Why don’t Jews believe in Judaism?
A poll this week by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life contained some stunning results regarding American Jews: Six in 10 American Jews expressed some doubts about God’s existence. That number is one in four for Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants and Orthodox Christians. American Jews generally believe that God is not involved in people’s lives in a targeted way: Only 25 percent agree that God is “personal,” while 50 percent believe He is an impersonal force. Naturally, then, only 31 percent of American Jews state that religion is very important in their lives, and only 16 percent attend religious services at least once per week. These numbers aren’t restricted to Jews from the United States – large percentages of European and Israeli Jews are similarly ambivalent about God.
Traditional Jewish teaching states that God exists, that He is personally involved in people’s lives, that He judges right and wrong, good and evil, and acts accordingly. Why, then, do the vast majority of Jews disbelieve such teachings while members of other religions hold fast to their tenets?
The answer springs from a general discomfort with nationalism in the aftermath of the Holocaust. American Jews have largely bought the notion, propounded most effectively by Hannah Arendt, that anti-Semitism – and xenophobia more generally – springs naturally from patriotic nationalism. Arendt warned about the inherent “racism of modern nationalism,” citing specifically Stalinism and Nazism.
Arendt’s opposition to nationalism carried her so far that she largely opposed the Zionist movement. Since the Zionist movement was based on the idea of Jewish nationalism (and Jewish nationalism is a central foundation of Judaism as a whole), she opposed Judaism by extension. She called future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s Herut Party “closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.” She stated that the worldview of Theodor Herzl, “conform[ed] perfectly [to] the National Socialism.” Zionism was morally equivalent, she suggested, to Nazism.
Many Jews – particularly in the aftermath of the Holocaust – were looking for answers. Why, they asked, did the Nazis hate us so? They found their answer in Arendt. Nationalism, they nodded, was at the root of the problem. And the solution was dissolving their own nationalism. And so they decided to sacrifice the central tenets of Judaism in favor of a Pollyannaish internationalism.
That internationalism is the guiding belief of most American Jews. And so they endorse Barack Obama (by a 2-1 margin in some polls) despite the fact that Obama and his advisers are dangerously anti-Israel. They continue to consider concessions in the face of terrorism. And they cry out, hopefully, for the intervention of the international community.
The irony is that modern internationalism – not modern nationalism – is the greatest current threat to Jews worldwide. The United Nations, which presumably respects the rights of all nations equally, is an anti-Israel tool wielded by Muslim countries. The European Union has pressed Israel to cave to Arab terrorism. And Barack Obama, internationalist, will stand alongside the United Nations and the European Union.
The solution for Jews is simple: Embrace nationalism. There is nothing wrong with nationalism, as long as that nationalism supports the right ideas. The nationalistic American is not the nationalistic World War II-era German – the patriotic American stands up for free speech and freedom of religion. And the nationalistic Jew is not the nationalistic Arab – the nationalistic Jew stands up for freedom of worship and traditional morality.
American Jews should embrace their Jewish nationhood while embracing American patriotism. The American nation includes members of every religion, and for good reason: The same moral nationalism that animates Judaism animates American patriotism. Jews must embrace Jewish values – including group identity based on shared moral values – in order to embrace the same American values. The American Jewish patriot must be a Jewish patriot in order to be an American patriot.
Jews have a long history of persecution. And that persecution has tested their faith in the Creator. But faith in man is far more tenuous than faith in God. For Jews, rejecting God in favor of international man is not merely a false hope – it is a dangerous prescription for the ultimate death of Judaism and Jews individually.
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