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Why People Are Suspicious of Mearsheimer and Walt:

Leslie Gelb, in the NY Times, says the following about The Israel Lobby:

But as my mother often said, "They [M & W] asked for trouble" — by the way they make their arguments, by their puzzlingly shoddy scholarship, by what they emphasize and de-emphasize, by what they leave out and by writing on this sensitive topic without doing extensive interviews with the lobbyists and the lobbied.

Speaking of asking for trouble: On page 167 of The Israel Lobby, M & W quote Elliot Abrams, in a book he wrote about American Jews and Judaism, as follows: "there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart—except in Israel—from the rest of the population." M & W write that this shows that Abrams is "hardly objective" about Israel and that this is a "remarkable comment" from someone who holds a high-level foreign policy position. M & W strongly imply that someone who wrote something like what Abrams wrote should be barred from policy-making positions.

Apparently, they are thinking along the same lines as Huffington Post columnist (and Yale Sterling Professor of English) David Bromwich, who writes: "He [Abrams] certainly did not expect to occupy a position that would require him to weigh the national interest of Israel, the country with which he confessed himself uniquely at one, alongside the national interest of a country in which he felt himself to stand "'apart...from the rest of the population.'"

But Abrams never says anything remotely like that he feels himself "uniquely at one" with Israel. And not only doesn't say that he is oblivious to America's national interest, on exactly the same page of his book he says precisely the opposite (you can look it up an Amazon reader to check for yourself). Abrams specifies that there is no conflict between adhering to the Abrahamic covenant and being loyal to one's country. Indeed, I would add that many very traditional Jews are fiercely loyal to the United States precisely because it gives them the freedom to pursue their unique traditions, without, for the most part, having people like Bromwich question their loyalty and belonging.

Abrams's comment is not, as Bromwich articulates and M & W seem to believe, about Israel, but with traditional Judaism's belief that God has ordained that Jews are "a people who dwelleth alone" and who, to fulfill their religious obligations, must have a communal existence separate from the Gentile population. This isn't exactly news to anyone familiar with traditional Judaism, or with the fact that Jews who follow tradition tend to send their kids to Jewish day schools, shop at kosher supermarkets, and otherwise necessarily maintain a degree of "apartness", not out of hostility but out of the fact that traditional Judaism requires it--traditional Judaism is primarily a religion of actions, not beliefs, and mere belief in the precepts of Judaism doesn't cut it if the communal institutions don't exist to allow the religion to be practiced.

For decades, classical Reform Judaism fought this, partly on the basis that it prevented assimilation and led to unnecessary tensions, and partly in an attempt to stem the tide of Jewish converts to Christianity (10% of the Jewish populations in Germany, Hungary, Austria, etc. in the 19th century). The Reform argued that Jews should drop their distinctive traditions and be like everyone else, creating a Judaism primarily based on shared moral values, similar to liberal Protestantism except without Jesus, and with synagogue instead of church (some Reform congregations went so far as to switch the day of Sabbath services to Sunday, and until relatively recently if a worshiper put a kippah (yarmulke/skullcap) on in certain Reform synagogues, an usher would come by and ask him to remove it). But even the Reform have largely given up on trying to separate Jews from their peculiar ancestral traditions (and indeed their leaders are mostly encouraging a return to tradition).

Meanwhile, Abrams' quote obviously doesn't suggest dual loyalty--though if the Sterling Professor of English at Yale can't see this, either it's not as obvious as I think, or he isn't trying very hard. The reference to Israel in the quote merely states the obvious--that in a country with a Jewish majority, where the schools teach a Jewish curriculum, kashrut is the rule by default in supermarkets and restaurants, Jewish holidays are national holidays, etc., Jews living in Israel don't have any need to maintain any "apartness" to fulfill their religious obligations.

