“Are Liberal Jewish Voters a Thing of the Past?”


That’s the first thing I thought when I saw this NYT headline: Are Liberal Jewish Voters a Thing of the Past? – NYTimes.com , even before I read the story.

And this argument, this proposition falls squarely into my category “the god problem.”

Let me quote a few lines from this article to prove a point − not Joseph Berger’s point (he’s the Times writer), but mine about the god problem:

A 2012 demographic study by UJA-Federation of New York found that 60 percent of Jewish children in the New York City area — the Jewish center of the United States — live in Orthodox homes, which suggests that in a generation a majority of the city’s one million Jews may be classified as Orthodox. A sizable percentage of those children happen to be Hasidim, the group that has fueled Orthodox growth with its astonishing fecundity.

They may be fecund, but half of that fecundity is female, and I and many others exhort females to leave any religion that has as a notable purpose suppression of their essential human rights.

Politicians are already paying attention. The top city and state officials have hired Hasidic or other Orthodox advisers, choosing to court that vote more aggressively over the more diffuse traditional Jewish vote.

Religion does not belong in politics. Orthodox religious points of view are anti-democratic. May I whisper into your eager ears, “First Amendment rights?”

More than policy issues, Hasidim seek direct aid for their teeming network of yeshivas for transportation, computers and other technology, as well as for books. And as taxpayers, they want to offset the cost to families of paying tuition for many children, a cost they say public school parents do not incur.

My tax dollars should not, must not pay for children’s religious education.

In Hasidic schools, teenage boys are not enrolled in classes like science, mathematics and history, which most Americans take for granted. Some Hasidic yeshivas offer almost no secular instruction for boys after fifth grade, and others after eighth grade. Instead, the boys focus on the 63 volumes of Talmud that contain debates of ancient rabbis on Jewish rituals, laws and ethics. (Girls are not encouraged to study Talmud deeply and so get a more extensive secular education.)

See what I mean? I’m supposed to be supporting a medieval education? And Berger’s last sentence about girls is hardly reassuring. In fact, it’s deceitful: orthodox Jewish girls’ “secular” education has more to do with complimenting the boys’ religious education and making sure those girls turn into good orthodox wives and (multiple) mothers. I don’t call that “secular.” I call that second class citizenship and misogyny.

 That instructional deficiency may not square with New York State law, which requires private schools to offer “equivalency of instruction.” But when you question a principal of a Hasidic yeshiva, he will explain that students learn geometry when they parse the Talmud passages on the architecture of the Holy Temple, or learn astronomy when they analyze the Talmud’s arguments on what constitutes daybreak for morning prayers. The state has not cracked down, it is widely believed, not just because of constitutional concerns about religious freedom but because the Hasidim are a potent electoral force that politicians do not want to alienate.

Are these guys kidding??? No, I’m afraid not. But I do take back what I said about “medieval” education. This is primeval education.

The Hasidic faith is all-encompassing, governing nearly every human activity from eating to clothing to sex, and the commandments are ironclad and carried out with remarkable intensity. Hasidim’s 18th-century founders encouraged zeal in prayer and performance of the commandments, known as mitzvoth, and many of today’s Hasidim go the extra mile. For several years now, an organization in Borough Park, Brooklyn, has set up virtual hospital wards in synagogue basements with beds and IV drips so the frail and sick can receive nourishment on Yom Kippur without violating the ritual of fasting.

Hasidim also do not marry, choose an occupation, settle in a neighborhood or undergo surgery or infertility treatments without consulting their rebbe, the grand rabbi, or a leading rabbi. Ultra-Orthodox leaders have insisted that witnesses to sexual abuse get a rabbi’s permission before providing evidence to prosecutors.

These people are nuts. Orthodox religiosity is a cult, a form of mass psychosis. It can’t be a political influence.

Even more scary is Connie Bruck’s penetrating, awfully disturbing long article on AIPAC, the Jewish-Israel lobby group, in the September 1, 2014 New Yorker. The question the article poses is − contrary to the New York Times’ question − are American Jews getting tired of AIPAC?


And, worse, I learned in this article what I suspected: AIPAC is un-American. I would call what it does on behalf of Israel −including openly buying and/or blackmailing members of the American Congress and being directly racist about our own president − chutzpah, except that’s a semi-comical word and what AIPAC does isn’t funny at all.

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