Part Eight: The Rise of the Absolutely Ignorant American Jew Who Knows Judaically “from Nothing”
(For Ellen of blessed memory.)
This is a ten-part series of online articles that, with G-d’s help, I hope to transform into a larger book. It is prompted and inspired by questions I have been asked over the past half century by my readers and particularly these past five years by non-Jewish political conservatives of Christian background who often love Jews but cannot figure us out. Because most online opinion articles range between 600-3,000 words, this subject cannot be treated properly and completely in one single article or even in a limited series. However, this series marks an ambitious effort to address a perplexing question, one that perplexes America’s one million Orthodox Jews more than it does even non-Jewish conservative Christians.
The purpose of this series is to inform readers authentically as to what Jews believe, to demystify. For those who live by other monotheistic faiths, may you be blessed in your pursuit of justice, kindness, morality, and ethics as you serve the One True Creator according to your understanding and belief. As explained in greater detail in Part 4, Judaism does not permit Jews to proselytize others.
Previous installments in this series can be found at these links:
Part One: The Basic Definitions of Jews and Non-Orthodox Jewish Denominations — can be found here.
Part Two: The Orthodox — can be found here.
Part Three: The Ethnicities — can be found here.
Part Four: Non-Jews — can be found here.
Part Five: What Jews Who Know Authentic Judaism Believe: The Oral Law and Written Law — can be found here.
Part Six: The Architecture of Judaism — The Talmud, the Halakhic Codes, and Authoritative Rabbinic Responsa — can be found here.
Part Seven: The Phenomenon of the Jewish Un-Jew — can be found here.
10. The Rise of the Absolutely Ignorant American Jew Who Knows Judaically “from Nothing”
Tsar Alexander II of Russia was assassinated by anarchists and revolutionaries in 1881. He had been the regular target of several prior assassination attempts. The country thereupon shifted into a very overheated period of government-endorsed-and-sponsored pogroms, as well as the “May Laws,” brutally repressive laws directed particularly against Jews. Those 1882 decrees originally were intended as temporary measures but remained effective for more than thirty years. Quotas were enacted, limiting the number of Jews admitted to high schools and universities. The proportion of Jewish doctors working in the army was not allowed to exceed five percent. Any Jewish lawyer desiring to become a barrister needed express consent from the Minister of Justice. In spring 1891, some 20,000 Jews were deported from Moscow. Two years later, the Law Concerning the Names imposed criminal punishment on Jews trying to “adopt Christian names.” These and similar laws, no less than pogroms, drove the mass migration. Jews actually had not been particularly involved in anti-Alexander agitation because he was a less repressive Tsar than most others. Nevertheless, the traditional way that Tsars calmed hungry or otherwise-angry masses of muzhiks in times of trouble and mayhem was to redirect their anger against “the Jews.” As the usual centuries of persecution took a turn even worse, spreading also throughout nearby lands partly dominated then by Russia, more than three million Jews fled to America.
These fleeing Jews never had known what life was like or might be like under left-wing theory, whether socialism or communism. Karl Marx, a vitriolically hateful anti-Semite born to Jewish apostate parents who became Christian and reared him in such a world, inherited his parents’ intense hatred for Jews and cynicism for all religion. He wrote that Jews all are capitalists driven by pursuing “mammon.” But the Jewish emigrants knew only of the Tsars’ murderous persecutions. When Alexander was murdered, the burgeoning radical left of Europe advocated all kinds of sweet-sounding socialist and communist theories predicting that a New World Order of the Left would advance utopian justice. None of it yet had been tried on a serious scale, but it sounded nice. If right-wing fascism-and-oppression of a thousand years in Europe had bred unspeakable anti-Jewish hatred and endless war and suffering, the theory was that the opposite would breed the opposite. Nevertheless, sensible people do not immediately throw out babies with bath water, and America chose instead to co-opt labor into the capitalist infrastructure rather than to allow a society devolving into two economic classes forever at war: bosses versus workers. So we allowed unions to organize, worked cooperatively with the newly forming AFL and CIO and ultimately embraced them, crafted a “Labor Day” national holiday to honor industrial labor while carefully calendaring it four months away from the “May Day” workers’ holidays overseas, and even legislated that proper union strikes can be perfectly legal and will not be deemed wrongful tortious interference with business.
The social system in Russia took a decidedly different path, culminating in the Russian Revolution that ultimately saw Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s Bolshevik Communists seize control in 1917. By then, almost all the three million Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe had arrived here. They knew nothing of Communism or socialism. They knew nothing of English language and barely knew American history or culture, but they had heard great things about America and risked everything to get here. Often, a destitute family could afford to send only their one oldest son with instructions to send back money to buy tickets serially for each sibling, one by one, to come to America. They hoped to find gold lining New York’s streets; if it was there, it lay beneath the horse manure that was the polluting by-product of that era’s transportation fuel.