If M & W find Abrams's quote so "remarkable," I wonder what they would think about a Roman Catholic government official who had written a book on American Catholicism making an innocuous statement like that "to be faithful to the Church, Catholics must keep in mind that they must respect the authority of the Vatican." Unlike Abrams's statement, that one on its face does suggest dual loyalty, but anyone with a modicum of understanding of Catholic society would no better than to engage in such know-nothingism.

Continue reading by clicking below.

wj (mail):
I read Abrams as saying that Jews are a religious minority everywhere but Israel.
9.25.2007 10:31am
Mary (mail) (www):
but anyone with a modicum of understanding of Catholic society would no better than to engage in such know-nothingism.

I think you've got a "no" there, that should be a "know", no?
9.25.2007 10:36am
Cato:
Abrams's comment is not, as Bromwich articulates and M &W seem to believe, about Israel, but with traditional Judaism's belief that God has ordained that Jews are "a people who dwelleth alone" and who, to fulfill their religious obligations, must have a communal existence separate from the Gentile population.

During Yom Kippur services I was thinking how ironic this "aloneness" was in light of biblical history. Two of the most important figures in jewish history, Moses and Esther, either grew up in a secular way or provided assistance to the jewish people because of their secular affiliations.
9.25.2007 10:41am
Mappo (mail):
Well, that's it. Bernstein's obsession with this topic has led me to decide to seek out the book and judge it for myself.

Something about Bernstein's 2.3 posts/screeds per day on the subject makes methink that the lady doth protest too much. We'll see.
9.25.2007 10:53am
John Armstrong (mail) (www):
Indeed, Mappo. He should consider a career on Madison Avenue.
9.25.2007 11:05am
PLR:
Elliot Abrams? Seriously?

You are known by the company you keep.
9.25.2007 11:13am
DavidBernstein (mail):
I don't have any particular opinion of Elliott Abrams, but I do know that M&W's use of this quote to discredit him doesn't speak well of them.
9.25.2007 11:18am
Randy R. (mail):
I really don't know what's going on with M&W, or what the real story is, or whether the Israeli lobby is that powerful, or whether Israel really does act against our interests in the middle east and so on and so on.

However. I'm glad that they wrote their article, and now a book for the simple reason that it called attention to an issue that has been below our radar screen for too long. We *should* know who the big lobbyists are in congress and what they want, shoudn't we?

Now, I'm think Israel is a great country, even though I've never been there. They are the best democracy in the region, they treat gays really well (better than the US, I might add), are a thriving economy, and they stand up to bullies, which I like. Sure they have their kooks, as we do, but the question is their overall policy.

And yet, I still find myself rather critical of them. Not all Americans agree with their settlements on disputed land, for instance. Sometimes I get so sick of the situation I wish both sides would just blow themselves up and leave us alone, and leave us out of it.

But there is a legitimate question in here: Is our support for Israel helping or hurting us in the greater middle east? Is Israel doing all it can to establish peace, or are other issues preventing it? For all the money and support we give Israel, do they do our bidding as we wish? Should they? Is 'our bidding" the correct policy?

These are all legitimate questions, and I don't know if M&W raise them or address them. But we certainly should, as a nation.
9.25.2007 11:34am
oxac:
This post takes a rather uncharitable view of Reform Judaism. Every religious movement has its extremes, but this claim struck me as rather misleading: "Reform congregations went so far as to switch the day of Sabbath services to Sunday, and until relatively recently if a worshiper put a kippah (yarmulke/skullcap)." What does "relatively recently" mean? Certainly not within the last half century, and certainly not across the vast majority of Reform congregations.

But more important, this post over-emphasizes assimilation as the driving force of the movement, paying lip service to the strong ethical impulse behind it. The early leaders of Reform Judaism were steeped in tradition and broke from it, in part, for moral reasons. The neo-Kantianism of Herman Cohen and others in the German community is exemplary in this regard, and it had a profound influence on the American Reform movement.

