What do Shinui and a large swath of American Jewry have in common? Answer: An obsessive fear of anything connected to religion, and contempt for people of faith.
American Jews live in terror of religious Christians - the kind who tell their elected representatives that America will be judged by its treatment of Israel. (Well-heeled Presbyterians, who have, like most Jews, reduced religion to "good deeds," such as boycotting Israel, trouble them far less.) Every litany of the evils of George W. Bush includes his religiosity.
An August 12 op-ed by Eli Valley of the Steinhardt Foundation¹s Jewish Life Network perfectly captured American Jewry¹s anti-Christian phobia and general disdain for religion. The most frightening thing about President Bush, wrote Valley, is that he "has made no secret of his spiritual devotion."
Fundamentalist Christians hope for the conversion of all Jews and thus the end of Jewish religion, warns Valley, and that should make every Jew shudder. Even if the charge were true, it should cause no shudders: Given the phenomenal success of American Jews in ending the Jewish religion through intermarriage and assimilation, there is little left for Christian fundamentalists to do.
It makes no sense, alleges Valley, to fight Islamic fundamentalism with Christian fundamentalism. That would be true, however, only if Christian suicide bombers were seeking to spread the rule of Christendom around the globe. (Two weeks ago, Al Gore used the same clumsy "fundamentalist" brush to link radical Islamists, Orthodox Jews, and George W. Bush.)
Valley further claims that devout Christians, like Bush, are incapable of fact-based reasoning and implies that their "longing for Apocalypse" leads them to make war. No doubt he believes that. His secular faith thereby spares him the trouble of having to engage the premises of Bush¹s foreign policy, of which Norman Podhoretz, not generally known as either a Christian fundamentalist or a seeker of Apocalypse, offers a spirited 38-page defense in the current edition of Commentary. Podhoretz cites numerous facts and makes many rational-sounding arguments: he does not quote Scripture.
American Jews have become positively God-phobic. Pity hapless Cameron Kerry, who promoted his brother to a gathering of Orthodox Jews on the grounds that he would never appoint an attorney-general who begins his work day with prayer. No doubt that line was a surefire winner with secular Jewish groups. How was Kerry, a Reform convert, to know that Orthodox Jews begin and end their day in the same way?
For fear of aiding and abetting religion, major Jewish organizations, including the Reform movement, consistently adopt the most extreme positions on separation of state and religion. Despite countless studies showing a day school education to be by far the best antidote to assimilation, those organizations automatically oppose any initiative that would help place a Jewish day school education within the reach of more Jewish families. They even opposed the use of Homeland Security funds to protect Jewish institutions, despite the obvious appeal of Jewish day schools and synagogues to Muslim terrorists.
THAT BRINGS us back to Shinui. It is by now clear that the party is not just neutral in matters of religion, seeking only to protect against religious coercion. Its leaders are disgusted by the thought of any Jew becoming more observant. When Avraham Poraz said in the cabinet this week, "It is sometimes permissible for a Jew to be anti-Semitic," he meant that it is permissible to hold the religious practices that have defined our people in contempt - by celebrating, for instance, soccer games on Rosh Hashana and pork shops in every town.
It is not enough for Yosef Lapid and Poraz that they are free to believe and do as they want, they are horrified that anyone should want to know more about their Judaism. Thus their outraged protest at the creation of 114 sites around the country - more than a quarter for Russian-speakers - where Jews can come of their own volition to learn a bit more about the Yom Kippur prayers and to discuss the meaning of the day.
So instinctively do they recoil from anything connected to Judaism that they cannot even notice the contradictions in their own positions. Shinui advocates mass conversion of Russian-speaking immigrants. So how can they oppose providing those immigrants with more knowledge of the religion to which they would convert?
By teaching its children that religious faith is synonymous with nonsense, American Jewry has brought itself to the point of extinction. And by seeking to cut off Israeli Jews from their past, Shinui drains the country of the will crucial to its survival. As long as the Jews of Israel were filled with a sense of their role in Jewish history, they faced the future with optimism. Today, a strong and rich Israel confronts its future with deep pessimism; 35 percent of secular teenagers in Israel say they view their future elsewhere. Only the belief in a uniquely Jewish mission offers Israeli Jews a rationale to continue paying the price of living in this particular place; only a renewed attachment to Jewish faith can guarantee a future for American Jewry.