It’s been a long time since I posted here, but I was feeling kind of bad for Mark and David (who recently emailed out a request for posts) and I still remember the last question I was pondering for Beyond BT – a question that irked me so much, I found myself stymied. That question was: have your politics changed since you’ve done teshuva. And the answer is a very Jewish one – yes and no.
I was raised on liberal values. I attended the most integrated public schools in the most multicultural borough of New York City – Queens – and had friends of all races and ethnicities. In the summer, I attended a sleep-away camp with an international staff where we sang Pete Seeger songs and sent a “freeze the bomb” petition to President Reagan. In high school, I joined the student organization, the H.O.P.E. club, which stood for the Hillcrest Organization for Peace on Earth. Unfortunately, our faculty advisor was a communist, so that’s the “no” part of my answer. No, I am no longer a communist. But yes, I still retain my liberal values. Racism still offends me, and pacifism still appeals to me. I believe the government should spend money on social programs. And – don’t flame, please – though we don’t know how much of a friend he’ll be to Israel, I’m happy that President Obama won.
I know liberalism is unpopular in frum circles, and I know there are good reasons for it. Israel is number one, of course, but then there are matters like abortion and gay marriage. So I’ve learned to keep my politics to myself in the frum world. I was downright inspired when I came across the organization “Ayecha” a few years ago, a group dedicated to combating prejudice against Jews of color, but as far as I know, they’re not that active anymore.
So in a certain way, this isn’t a very happy post. I don’t like that I’ve had to keep part of myself in the closet all these years, and I think plenty of new and potential BTs would be turned off by the thought that they “have to” do the same. So here I am: out of the closet. Liberalism is a core value I learned in childhood. It didn’t die with my teshuva. And maybe, somehow, some way, I’ll figure out how to be a liberal activist in this participatory democracy while still maintaining my Torah lifestyle.
If the reaction to this post doesn’t get too nasty, there may be a Part 2 in which I’ll review President Obama’s Dreams from My Father. See you!
Chesed, Gevurah and Tiferes as well as the other Sefirot are globally applicable spiritual forces.
I don’t think I mentioned anything about Shmittah or Yovel.
Mark-WADR, I think that it is a mistake to extrapolate from uniquely Hashkafic and/or Halachic concepts of Chesed and Gvurah or Shmittah and Yovel or even such Kabbalistic based concepts as Tiferes and to attempt to pigeonhole them into the distinctly secular concepts of conservative or liberal.
Liberalism seems to be rooted in Chesed (lovingkindness) as evidenced by concern for the poor, reluctance to impose restraint and reaching out towards foreign opponents.
Conservatism seems to be rooted in Gevurah (might) as evidenced by striving for individual self-sufficiency, imposition of behavioral standards and striking foreign opponents when called for.
The solution is Tiferes (beauty) which is the ideal balance between lovingkindness and might.
To find that balance we have to first hear and truly understand the forces of lovingkindness and might and to apply them in the right measure at the right time in the right places.
That’s why I said “I know I shouldn’t do this” but I do believe that a big Torah value is the preservation of our people and there is my link.
Let’s say I know a Jew who now actively supports the unconstitutional government takeover of America. How tolerant should I be?
The focus of this thread is not party affiliation (Democrat, Republican, Green, Working Families, Right to Life, etc.), but rather the ideals with which one identifies, and how Torah-observant Jews of different ideologies act towards one another.
I know I shouldn’t do this but I can’t let Arthur’s statements go unanswered. I for one, can’t see one being Jewish and Democrat in some instances. Take the liberal hero Roosevelt for instance. From sending Jewish refugees back to Germany to die, to refusing to bomb the camps (perhaps missing the chance to save 100s of thousands of Jewish lives) he was in many ways a disaster for our people. He even attacked Robert Morganthau his Jewish secretary of the Treasury, when he tried to plead the Jewish case, yelling that Jews should stop complaining because he felt Jews should thank God they were allowed to live in America without suffering the fate of the Jews in Germany.
And how about Reagan which he mentions. I actually didn’t vote for him but I am now pretty darn happy he beat the rabid anti-semite Carter. Do you know what Reagan said after the bombing of the Iraq nuclear facilities? “Boys will be boys” and said their would be no sanctions. Let’s see what Obama says after the Isrealis are forced to do the same thing again. By the way I am no fan of the first George Bush, but I think that anyone who makes blanket statements about any political party is not considering history.
