Shlomo Toren
Shlomo Toren

New Jewish Liberal Values Are the New Golden Calf

Once upon a time, and in terms of the Jewish People, not so long ago, there were traits that defined who was a Jew. Jews kept the Shabbat, ate kosher and were careful of the laws of family purity. Of course the were quite a number of commandments or mitzvot that Jews held dear. Jews gave charity, helped the orphans and the widows and, especially, in the hostile environment of the non Jewish world they lived in, they saw all Jews as one great brotherhood to be aided in times of crisis. Klal Yisrael.

Times have changed, and we now have Reform and Conservative Judaism. Some mitzvot have been put aside and the emphasis has been placed on moral precepts culled from the original 613 mitzvot that the Jews received at Sinai. Not satisfied with only reducing the the quantity of mitzvot that Jews should keep, some Jewish Liberals have decided to add mitzvot of their own making. Now, they say, “Every Jew has a duty to help end the occupation” ..

By this convoluted logic, a Jew could, theoretically (or in this case not so theoretically), drive in his or her car to a gathering of other like minded Jews, eat ham souffles, crab cakes, or whatever, and listen to a lecture and a film of why “those Jewish settlers” are so evil and why the Arabs in Susiya, poor innocent souls that they be, are being so unfairly treated. At the end of the evening the lucky participants could hookup with a fellow traveler and the next morning write a blog of how the prior evening exemplified what they consider as “ the essence of their Judaism”. Yes, it seems, times have changed.

These Jewish Liberals with their new Jewish Liberal values come under different names and are presented in different places. Lately much has been said about Hasia Diner and Marjorie N. Feld’s op-ed in Haaretz, but the list of people and publications that regularly denounce the state of Israel is seemingly endless. Some call themselves rabbis and claim that denouncing Israel or minimally at least denouncing Israel’s policies in Judea and Shomron is in line with “Jewish” values. Jewish values? Like…dancing around the Golden Calf?

And indeed, from my perspective in Shiloh, where the Mishkan once stood, it seems that Jewish liberals have been drawn into some mindless dance around a new deity of a strange religion where the only Jewish aspect is that the participants are Jewish or claim some Jewish ancestry. Many claim that they are only internalizing what was learnt from the Holocaust (perhaps the parts where Jews betrayed the lives of other Jews in order to gain favors?), others that Israel is an “Apartheid “ state, tilting towards “fascism” or “just like the nazis”. They join up with organizations like Ta’ayush , Adalah, Rabbis for Human Rights, Bimkom, Breaking the Silence or one of the other tens of anti-Zionist organizations (many funded by the liberal New Israel Fund). A common thread for these groups is the evil of the “Occupation” with a liberal (?) dose of anti-settler, and anti-Haredi hatred.

Of course, not all who join the anti-Occupation dance are the same. As in any dance, there will be those who do not know all the steps and in general there is no one choreographer to coordinate the participants. Some may even reject some of the language or gestures as too extreme. Like Tru’ah’s (T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights ) “dismay” at Black Lives Matters manifesto calling Israel an Apartheid state, some are aware that being anti-Israel can be taken a step too far, (the anti Israel sections that appear in Black Lives Matter were penned, partly, by Rachel Gilmer who was born and raised Jewish). They are unable to manage the leaps and twirls of the new Jewish liberalism of the millennials who denounce Israel.

Being an advocate for Arab Susiya may not only not be an expression of Jewish values, it may also not be very liberal either. Here it is important to note that there are two narratives concerning Arab Susiya: the first that Arab Susiya has a long history and destroying the “village” will result in many becoming homeless, the second is that there was no Arab Susiya, the building is relatively recent (last fifteen years), and most of those living in Arab Susiya have homes in neighboring Yatta. The second narrative is the one backed by facts, and that is the one the courts have accepted.

Facts, context and the historical background of issues should influence how one shapes his or her beliefs. Liberal thought should be informed by a variety of sources all weighed against each other , all forced to corroborate with the empirical world. Basing one’s opinion on half truths, exaggerations and baseless slanders isn’t liberal; it is practically neanderthal.

Sometimes our biases get the best of us. Here is Hayim Herring trying to defend Israel from the likes of Diner and Feld:

“..under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s administrations, the Israeli government continues to promote an environment that chills democratic values out of a free and independent press, and funds right-wing religious bigotry, courtesy of the Chief Rabbinate.”

This opinion, not particularly fact based, was most likely included to establish Herring’s liberal credentials and make his defence of Israel more effective. (Or, to let us know that Herring too reads the op eds published by the New York Times.) As for the accuracy of Ruth Margalit’s slander, she has been refuted robustly by Liel Liebowitz on Tablet (but don’t take my word; check out the links and decide for yourself). Evidently the lies published by Mondoweiss, Tikun Olam or Alternet have somehow filtered themselves into the mainstream to be recycled in a less toxic form for our unwitting consumption.

The Lerners, Blumenthals and Weiss’s aside, there are those who should know better. There are rabbis in Reform and Conservative movements that have decided to use their pulpits to criticize the Israeli government, spread malfeasance towards segments of the Israeli population (settlers and Haredi) and to distant their congregants from Israel. Whether the politicizing of the pulpit has drawn disaffected Jews to their synagogues or has driven worshippers away is a matter of debate. Yet if membership rolls are to be counted, there seems that there may be a problem.

So next time your rabbi tells you that Jewish values mean supporting #Black Lives Matters, of opposing the “occupation” or , since it is an election cycle, voting for Hillary Clinton, take pause. Politics and the pulpit don’t go well together and what is billed as Jewish Liberal values could very well be neither Jewish nor Liberal. Instead of Judaism you may very well be led to a mindless dance around a glittering illusion based on selected quotes masquerading as Judaism.

The Ninth of Av is behind us. The lamentations were not only for the destroyed Temples, and not only for the loss of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. We were also mourning for the distancing of G-d from the Jewish People; a result of the Jewish People’s distancing themselves from the mitzvot. Perhaps what the Jews need is not liberal values that are neither Jewish nor liberal. Perhaps we need the tried and true values that kept us together as one people since our beginnings. Time to turn our backs on the new Golden Calf and the false values it represents.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.