Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Strange Bedfellows

Glenn Beck is now calling Reform Jews -- a plurality of the American Jewish population -- "almost like" "radical Islam". The line was that, like "radicalized Islam", Reform Jews (specifically, Reform Rabbis) are more about "politics" than they are "religion" -- thus creating two entirely separate points of offense: Comparing the bulk of American Jewry to a movement Beck believes to be at the heart of contemporary international evil, and arrogating to himself the right to define what Jewish religious experience is.

Of course, unlike PG -- who, by merely omitting to play the "do you deny you beat your wife" game, became the greatest enemy of the Jewish people ever to spill ink on this comment section -- some continue to harbor doubts over whether it is really fair to accuse Beck of anti-Semitism. Creating overwhelmingly Jewish "enemies lists? Meh. Accusing a prominent Jewish financier (and Holocaust survivor) of trying to create a "shadow government", being a Nazi collaborator, and manipulating global financial markets for his own personal gain? Shrug.

We'll just "keep watching".

UPDATE: The ADL has condemned Beck for his "bigoted ignorance."


N. Friedman said...

Beck is someone to watch - no doubt about that. So, keep on pointing to his statements. He is certainly not my cup of tea.

Maybe someday, you will find him spouting out something which is actually Antisemitic, and not merely a statement which is more or less factual.

His statement that Reform Judaism - in particular, at the rabbinic level - is politically super charged is hardly an original or an Antisemitic comment. In fact, it is something said by a great many Jews, including Reform Jews.

The Reform synagogue I have belonged to for longer than you are alive and in which my kids studied was less political than the one in which I was raised. Back in the 1960's, the rabbi rarely gave a sermon with a religious theme. It was nearly always about social justice and the Vietnam war and Israel's situation - themes which did, I think, require anyone of good sense and conscience to focus upon, so I am not speaking a criticism. I am merely noting that Reform Judaism often focuses on the political rather than religious themes. In fact, it is something for Judaism to be proud of, as Jews have worked hard to make the world a better place. So, I take it as a badge of honor, even if Beck made a comparison with Islamists who focus on political themes. I think it a fair, if not entirely pleasant, comparison.

Growing up, Passover in our house - and, again, we were typical Reform Jews - saw that traditionally religious commemoration as being primarily a political holiday about freedom. I recall my Dad, who was well versed in religion, saying that the message of the holiday and the one applicable to today's Jews is that man should not be slaves.

So, I really think your comment is way off base. I think Jews have proudly focused on social justice, often at the expense of focusing on more religious themes. And, Reform Jews are clearly the ultras in that department. To deny that is, to me, to be dishonest.

Now, there is much to complain about Beck. Much of his comment - as opposed to the narrow focus of your comment, was nuts. But, noting the obvious, viz., that Reform Judaism has tended often to focus on politics, is not Antisemitic, lest your view is that no one can say anything about Jews.

As for PG, my point was that she thinks we must be so very open minded about people from other cultures that we must overlook their hatreds - all in the name of PC tolerance. To me, that amounts to enabling hatred and, unlike Beck, is very destructive since she is hardly alone in hiding Arab Antisemitism. If you listened to NPR's Here and Now today, there was a discussion about Ms. Logan. Not one word about the Antisemitism expressed by her attackers. Not one word. They tiptoed even about noting the numbers of women reporters who have been attacked in Arab lands. In any event, Antisemitism flourishes and needs to be challenged.

This is not to say that Beck is ok. It is, instead, to say that your focus is wrong here.

chingona said...

The question isn't so much "Are Reform rabbis as a group heavily involved in political causes?" (Probably yes, though the two Reform synagogues I've been a member of are not overtly political.)

The question is "Compared to what?" Or "Compared to who?" If you look around this country at which religious organizations are heavily involved in politics, the most obvious ones are the evangelical Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church. And there's plenty of political activism (usually liberal) in mainline Protestant churches.

So in that context, to single out Reform Judaism as excessively political and not at all spiritual - and to say that it is so in a way that is similar to political Islam - does not strike me as a benign sociological observation.

N. Friedman said...

Hi Chingona,

I think your point is well taken. However, I would, before reaching any judgment on the matter, want to know whether Jews are an obsession with Beck? I do not watch much television and, thus far, have seen Beck only a very few times. So, my initial judgment was based on the view that Jews are not the central topic of his life.

On the other hand, I recall that the neo-conservative magazine Commentary had a highly commented upon article some years back about Jews turning liberalism into their religion. I remember reading an article about it in The New Republic, which thought the Commentary article was wrongheaded. So, I think it does make a big difference whether, in fact, Beck is obsessed with Jews or whether he was making an observation, one that is basically true.

PG said...

"As for PG, my point was that she thinks we must be so very open minded about people from other cultures that we must overlook their hatreds - all in the name of PC tolerance."

Still waiting for the quote of me actually saying that.