Headed Downhill in a Hurry
The rapidity with which the zeitgeist changes can catch observant Jews unawares. Two weeks ago, I suggested that the changing cultural assumptions with respect to same gender marriage may soon tar all observant Jews with the brush of bigotry.
Rod Dreher cites one small incident involving Ryan Anderson – a devout Roman Catholic, not an Orthodox Jew – that demonstrates the point. Anderson, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last summer at a TIkvah Institute for yeshiva students, has emerged as one of the primary (and few) public defenders of the traditional definition of marriage. (He is the author with his erstwhile Princeton professor Robert George and former fellow student Sherif Gergis of What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense.)
Anderson was recently profiled in the Washington Post. The Friends School of Baltimore, which Ryan and his four brothers attended for twelve years, posted a link to the profile of one its most prominent alumni on its Facebook page. Within a few hours the post was removed and the head of the school apologized to all members of the school for having posted the profile and thereby failing "to create a safe, nurturing environment for all the children in our care."
In other words, Anderson's views, are not just wrong, but evil, and as such students and graduates of an elite private school must be protected from even knowing that such opinions can be held by obviously intelligent, articulate and learned people.
Mind you we are speaking of a position that was held by every human society and religion since the dor hamabul, until 30 years ago, and by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008, until their thinking "evolved." California, the most populous deep-blue state, passed a state constitutional amendment defining marriage in traditional terms just a few years ago by popular referendum. Yet today, the so-called traditionalist view cannot speak its name or be permitted to articulate a defense.
Not only does the delegitimization of traditional views of marriage affect the standing of Torah Jews in society, but it will have a great impact on kiruv, especially campus kiruv. The Torah's out-of-the-mainstream stand on marriage constitutes, in today's climate, an enormous entrance barrier to young Jews contemplating learning more about Torah and is likely to arise in every initial conversation.
That is why it is important for us to be versed not only in the secular arguments like those advanced in What is Marriage?, but even more so, in the Torah arguments explicated in one of the recent issues of Dialogue, including a major essay by Rabbi Aharon Feldman, Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel.
EVEN AS TORAH JEWS FACE DELEGITIMIZATION, the old-style anti-Semitism is enjoying a resurgence and growing legitimacy of at both the popular and elite level. At both UCLA and Stanford, the right of Jewish students to participate in student government was recently challenged on the grounds that they are tainted by their association with Israel.
The 2003 publication of The Israel Lobby by two prominent academics, Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago perhaps marks a turning point in the legitimization of anti-Semitism. Walter Russell Mead, writing in The American Interest, hesitated to call Walt/Mearsheimer anti-Semites, only to note that they had written a book "anti-Semites will love" – something quickly proven by an Amazon search of other titles favored by those who like The Israel Lobby. Another reviewer noted the authors' fascination with genealogy – i.e., how many parts Jewish are those discussed.
Like traditional anti-Semites, Walt/Mearsheimer were led to their conclusions by two mysteries that could only be solved by positing a cabal manipulating American foreign policy. The first mystery is American popular and governmental support for Israel. In their loathing of Israel, they can discern no remotely plausible grounds, either strategic or moral, for that support, and so must conclude that something nefarious is afoot. They picture a world without Israel as a virtual Elysium of peace and prosperity. (The book was written before Arab Spring had exploded their "realist" explanation of Israel as the source of all Middle East conflict.)
And the second great mystery was the war in Iraq, which they again found so lacking in justification that only an Israel cabal could suffice. Like all conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites have a tendency to get tangled in their own contradictions – e.g., "the Jews" are both the main drivers of exploitative capitalism and world communism. Mearsheimer, for instance, was stumped when he admitted to a BBC interviewer that Israel has opposed American intervention in Iraq. That admission proved something of a problem for the theory that the whole war was fought to serve Israel's interests.
In Europe, it has long been permissible to speak again of "the Jews." Nobel Prize laureates and university professors feel free to rant about how the Jews despise all other human beings and hold only their blood dear. The UN Human Rights Council exists only to pass resolutions predicated on the assumption that Israel's very existence is an affront, and European governments provide no ballast to the Muslim and Third World diatribes.
