Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Judaism
Historically, anti-capitalist fervor has been inevitably and inextricably interwoven with anti-Semitism. Some Occupy Wall Street protesters stand in line with odious predecessors.
Anti-capitalist political revolutions of modern times have provided platforms for anti-Semitic outbreaks, the Revolution of 1848 being but one, albeit seminal, example. As author Michael Miller points out in his essay entitled "Samson Raphael Hirsch and the revolution of 1848," the hopes of Rabbi Hirsch, who attempted to seize the moment of crisis to advance the cause of Jewish civil and political emancipation, were "dashed by a wave of anti-Jewish violence that swept Hungary, Bohemia, and Moravia in the month of April, bringing the Jewish Question [into the forefront.] ... As revolution spread from France eastward, it perpetually brought anti-Jewish violence in its wake, and the Habsburg Empire was no exception."
The anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street protesters of 2011 are proving to be no exception to the historic combination of virulent anti-capitalist and anti-Jewish sentiment, as videos here, here, and here demonstrate. As of the writing of this article, there has been no condemnation of the demonstrably anti-Semitic episodes from within the Occupy Wall Street crowd or from our president.
On the contrary, the tendency among the protesters and some pundits has been to characterize such outbreaks within and outside the OWS movement as merely anecdotal, random incidents. However, such episodes are symptomatic of the disease of anti-Semitism passed down from generations of socialist and communist revolutions from the time of 1848. The fate of Jews under socialist/communist governments of the twentieth century, a case example being the purge of Polish Jewry during the political crisis of 1968, seems to be completely lost on OWS protesters.
But as worrisome as the outbreak of anti-Semitism within OWS is, there is yet another danger to Jews lurking within the OWS movement -- namely, the attempt by a movement calling itself Occupy Judaism to accelerate the assimilation of the overwhelmingly leftist political leanings of the movement within Judaism itself.
The impulse to blend Judaism and leftist politics may well have its roots in the aforementioned Revolution of 1848, which had a strong anti-banking and anti-capitalist component. While Rabbi Hirsch labored to take advantage of the political crisis in order to emancipate Jews, he resisted the absorption of Judaism into secular political ideals, believing as he did that a sovereign God rules earthly events. He did not foresee what would be the steady erosion of Jewish rabbinical tradition and devotion to the Torah as Judaism became more and more attracted to the ideals of the left -- ideals which would prove to be incompatible with centuries-old Jewish faith, identity, and tradition. The irony is that contemporary attempts to assimilate leftist belief systems within Judaism have eroded traditional Judaism while doing nothing to stop the anti-Semitic tendencies of communist/socialist mobs.
The truth is that if Occupy Judaism and other like movements have their way, an acceleration of the erosion may indeed be in the future.
Many American Jews already increasingly lean toward a political fundamentalism almost as strict and rigorous in its demands as any orthodox adherent of Judaism. Indeed, as Norman Podhoretz has indicated in his Wall street Journal article, "Why Are Jews Liberals," progressivism's leftist principles have become for many American Jews a sort of religion in and of itself. He writes:
The upshot is that in virtually every instance of a clash between Jewish law and contemporary liberalism, it is the liberal creed that prevails for most American Jews. Which is to say that for them, liberalism has become more than a political outlook. It has for all practical purposes superseded Judaism and become a religion in its own right. And to the dogmas and commandments of this religion they give the kind of steadfast devotion their forefathers gave to the religion of the Hebrew Bible.
The dangerous attempt to assimilate the Jewish religious tradition and the radically leftist goals of many OWS protestors appears to be a goal of Occupy Judaism. The group, which has emerged as a movement of those who are dissatisfied with Jewish institutions and synagogues, hopes to change Jewish religious practice from within. The desire is to further radicalize Judaism, some branches of which are already allied with leftist ideals.
As Dana Evan Kaplan notes in her essay "Contemporary debates in American reform Judaism: conflicting visions," Reform Judaism's "approach to tikkun olam [repairing the world] has incorporated only leftist, socialist-like elements. In truth, it is political, basically a mirror of the most radically leftist components of the Democratic Party platform, causing many to say that Reform Judaism is simply 'the Democratic party with Jewish holidays.'"
According to the Jerusalem Post, Occupy Judaism leader Daniel Sieradski apparently feels American Judaism needs to hasten its leftward march while retaining some aspects of Jewish ritual. Mr. Sieradski proclaimed:
We chose to erect and occupy our succa here at Zuccotti Park. There is no better place to celebrate the festival of Succot this year than right here at Occupy Wall Street. We stand in solidarity with all those who are challenging the inequitable distribution of resources in our country, who dare to dream of a more just and compassionate society.
Mr. Sieradski also suggested "the possibility of sit-ins and demonstrations in front of synagogues and Jewish organizations."
Right. That should work out well.
One does not have to be particularly prescient to imagine the chaos and destruction should mobs determined to forcibly reform Judaism according to socialist/Marxist principles get out of hand. "Demonstrations" in front of synagogues have been known to turn destructive rather quickly. Synagogues may suffer the fate of St. Paul's cathedral in London. (Or an even worse fate.) The cathedral has been forced to close its doors due to the siege launched by radical protestors.
But more important than the physical occupation of synagogues is the spiritual occupation of a political philosophy which is basically antithetical to Jewish theology. An ideological alliance with the left may wind up with the same results as the Jewish alliances with socialism and communism in the past, with persecution of Jews rising as Jewish capitalists, financiers, and bankers, whose philosophy is influenced by capitalist economic theory and practice, are targeted once again. After all, leftist philosophy is dominated by an economic theory that views the chief levers of the world as economic -- a perfect setup for anti-bank protests flavored by anti-Jew sentiment.
Most importantly -- this cannot be overemphasized -- leftism, dominated as it is by socialist/communist ideology, is inherently atheistic, substituting as it does an impersonal and blind but inevitable historical process for the personal, sovereign Jehovah who is revealed in the Pentateuch and whose words concerning a just society are proclaimed by the Hebrew prophets.
The intrinsic spiritual incompatibility of the two philosophies means a divided house of Judaism, as it has for mainline Protestant denominations and much of the Roman Catholic Church, infiltrated as those churches have been by radical liberation theology which has at its heart leftist beliefs.
What a tragic irony it would be if Judaism, devoted as it historically has been to the worship of Jehovah and to the Torah, should continue to find itself deep in the process of assimilating a worldview antithetical to its very being. How tragic it would be to see yet another Hellenization of Judaism, but this time without the anti-assimilationist, heroic resistance of the Maccabees.
Antithetical worldviews cannot coexist within Judaism forever. One or the other will win out.
Will synagogues continue to proclaim the Great Shema, "Hear Ye, O Israel, the Lord our God is One," in all the fullness of its spiritual splendor and significance?
Or, while retaining the ritual and symbolism of Judaism, will they actually be proclaiming the equivalent of "Workers of the World, Unite!"?
Fay Voshell, a frequent contributor to American Thinker, holds an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, which awarded her the Charles Hodge Prize for excellence in systematic theology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.