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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Is It OK For a Jew to Be Politically Conservative?

As one of the few MOTs (members of the tribe) willing to admit to a politically conservative slant, I get asked all the time (by liberal Jews), how can you be politically conservative and a Jew?  I would argue to them, how can you be a Jew and NOT politically conservative?  Conservative principals such as limited government, individual responsibility, free enterprise, traditional morals and manners are all deeply rooted in Jewish tradition.

In B'reishet (Genesis) we are told that man is created in God's image, since we also believe that our maker has no bodily form, it can't mean that we are all ringers for the "big guy upstairs." We are taught that just as God acts as a free being, so does man. Just as God acts without prior restraint, so does man. Just as God can do good as a matter of His own free choice, so can man. Man is therefore spoken of as being created in the image of God because of our free choice.

The Rabbis teach us that each man is born with free will. It is further understood that in order for Man to have true free choice, he must not only have inner free will, but also an environment in which a choice between obedience and disobedience exists. God thus created the world such that both good and evil can operate freely; this is what the Rabbis mean when they said, "All is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven" (Talmud, Berachot 33b).

Free will is the divine version of limited government. We are created in God's image, it is our nature to do the right thing, but it is up to each of us personally to make the decision to do the right thing. God does not force us to do the right thing.

I once read that when God created the world, sparks of his holiness were spread across the earth. Every time that a person performs one of the 613 mitzvot in the Torah (the Five books of Moses) one of those sparks is purified and sent back to heaven. Through that process we become closer to God.  In other words that all are sent here to this world to make the choice to improve ourselves through our good works.

 Liberal/Progressive government takes away that choice.  It assumes that left to our own devices, we will do the wrong thing (or at least what they say is the wrong thing) so government takes over the role of God, and steps in to control our decisions. While Judaism sees good vs. evil as a personal decision necessary for us to grow, liberalism takes away that choice and gives it to the government, retarding our spiritual development and the opportunity to get closer to our Maker.

Judaism also teaches us that we cannot rely on God's help to bail us out all of the time, the responsibility to take action falls upon each and every one of us. Even the famous story of Moses splitting the Reed Sea teaches that lesson (Red Sea was a typo made when the Torah was translated into Greek). In Sh'mot (Exodus) Chapter 14 Moses sees the Pharaoh's troops bearing down on the Israelite nation, who are trapped against the sea.  Moses starts praying to God,  but God says stop praying and do something!

15 And the LORD said unto Moses: 'Wherefore criest thou unto Me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward. 
The Rabbis teach us that even when Moses lifted his staff the water did not part.  The Egyptians were closing in, and the sea wasn’t moving. So a Hebrew named Nachshon took the responsibility upon himself to act, and just walked into the water.  He waded up to his ankles, then his knees, then his waist, then his shoulders and just as the water was about to reach is nostrils the water parted. The lesson is that it is OK to believe that God will eventially help us, but we cannot get that help until we take personal responsibility and act on our own.

On the other hand a Liberal/progressive government teaches citizens that the government will always bear the responsibility of protecting you, there is no individual responsibility, just the collective bailout, there is no personal responsibility.

Everything that follows, the way we do business, treat other people,etc, all flow from that free will to do the right thing and to take personal the Talmud is the first journal of business law, and the first book of social etiquette. It lays out all the rules in front of us. But it is up to each and every one of us to make that personal decision to do the right thing.

Maybe that's why liberal/progressives interpret freedom OF religion (meaning that everyone is free to practice the faith of their choice) as freedom FROM religion (meaning that there is an iron wall separating church and state), because if faith is allowed to get too close to our government as it now exists, people might remember that government is not a substitute for God. The Jewish picture of God, is our creator who gave us  personal responsibility to do the right thing, but with the choice to accept that responsibility or not. There is no room in Jewish law for a government that forces us to do (their interpretation) of the right thing.

In the end the question should not be "Is It OK For a Jew to Be Politically Conservative?" The real question should be "Is It OK For a Jew NOT to Be Politically Conservative?"


Anonymous said...

Jew or Gentile if we believe, as the Founding Fathers did that our liberties come from G-d and not man -- "the laws of nature and of Nature's G-d" -- then we literally, as individuals, have no choice but to act in a virtuous way, to treat each other with respect and dignity, to help those who need help. They key is individually. To pass these obligations off to the government is to deny the source of our rights -- and obligations.

Unknown said...

Great Article!!! I am posting on my news page!!!

Baruch HaShem!

White Whale said...

Linked from Lucianne.

The key point here is that there is no conflict between personal and even communal generosity and Conservatism.

I'm not Jewish, but I listened to a history of Judaism, and if memory serves, something like "acts of loving kindness" is one of the three pillars in at least one rabbinic tradition.

What needs to be understood, is that in almost all cases, the policies chosen by socialists make things WORSE for the EXACT PEOPLE THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO HELP.

Look at Detroit. Social engineering, New Society, War on Poverty. They got the whole nine yards. And what happened?

I describe myself as a conservative--little c--Liberal, where Liberalism is the doctrine that every member of society must have a moral code, but that the exact contents of that moral code should be left to that person.

Charity is not only acceptable for conservatives, but a great way of doing good. Many people fall; we have no principled objection to picking them up.

What I object to is encouraging people to fall, then encouraging them to stay down, so you can stay in power.

These myths, that the Left cares about anything but power, are pernicious. It all starts with clear thinking.

If you want more commentary, go to my own blog,