Tag Archive for: Matthew Hausman

Confronting Anti-Semitism Takes a Strong Jewish Identity

In order to defend themselves, Jews must know who they are and where they come from.

With the proliferation of antisemitism in politics, academia, and popular culture throughout North America and the West, some sectors of the Jewish community are particularly at risk, though not necessarily from physical harm or violence. Their scars cannot be seen. Any time Jews feel embarrassment or shame in response to false accusations that Israel practices apartheid or abuses human rights or that traditional Judaism is bigoted or intolerant, their ability to counter antisemitism erodes – with some even accepting the classical antisemitic slurs that are routinely hurled against the world’s only Jewish state. Indeed, some are so alienated from their heritage and so politically indoctrinated against Israel that they side with haters who claim Jewish tradition is irrelevant, Jewish history is false, and the Jewish state is racist.

Some even come to identify with their detractors the same way kidnap victims can develop Stockholm-syndrome during lengthy periods of captivity.

We see it among nonobservant Jews who equate Jewishness with political affiliation, secular communal organizations devoted to progressive social justice, and nonorthodox movements that conflate Jewish values with liberal politics and deemphasize the value of traditional observance. We see it in Tel Aviv’s progressive municipality which ths year outlawed placing a mechtiza separation fence at the yearly public Kol Nidrei and Ne’ilah prayers in Dizengoff Square sponsored by the Orthodox Rosh Yehudi organization and attended by thousands of secular Jews.

The common thread binding these elements together is the definition of Jewish identity in cultural or ideological terms disconnected from normative tradition and Torah values and the adoption of progressive values that define two thousand years of traditional gender separation at prayer, for example, as misogynistic..

The modern trend to redefine Jewish identity began with Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) in the nineteenth century and continued through the movements and institutions it spawned. The Haskalah’s efforts to reinterpret Jewish identity differed from prior generations when disaffected Jews often chose apostasy – usually in response to unrelenting persecution. In contrast, the maskilim (“enlightened ones”) did not reject Jewishness, but rather sought to define it in worldly terms, reduce the centrality of ritual and mystical observance, and eliminate the Jew’s otherness.

Many of the original maskilim viewed Jewish identity consistent with the burgeoning nationalist movements of the day, with some seeing it as the Jewish version of pan-German nationalism or the Italian Risorgimento; and consequently, many of the early secular Zionists regarded Jewishness in temporal terms that compartmentalized spirituality and history and eschewed the concept of Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence). They regarded Jewish identity through the same evolutionary lens as any other form of national or cultural expression.

The more radical elements of Haskalah sought to homogenize Jewish identity and encouraged acculturation with European society; but not all maskilim went this way. Indeed, many wanted to preserve Jewish uniqueness by encouraging the use of spoken Hebrew as the vernacular and developing a modern Hebrew culture that would supplant observance but inspire Jewish national integrity. They believed this modern Hebrew culture would be informed by the Jews’ spiritual past without being bound to the Halakha (Jewish law) that had kept them intact during their long exile amongst the gentile nations. They also presumed an organic spirituality flowing from the nation’s scriptural tradition but untethered by its historical connection to the law.

Though the maskilim advocated modernization of religion to appease European sensibilities, they were not motivated by self-rejection. Indeed, many sincerely believed they could ameliorate Jew-hatred by appearing less alien, though others saw the assimilationist risk of such thinking and focused instead on Jewish national regeneration. Leon Pinsker, for example, originally advocated cultural assimilation before turning to Jewish nationalism, writing the influential “Auto-Emancipation,” and founding Hovevei Zion.

Nevertheless, efforts to reconceptualize Jewish identity during and after Haskalah weakened the uniformity of standard that had assured Jewish continuity through the generations, and instead promoted heterodox touchstones that for many led to cultural and historical revisionism, faithlessness, and assimilation. And this spirit of heterodoxy was incorporated into the framework of the religious reform movements that were also born in the nineteenth century.

