Tuesday, March 19, 2013
When Assimilationist Liberal Jews Quote Scripture
by Steven Plaut
When I was a lad, we used to suffer from the frequent visits of
missionaries who often canvassed our neighborhood, presumably because
of the large number of Jewish families whose souls could be saved
Occasionally, I would chat up these people, and at one point, I asked
about the training and preparation they undergo before taking to the
streets to save our doomed souls. The missionary confided to me that
she had learned 15 or 20 selected Biblical quotations in a special
seminar - including many especially chosen because the quotes were
thought to hold persuasive power for Jewish listeners - and she simply
pulled these out during missionary visits.
Possibly some of the missionaries knew their Bible backward and
forward, but the ones with whom I came into contact were apparently
all one-day-crash-course Bible thumpers. (I learned that all I needed
to do to drive these neighborhood missionaries into a state of
confused silence was to produce an alternative Biblical quote not on
their list of 15 or 20, or show them how their quotes of choice had
been wrenched out of their overall context.)
This comes to mind because it is strongly reminiscent of a fad quite
common these days among Jewish assimilated liberals and leftists in
the United States. These people constitute the School of Jewish
Politically-Correct Bible Thumpers. They advocate the PC fads and
programs of the American Left, while coating them with a thin veneer
of supposedly Biblical ethics.
Like the missionaries of my youth, they learn a dozen or so select
Biblical phrases, taken out of context, and argue that the Bible and
traditional Judaism unambiguously require that one accept and support
a left-wing political agenda. I assume that most readers are familiar
with these folks.
Examples of Jewish politically-correct Bible thumping abound. The most
outrageous, of course, are the Cheech-and-Chong ethics and the
political platform of the editors of Tikkun magazine, featuring the
Politics of Meaning psychobabble promoted by "Rabbi" Michael Lerner.
But many mainstream liberal leaders of the Jewish community also
engage in Biblical posturing in order to conscript scripture for
support of liberal fads. Generally, such Bible-based PC preaching
operates through conjuring up the ethics of the Prophets as scriptural
underpinning for the Left's political agenda.
The term "Prophetic Ethics" is used to justify support for everything
from affirmative action to abortion on demand, animal rights to
homosexual marriage, ecological activism to various and sundry
redistributionist social programs.
The Oslo peace accord, it should go without saying, was accorded a
particularly hallowed place in the doxology of the Jewish
politically-correct Bible thumpers.
What is one to make of all this? Let us begin by noting that the
attempt by Jewish leftists to conjure up scriptural support for their
political agenda might be somewhat more persuasive if these same
people were practitioners of traditional Judaism. Orthodox
politically-correct Bible thumping is extremely rare, albeit not
In most cases, politically-correct Bible thumpers are scripturally
motivated only under circumstances that they find convenient, and with
respect to those political causes they happen to find appealing.
Otherwise, they simply ignore everything else in scripture and halacha
(Jewish Law) that does not fit their political agenda.
These folks are generally not Jews whose lifestyles are determined by
Biblical rules regarding, say, diet, Sabbath, sexual relations, etc.
Indeed, when Scripture clearly favors a moral or political position
that is not fashionable, these same PC Bible thumpers suddenly decline
to adapt themselves to Biblical ethics.
At times, they will go through contortions to force their supposed
understanding of these ethics into a PC mold. For example, there is
probably nothing as clear-cut as the Biblical prohibition against
homosexuality, yet the Thumpers insist that gay "marriage" is the
ultimate manifestation of Biblical values.
The very notion of gay rights is completely antithetical to Biblical
morality; the Bible, in fact, explicitly labels sodomy an abomination
and makes it a capital offense. You can agree or disagree with that
opinion, but there is no room for any doubt as to what the Bible's
But that did not stop the PC branch of the Reform and Conservative
movements from deciding that Reform rabbis can ordain gay marriages.
I doubt Reconstructionist "rabbis" would have any problem performing a
marriage between a man and his goat.
Similarly, while the Jewish religious position on abortion is not
identical with the one espoused by the Roman Catholic Church and other
Christian denominations, abortion on demand when a mother's life is
not in danger is hardly a position held by traditional Judaism.
One can accept or reject the scriptural view of homosexuality or
abortion - it's a free country. But if one is representing one's
political agenda as being Biblically-based, why the arbitrarily
The biggest problem with PC appeals to Prophetic Ethics and Jewish
compassion is that there is absolutely no support in Jewish tradition
for feel-good advocacy programs that actually exacerbate real-world
problems. In other words, one cannot conscript Biblical ethics and
morality on behalf of a political cause - even if doing so makes one
feel righteous and moral - until one can at least show credibly that
the cause would indeed resolve or alleviate real-world problems.
The PC Biblical Ethics-poseurs are too lazy to go out and actually
acquire the analytic tools needed for assessing policy proposals.