I guess that brings me up to 5 cents.
In 1948 Humphrey’s vocal opposition to segregation caused Southern Democrats to walk out of the Democratic convention to form their own party. It failed to defeat Truman, and its supporters rejoined the Democrats for many years after.
“Does anyone remember the Southern Democrats, the key constituency of the national Democratic Party into the 1960’s that was segregationist to the bone? Not a peep from the great FDR or JFK about them! The one who took them head on was Hubert Humphrey.”
If so, the adjective “great” would more appropriately be applied to Hubert Humphrey than to JFK or FDR. Once again, it’s not about what someone is called, but about what he or she does!
Does anyone remember the Southern Democrats, the key constituency of the national Democratic Party into the 1960’s that was segregationist to the bone? Not a peep from the great FDR or JFK about them! The one who took them head on was Hubert Humphrey.
Neither conservatism nor frumkeit support racism and/or oppose pacifism. Conservatives support the civil rights movement, not people like Jesse Jackson and Maxine Waters who value money over justice. As for pacifism, Conservatives believe in peace when it is practical. When people fly planes into buildings and make plans to blow themselves and others up, one could guess that they are not interested in peace treaties. Even the Torah advocates killing someone who is trying to kill you.
If you experienced any prejudice from frum people because of your politics, I, on behalf of other Conservatives, apologize. One of the common complaints we have about liberals is that they come up with catchphrases instead of arguments. People occasionally disagree, but that doesn’t mean we must stay seperate; otherwise, we have no way of knowing which ideas don’t hold water. I disagree with you about Obama, but I am still willing to listen to your opinion of him…because I support dissent.
I believe that there will eventually be a third party in the US, because the Democratic party has been overun by the far left, and the Republican party is no longer made up of individuals with the values held by that party during earlier generations. It seems inevitable to me that a Conservative party will emerge from elected officials who represent the majority of the country’s population living mainly outside the major city centers. Liberalism today shares little with the values that so many Jews were atracted to 40-70 years ago. Nor do the political parties. The Jews who are attracted to it today, did not grow up with the same values of the liberalism of those who came before them.
The loss of moral values over the last 40 years
in the US has been gradual, but constant. Many of us have grown used to it or have ignored it.
It’s quite sad actually. But I don’t believe that the country’s core population will continue to allow the moral decay for much longer, without developing its own political party to provide an avenue to preserve the values that the country was founded upon, and made it truly great for so many generations.
It is often said that there should be no “religous test” in politics. It then stands to reason that there should be no “political test” in religion.
Frum vs not
returning to the fold so to speak vs not
Conservative vs Liberal
Personally in my humble opinion I do not understand how any minority, black, latino, Jewish or whatever person can be a republican. Would Tiger Woods be able to play at Agusta if he wasnt on the tour and inited?
Would mr Obama?
So many of the original Union orgnaizers were Jews, frum or not because of the idea of tikkun olam because of the idea of doing right by others.
Conservaives own wall mart not jews
it als bears noting that in Mississippi 3 of the four murdered youngsters or activists were Jews.
How can one be frum and/or Jewish and not be a democrat?
does that mean blindly following the extreme left leaning ideas no it does not.
again just my 2 cents – take it or leave it
but do not ever tell me that George W or George HW or Regan could ever represent any minority
If the nature of today’s Federal Government is any indication, voters want pie in the sky above all else.
I think that despite the efforts invested in “civility monitoring”, there is a subtle slant incorporated in the moderation, and “open-mindedness” is not quite so evenly distributed.
Nevertheless, I agree that “politics and religion” are a volatile mix. I am personally apolitical; I believe neither Bush nor Obama (and company for both) are worthy of admiration, but I accord them the dignity of their position.
There was an interesting letter to the editor in today’s TimesUnion (my local paper)about how the Democratic party is moving far to the left and the Republican party is moving far to the right and how this has made most voters’ choices problematic. It goes on to say that we need a third party but it is hard to energize people to be in the “middle” on issues.