The 1837 Reform rabbinical conference in Wiesbaden, Germany, for example, rejected the centrality of Halakha, ritual observance, and messianic redemption. It also repudiated traditional identity by renouncing Judaism’s ethnonational components, embracing Berlin as its Jerusalem, and proclaiming the synagogue its Temple. Echoing the themes of Wiesbaden, the US Reform movement at its 1869 Philadelphia Conference rejected ritual law and “the restoration of the old Jewish state under a descendant of David…” American reform went further in their 1885 Pittsburgh Platform, wherein they stated: “We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community; and we therefore expect neither a return to [the homeland], nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning a Jewish state.”

Though various reform leaders claimed to espouse the Tanakh’s universal values and prophetic traditions, they ignored the essential Scriptural messages of return to Torah and national regeneration. They instead conflated Torah values with secular ideologies, with many of their adherents flocking to sympatico political movements in Europe and the US, where their clergy often claimed that labor socialism, trade unionism, and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” reflected authentic Jewish values.

In the 1960s, radical clergy often allied themselves with the political left, which came to regard Israel with disdain and traditional Judaism as anachronistic and intolerant. And since the 1990s, many liberal Jewish clergy have erroneously equated tikkun olam with political agendas that promote radical social policies, disparage traditional observance, devalue Jewish national claims, and legitimize anti-Israel and even antisemitic leftists.

It appears that the more the nontraditional movements have strayed from classical standards, the more prone they have become to equating Jewish identity with liberal politics and ideologies. Moreover, some communal organizations seem to have supplanted traditional advocacy with partisan apologetics.

And what about those with weak backgrounds who yearn for spirituality rather than politics, but who because of their Jewish illiteracy seek fulfillment from faith traditions that contravene Tanakh? The uneducated are most at risk from theological assault by evangelical missionaries in the US and Israel, who expend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to subvert the Jewish soul with non-Jewish subterfuges like “messianic Judaism.” Those who get sucked into this labyrinth are typically incapable of recognizing the fundamental antisemitic stereotypes that permeate Christian text or the discordant scriptural and doctrinal differences between Judaism and Christianity.

But it’s not only the secular, uneducated, or spiritually confused who have been affected by the reimagining of Jewish identity.

The perceptual changes triggered by Haskalah also affected many within the religious community – not because they were confused about the nature of Jewish identity, but because they associated “enlightenment” negatively with the objective study of history. For many in the Orthodox world, the academic study of Judaism was viewed as a mechanism for secularizing Jewishness while discouraging traditional belief, observance, and messianic yearning.

This negative association aroused mistrust towards Jewish history as an academic pursuit, which was apparent early on with Heinrich Graetz’s publication of “The History of the Jews.” There was also religious opposition to the Wissenschaft des Judentums, a movement dedicated to the study of Jewish culture and literature (though the Wissenschaft also found support among some Orthodox scholars, e.g., Rabbi Israel Hildesheimer).

It is also apparent among those who teach the false history of Islamic tolerance in order to blame political Zionism for causing enmity between Arabs and Jews before and after 1948.

The Orthodox are certainly more likely to maintain traditional standards of identity than secular or progressive Jews. However, minimizing the importance of history, or presenting it to reflect negatively on the perceived enemies of religion, can also have a deleterious impact on the ability to combat Jew-hatred.

Those without a traditional sense of Jewish identity – or who don’t know history – are at a disadvantage when confronting antisemitism. If Jewishness is equated with secular political ideologies, then loyalty to heritage will always be subject to shifting sociopolitical priorities and agendas. This is demonstrated by the liberal establishment’s failure to condemn the rising tide of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel zealotry on the left and among progressive Democrats.

Gentiles cannot be counted on to eradicate antisemitism because at the end of the day, it’s only Jews who suffer the consequences; and in order to defend themselves, Jews must know who they are and where they come from. But if Jewish identity can be stretched to mean anything, it ultimately means nothing at all – especially when conflated with contrary faith traditions or political ideologies that are hostile to Jewish Scripture, values, and national claims.

