Monday, August 4, 2008

Assimilation and Jewish Identity*

Prof. Paul Eidelberg


A major cause of assimilation in Israel, as well as in the United States, is the simple fact that Israel’s system of government is devoid of any Jewish character; each branch of Israeli government conflicts with Jewish principles. Multiparty cabinet government is not only a political monstrosity; it violates the concept of a Unitary Executive affirmed in the Torah and the Talmud. (See Rashi’s commentary to Deut. 31:7, quoting Sanhedrin 8a.)

Equally flagrant, members of the Legislature, the Knesset, are subservient to their party leaders. Nothing Jewish about this. (See Exod. 18:21 and Deut. 1`:13.) To this add the multicultural, hence anti-Jewish agenda of Israel’s Supreme Court, whose rulings often violate the abiding beliefs and values of the Jewish people.

Israel’s non-Jewish and anti-Jewish system of governance therefore fosters assimilation and undermines Jewish identity—whatever that means. Under such governance, Israel’s ruling elites cannot relate their public statements and policies to the sacred sources of Judaism or to the teachings of Israel’s great rabbis and philosophers. Jewish history is eviscerated while Jews are humiliated every day by the crass and irrational behavior of their ruling elites.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government should have been toppled immediately after the debacle of the Second Lebanon War. Instead, Olmert still remains in power, and precisely because multiparty cabinet government is nothing but a random aggregation of politicians of narrow intellect and mediocre of not base character.

Is it not shocking yet not entirely surprising that Israel’s last four prime ministers have been under police investigation, as have several cabinet ministers? How can any government function under this state of affairs, let alone inspire public confidence at home and Jewish pride abroad? Instead of dithering about “Jewish identity,” serious Jews should, demand, on every public forum, an end to multiparty cabinet government.

Even religious politicians like Moshe Feiglin harbor confused priorities. Mr. Feiglin refers to the Likud as the “trunk of the nation.” From this party, steeped in treachery, he hopes to restore “Jewish identity.” Never mind its current chairman, Benjamin Netanyahu, who, as a minister in the Sharon government, voted for the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from their homes in Gaza and northern Samaria—a crime that has no name.

23 Likud MKs were complicit in that crime. 23 Likud MKs violated their pledge to the nation by voting for Labor’s policy of “unilateral disengagement,” a policy rejected by a vast majority of the voters in the January 2003 election. To talk about “Jewish identity” as a member of a party that betrayed the nation is an insult to the intelligence of any normal person. Unfortunately, normal people are becoming an endangered species in this post-modern world, where buzzwords and the media stupefy mentality.

The buzzword JEWISH IDENTITY seems to have the same catchall function as Obama’s buzzword CHANGE. Young and old can read whatever they wish into such vagaries. Two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), are bursting with “Jewish identity.” Shas made Oslo possible by joining a leftwing coalition government in 1992. UTJ made disengagement possible by joining a supposedly rightwing coalition government in 2004. “Jewish identity” seems to have produced a fatal synthesis of treachery and hypocrisy. But treachery and hypocrisy (as well as ineptitude) are inevitable so long as secular and religious politicians combine and perpetuate multiparty cabinet government.

The ultra-Orthodox parties have assimilated to the politics of the Secular State. They know the State of Israel was established to make Jews a “normal” people. To make Jews normal you must give them a non-Jewish identity; you must eliminate their Jewishness.

And so the leaders of this normal people have to negotiate with and shake the bloodstained hands of villains like Yasser Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas. To be normal, Mr. Netanyahu has to call for “reciprocity” while yielding Jewish land to such villains. To be normal, or to behave like politicians, many Likud MKs had to desert their party and join Kadima. To make Israel normal, its government must truncate Israel and lobotomize the Jewish people. In no other way can Jews make peace with Arabs who exult in war.

To be normal, Jews must marry non-Jews—right? They must travel on Shabbat, eat non-kosher food, build casinos, and behave in all respects like Gentiles—right? In short, to be normal in this age of triumphant secularism, Jews must become secular. That’s the program of Israel’s ruling elites, aided by Jews stuffed with “Jewish identity.”


A few years ago, an essay appeared in a New York magazine entitled, “Are American Jews Disappearing?” The author interviewed prominent Jews, but none seems to have recognized the basic causes of Jewish assimilation.

Inasmuch as assimilation is most rampant among college graduates, the first basic cause of assimilation should be obvious, namely, Darwinism, a sophisticated form of stupidity that has indoctrinated countless students, Jews included, that man is nothing more than a clever chimpanzee. Microbiologists like Richard Dawkins have been teaching neophytes that chimps have 98 percent of the genomes of humans—never mind be it Moses, Plato, Leonardo, Shakespeare, Einstein, or Mother Theresa.

One generation of students after another have been dehumanized, and not only by Darwinism. A related academic doctrine is moral relativism, and this doctrine undermines Israel and the Jewish people. Relativism makes it easier for highly-educated officials in the American State Department to pursue an “even-handed” policy toward the Jews of Israel and their Jew-hating Arab neighbors—and for Netanyahu to call for “reciprocity” between the two. So why should American Jews identify wholeheartedly with Israel or proudly wear the Star of David?