I agree with you and disagree with you at the same time (see, I’m in the middle!) I think that debates here do get heated at times, even to the verge of insulting but, for the most part, Mark and David have done a great job in keeping it civil especially when compared to some debates on some of the other blogs. I think this is a perfect stream to remind everyone why people don’t often want to discuss “politics and religion” People are so invested in both. (especially BTs!) Just my 3 cents (probably what it is worth)
I thought I’d submit my view on the idea of polital parties, and I’ll be brief, as this could go on and on…
Here in the USA, I view the liberal/conservative or democratic/republican question from what I hope is a Torah true perspective. Instead of looking at party lines, I consider carefully, the individual politicians themselves. True, one can see trends in how each politician votes on issues, and that is important of course, I look closer into whether the individual politician does what he/she promises to do or not. When they claim to believe and live according to priciples that seem to be in line with Torah teachings, etc. Do they vote to support their claims of believing in these values? Do they live their personal lives accordingly?
Sadly, I have found that many, if not most, well meaning people who enter politics, eventually succumb to the pressures of their profession. The details of which need no description here. I have grown weary of all politicians, despite party affiliation. It has boiled down to voting for the lesser evil. But, as was so eligantly stated above, while I am thankful to live in a “free” country, and I’ve not missed an opprtunity to vote, I do believe that everything is in Hashem’s hands.
DY, As I mentioned above, I think there are two aspects to politics, the principles and the policies.
I think it’s worthwhile analyzing the principles from a Torah viewpoint because it deepens our understanding of Torah.
In addition, we are taught that we have to do hishtadlus in this world and at the same time realize that despite our hishtadlus the outcome is totally dependent on Hashem. How much hishtadlus depends on the person and the situation, but being involved in political processes and policies fits the Torah’s hishtadlus prescription.
I think that one must be careful in discussions of this nature to avoid pegging Torah and Halacha into liberal or conservative definitions. Look at it this way-the same Torah includes Hilcos Shmitah VYovel.
mark, i agree with you about it being wrong to compartmentalize into torah and no-torah. i’m not sure if my comment was misunderstood and you took issue or if you agreed with my point and took it further. my point was that it should all be torah, directly or indirectly. and the more torah-centered one grows, the more he realizes there is only so much he can do/say/vote, etc…and politics, of any stripe, matters in a different way once that shift has occurred.
I’ve read your response. I do hope, though, that you put some thought into my comment.
PL, we try not to dismiss the arguments made, but we do consciously try to bring down the tone.
Most of our “problems” over the years has been with people who are certain of their positions and we try to moderate down that type of attitude.
“maybe i’ve missed something here and i apologize if that is so. i know politics is a very important subject to many people. but when discussing BT and politics, i can’t help but think that the political mindset cannot help but change too once the internal system – realizing who i am, and who i am not – has fundamentally changed along the way.”
The Gemora is filled with political topics in both hashkafa and halacha. In addition, when we try to apply Torah thought to any practical application it deepens our understanding of the Torah principles.
I think it’s a mistake to compartmentalize our lives into Torah and non-Torah. Hashem wants us to think deeply and apply Torah to everything in this world.
“the “I am definitely right” variety”
This is why I post so infrequently here. The subtle put-downs of any assertions, particularly of those more to the right, make me think: Why post in a blog in which the tolerant platform of debate and exploration of opinions is only offered to some, and the rest are relegated to the “arrogance of truth possession” and “smug” category.
I’ve been following this blog, and I think my take on the perspectives here have been evidenced frequently and consistently.
Just thought I’d bring it to your attention, because in the interest of openness and acceptance of all valid Torah paths, you might just want to evaluate exactly when these subtle dismissals are dished out, as well as the psychological reasons as to why the need to do so.
I’m probably more to the “center” than some of your bloggers, yet the digs are difficult to ignore.
But if you take down the shopping list to make room for it on the fridge, I can’t commit to doing the shopping.
As an aside, on Rebbetzin Heller’s recent visit she told me that liberalism has replaced Judaism as the religion of many Jews in America and this was partly to blame for the fall off in Kiruv activity over the years.
If we can show that the Torah viewpoint has a more thought out position then the standard political fare, perhaps we can interest people in exploring Judaism.
Mark Frankel’s comment #22 should be cut out and pinned on your fridge door or bathroom mirror!
