I am an Orthodox Jew and, besides also being an adjunct professor of law and having practiced complex business litigation for two decades at three of America’s most prominent national law firms, I also am an Orthodox rabbi of 35 years. More about that last one later.
Five years ago, my synagogue needed access to extra parking space. There was an expansive parking lot adjacent to us, part of a large church campus. I approached the pastor to discuss our request for access, and we began with the usual exchanges of warm phatic language. In time, I asked which denomination of Protestantism his church followed, and he replied that his congregation is Lutheran. He then said a few more words, something about a “synod.”
As an Orthodox Jew who used some of my undergraduate time at Columbia University to study religions, when I was not taking radical-left courses in Frantz Fanon, Samuel Melville, Malcolm X, and Marx and Engels to meet the requirements for my basic Ivy League political science major, I knew about Protestant denominations. Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Unitarians, Adventists, Witnesses, Presbyterians, Lutherans, others. But on the day when I visited the Lutheran pastor to explore whether our Jewish synagogue could pave our way to Paradise since the church thankfully had put up a parking lot, I learned further that there even are Protestant denominations within denominations.
The pastor shared with me that there are several types of Baptists, even several types of Lutherans. The more radical-left Lutherans seem to be organized among the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). And then there are others, more traditional, in the Missouri Synod. And others in the Wisconsin Synod (even though the last two are comprised of Lutherans who, for the most part, never have been to Missouri or Wisconsin, nor ever signed on to a synod).
Who knew? Go figure.
So I then explained to the pastor about us Jews. We also have three main denominations: the Orthodox Jews, the Conservative Jews (misnomered because they are extremely liberal), and the Reform Jews (to the left of the “Conservatives”). As I explained to him, my thoughts went back to a fascinating meeting I had requested a few years earlier when I met privately with the Catholic Bishop of Orange County, California. As one of the very few Orthodox rabbis in my neck of the woods, in a community of the most wonderful rabbinic colleagues but almost all of whom are non-Orthodox, I thought it important to introduce myself to the Bishop and to explore areas of common interest.
The Bishop was welcoming and, again after the mandatory exchange of phatic niceties, we got down to stuff. The atmosphere was congenial and friendly — what college snowflakes would call a “safe space,” only with a mutual agreement that no trigger warnings would be needed and no microaggressions would be perceived as we learned about each other. As such, the Bishop sincerely asked me, “Why is it that the Jews, who received the Word, do not seem to believe in the literal truth of the Old Testament?”
A fair question.
I answered: “Oh, but we Orthodox Jews do. We Orthodox Jews believe in the truth of every word of the Torah — what you would call the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses.”
“You do?” he asked, a bit surprised.
“Yes, we do.”
And so it went. Then why not strictly observe the Bible’s kosher dietary laws? “Oh, but we do.” Well, what about the strict observance of the Lord’s Day. “Oh, but we do — and we observe that Day of Rest literally on the seventh day of the week, from Friday sunset to Saturday nightfall, exactly as in Genesis 1 through the third verse of Chapter 2. Just as the Torah tells us that G-d rested from six days of Creation on the seventh day.”
“Yes, we do.”
Now it got fun: Then what about respecting the Lord’s commandment in Leviticus 18 about marriages between…
“But we do.” “You do?” “Yes, we do.”
And what about the life of the unborn fetus?
“But we do.” “You do?” “Yes, we do.”
It turned out that we Orthodox Jews adhere to views on abortion, birth control, assisted suicide, and other controversial social issues that strongly parallel, though differ a bit in nuance and application from those believed by many traditionalist and fundamentalist Christians and by the Catholic Church. The Bishop honestly, sincerely never had met one of me before, an Orthodox Jew.
Was I a ringer? Nope. Just as I had not known about ELCA and different Lutheran synods, the Bishop had thought that virtually all Jews are doctrinaire liberal, theologically and politically. Condoms for Sandra Fluke. Historical revisionism for Dr. Kevorkian. I guess (looking back with deference to Exodus 19 and 20) our meeting proved quite a revelation.