In the final analysis, Jewish identity divorced from Torah and molded by revisionist assumptions is insufficient for defeating antisemitism.

©2023. Matthew Hausman, J.D. All rights reserved.


A President who Undermines Israel and Jews Who Support Him

The term “useful idiots” describes those who should know better than to support causes that threaten them but do so anyway.

The adage “Hanlon’s Razor” states that one should “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” and aims to eliminate improbable explanations for human behavior. The term “useful idiots” describes those who should know better than to support causes that threaten their natural interests but do so anyway (the phrase was famously applied to western progressives who shilled for the Soviet Union despite its totalitarian contempt for western freedoms). Hanlon’s Razor never assumes ill-intent, while useful idiocy suggests a degree of willfulness; but both presuppose the inevitability of bad acts. Thus, negative conduct is the one constant, whether motivated by animus or ignorance.

And either term can be used to describe those who – irrespective of intent – continue to support an administration pushing policies that disregard Jewish historical rights, reward terrorism, interfere with Israeli domestic politics, seek appeasement with Iran, and threaten Israel’s safety and security

As has been widely reported, the Biden administration recently reinstituted an Obama-era prohibition against the use of American tax-dollars to subsidize joint US-Israeli research and development projects at institutions in Judea and Samaria. This ban was suspended during the Trump administration because it effectively constituted an anti-Israel boycott and falsely presumed the illegality of Israel’s possession of Judea and Samaria, though Israeli control of these territories does not constitute unlawful “occupation” as defined under the customary international laws of war or Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Biden administration also reinstituted funding to the Palestinian Authority, which before its suspension was partly used to pay terrorists or the families of terrorists who attacked Israelis and Americans in what was dubbed “pay-for-slay.” During the Obama years, the PA routinely diverted American funds to pay terrorists – until the flow of cash was halted in 2020 by the Taylor Act under former President Trump. After Biden resumed transferring funds to PA-controlled NGOs and programs claimed to be beyond the scope of the Taylor Act, enraged terror victims filed suit in federal court to stop him and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken from bypassing the law and financially enabling terrorism.

The administration’s actions underscore its antipathy for Israel and the unbridled hostility of progressives for the Jewish State. Mr. Biden’s true priorities are also evidenced by his obsessive opposition to PM Netanyahu’s efforts to introduce much needed judicial reforms, his snubbing of Netanyahu as Israel’s head of state, his policies courting Iran publicly and behind the scenes, and his administration’s public embrace of Congressional antisemites, BDS advocates, and anti-Israel zealots.

As contentious as these actions are, they have not seemed to cool the ardor of many Jewish Democrats for this president or their party. Indeed, as the administration’s regard for Israel has degenerated and its embrace of antisemites has become more brazen, the party faithful have chosen to remain willfully ignorant – unlike Jewish members of the British Labour Party who staged a protest exodus a few years ago when party leader Jeremy Corbyn spouted and then doubled down on outrageous anti-Israel rhetoric echoing antisemitic tropes.

Though most Jewish Democrats believe they support Israel and oppose antisemitism, their failure to acknowledge Jew-hatred within their party, on the left, and in minority communities is consistent with party leadership’s disregard for Jewish history and Israeli national integrity. Indeed, such priorities are viewed as embarrassing by many progressives, whose gut reaction to Jewish tradition and historical rights is to reject them, blame Jewish behavior for provoking liberal and minority antipathy, and lend credibility to all who falsely accuse Israel of human rights abuses or apartheid.

In contrast, Jewish political conservatives and independents are more apt to differentiate secular politics from Jewish values, respect Jewish tradition, and value Israel as a Jewish state. They also tend to be assertive in chastising Biden for bullying Israel and Democratic leaders for coddling antisemitic progressives within their ranks – including outspoken members of their Congressional caucus.

