Jewish in America

Jewish in North
America Today
Dr. Laurence Boxer
- for REL 306, March, 2002
Aspects and Issues
AntiJudaism, antisemitism
Israel, Zionism
SATO - Social Action / Tikun Olam
(healing the world)
An Issue of Controversy
Until 18th century, Jewish practice was
largely what, today, we call Orthodox
Today, Jewish practice is split:
(most traditional) ~ 10%-20% of
synagogue members
Conservative ~ 35% - 45% of synagogue
Reform (least traditional) ~ 35% - 45% of
synagogue members
Small movements: Reconstructionist, Jewish
Unaffiliated – a considerable fraction
Tzedakah: charity = righteousness
Israel – general welfare, medical, universities,
ecology, land development, refugee absorption,
Religious/cultural education
Hospitals, nursing homes, medical research
Social welfare - civil rights, politics, etc.
Secular culture: universities, arts
Anti - 1
Term “antisemitism” first used by German writer
Wilhelm Marr, 1879, to give a scientific sound
to racial “Jew-hatred” – see
There was no significant Arab presence in 19th
Century Germany – antisemitism was, and is,
directed at Jews, not at Semites.
Anti – 2 (pre-Christian)
Biblical: Pharoah (Genesis); Amalek (Genesis,
Deuteronomy); Book of Esther – Haman, viceroy of
Persia, attempts genocide; fails -> Purim
160’s BCE: Syrians attempt to force Greek
paganism on Israel; fail -> Chanukah
Romans (1st Cent. BCE – 3rd Cent. CE): several
attempts to ban Judaism, slaughter Jews. Renamed
Israel “Palestine” after biblical Philistines to deny
Jewish homeland. Rome becomes symbol of cruelty
in Jewish literature (Esau <-> Edom)
Anti 3 – Christian roots
 Matthew 8:24: … there arose a
great tempest in the sea … the ship
was covered with waves; but he
was asleep.
Example 1 fr. Christian Bible
Christ in the Sea of Galilee
– painting by Delacroix
(also Rembrandt,
Tintoretto, etc.)
Compare Jonah 1:4-5: “But the
Lord hurled a great wind into
the sea … the ship was like to
be broken. And the mariners
were afraid … but Jonah …
was fast asleep”
Anti 4 – early Christian
Example 2 fr. Christian Bible – Matthew 26, 14-15: “Then one of the
twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, And said unto
them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they
covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.”
Judas’ betrayal appears based on sale of Joseph –
Genesis 37:28: “And there passed by Midianites … they
… lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph for 20
shekels of silver.”
Name Judas – Judah – Hebrew for “Jew”
Early Christians were “selling” Christianity to Romans,
so couldn’t stress Roman guilt for death of Jesus.
Church inherited name “Edom” from Romans as symbol
of cruelty in Jewish literature
Anti 5 - Christian
Ignorant or demagogues continued to blame Jews, not Romans, for
murder of Jesus. Christian doctrine of inherited guilt – e.g., “Original
Sin.” Jews as scapegoats
Crusades – more killing of European Jewish civilians than Muslim
warriors in Holy Land
Expulsions from most European countries
Plagues in which Jews fared better due to sanitary practices;
provoked murderous slanders (“poisoned wells”), slaughter
Inquisitions – convert, be expelled, or die; origin of Nazi racial laws
Ghettos – walled to segregate & degrade – cattle tax to enter/exit;
dumping ground; easy target for violence (arson)
Blood libel (popular adoption of today’s Arab antisemites)
Limited tolerance often based on Jews’ accepting scapegoat roles
(tax collector, money lender) or being “less Jewish”
Nazi – rebels against Christianity, seen as insufficiently antisemitic
Anti 6 - in America
Have been violent incidents – Klan; lynching
of Leo Frank; synagogue bombings &
Job & residential discrimination; college
Today, much better; equal rights in law; ill will
greatly diminished
Anti 7 – Arab
Religious roots – parallel early Christian desire
to dominate world, frustration at resistance to
Modern secular root – Middle Eastern conflict
Modern bigotry mimics older European
antisemitism: Arab press promotes Protocols,
blood libel, Holocaust denial & Nazi praise
Anti 8 - elsewhere
•FSU – Orthodox Church, rightist anti-communists, left
•Latin America – Nazi havens
Antisemitism “without Jews”
 Poland, German neo-Nazis
 Japan
A defining event for modern
Jewish life – memories of
powerlessness while world
pretended not to know
Some feared “making waves”
Link to visceral support for
Israel – “Never again”
US Holocaust Memorial Museum,
Washington, DC
“Never forget” – Memorial museums, Yom
HaShoah, Holocaust studies
Outreach – Jews more engaged with nonJews; teach tolerance, history
Israel, Zionism - 1
Zionism: national(ist) movement of
Jewish people – Jews have right to
live on own land, Israel, as promised
Contrary to hostile propaganda,
Zionism respects rights of all
Love of land of Israel traces to Bible
& liturgy: Isaiah, Micah: “For out of
Zion shall come law/teaching, and
the word of the Lord from
Jerusalem”; many prayers for peace
for people & land of Israel
Israel, Zionism - 2
Israel: haven for persecuted
Jews – refugees from Nazis,
Arab countries, FSU,
antisemitism anywhere
Israel: magnet for Jews
attracted from religious
yearnings, Zionist pride,
economic opportunity, desire
to live in democracy
Religious & cultural center;
most diaspora Jews have
family, friends in Israel
Regard Israel as “ours” as
much as US or Canada
Social Action / Tikun Olam
(Healing the World)
Vatican II, Pope John Paul teach respect for
Jews & Judaism; not to be proselytized - mirrors
ancient Jewish practice of not seeking converts
– must make world good, not necessarily Jewish
Active in interfaith dialogues & promotion of
mutual respect
Promotion of civil rights; charity; education;
medicine for poor here & abroad; ecology – “The
earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24)
An Issue of Controversy - Abortion
Biblical source: In covenant with Noah & descendants,
Genesis 9:6: “Whoso sheds the blood of ha-adam
b’adam his blood shall be shed….”
ha-adam b’adam 1: a man, by a man
ha-adam b’adam 2: lit., “the person
in a person” – a fetus
Symmetric wording of Hebrew:
Shofeich dam ha-adam b’adam
damo y’shafeich – don’t take
seriously as legislation; rather, as
ironic social comment
Abortion - 2
Biblical source: Exodus 21:22: “And if men strive
together and hurt a woman with child, so that her
child depart, and yet no harm follow, he shall be
surely fined ….”
Fetus doesn’t have legal status of born child,
hence not of mother
If pregnancy threatens health of mother, may
(sometimes, must) abort – Deuteronomy 30:19: “…
choose life….”
Abortion - 3
Biblical source: Numbers 24:5: “How goodly are thy
tents, O Jacob; thy dwellings, O Israel!”
Primary interpretation: tents of learning, homes of
Secondary interpretation: tents circled; entrances
faced outward; nobody had direct view into
neighbor’s home; praises respect for privacy
Abortion 4 – Jewish values
Abort for economic
or social
convenience – no
Abort to protect
mother’s health
(including mental) –
Consult rabbi with
Respect privacy, even
though it may be abused
(Many disagree w. following:)
Discourage abortions by
education, not legal coercion
(Exodus 12:15: “… that soul
shall be cut off….” – some
justice is divine)
2-way respect for religious