A few scattered, but relevant thoughts:
In his column in the Jewish Week a few years ago, Marvin Schick argued that Torah Jews should not subscribe, unconditionally and without thought, to the agendas of either the conservative or liberal camps in the United States. The Torah viewpoint is independant; while our view of Homosexuality is in line with the conservative camp, the Torah’s approach to issues such as gun control and environmentalism may very well be more aligned with the liberal camp.
Benjamin Disraeli, Great Britian’s most famous Jewish conservative, argued that traditionally, the Jewish instinct was conservative: “they are the trustees of tradition, and the conservators of the religious element. They are a living and the most striking evidence of the falsity of that most pernicious doctrine of modern times, the natural equality of man… Thus it will be seen that all the tendencies of the Jewish race are conservative. Their bias is to religion, property, and natural aristocracy (based on merit); and it should be the interest of statesmen that this bias of a great race should be encouraged and their energies and creative powers enlisted in the cause of existing society.” (Disraeli, Lord George Bentink)
Russel Kirk elaborates on Disraeli’s view of the Jews: The Jewish radical is an anomaly: the traditions of race and religion, the Jewish devotion to family, old usage, and spiritual continuity, all incline the Jew toward conservatism. It is exclusion from society which provokes the Jewish social revolutionary…” (The Conservative Mind, 267)
Bob, I think we need to understand that because of the complexities and nuances of everything in the world, we must be willing to adjust our thinking and constantly be seeking and questioning whether we really possess the truth at any point.
When you learn Gemora in depth, you change your understanding of the truth with each additional piece of information provide by the Gemora, the Rishonim and the Achronim. We should use our Torah trained minds to analyze everything in the world with this same depth.
Why settle for fire when with thoughtful analysis minus the arrogance of “ultimate truth possession” we can possibly bring light to these discussions.
You guys wanted to get discussions flowing!
Are you expecting us mortals here to doubt the truth of our own positions?
Until we get past –
Liberals Bad, Conservatives good
Conservatives Bad, Liberals good
we should have this discussion again and again.
There are some bright spots in this thread along with a few comments of the “I am definitely right” variety.
As Simon Synett says above lets embrace the debate and the complexities in both the political and the Torah positions.
Sounds like deja vu all over again.
I hope this doesn’t get us too off topic (but, hey, what’s a blog for? ;) ).
Nathan, pacifism does not mean that one simply hates war, it means that one is opposed to war as a means of resolving any issue.
I’m not sure if that’s how Kressel was using the term but, surely, you will not find a conservative pacifist.
Watch out though when someone tries to be generous to someone else—with a third party’s money! Today’s government is often about forcibly diverting people’s money to purposes/causes they oppose. That’s not our idea of tzedakah.
I see. I guess I’ve got half a brain then, since I’m conservative on some issues.
And now: Kabbala and Politics. My Rebbetzin (Holly Pavlov of She’arim) once said that most people treat themselves with chesed and others with gevurah, but really, they should do just the opposite. I think of chesed as liberality (as opposed to liberalism) and gevurah as conservatism. The trick with each is to apply them in the right place. In other words, be generous towards others and strict in your personal life.
Kressel Housman said: “pacifism still appeals to me.”
I have news that may shock you:
Conservatives dislike war just as much as Liberals do! Maybe more so, because war is often bad for business.
Liberals fail to understand that even though war stinks, failing to fight is often an even greater evil, because when good people fail to fight, evil people win automatically by default.
Our wise, great, and perfect Torah teaches:
“If you see someone coming to kill you, then arise and kill him first.”
(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, page 72A)
Finally, experience has shown me that many Liberals live an an alternative reality where normal logic does not exist, therefore they can not be reasoned with.
I understand it to be Winston Churchill
BTW, Kressel has offered me a manner of answering those who think that by becoming more observant, they must change their politics. I can always say that I know of a chasidishe women who voted for Obama!
I’m so happy nobody flamed! I hope we can keep this discussion going. And Albany Jew, the way I heard that joke, a 40-year-old liberal is someone with no MONEY, not no brains.
Where’s Ron Coleman?
Personally, my move from the liberal to more (for lack of a better definition) moderate/conservative leaning may have as much to do with maturity and being responsible for myself as my being a BT in my late 20’s did. It’s very difficult to put my finger on when I changed political stripes, but it’s been evolving for the past several years in particular.