Joshua Muravchik in Making David into Goliath; How the World Turned Against Israel, explains what happened to Europe. Fear of Palestinian terrorism, particularly airplane hijackings, then of the Arab oil boycott, led Europe to submit by paying ransom, releasing terrorists and giving in to other terrorist demands.
Yet no one wants to look in the mirror and see a pusillanimous coward. So the European elites developed new theories to turn their cowardice and greed into high moral principle. Despising Israel became a form of repentance for European colonialism and destruction of native cultures.
It is no coincidence that Barack Obama, our first president to come to maturity on Ivy League campuses where these European tropes have wide currency and Edward Said's Orientalism has oracular status, is the most hostile president Israel has ever faced. (In George W.'s days at Yale, things had not devolved so far.)
As I argued in the Pesach issue, the willful downplaying of the most virulent anti-Semitic pronouncements of Iranian leaders and treatment of its threats to eliminate Israel as irrelevant legitimizes exterminationist anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center made the same point forcefully at a recent meeting between the president and Jewish leaders to discuss the understandings reached with Iran: "Mr. President, in a few weeks, you and others will be going to Germany to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps. What meaning does that have when while negotiating over the nuclear treaty with Iran, none of the six powers said a word when the ayatollah tweeted about annihilating the state of Israel, or a leading general in the IRGC said this is the regime's raison d'etre? . . . . Hitler said he was going to murder all the Jews in a letter from 1919, and he wound up doing it."
The "experts" negotiating with Iran admit that the exterminationist rhetoric isn't nice, but deny that it should be taken any more seriously than Hitler was. As Lee Smith of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies points out, however, "Obama writes letters to the man who threatens to exterminate Jews and promise him peace? Who does that kind of message embolden?"
The rise of virulent anti-Semitism in Europe coincides with the continent's passage from great power status. The refusal of Europeans to defend themselves from within or without, or even to reproduce, betokens a loss of all civilizational confidence.
Is that the future of the United States as well? Could that be what President Obama had in mind when he spoke of his desire to be a transformational president?
Respect for the Dignity of Others
Two weeks ago, I told the story of a father of a close friend who refused to sell a valuable diamond once he found that it was to be set in a wedding ring for an intermarriage.
A few days later, I came across an essay in First Things by Maureen Mullarkey, describing her feelings upon being told by a Jewish jewelry store owner that he would not sell her a particular wedding ring. The reminiscence was triggered by the author's realization that in today's more contentious climate she could have protested the denial with "accusations of anti-Christian bigotry," and likely have had a legal case against the store owner.
Such a reaction, however, never occurred to her or her fiancé, and her description of why serves as a model of respect for the religious beliefs of others.
Mullarkey describes how she and her fiancé went searching for wedding rings in New York City's diamond district. They found exactly what they were looking for in the showcase of an older jeweler, his forearm tattooed with his identification number from a concentration camp. Her eyes were drawn to simple bands embossed with phrases from Tanach in Hebrew letters. She chose Ruth's words to Naomi, ". . . wither thou goest. . ." for her ring. She ached to claim the "stirring statement of friendship . . . for myself and wear it for the rest of my life."
The jeweler asked them whether they were Jewish or in the process of converting to Judaism. Told that they were not, he refused to sell them a ring with that Biblical phrase.
Mullarkey understood why. The passage from which the words she chose are taken concludes, "thy people shall be my people and thy G-d my G-d." The words she had selected, she writes, were not just about friendship. "The story of Ruth is one of conversion that affirms the Jewish nation. It testifies to peoplehood."
The intensity of the store owner's "concern to honor the sacred core of the text" moved the young couple. They perceived the "grace in his refusal," and why he could not grant them the words they craved. For had he done so, "he would have violated the grandeur of them. Ruth's commitment was not simply to another person but to a covenanted community bound together since the call of Abraham."
They recognized the jeweler's moral right not to sell to them. More, they felt themselves in the presence of one of those borders – between Jew and gentile – without which a nation cannot survive nor a culture endure. "That day in the Diamond Exchange we stumbled against the very wall a man had clung to in the camps. It was the same one that had kept Jewry from disappearing centuries before modern nation states existed."