Orthodox Jews believe in the literal truth of the Torah. Unlike most non-Orthodox rabbis from today’s liberal rabbinic seminaries, even Orthodox Jewish laity believe that Abraham and Sarah really existed, that Jews really were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and that G-d took us out of there with a strong hand, an outstretched arm, with signs and wonders including ten of the most amazing plagues, even more intense than the four years of the Jimmy Carter presidency. No denial about egressing da Nile. We Orthodox believe that we then proceeded, in our millions, to Mount Sinai where, our tradition teaches, every Jewish soul for all-time-to-come stood during the Divine Revelation as G-d spoke the first two of the Ten Commandments, and Moses then spoke the Decalogue’s remaining eight commands. Indeed, whenever I newly meet a Jewish person, I always greet him or her with the words: “Didn’t I see you at Sinai? Weren’t you the guy/lady back in the fourth row to the right with the Brooklyn Dodgers cap?”
Here is why all this random theology matters so much to the informed American conservative political observer:
The mainstream media will not tell you so, but Orthodox Jews, whom every demographic study confirms are the only growing population group in American Jewish life — and doing so rapidly — are rock-ribbed Republican conservatives. When more compelling passions impelled the Hon. Carlos Danger (aka Anthony Weiner) to give up his seat in New York’s 9th Congressional District — a district including parts of Brooklyn and Queens that previously had elected Chuck Schumer and, before him, nearly a century of other liberal Democrats including Geraldine Ferraro — the special election to replace him pitted a liberal Democrat who claimed Orthodox Jewish attachments against Bob Turner, a non-Jewish Republican conservative. Over the years, the District’s population had attracted growing numbers of Orthodox Jews. To the shock of everyone except for those who understand this stuff, that District’s newly expanded Orthodox Jewish voting bloc elected Turner to be the first Republican representing that district in nearly a century. Stunned by the political development — Jews going Republican conservative in a district that had been a Democrat lock for more than 80 years — the Democrats of New York responded by eradicating the district from the face of earth during the subsequent redistricting that compelled New York to eliminate two districts anyway, as that state continues losing population to warmer and more Republican climates. In other words, you may not gerrymander African Americans or Latinos out of the franchise, but you may wipe out the voting representation of conservative Republican Orthodox Jews.
Every serious study of Orthodox Jewish voting patterns reflects that, in precincts where Orthodox Jews live, Republican candidates win, and they win yuge. This political conservatism reflects the Orthodox Jewish community’s more traditional religious and social values. Orthodox Jews believe in the Tanakh, the 24-volume “Bible” that non-Jews call the “Old Testament.” (For us, it’s still as new as today.) Thus, we strictly eat kosher, as commanded in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. We do not drive on the Sabbath, nor engage in any transactions nor even discuss business on the Lord’s Day of Rest, and that Sabbath runs from Friday sunset until Saturday nightfall because the Bible says: “And it was evening, and it was morning [marking the] Sixth Day” — and all of Creation was completed. Thus, we are socially conservative and economically capitalist because we take the Torah laws seriously. We give charity without the Government teaching us about morality because we are commanded to give. Contrary to stereotypes, we are brutally honest in business at great personal economic loss. We set aside a tenth of our earnings for charity. Our marriages are heterosexual. And several of us Orthodox rabbis even file amicus curiae briefs in the United States Supreme Court supporting religious positions taken by groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor.