The blithe dismissal of this aspect of the history of Reform Judaism is regrettable. Too many orthodox Jews casually dismiss it, unthinkingly. Perhaps unintentionally, this post is suggestive of that attitude. Although it could be that I have misread it, in which case I happily stand corrected.
9.25.2007 11:39am
PLR:
No particular opinion of Abrams? Well, let me help with a link to an article that has not been cleared with either the OpinionJournal or National Review.

http://www.inthesetimes.com/issue/25/18/allen2518.html

You may perceive that piece as biased, or you may see it as evidence that Abrams' career accomplishments are more meaningful than those of Mearsheimer or Walt.

Thanks for starting this topic. Again. Information is always good.
9.25.2007 11:44am
ronnie dobbs (mail):
Something tells me that someday we'll find a trail of Saudi money behind M&W's magnum opus. That's usually the case when you see this sort of rubbish coming from people you'd otherwise expect better of.
9.25.2007 11:49am
Eli Rabett (www):
To continue, let's see, I google Abrams and neoconservative and get 159,000 hits. According to you Moynihan and neoconservative only got 40,100, so Abrams is 4 times the neoconservative that Moynihan was. Methinks your googling argument from yesterday is, shall we say slightly off, and in spite of the desire of your ilk (neoconservatives) to adopt Moynihan he would decline the invite. Now Scoop Jackson, well yes in foreign policy, but I doubt it with respect to domestic.
9.25.2007 11:51am
Tony Tutins (mail):
I was curious about Abrams's book. The title is certainly scary: "Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America." But it's not about pogroms; it's about the rate of outmarriage and about Jews' lack of identification with Judaism. Abrams is worried about the movement towards assimilation, not suggesting Jews should have divided loyalties.

But regarding assimilation: Outmarriage would seem to be a way to add to the Jewish population, namely by converting husbands and wives. The wife of the lone Orthodox Jew I had worked with for years had been Catholic till she met her husband. Protestants should be even more comfortable converting to Judaism:

As I see it, and as db alludes to in his mention of Reform Judaism, Protestant practice has four things in common with Jewish practice: the hiring and firing of the spiritual leader by the congregation, rather than having one assigned by the hierarchy; the emphasis on everyone reading and discussing Scripture, rather than just attending services; the substitution of the reader/explainer for the priest; and finally, the Protestant acceptance of the purged Old Testament of the rabbis, which means ironically that the Chanukah story is to be found only in the Catholic Bible.
9.25.2007 11:52am
MDJD2B (mail):
However. I'm glad that they wrote their article, and now a book for the simple reason that it called attention to an issue that has been below our radar screen for too long. We *should* know who the big lobbyists are in congress and what they want, shoudn't we?

Yes, and that's why M&W also discussed the huge, expensive Saudi lobbying effort. Oops-- they didn't.
9.25.2007 12:17pm
Anderson (mail):
but anyone with a modicum of understanding of Catholic society

s.v. "anyone sufficiently alert to notice that American Catholics do whatever the hell they want to do, regardless of what the Vatican says."

A similar problem has always struck me with Jewish-conspiracy theories (not, n.b., "Jewish conspiracy theories"), of which M-W's is a variant: how many Jews can be expected to agree on anything? for how long?
9.25.2007 12:23pm
MDJD2B (mail):

But more important, this post over-emphasizes assimilation as the driving force of the movement, paying lip service to the strong ethical impulse behind it. The early leaders of Reform Judaism were steeped in tradition and broke from it, in part, for moral reasons. The neo-Kantianism of Herman Cohen and others in the German community is exemplary in this regard, and it had a profound influence on the American Reform movement.


This certainly is true of the founders and the leadership.

The average person who left a more conservative movement for Reform is likely to have done so for convenience, and not for ethical reasons, or because he read Hermann Cohen. My father, for example-- a high school dropout-- had to keep his one-man store open on saturdays and also had a short attention span. So he quit a Conservative synagogue for a Reform Temple, where he could go Friday night services, where the sermon was relatively more important, and where the liturgy was snappier.

