in the land of Israel, which is where the Jews were journeying to in the desert. So moral obligation in Judaism was principally within the Jewish people. There are theological and historical reasons for that as well — the Jews historically have been separate from the rest of humanity, whether living in their own land or living in their own communities and ghettos and so on, sometimes out of choice, often not out of choice. So that’s the basis of moral obligation in traditional Judaism.

Now, of course, there was also more obligation for Jews outside of the Jewish community. But the best way perhaps to think about it is, like a family, that people… Feel more obligated morally to their parents who they should honor; to their children whom they should love and provide for; to their siblings to whom they feel close because they’re kind of an extension to ourselves. It would be strange, I think, if people treated their neighbors or complete strangers with the same degree of love, and affection, and in financial provision and so on as they do their siblings or their children. I think most people would find that quite weird. So the Jewish people is also a family, not just figuratively, but also the Jewish people believe itself to be the biological descendants of Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob, the children of Israel. Israel is a name for Jacob. The children of Israel are literally the children of Jacob and the patriarchs. So there is that familial relationship between Jews, but of course that doesn’t mean just because you treat your sibling better than strangers that you should treat strangers badly. You should also treat strangers well, but there is a kind of a distinction. So that is the traditional Jewish approach.

The tikkun olam movement and its theology does away with all of that. They find the idea of Jewish peoplehood to be chauvinistic, and embarrassing and a relic and they want nothing to do with it. So they abandon all of that, and instead they want to go back to Creation, which is where everybody is the same. So that is kind of fundamental to tikkun olam. The kind of trick that they play is to make you think that, “Okay, if all of humanity comes from the same place that somehow leads to liberal politics,” which it doesn’t. The truth is it doesn’t lead to any politics. Some people say, “Well okay, everyone is created in the image of the divine, therefore everyone deserves the same outcomes and the same economic outcomes, in society.” That’s one reading. It’s a bit of an extrapolation, but okay. But similarly, you can say, “Well, we should respect the dignity of hard work, the human dignity of not relying on the state on a welfare system, not having to take from others in order to provide for yourself.” So any politics can flow from Creation, but certainly there’s more of a kind of basis for their kind of liberal politics looking to Creation than there is looking to Revelation.

And what’s interesting is that…tikkun olam is stridently universalistic when it comes to the Jews, but not it seems when it comes to everybody else. This is where it kind of gets really strange that the only reason really, that the tikkun olam movement sees for why Judaism and the Jews should continue to exist is to promote this idea of social justice. They don’t even think that’s a uniquely Jewish teaching because they can’t say that because that sounds like the Jews have some kind of special role in the world. So they can’t quite say that, but they have to reckon with the fact that the Jews exist, and if they want to base their views in the Hebrew Bible, then they have to say something about why the Jewish people are here. So they kind of say that it’s to promote this idea of social justice, but the Jews are the only ones whose role is to do that. So it’s a kind of weird place, but ultimately they don’t really see a role for the Jewish people because in a socialist society there is no need for Jews qua Jews as you say. But on the other hand… The tikkun olam movement… Never says that about African-Americans, or American Muslims or anyone else that they should abandon their particular cultures and beliefs, and so on. They would find it offensive if anyone were to say that. So, they celebrate difference in everybody else, but what they celebrate in everybody else, they find chauvinistic in themselves, which is a very kind of strange and I think almost pathological kind of approach.

Ben Weingarten: Inextricably intertwined with this creation of a new religion, in effect, as you put it, and this idea of not wanting to be separated from everyone else, universalism and the like, is the need to create a new conception of Israel, and Israel’s meaning in the Jewish religion. And of course, if you read the texts, the land of Israel is intrinsic to this people, and this belief system. The tikkun olamists often come down almost universally, if you were looking at a venn diagram of where Zionists are, almost to a man universally hostile towards Israel, and believe in appeasing Israel’s enemies… Ultimately to… Israel’s destruction whether they will admit it outright or not. And this is a change historically because in the past, as you mentioned, leftism has been a huge part of non-Orthodox Judaism, but there was a belief that Israel was the Jewish homeland, and that it was worth fighting for. And there’s been an inversion over time. There was a book, Making David Into Goliath, where one argument was made that Israel became the “oppressive,” “colonialist,” “occupier,” etc., when before it was an upstart surrounded by all of its enemies — is a very small, New Jersey-sized nation with… Everything on the opponent’s side and almost nothing for Israel… And a belief that Israel would be destroyed and could be destroyed at any given time. Yet it somehow survived, and now it is viewed as the evil, the Goliath. Explain how… Tikkun olamists conceive Israel, and their views on it.