Many of the immigrants were deeply Orthodox, Haredi. (See Part 2 of this series.) Others saw the entry into a New World as an opportunity to start fresh and someday become accepted as Americans — “Yankees” — no longer a target for discrimination merely because of their faith and traditions. They adopted a love for baseball before they understood it. They did not hide their Judaism; their accents made that impossible. It was an era before cultural pluralism and wokeism, a time when the predominant American clarion call was to assimilate into America’s great cultural “Melting Pot.” If others like the Italians, the Poles, the Germans, and the Irish were eager to melt, many of these Jews wanted to dissolve. They sent their kids to the public schools, where excellent English was taught, precise math and science, true patriotic American history, grammar, spelling, cursive writing. They embraced it all. The rule at home was that the school teacher always is right. The police officer always was to be accorded respect. The principal of the school was the second most honored person in society after a doctor. Mothers socialized their boys from childhood to think in terms of medical school and their daughters to marry doctors. A son who became a lawyer was a bit of an embarrassment, though he still might get to argue a case in the Supreme Court like Bernard in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman or might even become a civil court or state judge. A less skilled boy might still be an accountant, and the rest could go into a family business or work in a garment factory — or, if nothing else, why not become school teachers?
Education always was a ticket into the room. It was understood that the “Goyyim” probably will not give you a fair and equal chance — did they in Russia? — but at least here they won’t beat you up too often or too badly, so the response was not to “defund the police,” demand reparations, nor agitate for — nor even have the temerity or exhibit the shame — of seeking government assistance. Rather, you learned to work even harder in school, to get even higher grades, and to make yourself so indispensably brilliant and hard-working that either the “Goyyim” will give you a chance because they will prefer having you on their side, or you just will have to go it on your own and find other Jews, whether relatives or neighbors, to help you get started in some business and prove yourself. There always was bound to be some way to make a living and support a family in America. After all, people need clothes. People need food. People get sick. People have children, and those children need to be taught to read, write, and do arithmetic. Just work harder and get better grades than the others, and you’re bound to find something in America.
In that world, Jews were not self-hating. They could not yet afford the luxury to hate other Jews; they needed them. Also, they arrived with some bits of Judaic knowledge, albeit less than what Jews had absorbed Judaically in the Old World. The world of the shtetl was marked by experiencing Jewish laws and customs at least by osmosis at home. Jews in the Old World — even the Ignorant — knew stuff. By contrast, America offered unimagined New World opportunities to study biology, physics, chemistry, world history, American history, English language and grammar and literature, other languages, mathematics from algebra and trigonometry to calculus. So, for many, advanced Judaic studies now took a back seat. However, everyone still was only a generation away from grandparents who knew stuff. The Grandfather (“Zaydeh” or “Zaydie”) and Grandmother (“Bubbeh” or “Bubbie”) knew stuff. Their homes smelled of chicken soup and herring and lukshen kugel (noodle pudding) and gribenes (fried chicken skins) and schmaltz (chicken fat) and fresh-baked challah for Shabbat. They had a mezuzah at least on the front doorpost of the home if not on all doors. They had at least two or three Hebrew books in the home: prayer books, Bibles, commentaries. Every Jewish home had books. Maybe a book written by or about Albert Einstein they never could read, but they had books.
They married endogamous Jews like themselves. First, non-Jews would not marry them because they were newly arrived immigrants low on the societal and economic totem pole, barred from hotels and clubs and jobs, displaying the crudeness of foreign culture and not-yet-couth etiquette. A few very prominent Jews proudly “married out,” the symbol they had “made it.” So Avrohom Hirsh Goldbogen changed his name to Mike Todd, made it big in Hollywood, and married Joan Blondell and later Elizabeth Taylor. That ended when his plane went down with his biographer who was writing “The Nine Lives of Michael Todd.” Arthur Miller married Marilyn Monroe. There was always a Reform rabbi around to do the “conversions.” But most American Jews married other Jews, and they continued maintaining “Jewish homes.”
By the 1980s and 1990s something notable had changed among American Jews. Now rooted in America for nearly a century and well into a third and even fourth American generation, they had become beneficiaries of a new America that, chastened by the starkly piercing images of the Holocaust of only 40-50 years earlier, no longer erected barriers preventing Jews from entering major law firms, practicing medicine at leading hospitals, staying at restricted hotels, joining exclusive country clubs, or attending Ivy League universities. On the other hand, these children of the 1980s and 1990s, unlike their parents, received virtually none of the minimalistic Judaic education that their Judaically vapid parents had received. Perhaps equally tragic, the prior immigrant generations — the Bubbies and Zaydies and their progenitors — now had died out, so the family anchoring in tradition was lost. The kitchen smells of chulent and kugel had been replaced by microwaved vegan quiche and frozen pints of Chunky Monkey.