Students in the social sciences or in the humanities brainwashed to believe that religion is not a matter of truth but of cultural conditioning or of personal preference. It follows that Judaism is no more valid than Islam. So why be Jewish?

A more subtle cause of assimilation is this. Few Jews in America and elsewhere are aware how misleading it is to regard Judaism as a religion. The word religion (dat) does not even appear in the Hebrew Bible, except in the Book of Esther, and there it means law or decree. Although Judaism has certain aspects of religion, the term cannot capture the vast intellectual breadth of the Torah, which embraces, in addition to ethics, cosmology, astronomy, agronomy, zoology, anatomy, medicine, hygiene, family purity, economics, government, civil law and criminal law.

The Jewish philosophers of the Middle Ages, foremost Maimonides, did not regard Judaism as a religion but as an all-comprehensive system of truth, by which alone it could be preferred to, and be defended against, non-Jewish doctrines.

But once the Jews lost independent statehood and were dispersed around the globe, Judaism appeared like a religion in contradistinction to a religious nationality. That many Jews in the Diaspora do not identify with Israel may be related to this disjunction, which obviously affects the question of “Jewish identity.”

For Jews in Boro Park, Judaism is a religion; and that’s what Judaism is for Jews in Bnei Brak. But that’s what Judaism means to Israeli secularists. In fact, Arab leaders also say Judaism is only a religion, not a nationality. Hence Arabs conclude that the Jews have no right to a sovereign and independent state!

So what does “Jewish identity” amount to? Is it merely a slogan to attract intellectually immature traditional Jews to a party’s cause?

I would like to end on a positive note. Judaism does not begin with ethics, although it is the foundation of ethics via Jewish monotheism. No, as we see in Genesis, Judaism begins with God’s creation of the universe, and that should be the take-off point of Jewish identity. I am alluding to the convergence of Torah with science, especially with cosmology. This has been the subject of books by physicists Nathan Aviezer and Gerald Schroeder—two observant Jews of whom I have written in A Jewish Philosophy of History.

Needed is a Jewish conception of history as well as a Jewish conception of nature to overcome assimilation and obtain a world-transforming conception of Jewish identity.

*Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, August 4, 2008.


There are portions of Prof. Eidelbeg's thesis with which I do not agree. If there are comments by friends and visitors to this site, I will make these disagreements known.

1 comment:

Randy Shiner said...

Prof. Eidelberg does not understand "Darwinism" as that term has been used for the past 40 years or so. In my view, it is a valid way to look at the world and has very little to do with humans being 98% chimpanzees. It has more to do today with the notion of evolution via genetics and the mind of man and consequent and irrevocable choices we make: the use of the free will that God gave us.

The choices Jews have made is wholly dependent, in the past, upon how Jews were treated by others for having the temerity to stand for a certain set of principles and laws.

I am not a rabbi and make absolutely no pretense to that level of Jewish knowledge, but it seems to me that Jews are being driven insane by two things: insecurity and a lack of trust of anything and anybody else.

What is the effect of making Judaism an official "state" religion in the middle of a vast sea of Arabs who hate us? In essence, Jews, either in the diaspora or in Israel are living the exact lives that the British did not want us to live by blocking the Exodus and waging war on Zionists who wanted Jews to be "a nation among nations."

Hindsight is always 20/20, but what did Ben-Gurion and his minions think was going to happen if you set up a Jewish state, with a formidable army, in an area of the world which ontologically hates Jews? Kind welcome?

The worst fears of the anti-Zionists of the 1920s-40s who populated Hebrew University have come true:

Israel is a society that is first an armed camp and secondly a "nation".

Its people are subject to the same flaws as every other person; to put humans into positions of power where every move they make is significant to eretz-shel-goyim and upon the failure of Jewish ethics becomes, through natural repetition, constantly nationally and pyschologically self-defeating behavior.

Among the reasons why there are not an influx of intelligent brains from, for example, the United States, is because Israel is not special in any way other than as the bibilical homeland of our people. Ethically, as Prof. Eidelberg notes, it is a failure. Combine that with the overall magnificent success of American Jewry, and kindly explain why any right-thinking person would voluntarily move there unless they were Haredi/"ultra-orthodox" or were under some kind of either social and/or economic duress.

Explain to me wby it is that 40,000Israels have turned certain large parts of Los Angeles into "Little Tel Aviv"? Are these Israelis not Jewish? Or has "Jewish Identity" become so mixed up as to lose meaning? In my view, Israel is weak today because she is a victim of, and not a master of her past. Which is to say that if Israel is, B"H, to continue to exist and to serve a purpose, it must get back to the original Jewish notions of political authority, which is something that has been well explained in a lovely set of two books thus far from the Shalom Hartman Institute and Yale University Press.

When will we Jews learn that if you are Jewish, you can never be "just" a "nation among nations"? In essence, we are victims of our own success and ethical standards.