Saturday, August 13, 2011

False Choices

One recurring theme of my blog, and of American Jewish discourse in the 20th and 21st centuries, has to do with religion (particularly) Christianity in politics.

Most Jews on the liberal end of the political (and/or religious) end of the spectrum tend to be very suspicious of religion mixing with politics, while folks on the more conservative end seem to run the gamut from unconcerned to enthusiastic, depending on the particular bent of their philosophies.

Politically right-wing Jews sometimes tend to act as if they have something to prove by arguing not only that they aren't bothered by a Christian politician's religiosity, but that they think it's positively super.

Enter Ben Shapiro. Shapiro, only in his mid-20s, has already gotten a law degree and published three books. He's also had a syndicated column for years that appears on WorldNetDaily and Townhall, among other places. Since Shapiro is a pal of conservative crank Joseph Farah, it's not surprising that his political views tend to be a tad right-wing. Things like suggesting that Al Gore should be prosecuted for sedition. Or saying that FBI reluctance to policing pornography was comparable to turning a blind eye towards genocide.

Never is Ben more on fire, though, then when he gets to be a professional Jew, in the long-established mold of Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and more recently Michael Savage and Jackie Mason. Because Ben isn't just Jewish, my friends: he's an Orthodox Jew. Which, conveniently enough, puts him a great position to lambast anyone who disagrees with him as a fake Jew, or as Ben so cleverly put it a few months ago, a JINO:
the Jews who vote for Obama are, by and large, Jews In Name Only (JINOs). They eat bagels and lox; they watch "Schindler's List"; they visit temple on Yom Kippur -- sometimes. But they do not care about Israel. Or if they do, they care about it less than abortion, gay marriage and global warming. 
...The only way to reconcile [a] high level of support for Israel with a high level of support for an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic administration lies in the fact that all voters have priorities, and that Israel is not these voters' highest priority. Which is why they are known as JINOs.
...Being truly Jewish requires allegiance to basic Judaic principles; the first and foremost of which is identity with the Jewish people and its enlightened national aspirations. In the Tanach (the Jewish canon, including the Old Testament, the Prophets and the Writings), when Ruth converts to Judaism, she states, "Your people will be my people and your God my God." The connection between Jews and the land of Israel is the running theme of the Old Testament. Any Jew who does not take these principles seriously -- more seriously than global warming or affirmative action, for example -- is a JINO.
And voting for Obama is a violation of those principles.
...Simply put, Obama is an enemy of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. And any Jew who votes for him betrays his or her brothers and sisters at home and abroad. By definition, a vote for Obama is a vote against the truly Jewish part of Jewish identity. There is a reason that the observant Jewish community votes overwhelmingly Republican -- they vote on Jewish principle.
Why bother exposing JINOs for what they are? First, it helps non-Jews understand the dynamics of the Jewish community -- it is not monolithic, and much of it is not authentically Jewish. Second, it acts as a shaming mechanism for those Jews who throw away Jewish principle in pursuit of back-slapping from their liberal buddies. And they should be ashamed of what they do. They are the moral equivalent of Jewish Neville Chamberlain voters in 1939. They must understand that their votes have consequences.
Jewish identity is about more than ethnicity... Being Jewish means something. And if it means anything, it means that voting for Barack Obama immediately places you in opposition to the Jewish people.

Thanks for the memo, Chief Rabbi Ben. Good to know that besides being an Israel hawk, you also moonlight as Jew-Pope.

Anyway, this winds up being important now because a while back a column of Ben's focused on Gov. Rick Perry and about how jazzed up he is about his faith. And to Ben, this is quite possibly the coolest thing since Moses came down from Sinai and told everyone to vote Republican.
For those who couldn't tell from my name, I'm a Jew. Not only am I Jew, I'm an Orthodox Jew. I pray three times a day to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I keep kosher. I wear phylacteries in the morning, and I say the Shema at night.
Yeah, nothing's more authentically Jewish than the word "phylacteries." 

And I love Texas Gov. Rick Perry's "The Response."
On August 6, Perry is hosting a "day of prayer and fasting" in Houston. "With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis, people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God's help," Perry said in announcing the event. "That's why I'm calling on Americans to pray and fast, like Jesus did, and as God called the Israelites to do."