It seems today’s progressives have learned nothing from history, as illustrated by the disturbing parallels between them and those who blindly supported Franklin D. Roosevelt during the years leading up to and including the Second World War. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Like Biden today (and Obama before him), Roosevelt was supported by the majority of Jewish voters and relied on influential Jews as trusted advisors – among them financier Bernard Baruch and Secretary of Treasury Henry Morgenthau. Yet, he had no affinity for traditional Jews and seemed largely indifferent to Jewish suffering. Even worse, his administration tried to suppress news of the Holocaust to appease the Arab world, and accordingly adopted the report of special Mideast envoy, Lt. Col. Harold Hoskins, who characterized news of Nazi genocide as “Zionist propaganda.” Following Hoskins’ lead, Secretary of State Cordell Hull advocated a do-nothing approach while Jews were being rounded up, gassed, and incinerated in Europe.

When solicited by Roosevelt, many of his Jewish acolytes assisted in discrediting those who publicly discussed the Holocaust (e.g., Hillel Kook aka Peter Bergson and screenwriter Ben Hecht), supposedly to prevent distraction from the war effort. In addition, his administration refused to lift immigration restrictions to offer escapees safe harbor, effectively condemning many to the death camps. Among other reasons for Roosevelt’s aversion to accepting refugees may have been his stated belief that Jews were overly represented in the American professions.

Whatever the reason, Roosevelt showed little inclination to stop the genocide or rescue its victims until far too late; and his Jewish devotees should have known better than to assist him in burying news out of Europe and portraying anti-Holocaust advocates as rabblerousers and provocateurs.

Though unfettered Jewish support for Roosevelt certainly seems morally ambiguous in retrospect, it did not facilitate Germany’s aggression. Moreover, because the British White Paper impeded escape from Europe by severely restricting Jews’ immigration to their homeland, many saw American victory as the greatest chance for salvation (though actually saving Jews was clearly not a Roosevelt priority). Although Jewish Democrats were wrong about his supposed philosemitism, they were not supporting policies that empowered the Axis alliance; and despite his failure to save Jews, Roosevelt did not seek appeasement with Germany. Neither did he blame the Jews for creating their own predicament.

In contrast, Biden resumed a partial boycott against Israel when he reinstated the Obama-era ban on funding for joint American-Israeli research and development projects in Judea and Samaria. He also in effect resumed enabling terrorism by ordering the reinstitution of payments to the PA. Thus, Biden’s policies actually do empower enemies of the Jewish state.

In what foreign policy universe are such actions politically sensible, strategically sound, or morally acceptable?

Moreover, like Obama before him, Mr. Biden (or whoever is directing his administration’s policy) is intent on appeasing Iran despite its stated intention to perpetrate another Holocaust. Given Iran’s role in exporting terrorism and destabilizing the region, the only sound foreign policy strategy would seem to be containment or regime change. Yet, Biden continues to pine for a nuclear deal that, if based on Obama’s template, would provide a roadmap for Iran to develop functional nuclear weapons, not deter it from doing so.

In addition, Biden’s administration continues to undercut Netanyahu’s political legitimacy by refusing to welcome him to the White House as a foreign head of state. Biden is also interfering with Israeli domestic politics by (a) falsely labeling Netanyahu’s judicial reform initiative “anti-democratic” (though the changes sought are actually more consistent with the US court system), and (b) offering encouragement (and perhaps dollars) to antigovernment protestors.

Considering the administration’s dubious tactics, those who continue to support it are enabling policies that compromise the safety and security of Jews in Israel and perhaps the Diaspora. Some do so out of ignorance, and others because they reject Jewish tradition, history, and national identity in favor of progressive ideology that devalues Israel and promotes Palestinian revisionism.

It is certainly possible to question specific Israeli policies without being antisemitic. But reproval that demonstrates malicious bias would seem to fail the “Three-D Test” articulated by Natan Sharansky, which holds that criticism of Israel is antisemitic when it delegitimizes, demonizes, or employs double-standards to disparage the Jewish state.