At one of the final Judaic connectors — the Passover family seder — while a typical American Jewish father would make a fool of himself by his inability to read or explain the Haggadah service, and while his siblings visiting from Malibu or The Hamptons would sit at the table and tell dirty jokes and spend the preliminary hour recounting their recent trip to Beijing or Bora Bora, the grandparents anchoring the table would be positioned to fill in some gaps. Now, with the grandparents deceased, and no one but the Blind leading the Blind — not a parable but a 1980s American seder — the seder created by the rabbis of the Talmud to commemorate Jewish freedom from Egyptian slavery, the singular defining historical event that launched Jewish peoplehood, instead now would devolve into an open-ended discussion about freedom from Somoza in Nicaragua, Pinochet in Chile, apartheid in South Africa, liberation for Yasser Arafat’s minions, perhaps a toast to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and the broader agenda of liberalism and wokeism.
Understand again who these people are — the apostate Ben Cohens, the Jerry Greenfields, the George Soroses and Bernie Sanderses, and their ilk. In such a world, even a rabidly left-wing anti-Semite like England’s disgraced Jeremy Corbyn, a non-Jew who led the British Labour Party to stunningly cataclysmic defeat in 2019, could defend his support for Hamas terrorism by telling an interviewer that he had attended a seder — and enjoyed it immensely. These apostate Un-Jews easily meld with the worst of non-Jewish anti-Semites, be they Corbyn synching with Jewish self-hating schmoozers in England or Bernie Sanders endorsing Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ocasio, and Ben & Jerry’s here — and receiving their reciprocal accolades here under auspices of left-wing “Jewish” apostate groups like the Soros-funded J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and groups so far to the left outside the Jewish mainstream that they actually prosper by finding major funding from extreme left-wing non-Jewish foundations seeking to sabotage and destabilize internal Jewish communal policymaking. As one example, an extreme-left group utterly outside normative Judaic boundaries, “Bend the Arc,” has received more than $20 million — more than Twenty Million Dollars — from non-Jewish Leftist foundations and grant makers to advance agendas so critical of Israel and so extremely woke in America that the same group barely was raising money from Jewish sources while cynically presenting in the Left Media as a distinctly Jewish organization. In a Tablet Magazine article titled “Bending the Jews: Deep-pocketed funders—including the Rockefellers and the Buffetts—are creating a constellation of activist groups like Stosh Cotler’s Bend the Arc that aim to rewire American Jewish life,” the investigative journalist writes inter alia:
Bend the Arc [is] a particularly attractive investment for its largest [non-Jewish progressive] donors, most of whom had displayed no previous interest in Jewish causes.
From 2005 to 2013, Bend the Arc received annual donations totaling $1.5 million from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, for whom support of a Jewish organization is unusual. A review of the $20.3 million spent on domestic programs in 2013 … found that while active in their support with hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to Asian, black, and other minority community groups, no other Jewish organization received funding.
To put it another way, though the Rockefeller fund’s public records show their sustained support for the arts, education, and elder-care services in other American minority communities — as well as direct funding to groups which focus on politically charged issues like climate change and immigration — Bend the Arc is the sole Jewish organization to receive support for their political activism, though the fund does engage in the arena of the Israel-Palestine issue, via its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Multiple efforts to receive comment from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for this piece went unanswered.
Toward the end of the Rockefeller fund’s support of Bend the Arc, according to public documents, funding began streaming in from another billionaire family via the NoVo Foundation, the philanthropic project of Peter Buffett, son of Warren Buffett, the co-founder of Berkshire Hathaway. With an average annual donation of $2.8 million and a total of $14.2 million in donations between 2012 and 2016, NoVo became one of Bend the Arc’s most generous financial supporters.
Like the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, NoVo singled out Bend the Arc as the sole Jewish domestic organization to receive their backing. (Multiple efforts to receive comment from the NoVo Foundation for this piece also went unanswered.)
In 2016, NoVo dispensed 405 donations to domestic programs totaling nearly $170 million. Yet while other ethnic communities received robust support for myriad arts, culture, education, and business development causes—including $1.5 million for Native American educational programs and $750,000 on health programs for Asian communities—Bend the Arc, which received $6.2 million, was the only organization that serviced the Jewish community.
What, then, has made Bend the Arc such a singular and attractive investment worth tens of millions of dollars for philanthropic elites who, according to their own financial records, are otherwise unengaged with the well-being of American Jewry? A close look at Bend the Arc’s work over the years would suggest that such an investment was designed not to advance American Jewish life, but rather, to obtain and cement Jewish-branded support for progressive political causes.