This matters for American conservatives of all religions, ethnicities, races, and nationalities because, with non-Orthodox Jews reflecting the surrounding American culture of delaying marriage (if they marry at all) until very late into their mid- and later thirties, then having no children or perhaps merely one, most typically marrying non-Jews, and not rearing that child with Torah values, the only Jewish demographic who are growing in the United States are Orthodox Jews. We marry earlier, have more children than our replacement rate, and imbue our children with our Torah values. As a result, the groundbreaking Pew survey of American Jews found four years ago that, in a few short decades, Orthodox Jews will comprise the majority of Jews in New York. Beyond even that, “There is a trend afoot, and in the next big population survey like this, we will see the beginning of a switch, whereby Orthodox Jews will eventually likely be the majority of American Jews,” according to Prof. Sarah Bunin Benor of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, a non-Orthodox seminary.
And this is why it is so painful today for contemporary American Orthodox Jews to read daily media reports that typically ignore us, in an attempt to paint almost all Jews as liberal. We Orthodox Jews — the ones who wear yarmulkas, who are at the core of the kosher-food industry that attracts more millions of non-Jewish consumers than we comprise because they trust rabbinic food oversight more than they do the Government, the ones you perhaps see walking to synagogue on Saturday morning or greeting you helpfully at the Western Wall in Jerusalem when you visit — are excluded from media coverage. As easy as we are to spot, the media do all they can to keep us invisible. Thus, the media will not invite our statements nor quote us when we send them our press releases — except if we say something to advance their liberal agenda. Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama named Jews to the Supreme Court, carefully selecting doctrinaire Jewish liberals like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer. By selectively highlighting Jewish liberals for every vehicle, Democrats cruelly promote a stereotype that ignores Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish conservatives. Just as Democrats hounded the Hon. Clarence Thomas when he, a proud African American, was nominated for the Supreme Court — because blacks like Dr. Ben Carson, Herman Cain, Col. Allen West, Larry Elder, Michael Steele, Stacey Dash, and Justice Thomas are not allowed to be conservatives and Republicans — so it is that they have shut out Orthodox Jewish conservatives, barring us and our national organizations and spokespersons from the table and eliminating us from public discourse.
Our organizations never get quoted. Our public affairs policy positions never get reported. Thus, for example, when an agglomeration of the most liberal left rabbis — the non-Orthodox rabbis — announce that they will not participate in a phone call with the President of the United States, the media splash the news. But why is “Dog Bites Man” news? These are the same Democrat liberal rabbis who fell over themselves to hail Obama, even as Obama allowed the United Nations to proclaim that Jews have no historical bond to any part of Jerusalem, even as Obama brushed off an anti-Jewish Radical Islamist terror attack at a kosher grocery in France as a case of “random violence,” even as Obama proceeded with the Iran deal. The bigger news story that the media fail to report is that the 1,000 members of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America did not join in the boycott announcement. Nor did the Agudath Israel of America. Nor did the rabbinical body of the 140-synagogue National Council of Young Israel. Nor did the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, comprised of some 1,000 affiliated synagogues. Nor did the 200-plus rabbis of the Coalition for Jewish Values. The media blacked out the news that the majority of all seminary-ordained rabbis in the United States are Orthodox and that they gladly would participate in a phone call with the President of the United States.
In the same way, several Jewish organizations that historically were associated with protecting Jewish rights in the past have been taken over by the Democrats, converting them into de facto arms of the Left. The Anti-Defamation League, for example, now is run by a former Obama staffer, and he has turned ADL into a virtual Democrat mouthpiece. Similarly, an organization bearing the name of the precious youthful innocent Holocaust victim and heroine, Anne Frank, now is run by a former New Jersey Gay Marriage activist, an extreme leftist, and he now leverages the Anne Frank name to attack conservatives and Republicans, and runs around to media all-too-willing to give him a megaphone, calling exceptional conservative allies of the Jewish community and of Israel “anti-Semites.”
When every local street killing is called a “Holocaust,” then the term “Holocaust” loses all meaning. And when every Jewish ally and friend of Israel is called “anti-Semite” merely because he or she votes Republican or associates with values that were promoted by the Economics Nobel Laureate, Milton Friedman (yep, a Jew who provided intellectual heft to modern-day American capitalism), or Ayn Rand (née Alisa Rosenbaum — yep, another one), then true haters emerge undiminished when rightly tagged as such but slapped with a discredited execration.