DY and Simon Synett: Right on. My thoughts exactly, only much better formulated.
Also, I think Bob Miller has an important concept in that if you are trying to adapt the Torah value to your political beliefs, you may be going about it wrong. It obviously should be the other way. As BTs we may have been given the great gift of a clean slate, we should therefore be open to new outlooks.
Show me a 20 year old Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart.
Show me a 40 year old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.
A joke for sure, but it describes (at least chronologically) my political evolution (whoops! loaded word alert!) As I became closer to Torah I simply found a better fit with this political outlook. (Not a perfect fit but a better one) Kressel, I think I grew up similar to you, timewise, area of Queens, and politically (I had great debates with my Grandfather, a huge Reagan fan!) I currently see liberalism as anti-religious in many cases (e.g, if you believe in a creator you are some sort of backwards fool, against gay marriage, a bigot!) It just does not work for me anymore. (And that was before the current existential threat to Israel that the admistration is now trying to tie to a forced peace process)
David it depends, I see many MO who are liberal in their political philosophy but less so with the more right wing religious (another correlation!)
Brave post and some good comments.
What’s particularly ironic is that people easily box religious and right wing together, when in fact all the religious parties in Israel embrace a form of socialism that closely resembles the policies of 1970’s socialist parties!
The problem with extreme socialism is not Godlesness, but it’s lack of respect for private property, which is unarguably among the highest values in the Torah’s legal system.
The whole of Tort law – Mishpat – is based on the inviolability of a person’s earnings and property. Some Rishonim say that the Torah doesn’t bother legislating against damaging another’s property because it is so intrinsic to the system of Mishpat.
On the other hand, there is Tzedek, which is the Torah’s answer to redistributing wealth. There’s no question that the ideal form of Tzedaka is to give someone the means to create his own wealth, rather than giving him a handouts that perpetuate the dependency.
Yes, there’s a range of possibilities that fit with the Torah’s legislation. Instead of assuming alliances that don’t really have grounding in Torah, we should embrace the debate and the complexity.
let me state right up front that i am a fifth-generation new yorker. and that, for reasons other than politics, no one of my immediate family even lives in the USA any more, including myself.
without meaning to offend anyone, i must say that discussions of politics and judaism always amuse me. sort of like the elephant and the jewish problem, only maybe skewed – maybe more like judaism and the politics problem…and here we have BT and the politics problem.
as i see it, drawing coser to Hashem to whatever degree is ultimately catalyst for a redefining of the self. theoretically, every BT can say i have grown to see myself as more of a spiritual being than i was before, with my life more focused on the relationship between us. i think that as life goes on hopefully we continue to refine this more and more so that as we age there is less and less stuff in my life that isn’t directly about me and Him. that doesn’t mean i can’t enjoy myself or have interests other than religion per se, but that ideally all pursuits should relate to my role as eved Hashem and have a place within that sphere.
this being said, interest in politics, too, IMHO, has a place and has limits. yes, we live in a time of democracy B”H and in places of democracy and the individual has a right and an obligation to some degree to express their opinion – self-determination, to some degree.
but – forgive me, i know i am the LEAST political person around when there are americans afoot – ultimately, what i think/understand/predict will only go so far. i’m not running the show. yes, my vote counts – but i just can’t help but think that whatever Hashem wants to happen, happens, whether you and me and the guy next door like it/vote/speak out/campaign/propagandize or not, no? therefore, think what you think and vote teh way you want, but have faith that whatever is meant to be will, and IT’S NOT UP TO US ENTIRELY.
maybe i’ve missed something here and i apologize if that is so. i know politics is a very important subject to many people. but when discussing BT and politics, i can’t help but think that the political mindset cannot help but change too once the internal system – rtealizing who i am, and who i am not – has fundamentally changed along the way.
For all Jews, regardless of political affiliation, the Torah and its values are #1 and all other considerations are #2 at best. So to make one’s political liberalism or conservatism a “given” that can’t be questioned or altered in light of Torah is a mistake. Trying to adapt one’s interpretation of Torah to one’s preexisting outside views, consciously or subconsciously, can cause Torah to be distorted.
Politics consists of both principles and policies.
