Many of you feel understandably dazed and confused. People that you’d always thought of as friends or colleagues seem astonishingly complacent about the mass murder of Jews. Institutions like academia, media, and minority advocacy groups, that you’d always trusted as embodying the very best of enlightenment liberal outlook proudly side with those who raped, tortured, and murdered our brothers and sisters in Israel. Vandalism against Jewish property and assaults against Jews proliferate and the authorities seem impotent, even uninterested. Reality has slapped Jews in the face. Increasingly, the streets of the United States and much of Europe look eerily similar to the streets of Weimar Germany, where support for Hitler’s ideas took hold on college campuses, spreading from there throughout society. How can this be, you ask. Has some deadly poison entered their souls? Didn’t large-scale anti-Semitism end when Hitler died on April 30th, 1945, and Nazism gasped its last?
Let us draw aside the curtain of confusion and try to throw a little light onto the Jewish landscape which has suffered such serious seismic upheaval in the weeks since October 7th, 2023.
Since the 1960s, America has been divided by two great rivers of thought flowing in opposite directions. The first is rooted in a God-centric, Bible-based Judeo-Christian vision shared by the founders of the United States. This vision sees the family as the basic building block of society. It sees scientific and technological advance along with economic development as part of God’s covenant with humanity. It sees the human being as a unique creature touched by the finger of God. It provides a source for definitions of good and evil.
The alternative river of thought, quite different and entirely incompatible with the first, is rooted in a secular vision of the world unburdened by a living God with expectations and covenants. This view sees the individual as the basic building block of society, with marriage and family undefined, vague, and optional. It views scientific and technological development as almost automatically harming nature. It views money and economic development as tools of oppression best kept out of the hands of ordinary people. It views the human being as no more than another cunning combination of molecules like a chihuahua or a chimpanzee. Concepts like good and evil evolve and are defined by each individual’s ideas.
The second perception of reality has been around for at least as long as the first view, and the two views have clashed for millennia.
Many of the liberal causes of the 1950s and 1960s resonated in the Jewish soul, among them care for those who are oppressed or down on their luck, treating others based on their character rather than their skin color, and opportunity for all. Especially as the majority of Jews have minimal knowledge of the Torah, Jewish practice, and the millennia of Jewish thought that springs from the Bible, liberalism seemed an apt expression of their Judaism.
Here many Jews made a possibly fatal mistake. They thought that these liberal values would thrive in secularism. They did not understand that the values prevalent in the United States were not universal, but instead an outgrowth of a deep-seated Judeo-Christian ethic that had blossomed from when the mostly Protestant founders of this country espoused them. Too many Jews, wanting to do good, instead helped to tear apart the religious nature of the country, tearing God out of the fabric of American life. Looking back at centuries of European experience, they did not recognize the uniqueness of America. The Jewish organizational viewpoint slid from concern for minority viewpoints to the idea that “Any expression of Christian faith equals anti-Semitism.”
This viewpoint ignored the reality that historical European Catholicism’s relationship to Jews bore little similarity to that of American Protestantism. At this time in history, just a few decades back, American Christians were the canary in the coal mine, a position that Jews often thought was unique to them. Policies that chipped away at Christian belief became mainstream on college campuses and in the media. Jews did not realize that what had been a prominently held Bible belief among American Christians regarding the Jews, “And I will bless those who bless you, and those who curse you I will curse,” (Genesis 12:3) would be thrown away as Biblical verses dealing, for example, with sexuality were mocked and scorned. A belief that Jews have a strong historical and religious claim to the land of Israel, too, would be dismissed once the Bible was irrelevant. Too many Jews thought that a diminishing of Christianity, accompanied by immigration from non-Christian countries, would lead to a better society. We did not pay attention when the ideologies that were multiplying on campus preached against the family and against American culture, no matter that we had been the beneficiaries of both. We looked the other way when groups, such as white men or conservative professors and students were insulted and treated unjustly. We stayed silent when basic liberal ideas such as freedom of speech and thought were declared to be dangerous. Benign secularism did not replace traditional religion. That hole was filled with fervent beliefs, among them militant Islam, wokeism, and anti-Semitism. That is where we are today.
Instead of allying themselves with the first river of thought which resonated intrinsically with Jewish values, too many Jews threw themselves into the second river in great numbers and with great enthusiasm in the hope that this would produce a better America. They failed to consider that the natural and inevitable destination of this river of thought was virulent anti-Semitism.