Jonathan Neumann: Generally, American Jewish Zionism was more of a liberal bent than in Russia, and Eastern Europe. So going back… A hundred years, Brandeis, Louis Brandeis, led the kind of Zionist Movement in the United States, and really popularized it. And there was still an idea that the Jewish settlement, or homeland or state in the land of Israel — wasn’t clear at the time what exactly would turn out — they kind of hoped that it would be a beacon of social justice, ’cause… The community was already into that at the time. So there was always a kind of a leftist coloration there, in a way that for the Eastern Europeans who were confronting a much more immediate anti-Semitism for them, you know, worrying about what Israel would look like, it was kind of a secondary issue. You needed to get as many Jews there as possible, as soon as you could.

And for the Americans, they kind of shifted briefly with the Holocaust and so on, cause suddenly the immediacy of anti-Semitism also became apparent to them. But American Jewish Zionism was always on that kind of side of the ledger. But actually, where the tikkun olam movement comes out is not really from that tradition. It comes out again from the 1960s radicalism, and what you see is that Israel was allied with the United States, and these radicals were anti-the United States. And the Arabs and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO, were allied to the Soviet Union. They were pro-Soviet Union. So it was kind of quite black and white, and that was the side that they were on. So they allied on the side of Israel’s enemies, and that’s the kind of milieu that today’s tikkun olam movement has come out of. Those radicals at the time, came together in the 1970s in an organization called Breira, which means in Hebrew “alternative.” And it was a kind of play off of an Israeli adage at the time that went by ein breira, which means “there is no alternative.” And what ein breira is saying is there is no alternative but to prevail in the war that the Arabs were perpetually inflicting upon Israel. Israel had to motivate itself to fight this existential and constant conflict, and they would have obviously preferred to just live their lives, but that wasn’t a luxury that they had. So, this organization seemed to suggest that there was such an alternative, and it seemed to consist in trying to negotiate and legitimate the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, that was engaged in pioneering and unrepentant terrorism, at the time hijacking airplanes, and so on, targeting Israelis and Jews worldwide, and also part of the larger pro-Soviet axis.

Breira eventually collapsed. The Jewish community wasn’t prepared to tolerate, as you noted, those sorts of views on Israel. They were sympathetic to social justice more generally, but on Israel, that was still something of an exception at the time. Those radicals then got together again in the 1980s in an organization called New Jewish Agenda. And again, you had people like Michael Lerner, Arthur Waskow, but also other names as well, were involved there at the time. Ruth Messinger, who was a longtime head of the American Jewish World Service, she was a Democratic nominee for New York City mayor against Rudy Giuliani when he was running for a second term; Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist; Samuel Norich, publisher of the Forward… A whole bunch of different characters and individuals were involved in… New Jewish Agenda. Unlike Breira, which was singularly focused on Israel, New Jewish Agenda diluted the focus on Israel, amongst a whole bunch of other issues on the social justice agenda — race relations, the environment, nuclear weapons and so on. New Jewish Agenda also eventually collapsed — internecine quarreling, budgetary issues and also the Israel issue. But the people involved in it, went on to found a whole bunch of different organizations: Tikkun Magzine, Americans for Peace Now and so on. And that mentality has lived on in them as the kind of older generation of the tikkun olam movement today, and also in their kind of younger disciples carrying on their work. And it would seem that increasingly Israel is no longer an exception to the rest of the social justice agenda. And you see it in organizations like J Street, where the community is more and more prepared to tolerate the sort of views that that once upon a time, they would not. And as you say, the fundamental point seems to be that tikkun olam has an Israel problem. The more attached you are to tikkun olam, the more skeptical or hostile an organization or individual seems to be towards Israel.

