Passover Explains Why So Many Jews Are Liberal While Judaism is Conservative
© Rabbi Daniel Lapin
As a visible, politically conservative rabbi, whose conservatism flows inevitably and directly from his Judaism, I endure a never-ending barrage of attacks. I don’t much mind them as they remind me of my mission—standing astride America’s secular path to decline, decadence, and depravity, but I do feel sorry for the pain these assaults cause my family. Especially so since most of these attacks come from other Jews; indignant Jews outraged by a rabbi who does not subscribe to the principles of liberalism.
As a Jew, I must reject liberalism because the values of the two belief systems, Judaism and liberalism, are quite incompatible.
As a Jew, I must reject liberalism because the values of the two belief systems, Judaism and liberalism, are quite incompatible. For instance, three of the main tenets of liberalism are roundly refuted by the Passover holy day beginning tonight.
Liberalism tends to follow the heart rather than the head, finding visceral sentiment utterly compelling. It also suggests that each of us carries within ourselves absolute knowledge of what is right for us. “Just do what you think is right” is central to the liberal liturgy. Finally, liberalism encourages dependency on the state.
By contrast, Passover emphasizes rules rather than feelings. The carefully ordered agenda of the Passover Seder specifies exactly what we must read and say, what must be eaten, how it should be eaten and when. I seldom feel like eating matzoh—that particularly indigestible culinary treat. However, what we may feel like is of no importance at a seder. What matters is he rules.
…Passover insists that we distrust our own instincts of rightness, replacing them with God’s vision of morality.
Second, Passover insists that we distrust our own instincts of rightness, replacing them with God’s vision of morality. After all, many of the Israelites preferred to remain in Egypt while others who left desperately desired to return. The exodus from Egypt was tightly linked to the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai fifty days later. Moses informed Pharaoh that the entire purpose for leaving Egypt was to receive God’s instructions, the Torah, in seven weeks time. To this day, Jews meticulously and formally count off each of those days in eager anticipation of the fulfillment of the exodus, namely replacing our own sense of what is right with God’s.
Finally, Passover reminds us that dependency on the state is just a polite way of describing slavery. Sure, the state will supply you with all your needs but the basic laws of economic reality insist that it can only do so by subjecting you completely. The Exodus was a call to reject the domination of the state.
There can hardly be a soul left in America unaware of the tragic and misguided Jewish embrace of liberalism.
There can hardly be a soul left in America unaware of the tragic and misguided Jewish embrace of liberalism. With such a clear conflict between Jewish values and the doctrines of liberalism why are so many Jews liberals?
There are two main explanations for why American Jews pledge their allegiance to the liberal agenda. The first is self flattering but untrue: This explanation says that each year, Jews read the words in the Passover Seder: “Remember that you were once slaves in the land of Egypt.” The Egyptian experience was first in a long sequence of oppressions, and Jews have never forgotten what oppression feels like; hence their ability to identify with the underdog.
This is unconvincing because liberals do not support all underdogs. They project sympathy very selectively, invariably identifying with whichever side more strongly opposes traditional Judeo-Christian values. For instance, there is very little liberal concern for Christians being oppressed by the People’s Republic of China.
Today in America, many Jews actively reject the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They remain ethnic Jews, but their hearts and souls cleave to another faith—the faith of secular liberalism.
The second explanation correctly observes that liberalism has replaced Judaism as a religion for many American Jews. Today in America, many Jews actively reject the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They remain ethnic Jews, but their hearts and souls cleave to another faith—the faith of secular liberalism.
But what is the attraction of this strange faith of secularism? Jews embrace liberalism to find–or if necessary create–the escape hatch through which those who find the Torah too limiting, could flee. Liberalism has attracted Jews for over three thousand years. Ancient Jewish wisdom reports that upon receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites wept. Their gloom was caused by the realization that the Revelation they had just experienced prohibited the lascivious lifestyle to which they had grown accustomed in Egypt.
At that moment, secular liberalism was born; the eternal search for liberation from God’s seemingly restrictive rules. It was a movement that has always found eager converts. Aldous Huxley wrote in Confessions of a Professional Free Thinker: “We were opposed to morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.” Columbia University professor, Lionel Trilling was startlingly honest when he wrote, “To subvert the classic Jewish, Christian and natural virtues… to insinuate that what Jews and Christians have for centuries called sin is actually a high form of liberation.”
Biblical faith maintains civilization by curbing human passions.
Biblical faith maintains civilization by curbing human passions. Jews and Christians choose to renounce absolute license. We accept restraints in our long term interests. We defer gratification and joyfully submit to moral self-discipline in a manner not dissimilar to the training regimen adopted by an aspiring athlete.
Judaism exercises detailed control over every aspect of daily life. Oscar Wilde defined the cynic as one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Too many Jews see only the price of religious discipline. They correctly note that the Torah instructs how to walk and how to talk, how to rise in the morning and how to retire at night. For those disciples of Moses who wish to know, it speaks of how and when to pray and what and how to eat. It mandates whom to marry and how to make love. It even demands that we have children and specifies how to raise them.
However many Jews take Jewish values seriously and they constitute a fountainhead of conservative values.
Like keen athletes, some descendants of Abraham see lifestyle enhancing benefits in a religious regimen. However many Jews desperately pursue liberalism as a way out of their covenant. This is the true purpose of liberalism and Jews are its chief champions because it alone provides an escape from having to accept Jewish law–the Torah.
However many Jews take Jewish values seriously and they constitute a fountainhead of conservative values. Ronald Reagan and more recently George W. Bush, won the votes of many of these Jews. Unlike liberals, these Jews know that what threatens them is not Christianity but an American population with no religious values at all.