Those who support Biden’s agenda today have the potential to cause greater harm than those who blindly supported Roosevelt eighty-plus years ago, because Biden’s policies effectively threaten Israel and denigrate Jewish history and continuity. In this age of instant information, it is inconceivable that anyone can claim ignorance. Therefore, the ultimate question for Jews who advocate for an administration so hostile to Israel is how long they can tolerate policies that delegitimize and existentially undermine the world’s only Jewish nation.

How will they respond?

©2023. Matthew M. Hausman, J.D. All rights reserved.

Interfaith Dialogue – A Failure by Definition

Non-Orthodox rabbis embrace the progressive ideals of their Christian counterparts, using modern terms for an ancient hatred.

In an outrageous display of moral vacancy, the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently labelled Israel an apartheid state – despite an abundance of evidence and legal precedent to the contrary. Though mainline protestant churches have grown increasingly hostile toward Israel based on false claims of human rights abuses and a disregard for Jewish history, their condemnations are simply modern iterations of the same doctrinal prejudice used to demean Jews and Judaism for two millennia. Their anti-Israel bias is vile but historically consistent, and it raises the issue of how progressive rabbis can sit with liberal activist clergy who promote hoary antisemitic myths wrapped in the language of human rights advocacy.

The International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute of 2002 defines apartheid as “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” This definition does not fit Israel, where ethnic and religious minorities have equal rights under the law. But it does describe totalitarian states that liberal protestant clergy are reluctant to criticize, including communist dictatorships like China and repressive Islamist regimes like Iran. It could also describe the terrorist organizations many of them legitimize, including Hamas and Hezbollah, which openly call for jihad, genocide, and death to Israel.

Their collective hypocrisy was perhaps best exemplified in 2020 by the “Faith Statement on Escalating Violence with Iran,” which condemned “the United States’ dangerous aggression towards Iran…,” despite that nation’s malevolent record of exporting terrorism, persecuting minorities, and seeking to annihilate the Jewish People.

The Presbyterians’ false claim of Israeli apartheid should hardly be surprising given Christendom’s inveterate record of denigrating and persecuting Jews since before the days of Constantine, its complicity in the Holocaust, and its ambivalence regarding the Jewish State since 1948. In fact, the Catholic Church would not establish full diplomatic relations with Israel until after the ill-conceived 1993 Oslo Accords, nearly thirty years after Nostra Aetate (“Vatican II”) in 1965 – despite the Jews’ irrefutable historical claims and indigeneity in their homeland.

Jewish sovereignty poses a theological dilemma for those who believe the Jews were exiled for refusing to accept Christian doctrines, including belief in the trinity, vicarious atonement, the apotheosis of a man, and the eucharist – all of which contravene Torah law and seem pagan to Jewish sensibilities. Not surprisingly, Christian scripture significantly alters the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and contains numerous anti-Jewish passages that have fueled oppression, blood libels, and massacres for centuries.

The Book of John, for example, associates Jews with darkness and evil (e.g., John 8:37-39), and specifically states: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44.)

Similarly, the book of Matthew says, “you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets…You snakes, you brood of vipers. How can you escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23:31-33.) Matthew also accuses Jews of deicide and bloodguilt exclaiming, “his blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25.) The accusation of bloodguilt, a common theme repeated elsewhere (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 2:15), was instrumental in reinforcing the anti-Jewish tropes that suffused European culture.

These stereotypes were used to dehumanize Jews and paved the way for mechanized genocide in the twentieth century. Considering this deplorable past, liberal protestant excoriation of Israel should be seen for what it is; ancient doctrinal antisemitism dressed up as progressive political virtue. What makes it worse is the legitimacy conferred by progressive rabbis who sit as colleagues with liberal pastors on clergy boards and interfaith councils and who likewise besmirch Israel in the name of social justice.

Though progressive clergy of all faiths embrace social justice activism as a religious mandate, nontraditional rabbis who partner with liberal Christian counterparts on select human rights issues must demonstrate the same self-abnegation and cognitive dissonance demanded by classical interfaith dialogue. Therefore, analyzing the deficiencies of such discourse provides context and insight.