The Torah does have a set of principles to which we as observant Jews must adhere. If the political principals are in line with Torah principals they are fine.
The problem is that we need to dig deeper into both the underlying Torah and the political principles. In both areas people tend not to go deep enough. At the deeper levels there are often differences of understanding of what the exact principles entail.
In terms of policies the exact evaluation of the current situation and the effect of a given policy is often hard to measure. The Torah does give some hashkafic rules of thumb but the application is not always agreed upon.
In today’s polarized political climate you are basically either a liberal or a conservative. The reality is we are much more nuanced than that in our views. I think if we start with the assumption that the people we are debating are good and intelligent and might have a different understanding of the “facts” than we have we will get a lot farther in this discussion.
I’m not sure that the point of the post is to argue our personal politics or the labels we choose to attach to them. I do agree, however, that there is no political agenda required by the Torah.
While Kressel struggles with being a “liberal” in a frum world where there seems to be a tilt to the right, I struggle with being an orrhodox Jew with very conservative political views.
Although there is plenty of political company, my concern is that others that may be interested in growing in their personal observance might erroneously believe that all orthodox Jews need to toe a party political line. If this line is not in accordance with their personal politics, they may quash their growth interests.
Is this a legitimate concern? Does anyone share similar concerns?
As I mentioned in other posts, I didn’t know that there was a Torah-mandated political affiliation.
I’m not writing to express my political views. I am writing to call for political discussion based on facts, not on labels and prejudices.
What makes someone a liberal? I have been called such when I stated my dislike for the use of ethnic and racial slurs. The Jews needed special permission from Hashem to rejoice over the deaths of their Egyptian oppressors. What right do we have to use slurs against people, most of whom have done nothing to us, because of their ethnic or racial background?
Looking at “hallmarks of liberalism,” it is well-known that many Jews benefit from programs such as Medicaid, SSI, Pell grants and Food Stamps. These programs, or successors to them, will always be a part of American life. Social aid should continue, in an efficient manner, free of fraud, for all who need it.
President Obama does not share all aspects of the so-called liberal social agenda. If we have a complaint about any policy proposal of his administration, let’s oppose it with facts, not political labels.
Sarah Palin may have been an eloquent spokeswoman for “our” family values. However, an Orthodox family that had an unwed pregnant teenage daughter would for all practical purposes be shunned. It is not a liberal or conservative value, but rather an ethical value, to practice what one preaches.
There is talk of a better deal for Israel under conservative leadership than under liberal leadership. To many that means opposition to a Palestinian state. That opposition will not be expressed by an American politician of any political stripe. Former President George W. Bush and Sarah Palin are both ardent supporters of the two-state solution.
There is also talk about a contrast between the Bush and Obama approaches to Muslims. President Bush, like President Obama, made pronouncements that America is not at war with Islam. Obama bowed to the Saudi king. Bush kissed the same king on the lips.
We have heard for years about G-dless communism. Nevertheless, there are articles and speeches by rabbis who discuss the decline or the fall of capitalism under the present conditions of recession. That seems to me like an economic assessment based upon what puts the most in people’s pockets at any given moment. Every system will have its ups and downs. What makes a system successful in my eyes is its long term viability for a population and the dignity that it confers on its citizens.
Several of my politically conservative orthodox Jewish friends mentioned a glimmer of hope for Cubans when Raul Castro’s role became more visible. They pointed to the new availability of cell phones to the average Cuban. Technology is an important part of modern life. However, the replacement of G-dless communism with idolotrous consumerism is not necessarily a cause for celebration.
Great post! fI’m with you Kressel re: Obama and the rest (though his Israel policy makes me nervous) Am I naive or correct to think that liberalism is part of the core Jewish agenda. I mean what is the Torah about if not being kind of the stranger, the orphan, the widow. Doesn’t liberalism stem from the Jewish drive for tikkun olam?
I agree that today’s liberal agenda has gone too far,gay marriage, abortions et al but a lot of it jibes with our agenda and somehow we’ve forgotten that. BTW, my Zeidie who was a staunchly orthodox Jew was an ardent union man and wouldn’t cross a picket line–that was back in the 40s and 50s and back then there was no such thing as a Jewish Republican.
Looking forward to the book review.