Sunday, November 19, 2006

Whose values?

I don't make time to read the Harry Maryles blog, but I'm told his discussions of religion are quite good. Today, however, I was alerted by one of my readers, that Harry had wandered out of his comfort zone and attempted to say something thoughtful about politics. He failed.

The Maryles politics post has two main failings. The less egregious of these is that it is vacuous, and full of flabby, even laughable assertions. More seriously, Harry says something that just isn't true, and because I expect his error is shared by many other Orthodox Jews, I shall address it head on.

Harry wrote: "It is a fact that the conservative principles are generally more in line with Orthodox Judaism than are liberal principles."

No, Harry, this is not a fact, not by any stretch of the imagination. Though you don't bother to tell us what you mean by "conservative principles," I'll presume you're talking about abortion, gay marriage, and the attitude of the GOP toward religion in general. Let's discuss them one at a time.

GOP-Jews tend to ignore or conceal this fact, but the issue is much more complicated than paleo-conservative Jews allow. What is not in doubt, however, is this: The Torah and Christian Conservatives don't see eye-to-eye on abortion. Consider this: (1) If a pregnant woman commits a capital crime, does a Jewish court wait for the child to be born before killing the woman? No. (2) If you slaughter (shecht) a pregnant cow, does the calf inside need to be shected, too? No. (3) If a bas kohen loses a baby within the first 40 days of her pregnancy can she continue to eat Trumah? Yes (if the baby was lost after 40 days she can't) (4) After a first-pregnancy miscarriage that occurs within the first 40 days, is the next child (if its a male) a Bechor regarding inheritance and Pidyon? Yes. (If the miscarriage was after 40 days, the next child loses his status)

All of this suggests that life begins at a point later than conception; all of this suggests that the Torah, unlike Conservative Christianity, does not consider abortion to a be murder no matter when it occurs during a pregnancy. And the fact the leading poskim allow abortions under many circumstances further militates against the idea that the Jewish and Christan views on the subject are identical. In short, Christians wish to ban abortion with few - or even no - exceptions and this is not the Jewish view on the subject.

Gay Marriage
The Orthodox Jew's position on gay marriage should be one of polite indifference. Though it's true, the torah forbids homosexual acts, we are not bidden to impose this view on the rest of society. A gay relationship has no victims, and therefore belongs to the category of ben adom l'makom offenses. As such, I am content to let God settle his own accounts.

However, it must be noted that it is in our own self-interest to insist that the government provide committed homosexual couples with the same legal advantages and protections it offers heterosexual couples. Yes, homosexuality is forbidden by the Torah, but it does not serve our interests as Jews to let a secular state enforce halacha. Our interests (as well as our rights) are best protected when the state maintains a strict nuetrality on matters of morality if there is no victim.

Radical uncertainty about religion, on the part of the state, is much better than the alternative. A government that takes for itself the power to determine theological truths is always dangerous to the Jews, as history has proven many times. On the other hand, there is nothing to fear - and never has been anything to fear - from two gays in a committed relationship. If they are hurting anyone, they are only hurting themselves.

General Attitude Toward Religion
Let's leave the Democrat's position on Judaism aside; after all we're only 2 percent of the populace. Instead let's talk about the majority: Christianity. You're a Jew, Harry, am I right? Don't you agree that the Christian faith in a man-god is inconsistant with Orthodox Judaism? If not, the Rambam would like to speak with you. In fact, most of the major theological views held by the religious people in the country are opposed to Judaism. We don't recognize the divinity of Jesus, and so on. For consistancy's sake Harry and his ilk should embrace the liberal's (alleged) hostility for Christinaity, just as they embrace the Conservative's (very real) hostility for gay rights and abortion. If you are willing to pillory abortionists and homosexuals for being inconsistent with halacha, why do you give a free pass for Christians?

God hasn't said anything to a human being in about 2000 years. Right now, God isn't telling us what to do. Man is, in God's name. And forgive me, but man's track record is rather lousy [See for instance the behavior of noted GOP moralists like Bill Bennet, Tom Delay and Ted Haggard]; as a result, I'm not too inclined to rely upon Man, if I can avoid it. The founding fathers knew this, which is why they instituted all sorts of protections, among them a guarantee that the majority could not impose it's religious doctrines on us, the 2 percent minority. We trifle with those protections at our own peril. A party that seeks to undermine those protections is not one we should support.

Note: I won't make the careless error of announcing that liberalism and Judaism are perfectly alligned. They aren't, or course, and neither are conservatives principles and Judaism a perfect match. But the idea that these Judaism and liberalim are absolutely incompatible is wrong and deserving of defeat. The truth is that it is liberalism, and the freedoms that liberalism gurantees, which allow Orthodox Judaism to flourish.

Updated 8:03 PM EST

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