Ben was pissy because liberals were ridiculing Perry's "Response", calling it a "bizarre and fetishistic anti-religious frenzy." But frankly, I'm not mad about this. It just seems transparently... silly. It's another attempt to get attention, a-la Glenn Beck. I find it more annoying than anything else, given that Perry is exploiting his faith (and the Old Testament for extra religious cred and a possible attempt at ecumenism) for political points, to show people how devout and humble he is.

Ben will have none of it, though:
There is nothing wrong with Perry's "The Response." In fact, it is profoundly right to request that God look kindly and benevolently on the United States of America. Even those who don't believe in God should be able to recognize that peaceful public displays of faith strengthen the unity of our nation.
Sigh. Yes, Ben, you are correct that a peaceful, non-crazy public display of faith can't really hurt anything. On the other hand, a prayer rally that is used to either badmouth secularists/liberals or promote a Christian/religious exclusivity ( does not, IMO, really help the nation. To say nothing of the fact that I don't see how fasting and prayer are going to help the economy. If Reaganomics have taught us anything, in fact, Perry should have bought everyone burgers (or hot dogs).

Incidentally... do I really need to explain that something can only strengthen and promote unity if it's actually, you know... unifying?
Those who are concerned about Perry's openly Christian worship are again wrongheaded. For folks who love to spout about diversity, they sure hate to see it in action when the word "Jesus" is used.
This is where the rubber meets the road for Perry's Jewish critics. "There are many houses of worship here in Texas, not just Christian churches," said Kim Kamen of the American Jewish Committee about "The Response." "As the leader of our state, we hope he will bear that in mind." Overall, the Jewish community remains uneasy about public displays of Christianity.
They shouldn't. Perry is Christian, yes. So are the vast majority of those who will attend "The Response." In fact, so are almost 80 percent of Americans. And Perry's brand of Christianity is what maintains the sacredness of Judaism and the unbreakable bond between America and Israel. Invocation of Jesus shouldn't just be tolerated uncomfortably by the American Jewish community -- it should be welcomed.

I have to admit, over the years, my view of Christian support for Israel has slightly evolved. I am now in a place where I feel that I can accept that there are Christians who legitimately identify with and relate to Israel and Jews as peers as friends, not merely as stereotypical cartoon characters, and that it is unfair to dismiss all Christian allies or friends as being motivated by the Second Coming/Armageddon scenario.

However, considering how much suspicion and venom religious Jews like Shapiro hold for left-wingers and secularists, the idea that the motivations and religious ideology of Christian Zionists is unimportant or should be off the table for discussion or examination isn't just silly but downright hypocritical. There is a fundamental theological problem when you start talking about devoutly religious Christian support for Jews and Israel. That doesn't mean Christians may not be sincere. But it's certainly a legitimate issue to deal with.

At the end of the day, from my admittedly secular perspective, I am much more comfortable with Christians who relate to Israel and Jews as real people and a real country because they've given the matter serious thought and consideration, not because God or their pastor told them they must blindly support the Chosen People. Positive stereotypes might be better than negative ones, but it's still a stunted view of who you're talking to. That sort of fundamentalism isn't healthy for Christians, and the reality is, it's not that healthy for Jews, either.

Shapiro's automatic acceptance of Christian allies by virtue of the fact that they're religious and Zionist-ish is just as wrongheaded as an automatic shunning of Christians. What is needed are thoughtful Christians, of all stripes, interested and willing to engage with Jews. Right or wrong, the impression lots of Jews still have of fundamentalist American Christians is that they're a little too excited to help Jews. And frankly, it's kind of creepy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure whether Jewish wingnuts like Ben are serious about wanting to convince the Jews en masse to switch political sides, whether they're just trying to pollute the general political discourse and distract it from real issues, or whether all they want to do is provide entertainment for the already converted wingnuts and thereby make money.

It is possible he's really trying to persuade Jews, but not, of course, the masses of Jews, just those who are susceptible I know his line of thinking has polluted the thought of the population of Jews who are more committed to Jewish practice. It's not that all the traditional Jews have become wingnuts, but they have become receptive to individual wingnut-lite arguments. It sometimes makes me want to stop having anything to do with Jewish affiliation, but I soldier on, because if we all leave, then the wingnuts will have their victory and their idiocies will rule the Jewish people.

Conservative Apikoris