It is important for American conservatives, particularly Christians and Catholics, to know that there is a massive sea change unfolding in the American Jewish voting community. Nancy Pelosi, Stephen Colbert, Tim Kaine, and Joe Biden may be Catholic, but they do not necessarily reflect the values or teachings of the Pope. Jimmy Carter may be evangelical, but he does not necessarily represent with consistency the hierarchy of values cherished by the great broad American Christian community, even though he does engage in some acts of kindness, for some. And the panoply of Jewish-surnamed celebrities who show up in some segments of the entertainment and news industries hardly reflect actual Jewish values because Jewish values are rooted not in the platform of the Democrats nor in a Bernie Sanders speech attacking Israel’s rights to Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria — but in the Talmud, the Codes of Jewish Law arranged by Maimonides (Rambam) and Rabbi Yosef Karo, and in the accumulated responsa of the great rabbis like the venerated Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and Rabbi Yosef Soloveitchik, the Ben Ish Chai and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
In great measure, when observing the unfolding evolution of the American Jewish voter from Democrat to Republican, the parallel model to consider is the Southern Democrat vote. That electoral bloc, amazingly, took more than a full century to evolve, until those voters finally started casting ballots for the party actually aligning with the issues they truly believe in. In the 1860s, Southerners voted Democrat. Once they attached to the Democrat party, the South’s party allegiance thereupon adhered to the Democrats for a hundred years like cyanoacrylate (epoxy adhesive) with no nail-polish remover on the horizon. Long after the Democrats’ power brokers up north had laughed them off as “dumb crackers,” conservative Christian Southerners still incomprehensibly continued choosing Democrats to represent them for all elected offices locally and in Washington. Crazy! It took George McGovern of South Dakota, James Earl Carter, Jr. of Georgia and Barack Obama of Hawaii and Illinois finally to pry the Southern states, along with West Virginia and some other theretofore impenetrable Democrat redoubts, from the Democrats’ columns and finally to move them solidly to the Republicans for the next generation and more. That identical process now is underway within the American Jewish electorate, thanks also to Mr. Obama of Hawaii and Illinois — the transformative President under whom the earth healed and who permanently stopped the sea from rising.
Slowly, slowly — but very surely — American Jews have noticed that the Republicans of the 1940s and 1950s — many of whose Gentleman’s Agreements kept us out of their Ivy League universities, and our attorneys out of their major law firms, and our doctors out of their medical practices, and all of us out of their country clubs — have moved from the James Baker stereotypes to a new generation of Israel’s best friends. And Jews likewise have been watching and increasingly comprehending as the Democrat party that once stood by Israel as a strong ally, marked by such historical figures as Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey, Sen. Henry Jackson, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, now is the party of Al Sharpton, Keith Ellison, the John Kerry State Department , and the Kirsten Gillibrands who just take a pass on Israel.
The American Jewish vote slowly is changing, following the same strangely lethargic path trekked by Southern Democrats who needed only 120 years, or so, to figure the thing out. In the past forty years, since Menachem Begin first was elected Israel’s Prime Minister in 1977, we have seen the population of the Jewish State abandon their prior half-century infatuation with the now-dying Labor Party and move sharply to the Center-Right. In the United Kingdom, likewise, Jewish voters have completely adopted political conservatism, evolving overwhelmingly to align with the right, now completely dumping the left and identifying tightly as the strongest among voting blocs supporting British conservative candidates and their Conservative Party. Slowly emulating these models, led by the emerging Orthodox Jewish majority in the United States, the American Jewish voter now is in the beginning phase of a historic evolution that will continue to take some time, but that is moving American Jewry toward the Republican Party.
And, meanwhile, there are plenty of American Orthodox rabbis who would love to be invited to participate in a Rosh Hashanah Season telephone conference with the current President of the United States.