I have no data, but this conforms with the experience of most first-generation Reform Jews I know of.
9.25.2007 12:23pm
KevinM:
This is a variety of the anti-Catholic slur that JFK had to fight. But of course, even Protestants who regard themselves as true Americans with undivided loyalties are vulnerable to the same slur. A writer who wanted to make them appear sinister would quote writings to the effect that they seek to be "in the world, but not of it", that their true kingdom and citizenship are in heaven, that to follow Jesus one must forsake country and even one's own family, etc. It's an easy game to play.
9.25.2007 12:26pm
Hoosier:
"Know-Nothing" is correct. And this all goes to show that you can read into other people's religious writings anything you want. Look at the issue that Bobby Jindal is forced to face, because he once stated what Church teaching in fact says.

But the Jews are totally different!!! if they are so loya to the US, why did they launch the 9/11 attacks to get the US into a war with Iraq in order to use US power to cripple the major threat to Israel's existence? (Or was that IraN? Well, it was one of the two.)

See? They are TRICKY, those Joos.
9.25.2007 1:00pm
Al (mail):
Protestants should be even more comfortable converting to Judaism

Yep...except for that Jesus thing.
9.25.2007 1:05pm
Gordo:
Actually, a plausible argument can be made that Jewish Americans have a "dual loyalty" to Israel, and one could make a plausible argument that Jewish loyalty to Israel and Judaism could be analogous to Catholic loyalty to the Pope and Catholic doctrine.

But the point completely missed by M &W is that, for the past 60 years, the interests of the U.S. have been rightly and completely intertwined with the interests of Israel in any objective sense. On one side we see a functioning western democracy, respecting the rule of law and supporting our interests in the Middle East. On the other side we see repressive regimes, following an increasingly radicalized religious fundamentalism, determined to commit massive bloodshed, for many years closely allied with our major cold war enemy, and misusing and threatening a natural resource vital to our needs.

The interesting (and completely hypothetical) question is what the U.S. and American Jews would do if roles were reversed - if Israel were a religious or military dictatorship fomenting aggression against democratic, peaceful, and friendly Arab neighbors. M &W seem to inhabit this parallel fantasy world in their analysis.
9.25.2007 1:08pm
Anderson (mail):
Yep...except for that Jesus thing.

Most Christians are able to work around that in their daily lives -- why let that be a stumbling-block?

CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
9.25.2007 1:22pm
Bruno (mail):
A side point of your post relates to reform Judaism, with which oxac takes issue. I want to support your side.

If my family and childhood friends are any guide, then Reform Judaism tends to destroy the religion through assimilation. All four of my parents' children turned out atheist, in spite of ten years' so-called religious education, Bar Mitzvahs and Confirmations. There was no way that I would ever consider raising my own children as Jews. Two of them turned out atheist and the other one turned out Catholic! I'm assuming that my grandchildren will have Judaism only as a very vague family memory. That's only two generations and the religion has been erradicated. Pretty good (for that), huh? Lenin and Stalin couldn't even come close to those results after 70 years.

I know that my father was a believer. He consistently went to Synagogue and observed the holy days. He had a religious funeral. We observed the Sabbath every Friday night and held Passover dinners every year. He made us go to Saturday morning services every week. That wasn't nearly enough. I suppose that you're raising your children in the traditions. You're doing the right thing. People have to have religion beaten into their heads, if it's going to take. People get a feeling of accomplishment and pride from taking the hard way (look at the popularity of the Marine Corps vs. the Army). Even then, it's not a sure thing. But going all wishy-washy with stuff like Reform Judaism is a sure thing--for destruction.
9.25.2007 1:23pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
for the past 60 years, the interests of the U.S. have been rightly and completely intertwined with the interests of Israel in any objective sense.

