America and Judaism suffering from the same maladies
The story is told of an encounter between Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a young law student.
"The Constitution," said Justice Ginsburg, "is old, outdated, from a different era and should be replaced."
"Funny," says the student, "that sounds just like you."
I am a Jew, and sadly, that is exactly how our Torah appears to be viewed by liberal members of our clergy.
It is especially poignant this week as America celebrates its independence in 1776, and as Judaism recently celebrated the receipt more than three millennia ago of its Torah and Ten Commandments.
At the synagogue where I belong, Shaarey Zedek Congregation in suburban Detroit, Rabbi Aaron Starr sermonized on Shavuot that there no longer is a Covenant between the Jews and their God. A YouTube video of his sermon is here.
He quoted Richard Rubenstein, author of Beyond Auschwitz, who wrote: "I believe the greatest single challenge to modern Judaism arises out of the question of God and the death camps. I believe that our problem is how to speak of religion in an age of no God."
He also quoted Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg, who wrote: "What then happened to the covenant? I submit that its authority was broken."
A more complete discussion of his Shavuot remarks is here.
This should be seen amid the backdrop of two Americas: one that holds fast to the nation and its founding documents (and incidentally to its religious articles of faith), and another with a less charitable view of the nation and its faiths. One thinks sneakers decorated with images of the nation's first flag represent patriotism, and another despises the nation at its birth.
"Let's stop pretending," writes David Harsanyi in The Federalist this week, "that kneeling during the national anthem is really about 'respecting the flag[.]' ... These protests are acts of contempt towards an irredeemable nation created in sin."
The skirmishes now occurring on America's southern border can be seen as part of a larger war over what America will look like in a generation or two. American women are failing to have enough children to maintain the current population, while large numbers of uneducated, unskilled, and unkempt people are entering without vetting.
Young Jewish women, who study longer, marry later, and have higher living standard expectations are having even fewer children than the average. Liberal Jewish writers see the dire demographics as less profound than other political goals. The (formerly Jewish) Forward complained recently about "How the Obsession with Jewish Continuity Perverts Our Liberal Values."
Now comes Rabbi Starr, leaving for a month-long stay at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Israel, suggesting that Judaism stands at the outset of a third epoch of its history. The first, lasting roughly a millennium, involved observance around the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. With Roman-ordered expulsion in 70 C.E. came the second one, involving religious practices revolving around rabbinic rulings. The third, in his view is now:
The early Jewish pioneers of the modern period, that is to say, the framers of Reform and Conservative Judaism, proclaimed an end to that rabbinic era with the dawn of the Enlightenment[.] ... Ushering in a third epoch of Jewish history that continues to unfold in our time, the massive migration of Jews from Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as the horrors of the Holocaust, brought an official end to European Jewry and understandably facilitated the rapid assimilation of its survivors into non-Orthodox, American Jewish practices as well as the birth of the State of Israel.
The question he then asks displays much of what is wrong with liberal Judaism — and liberalism in America — today:
How then do we today answer the most pressing spiritual and moral quandaries, like "where is Heaven if we can enter outer-space?" Or, perhaps more timely, how do we balance our sense of moral obligation to those children detained rightly or wrongly and suffering at our southern border with the challenge of poverty and malnutrition of countless American citizens, including American children, around our great country today?
Is the Jewish question really one of moral obligation to illegals detained on the border or Americans suffering from "poverty and malnutrition"? With food stamps and welfare, there isn't or shouldn't be malnutrition in America, unless perhaps the parents are trading for cigarettes or drugs. The question belies the very basis of economics, how a society allocates its limited resources of goods and services among unlimited demands. Giving unlimited amounts of medical care to an unending stream of illegals is an absolute prescription for national bankruptcy. Or, as the late Dr. Bernard Meltzer was fond of saying, "When your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep becomes your downfall."
You would think rabbinic training includes basic economics instruction.
So here we are with some folks having little but disdain for the founding documents of nationality and of religion. To a great extent, they are the same folks.
Liberal jurists and politicians, including RBG, have made no secret of their distaste for America's Constitution. But what is America without its Constitution? What is Judaism without its Torah and Ten Commandments?
I shudder to think.