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How Jewish is Ben Shapiro?

Ben Shapiro, the kippah-wearing conservative pundit, undoubtedly finds himself in anti-abortion heaven along with the many thousands of “pro-lifers” who are reveling in Dobbs, the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Laws have been passed and are continuing to be written shutting down the practice of abortion around the country. Here he is speaking with Lila Rose https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0XQW2B_kBo&t=174s.  As many as twenty states have or will have such laws in place with great rapidity, as people all over America, especially women, see what they viewed as a fifty-year-old fundamental right removed from their grasp on the notion that the Constitution of the United States does not protect a woman’s right to control her own body.

I’m fascinated with Mr. Shapiro’s kippah, a small black one that sits on the back of his head. Perhaps I shouldn’t take that public symbol of his Jewishness too seriously, as I have no corroborating data that indicates how he honors that symbol of his religious tradition. Is he observant in any distinguishable way? Does he observe Shabbat? Kashrut? Tefilln? Tsom Gedaliah? Does he have basic awareness of the values of the Jewish tradition? Does he study the ethical values of the Jewish tradition? In particular, is he conversant with the Jewish understanding of the nature of the fetus and Judaism’s concomitant understanding of abortion, which teaches that an abortion, for whatever reason, is not an act of murder, because the fetus in not considered a human being with the identical status of the mother until the baby’s head crowns? Or does Mr. Shapiro merely conform to the values of American conservatism, values in this matter, developed and fought for by Catholic and Fundamentalist Christianity, traditions that view a fetus, in contradistinction to Judaism, as a fully formed person with rights transcending those of the women bearing that fetus?

In other words, how closely does our kippah-wearing friend follow the tenets of his birth tradition which by his public dress he would appear to possess some loyalty, rather than parrot another religious tradition that now, by virtue of three Trump appointees, dominates the public square? Does Ben Shapiro even know the “Jewish” view on the matter of abortion? And if Mr. Shapiro is aware of the “Jewish” view on abortion–which essentially prioritizes the mother’s rights over that of the fetus–why has he chosen to abandon that view in preference of the view of some Christian understandings of the nature of the fetus? Does Mr. Shapiro pay any attention to the ethics of his birth tradition, or does he merely wear the kippah to receive some kind of sympathetic effect that perhaps argues, look at me: I’m a Jew and yet also a conservative in the style of Clarence Thomas (who does not wear a kippah and who is now chomping at the bit to go after other rights, such as same sex marriage and contraception).

Without being aware of the Jewish intellectual process Mr. Shapiro underwent to bring himself into the same intellectual territory as Amy Coney Barrett, I can only point out that in the matter of abortion, the man with the kippa has elected to remove himself from the teachings of the Jewish tradition.

I find myself fascinated by this smug, humorless Jew whose affect allows him to opine with such certainty, a boyish man who has elevated himself to pundit status by hewing to the straight and narrow of American conservatism. There are other Jews who argue for traditional conservative views (one need only read or hear a few moments of John Podhoretz, e.g., to see what I mean).  But with Shapiro, it’s the kippah that signals to me, apparently erroneously, that he’s offering us views from within the matrix of the Jewish tradition. Of the many smug opinions worthy of a high school debater I’ve heard and read coming from his mouth or pen, I cannot recall a single view that consciously reflects any serious study on his part of the tradition into which I presume he was born. Merely that thin, black kippah clipped atop his head testifies to his being a Jew.

About the Author
Phil M. Cohen is a rabbi, author, novelist with interests in bioethics, Israel, fiction, Bible, and Jewish thought. His novel Nick Bones Underground won a Finalist award in the category of Debut Novel from the Jewish Book Council..
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