This post isn’t a prediction of where the Jewish vote will go in 2016, but where IMHO Jewish law teaches they should go.
As one of the few Jews willing to admit to a politically conservative slant, I get asked the same question all the time, “How can you be both politically conservative and a Jew?” Most of the questioners are either liberal Jews who consider me something of a heretic, or a non-Jewish fellow conservative who is shocked at the rare find of a conservative who is a Jew.
My response to the query is usually “How can a Jew not be politically conservative?”
Conservative principals such as limited government, individual responsibility, and traditional morals are all deeply rooted in Jewish tradition. Even the fact that America’s founders intended for the county to be led by people who based their political decisions on religious values (something that scares the heck out of most liberal Jews) complements Jewish tradition.
The creation narrative in Genesis explains that man is created in God’s image. But we also taught that our maker has no bodily form, so how can that be? The Bible is not teaching us that we are all dead ringers for the “big guy upstairs,” if that was the case the pictures on everyone’s drivers licenses would look alike, no one would be able to get a check cashed, and all of those TV shows about solving crimes would be very boring.
“Created in God’s image” is supposed to teach us that just as God acts as a free being, without prior restraint to do right and wrong, so does man. God does good deeds as a matter of his own free choice, and because we are created in his image so can man. Only through free choice, can man truly be, in the image of God. It is further understood that for Man to have true free choice, he must not only have inner free will, but 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). God controls all the options we have, but it is up to man to pick between the correct or incorrect option.
When it comes right down to it, free will is the divine version of limited government. God picks which is the correct direction and even gives us a guide book in the Torah, but he does not pick winners and losers—it is up to each and every one of us to pick the direction we want to proceed.
Because we all are created in God’s image, Jews believe that “All men are created equal.” This means we all have the same ability to be infinitely good or wicked, or to forge a relationship with God regardless of intellectual capability, social background, physical strength, etc. It does not mean, as the liberals ascribe to, that when it comes to talents, predilections, or natural abilities we are all equal. Nor does it mean we all should have the same big screen TV, wireless internet, or savings account balance. Just as Jefferson meant when he wrote those words, we all should have the same right to be as good as we can be with the cards we have been dealt.
Jewish tradition takes a positive view of both the institution of ownership and the accumulation of wealth. It respects economic success, so long, that is, as it is obtained honestly and proper respect is shown for the social responsibility that comes with it. That social responsibility is an individual duty and a job for the community led by its religious leaders, but not for the government. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong for the federal government to provide a safety net, but the primary responsibility is the individual and the local community.
The Hebrew word for charity, “tzedaka,” has in its root the word “tzedek,” which means righteous, because we are taught that personally giving charity is one of the keys to being righteous.
The book of Leviticus (25:23) says (FYI… in Hebrew we call it Vayikra which means He called–like every other book of the Torah Vayikra gets it’s name from the first word in the book).
“If your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him proselyte or resident so that he can live with you”
Notice it says live with you, it does not say live in a government facility. That’s because the obligation is on the individual. In rare times the community was called on to pick up the slack but it was never the community government, it was the local Rabbi who would lead the effort.
In biblical times farmers were directed to leave some of their fields unharvested for the poor to feed on.
Some of the ancient sages have suggested when God created the world; sparks of his holiness were spread across the earth. Every time that a person makes the choice of performing a righteous act (such as giving charity) one of those sparks is purified and sent back to heaven. Through that process we become closer to God.
Liberal/Progressive governments takes away that free choice given to us by God. Their philosophy is that left to their own devices, mankind will do the wrong thing (or at least what progressives say is the wrong thing). So with the progressives/liberals government takes over the role of God. They step in to control our decisions. Liberalism takes away our personal choice and gives it to the government –thus retarding our spiritual development and most importantly, the opportunity to “pick up those sparks” and get closer to our maker.
Judaism also teaches us that we cannot rely on God to bail us out all of the time, the responsibility to take action falls upon each and every one of us. There is the famous story of Moses splitting the Reed Sea teaches this lesson (Red Sea was a typo made when the Torah was translated into Greek). In Exodus Chapter 14-15 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!
And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Wherefore criest thou unto me? Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward.
This holy talk for “get off your arse and do something!”
The ancient rabbis tell the story that when Moses lifted his staff over the sea, the water did not part. The Egyptians were closing in, and the sea wasn’t moving. The Israelites stood on the banks of the sea, frozen in fear until a man named Nachshon took the responsibility upon himself to act; Nachshon just walked into the water. He waded up to his ankles…his knees…his waist… his shoulders, and just as the water was about to reach is nostrils the water parted.
This story teaches us that it’s one thing to have faith and believe God will eventually help us, but we cannot get that help until we take personal responsibility and act on our own. This too is antithetical to liberal philosophy which teaches that government is the first place to look for help rather than looking within one’s self, family, and community.
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. Instead of each one of us assuming a personal responsibility and using our good deeds to gain closeness to God, we become part of an overall group with no responsibility.
Liberal Jews get very worried when they hear a political leader talk about God. If the political leader is a Christian (as most of them are in America) they see the person as some sort of zealot who will eventually force everyone to become Christian. If the person is a Jew, they get angry the Jew is wearing their religion on his sleeve (like me for example).
In the book of Exodus (we call it the book of Shemot which means names), it is God who sets up the first Israelite government, he chose to have a political/government leader Moses, and a religious leader Aaron. Even though Moses was the governmental leader, the Torah teaches us that Moses used God’s law and morality to make his “political” decisions. In that first Hebrew government set up by God there was no wall separating church and state. Political leaders were expected to consult with God’s law in making their decisions. In fact each of the Hebrew kings were commanded two write two torahs during their reign (I call them Israelites or Hebrews because the weren’t called Jews till much later). If we are taught that a government set up by God was supposed to use the religious laws in their decision set, why is it not okay for a government set up by man.
Americas founding father guaranteed us freedom of religion. But those First Amendment freedoms where not set up to protect the government from religion, they were created to protect religion from government. For Jews that should that the Government cannot prevent us from observing our rituals such as keeping Kosher, circumcision, or covering our heads. But it was never meant to prevent your local mayor from putting out a Christmas tree on city owned property. Nor was it meant for The Little Sisters of the Poor, or Hobby Lobby to pay for birth control or abortion.
In his farewell address, Washington said:
Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
The Jewish picture of God is of a creator who instilled in us a personal responsibility to do the right thing, but he also provided us with the choice to accept that responsibility or not. There is no room in Jewish law for a government that forces their interpretation of the right thing down our throats. There is also little room for a government that does not include religion and morality in their consideration set when decisions. And that goes for Christians as well as Jews.
The Talmud teaches us that anyone who follows the seven Noahide laws has a place in heaven, those laws include; Do not worship idols, Do not blaspheme God, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not engage in illicit sexual relations, Do not eat live animals or cause them unnecessary pain, and Set up courts to administer justice fairly. So while there are differences in beliefs and tradition, a Christians who uses his/her faith to make political judgments should be celebrated by Jews.
In the end the question should not ever be “How can a Jew be conservative politically?” Political conservatism matches Jewish tradition, because when it comes right down to it conservative principals such as limited government, individual responsibility, and traditional morals are all Jewish principals.
On the other hand progressive/liberal governments take from their citizens is the greatest joy of all— finding for themselves the path that will draw them closer to God and feeling that closeness get stronger with every Mitzvah.