Part of that is political because Israel is not popular within liberal politics and you see that in the general social justice movement that is not so the social justice is not where you’re going to find the pro-Israel factions in American politics, and part of it is theological because if there’s no need for a Jewish people, then there’s also no need for a Jewish homeland and actually the disprove the real home of the Jewish people, because that’s where they can pursue and apply social justice in the communities and countries in which they live. So there is a fundamental disconnect between tikkun olamism and Zionism and the land of Israel, and as you say, there’s no basis for that in the Jewish tradition. The land of Israel is absolutely central to what to what Jews are, and what they’re supposed to be. So that is a real problem.

Ben Weingarten: Since you mentioned the political implications of all of this, and progressivism at one time was not considered an anti-Zionist sort of movement, but today, clearly is — and you see it in all of its leading lights, and you see it in the leaders in the Democratic Party in America, and the like… And I have a theory about why it is that Israel, which many liberal Jews in America (and I’m not talking about classical liberal Jews in America, but liberals in America as in left liberal) have expressed fear that suddenly Israel has become a one-party issue dominated by the Republican Party. And my theory about this is as follows: Of course, there’s the ideological element which is that the left has turned anti-Zionist, and the Democratic Party has become more left — as such, it is becoming a one-party issue in effect. But there’s another angle to this, which is that again, Orthodox Jews typically vote Republican in America, and non-Orthodox do not. And as the non-Orthodox become more progressive, intermarry, etc., Israel isn’t a salient issue for most people on the Left, Jews included, and while that non-Orthodox population shrinks due to intermarriage and low birth rates, on the other hand, the Muslim population in America expands significantly. Muslims tend to vote left, and on issues of Israel and the Middle East in general, typically take a hostile view toward Zionism and a more lenient view towards the enemies of Israel. So you have an expanding base of Muslims in America who have much higher birth rates than non-Orthodox Jews, voting left, and you have a shrinking Jewish base in America, which is less and less focused on Israel as an issue.

So do you see it as being in the Democrats’ self-interest to actually take a less pro-Zionist view? And as such, perhaps we see it becoming a one-party issue not because of any great conspiracy on the Republican side, but actually because there is a growing constituency in Muslims in America who take a view which is in line with the progressive view, and the non-Orthodox Jews are either gonna go along with it or essentially shrink out of the population as is?

Jonathan Neumann: The shift to Israel becoming… Less and less of a bipartisan issue is incredibly concerning. But something that has to be remembered is that bipartisanship can’t be the end. Bipartisanship is a means to passing policy that strengthens the American-Israeli Alliance, and that helps Israel’s security as a bastion of values that are shared by America in the Middle East. What bipartisanship has become is more and more of a kind of an end, and that we have to make… Policy on Israel at the lowest common denominator to include as many Democrats as possible because they tend to be more hostile towards Israel… So if that’s what bipartisanship is, then it doesn’t really help anyone. You have to focus on policy, and the Republicans as you say, at the moment — it wasn’t always the case — but at the moment tend to be the more pro-Israel party. Interestingly, it was less of an issue when the Democrats were the more pro-Israel party a few decades ago because the Jews were on that side of the ledger. So now, the Jewish community is having to kinda think about this. But most of them don’t vote on the Israel issue, they vote on everything else. So abortion is more important to American Jews than Israel is, so we stick with the Democratic Party — particularly the young ones who are increasingly, as you say, sharing the animosity of the party towards towards Israel.

But what’s interesting that we’re seeing this in the Trump administration is this kind of unprecedented involvement of more traditionalist Jews in the highest levels of American politics. And we see it most clearly in the Trump White House, in its policies towards Israel, towards Iran, etc. This is in a sense the culmination of a few decades of collaboration between traditionalist Jews and Evangelical Christians who, of course, have been very Zionist for a very long time. And the traditionalist community in the Jewish community… Is also growing. It was 10 percent for quite a while. It’s now about 15 percent. And in terms of their children, as you point out, the proportions are much larger. So we are going to start seeing, I think, a shift within the Jewish community, but I think there’s a lot more trouble to come because the products of families and communities, of outmarriage — where Jews marry non-Jews — I think there’s a lot of confusion there, for kids who come out of those sorts of communities. And the communities themselves are very confused because they don’t require necessarily the conversion of someone who wants to marry a Jew. So what does that mean for Jewish peoplehood?

And again, the connection of Jewish peoplehood to the land of Israel, if you have kind of non-Jews within the Jewish community because they’ve married into it, what’s their attachment to the land of Israel? And what’s their attachment to Zionism? So those kind of families who confuse those communities who confuse those kids then go on to campus. They don’t really know what side they’re on. A lot of times, I think this is more a question for psychologists, but it feeds a lot of, I think, hostility towards Israel as well.