It has to be this way. Just as the first river of thought is no more than the universal values of the Torah written large onto a national canvas, the second river, the opposite of the first, must obliterate the ancient sources and those that bear that vision in their hearts and souls. It is hard to deny that the ardent battle waged by many Jews against Judeo-Christian, Bible-based values and the society it produced, is largely responsible for the uncomfortable predicament in which we now find ourselves.
For more than a generation, the educational system, elementary school through college, has indoctrinated those whom they were supposed to educate. Students are imbued with an angry antipathy towards the Judeo-Christian heritage that laid the building blocks of Western Civilization. “Hey hey, ho ho, western civ has got to go,” a cry that we began hearing on campuses decades ago has morphed into, “From the river to the sea, Palestine must be free.”.
There most definitely are Jewish values and ideals. However, we have always had trouble understanding and explaining who we are. Are we a religion, a race, a family, an ethnic group, a people–it is almost impossible to articulate the answer. The only time our identity becomes clear is when our enemies define us. Are you an atheist or have you converted to another religion? To Hitler, you were still a Jew. Did you devote yourself to trying to improve the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, perhaps ferrying Moslem cancer patients to hospitals in Israel? To Hamas, you were a name on a list targeted for death. Did you march for all sorts of Leftist causes and proudly display BLM signs in your windows and on your lawns over the past few years? Many of your fellow marchers wish evil for you.
Because Judaism is an identity that is separate from what any individual does or thinks, we must recognize that something doesn’t become “Jewish” based upon the number of Jews who think or do it. For example, fifty years ago, when it became popular for Jewish homes to erect Christmas trees, Christmas trees were still not a Jewish symbol. Thirty years ago, it didn’t matter how many Jews called themselves Buddhist or atheists; Buddhism and atheism still weren’t Jewish belief systems. Neither the Democratic or Republican parties are direct manifestations of Jewish thought; however, we must be aware when one or the other aligns most strongly with those ideals and when one or the other overwhelmingly betrays them.
No matter how many college students, Jewish or non-Jewish, hold the belief that the world is divided between oppressors and the oppressed, it is not a Jewish belief. We do not venerate victimhood. We celebrate those who come to a country penniless and work their way up to success. We admire those who start with the odds against them and work hard until those who scorned them are forced to turn to them for help. We do not decide who is righteous based on how much they have suffered; we believe in objective standards of right and wrong. We do not think that people are only evil because of external forces; we believe that each human being can and must make moral choices. And we believe that certain cultures uphold better moral systems than others do.
So, what is to be done? It is not an easy question to answer. Jews often default to education as the answer to all ills, mistaking being the people of The Book for being the people of many books. It is hardly unimportant that, as we noted above, the locus of some of America’s most intense anti-Semitism is exactly the citadels of higher education. Once again, history has much to teach us. The Nazi SS leadership was heavily composed of doctors, lawyers, and other educated individuals.
Thus, we would suggest that expending resources in trying to change the minds of our enemies by argument or education is a waste. Instead, we ought to try and encourage and strengthen our friends. Personally, we have allied for years with large numbers in the American Christian community who have worked to shore up those ethics that made America a unique haven for the Jewish people. Almost thirty years ago, we published a book that earned awards in Christian America and led to our receiving hate mail and attacks from more than a few Jews and Jewish organizations. The book, America’s Real War: an Orthodox Rabbi Insists that Judeo-Christian Values Are Vital for Our Nation’s Survival, made the case that the safety of Jews in the United States and the country’s support for Israel, were the result of America’s unique Christian heritage, not in spite of it. While America is not a theocracy, we argued, it was established in a way that differentiated itself from Europe’s Christianity, but was firmly rooted in that religion. That made it uniquely welcoming to Judaism and Jews in a way that Europe had never been.
To this end, we recommend that you reach out to Christians who have been and continue to be supportive friends. You would almost certainly find them at Evangelical and other traditional-leaning churches in your neighborhood. Send a letter of gratitude and encouragement.
Finally, we have always been certain that the finest and most reliable antidote to anti-Semitism is more Semitism. In other words, we ask our fellow Jews to think about responding to this war against Judaism with more Judaism. There are wonderful resources both online and in person that present Judaism for thinking adults rather than on a childish level. There are families that eagerly embrace having guests at their Shabbat meals. Learn about the wonders and joys of being Jewish. Please be in touch if we can help with any of these objectives. It is tragic when one is targeted for an identity whose value remains unknown.
May God see fit to bring deliverance to His people as He did in the days of Mordechai and Esther.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
The American Alliance of Jews and Christians