(Emphases added.) Thus, what we see emerging is an interplay of several factors impacting the American Jewish community. These include but are not limited to:
1. Orthodox Jews now vote between 80-93 percent Republican conservative. They have doubled to approximately 15 percent or more of the actual American Jewish community and comprise more than 60 percent of all Jewish children in New York City. They are on a rapid path to becoming the majority Jewish population in New York.
2. Between 33-40 percent of Americans who claim to be Jews when interviewed by pollsters and survey-takers in reality are not Jews by any classic definition of Jewish status. No Orthodox rabbi in America or Israel will conduct a marriage for them. No Orthodox congregation in America or Israel will allow them to be buried in the synagogue’s Jewish cemetery. This includes many of their rabbis. (See Parts 1 and 9 of this series.)
3. There is a despicably insidious national movement among non-Jewish woke and progressives linked to non-Jewish foundations to funnel tens of millions of dollars into decidedly non-mainstream extreme-left groups that claim a nominally Jewish agenda but that in fact are anti-Israel, support BDS to boycott and destroy Israel, pursue a domestic agenda that has nothing to do with Judaic values, invoke a two-word Hebrew mantra of “tikkun olam” that barely has any meaning, does not mean what little they want it to mean, and which groups are led by people who do not observe Judaism or authentic Judaic traditions, would not know how to read a passage of Talmud if it were placed in front of them and first were read to them. Such groups include ADL and HIAS.
4. Of the 60-67 percent of self-declared American Jews who in fact are Jews, at least 80 percent of them do not know the first thing about Judaism, and many like Bernie Sanders and George Soros are apostates who instead devote their resources to consorting disproportionately with America’s most prominent Jew-haters. They identify completely with uninhibited and outspoken enemies of Israel and of Judaism whose tweets and spoken words leave no doubt that such haters despise Jews as Nazis did. The Judaic ignorance of these apostates is beyond bottomless, and their great-grandparents and grandparents have died, their only anchors to a Jewish heritage that was brought to America a full century ago by people who madly loved America and lived as patriots towards this wonderful country that saved them from Tsarist persecutions and muzhik pogroms. These 80 percent who are abysmally ignorant have no Judaic reference points, and they even corrupt the one or two Jewish-oriented calendar opportunities they encounter by perverting such Judaic moments as the Passover seder, subverting it from commemorating the launching of the Jewish people and relegating it instead as one more opportunity to arrogate a heritage they have abandoned for unrelated intersectionalist partisan purposes.
5. None can relate better to this corrupt situation than can devout Catholics who are compelled to witness these same phenomena deny their faith its rightful honest expression in mainstream media as woke politicians subvert religious values on issues ranging from male-female sexuality to abortion-on-demand to critical race theory in the schools. Devout Catholics and, for that matter, other Christians of faith cannot get their message into a mainstream media that blocks them from op-ed columns, refuses to publish their press releases or report their public demonstrations, cynically seeks out quotes from woke “As a Catholics” in Hollywood and Washington as their spokespeople, and that finds them only at times of clergy scandal.
6. American Jews mired in abysmal Judaic ignorance associate throughout America with like-minded third- and fourth-generation Blind- leading-the-Blind Jews in a Judaically hollow echo chamber whose great-grandparents and grandparents have died leaving them with absolutely no mooring in any Judaic knowledge and without even the rudimentary culinary tastes or smells of Sabbath — or anything Jewish whatsoever — other than meaningless pablum about “tikkun olam” (“repairing the world”), a term of no Judaic consequence that they repeat like a Hindu mantra. Their institutional consciousness is that a century ago their forebears were fleeing from a thousand years of right-wing fascist anti-Semitism stretching through eras of Rhineland Crusades, Paris book burnings, Black Death massacres, Church blood libels, Spanish Inquisitions, European ghettoes and expulsions, Cossack and Muzhik pogroms, and Tsarist persecutions. When they arrived here, Northeast Democrats welcomed them with cash, political patronage jobs, and got them landed, while “white shoe” Republicans kept them out of those country clubs, denied them opportunities to practice at major law firms and denied physicians’ admissions privileges at major hospitals, barred them with admissions quotas limiting their entry to elite universities, would not rent apartments to them, and shunned them.
As we will see in the next installment — looking at similarly incomprehensible political behavior among deeply conservative American White Protestant Dixiecrats — as irrational as it may be, it can take 125 years in America for such political myopia to be overcome. That time frame now is coming to its head in the American Jewish context, with the first ruptures clearly evident as Orthodox Jews now have broken fully for Republican conservatism.