So I think things are gonna get worse before they get better, but this kind of more muscular traditionalism in the Jewish community I think is something definitely to watch out for — something that’s only going to grow as you point out. The Orthodox community in particular was one of the most staunchly pro-Trump voting constituencies in the country. So there is something to watch there. And you’re seeing real results: The move of the embassy to Jerusalem, the withdrawal of the United States from the Iran deal and so on. These are real, tangible policy outcomes that we’re seeing. So it’s a really exciting time actually, and there’s a lot to look out for. But I am worried that things will get worse before they get better.


Jonathan Neumann: The last question that you must have grappled with as you were researching and writing this book is, as you mentioned, in America, Jews have essentially always voted Democratic, and only more so in the post-FDR era. And that legacy lives on to today. And it’s not just an American phenomenon — if you look at the founding of Israel itself, many of those who founded Israel were socialists, and Israel’s policies, politically, have remained largely socialist, though at a decreasing rate up to today, under Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership.

The seminal question is, why is it that Jews historically are politically left, liberal? And there are any number of potential answers to this. I would suggest one might be, and you definitely see it in the concept of tikkun olam, a fundamental misinterpretation of the religion itself. But I wonder what your response would be to that question.

Jonathan Neumann: Yeah… It’s a very big question. I don’t think there’s any one answer. A lot of ink has been spilled trying to work that out. I think in the main, part of it is that the liberal parties tended to be the most friendly towards the Jews in Europe, in the last couple of hundred years. So, that said to Jews that actually this is the politics where we feel the most comfortable, and there are things today, issues in America today, where that mentality is still perpetuated. So I’m thinking of the separation between church and state — for Jews coming out of Europe, that was a very big deal because the church was the oppressor. So, if you divorce the church from the state, and make sure that the state is a secular power, then you’ve insulated yourselves from the oppression from the church. So that’s something that liberal Jews carry into today. Interestingly, traditionalists who have the strongest psychological connections to Europe and the Old World are much more comfortable with religion in the public square then liberals are. But there is a basis for that liberal position, and we can’t pretend it comes out of nowhere. Whether the interpretation needs to be so extreme, whether it’s outweighed by issues like religious education, which would do a lot to stem the tide of assimilation in the Jewish community, it’s probably outweighed by things like that. And they should rethink their opposition, but again it’s not coming out of nowhere. So that would be one part of it, that I think that the liberal parties are where the Jews started to feel the most comfortable, and that the status quo for Jews for a long time, particularly in Europe and Russia, was very unfriendly. So, the way to overcome that… Was revolution, and the kind of revolution were ones where you toppled the monarchy or the aristocracy, and you replace them with government where — the government that was accessible to everyone, so more liberal government, or more socialistic government or Communist government and so on. So I think those are the sorts of historical trends that kind of fed into those things.

Also, when it comes to the State of Israel, a lot of nation-building — and even in this country, in particular, in the North before the Civil War — that-nation building often relied on more kind of socialistic policies and more kind of government direction and involvement. And the North in this country was kind of protectionist, and the South didn’t like that. So you kind of see that everywhere. You see that with the modern Tiger economies in Asia as well. So I think that’s kind of a universal. And then as a society has become more affluent, the trick is to open up kind of economically, but that… That’s a kind of a separate question from Judaism, and where the religion is at. I think there’s a lot more depth, and complexity and a multi-layeredness, to Judaism, to be able to pick out one ideology, and say that’s what’s going on there.

Interestingly, the critics of the book have claimed that, “Oh, he’s just saying that Judaism is not liberal, so that you can say that it’s conservative.” And as you know, I don’t make that argument in the book. I don’t think that Judaism can be reduced to that, and I think it’s kind of very telling because people who take their faith seriously — that’s whether it’s Judaism, or Christianity or any other faith — they don’t want to make it a handmaiden to their politics. The religion, faith and G-d community come first, and the politics are a means to achieving those goals. Whereas, for the tikkun olam movement, politics is the end. That is their religion, and some have even said that tikkun olam has become their G-d. So it’s very telling that they think that that’s what’s going on in my head. It’s more a feeling about what’s going on in theirs.


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