Learning economics, statistics, cost/benefits accounting, etc.,
requires effort and investment. The PC postureurs prefer to practice
effortless recreational compassion and armchair peacemaking.
Besides, the very first thing one learns in social science and in
policy analysis is that all things have tradeoffs. That is the one
truth with which leftist Biblical Ethics-poseurs and other PC
preachers simply cannot cope. If a policy proposal has both costs and
benefits (and which does not?), there is no way that selective
scriptural quotation and appeals to Prophetic Ethics can resolve the
If a proposal to improve the quality of the environment also produces
higher food prices or higher energy or transportation prices and so
impacts living standards (especially for the poor), what is one to do?
Should the proposal be adopted or rejected in the name of justice and
ethics? Social science has a tool for answering such dilemmas (namely,
cost/benefits evaluation). Those who issue vague and highly
generalized appeals to Biblical ethics do not. They simply want to
make themselves feel righteous without having to exert any real
Similarly, one cannot rationalize any policy in the name of the
Prophetic love of peace unless it can first be shown to produce peace.
The Oslo peace formula cannot be rationalized by an appeal to the
Biblical yearning for peace unless it can be shown analytically to
lead truly to peace. Those who think the Oslo process does not lead to
peace are not only justified - they are obligated - to oppose it,
precisely because of their yearning for peace and their ethical
concerns. Opponents of the Oslo process are no less fond of peace than
its politically correct supporters, just more skeptical or
analytically dissident. (For the sake of argument, I am intentionally
ignoring those sections of scripture that rule out territorial
compromise in the Land of Israel altogether, EVEN for peace.)
In some cases, the PC Bible thumpers take positions in such clear
contradiction to the scriptural ethics they claim to uphold that one
does not know whether to laugh or cry. You would never know from the
"social action" agitprop of the Reform and the Conservatives against
the death penalty that Judaism is unambiguously in FAVOR of it! Not
only is there no Biblical case for animal rights (although the humane
treatment of animals is indeed mandated when they are not being eaten
or turned into shoes), but one of the most clear-cut messages of the
Bible is that human interests always take priority over those of
animals. It's true that the Bible does not explicitly prohibit
vegetarianism, except on Passover, but there is absolutely nothing
therein that mandates it, and much rabbinic commentary is concerned
with the rules of kosher slaughter and diet.
Another example: While there is a clear Biblical basis for charity, it
is equally clear that the emphasis is on individual charitable acts
over which the giver exercises control, choice and personal
responsibility. There is nothing that can be interpreted as mandating
a massive welfare state that deprives individuals of control over
their property; indeed, a good deal of Biblical and rabbinic law
concerns the protection and preservation of private property rights.
The main forms of Biblical mandatory income-redistribution regard
funding Levites and priests.
Finally, it should be abundantly clear to anyone reading the Bible,
even superficially, that Prophetic Ethics are premised upon and
augment - and in many cases are thought to be a means for achieving,
protecting and developing - Jewish national existence and national
self-interest. (Contrast this with the recent fatwa by Tikkun's
Moonbeam Lerner - that the Jubilee laws mean Israel has to give back
its lands to the "Palestinians.") The very same Jewish politically
correct Bible thumpers who argue that Prophetic Ethics mandate the
Left's political agenda are generally the first to distance themselves
from (if not outright denounce) all acts and ideas designed to promote
and protect Jewish national existence and national interests.
The hypocritical pretend-enthusiasm for Prophetic Ethics on the part
of the PC Bible Thumpers is best understood as part of the overall
trend of Jewish assimilation in North America. Liberalism has been the
main avenue of assimilation for North American Jews. In effect,
assimilationist Jews long ago substituted the liberal/Left political
agenda for Judaism as their religion. They are as zealously attached
to this pseudo-religion as most Jews in the past were to authentic
Like all religious beliefs, this devotion to liberalism is by
definition non-rational. Assimilated Jews adhere to this religion of
liberalism even when it is clearly harmful to their own self-
interests, as in the case of the apartheid racial preference policy
euphemistically known as "affirmative action". And the astronomical
intermarriage rates of American non-Orthodox Jews reflect the fact
that, once liberalism has replaced Judaism as the religion of the
Jews, marrying a non-Jewish liberal is simply not looked upon as
marrying outside the faith. Jewish and gentile liberals observe the
Shakespeare's Hamlet is a play about a royal family of Danes. It uses
Danish images and symbols and takes place, as it were, inside a Danish
castle. But it would be absurd to represent Hamlet as a Danish play.
It is an Elizabethan English play. In the same way, the Jewish
Politically Correct Bible Thumpers use Jewish imagery and symbols in
order to market the political agenda of the Left. But it is absurd to
represent their position as one motivated by and expressing Jewish
traditional ethics and Biblical morality. Theirs is a leftist
ideology, and not, by any stretch of the imagination, a Jewish one.