The problem with traditional interfaith dialogue is threefold.

  • First, it restrains Jews from being assertive when doing so could be viewed as chauvinistic by gentile interlocutors.
  • Second, it holds that Christians and Jews share responsibility for their strained history and can resolve their differences by accentuating their similarities.
  • Third, it presumes an “I’m okay, you’re okay” discussional framework that requires Jews to concede the validity of doctrines that frankly violate Torah law.

Another problem with traditional interfaith discourse is that it deflects blame for a two-thousand-year doctrinal war against the Jews. Christian antisemitism resulted in ghettos, public disputations, crusades, pogroms, forced baptisms, inquisitions, expulsions, and genocide. This persecution was driven exclusively by Christians, their churches, and governments, motivated by theological and eschatological doctrines that contravene Torah and are fundamentally antisemitic.

Jews never engaged in similar conduct because they had neither the religious imperative nor power to do so. The existence of Christianity is irrelevant to Jewish belief and poses no threat to its continuing vitality.

The Jews’ continued existence however,’ was problematic for Christendom because, despite suffering horrendous abuse, they clung to their ancestral faith and Scriptures as written, not as altered to fit church doctrines that had more in common with Greco-Roman philosophy and culture and Gnostic dualism. The interfaith model is faulty because it (a) neglects to assign blame for this negative fixation and (b) presumes a shared “Judeo-Christian” heritage despite irreconcilable differences between fundamental

Jewish and Christian beliefs.

The term “Judeo-Christian” is usually employed by Christians to imply spiritual kinship and common values. Few educated Jews hold likewise, however, because they understand from their knowledge of Tanakh, Hebrew, and rabbinic literature that many central tenets of Judaism and Christianity are incongruous.

Whereas many mainline churches have adopted social justice activism as a core religious principle – claiming it is a true reflection of Christian values – they have retained the anti-Jewish conventions canonized by the early church fathers. In maligning Israel, these denominations are merely expressing age-old hostility using the language of contemporary propaganda. It matters little that non-Orthodox rabbis embrace the same progressive ideals and causes as their liberal Christian counterparts.

Those who falsely accuse Israel of apartheid are clearly using modern terminology to convey ancient dogmatic hatred.

But just as Jewish belief and tradition are incompatible with Christian theology, so too are they inconsistent with the conflation of secular politics and Torah values. Unfortunately, not all Jews understand their own heritage, and many have been deluded by interfaith and/or political indoctrination to believe that tolerance requires them to validate beliefs and ideologies that contradict their own traditions and scripture. The inherent limitations of interfaith dialogue are illustrated in the faith-based politics of liberal protestants who falsely brand the Jewish state “racist” in the name of skewed progressive ideology.

The problem is that many Jews don’t know enough about their own culture and history to confront such mistruths, whether expressed in religious or political terms, as open hostility, or even as declarations of friendship by those with covert missionary agendas (e.g., many evangelicals). Perhaps worse, though, are those who do know, but refuse to stand up to their critics for fear of offending them as dialogue partners or alienating them as partisan allies – or because they also reject Israel and Jewish tradition.

Whether using scriptural or political language, Christian detractors of Jews, Judaism, and Israel ultimately claim to be guided by faith, irrespective of fact. However, by using faith (doctrinal or political) as a shield to circumvent intellectual engagement, they avoid having to confront moral inconsistencies in the stereotypes they promote. And when endorsing politics as religious virtue, they eschew any moral responsibility for determining whether their worldview comports with history or original, unaltered scripture.

The template for today’s protestant denunciations of Israel can be found in the history of Christian antisemitism. Though Jews today are no longer required to submit to physical or ecclesiastical abuse as they did in the days of the ghetto, many are reluctant to defend Jewish integrity for fear of offending their cultural critics or political bedfellows.

And this won’t change unless they come to understand their own heritage and the historical nuances and ideological limitations of interfaith dialogue.

©Matthew M. Hausman, J.D. All rights reserved.