I really appreciate Rabbi Lerner’s perspective and understanding on political issues. As a person devoted to spiritual growth and values-to making my decisions in life based on what is right, what is most compassionate, kind, loving and beneficial for all living beings instead of just on personal desires- I find solace in the larger community of people who also do so. Especially when it appears that the majority in my country are so sadly focused more on fear, greed and attempts to control others.
In the long run, I firmly believe that compassion and concern for all will become the majority view. Even apparent setbacks can lead to miracles.
In this week’s elections, the majority of Jews once again voted for candidates advocating more progressive economic policies (higher taxes and more government support for the poor)-69 percent according to one poll, 65 percent according to another.
Why did even wealthy Jews, whose own narrowly defined economic interests might better be served by tax cuts, lean progressive? Because the legacy of Jewish religious teachings, Jewish history, and Jewish culture all push Jews to side with the oppressed even at the expense of personal financial or other forms of sacrifice. Even the grandchildren of assimilated Jews carry with them the message of the Torah that we have a special obligation to ha’ger (the “other”) and the Torah’s call to “love the stranger and remember that you were strangers in the Land of Egypt.”
I’ve acknowledged in my books Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation and Embracing Israel/Palestine that there is a counter-strand in the Jewish tradition-I call it “Settler Judaism.” These two strands often appear in tandem as though the editors of our holy books could not fully decide upon which of these two voices to confer legitimacy. It’s a dynamic apparent within most cultures throughout history. In the Jewish context, both strands alternate, and which gains legitimacy depends on many extrinsic factors. What’s remarkable is how strong the voice of caring for the “other” has remained given all the traumas of Jewish history and the pressures of a capitalist ethic pervading most aspects of contemporary capitalist society. It’s true that under conditions of perceived threat, many Jews find themselves unable to apply this message to the Palestinian people. But they nevertheless apply it to domestic politics in the U.S.
Of course, this is not a necessary carryover for the next generations-the more assimilated wealthier Jews are, or the more scared for their survival, the more they are likely to leave behind the legacy of identifying with the oppressed and start to vote the way others of their same economic and social class vote, prioritizing their own narrow self-interest. Some people have tried to argue that this has nothing to do with Torah values, but only with the experience of oppression Jews have experienced. But this argument holds no weight, based as it is on the assumption that other groups who have voted overwhelmingly with Republicans did not also face histories of significant levels of oppression. This simply is not true-ask any person of Polish, Irish, or Italian descent and you’ll hear many stories of past oppression, but without the conclusion that they should therefore embrace the candidates who are most committed to developing programs to alleviate others’ suffering or oppression.
I expect that Jews’ tendency to identify with oppressed groups will slowly give way to a different dynamic as Judaism’s most radical messages fade from the memory of increasingly assimilated American Jews, while right-wing forces are seen as more reliable allies to the misguided settlement and occupation policies of the current Israeli government, while ethically sensitive Jews are hounded from the Jewish community by those who will never tolerate any dissent about Israel, and as intensified struggles between the 1 percent of most wealthy Americans and the vast majority of Americans pushes more Jews to identify with their class interests rather than their religious/spiritual values. But this is not inevitable-which is one reason why I urge you to do all you can to get friends and colleagues to read and subscribe to Tikkun (or buy them a subscription for a perfect Chanukah or Christmas gift) or to join our Network of Spiritual Progressives (members also get a free one-year subscription to Tikkun).
Rabbi Michael Lerner
p.s. my fuller analysis of the midterm elections will appear soon-not focused on Jewish participation but on the underlying value issues. In the mean time, I wanted to share these thoughts and also pass along the Times of Israel report below.