That's going a bit overboard. We are separate countries with distinct interests. This was rammed home by Jonathan Pollard and the U.S.S. Liberty.
9.25.2007 1:25pm
r78:
Since this is your second quotation from the book, I assume that you have actually read it now, instead of just criticizing it from excerpts and press reviews and the like. So, good for you.

Rather than dwell on the minutae, though, what do you think of one of the main premises of the book: That the United States should be guided by its strategic interests and that Israel, as such, does not serve any particular strategic purpose for the United States?

(W&M concede that there may be "moral" arguments for supporting Israel, of course.)
9.25.2007 1:29pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Regarding the Liberty: I mean what was a U.S. spy ship doing near Israel in the first place?
9.25.2007 1:33pm
Mary (mail) (www):
I just wish he'd fix the spelling error that's been pointed out to him. He should know better.
9.25.2007 1:37pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
Bruno- Maybe the kids don't want to be "apart", to shop only at kosher supermarkets, eat only kosher dishes, go to schools that are echochambers of their home, etc. Maybe the kids want to "fit in" to the larger, prosperous, bountiful, &interesting culinary, and educational world around them? Maybe they want to play football on Saturdays.

We live in a conservative/orthodox community, there is a Conservative school within walking distance, and I've seen it up close. No way am I going to force my kids into that community and apart fromthe larger community-- my kids go to public school, we eat at whatever neighborhood party or BBQ we attend, shop where we want and generally enjoy full particpation in the larger community. If its "destruction", fine.

I'm just talking about lifestyle choices, but other parents have had a far harder time. David opines that the "apartness" is not "out of hostility", but those are merely words and apartness is a sustained rejection and a deliberate withdrawal from the surrounding communities, a rejection of its ways. Of course, you're lucky to raise your kids in a liberal community don't take apartness as hostility, busomething quirky. Historically (and in many parts of the modern world) minorities of every stripe are dealt with terribly. I don't begrudge parents the choice to not set their kids apart and subject them to hostility.
9.25.2007 1:50pm
Edward Sykes:
The best way to judge someone's true intentions are by his or her actions, rather than their words. The actions (and words, actually, regardless of how you and others spin it, David) of Eliot Abrahms strongly suggest that he is an Israel-Firster. It really is just that simple.

The fact that David spends hours each day researching rebuttals to anyone or anything that threatens Israel or the Israel Lobby also strongly indicates who and what he is loyal to. Again, actions speak louder than words and interpreting the actions of Abrams, Bernstein, other members of the Lobby, etc is just that simple.
9.25.2007 2:22pm
Yankev (mail):

The Talmud itself interprets an "eye for an eye" as "let the punishment fit the crime," not as a requirement of violent vengeance.

To be more accurate, the Talmud says that "Eye tachat (literally "under" or "In place of") eye, tooth tachat tooth" means monetary compensation for the value of an eye in place of an eye, monetary compensation for the value of a tooth in place of a tooth. I have heard it explained that the Torah phrases the law the way it does to remind the tort feasor that even though the victim cannot demand nor the court cannot impose loss of the torfeasor's actual eye, on a moral basis he deserves to give up his own eye if that would make the victim whole.

Oxac, as recently as 35 years ago, I have been in Reform temples in Chicago where the wearing of head covering by men was not permitted. That's within the last century.
9.25.2007 2:25pm
Golem:
Bruno:

You are correct. Throughout history, only orthodox Judaism has survived.

This chart supports your post:
http://tinyurl.com/237jdm
9.25.2007 2:26pm
Matty G:
David:

Interesting post. One thing that I have personally noticed (admittedly as an outsider to Jewish ethnic culture and religion) is that many upper middle class jews in America seem far more connected to Israel than they seem connected to Judaism.

I think this can help partially explain the perspective of W&M. Indeed, I would bet that W&M --- to the degree that they are criticizing American jews --- are criticizing them far more from an ethnic solidarity standpoint than from any religious standpoint.

Consider the (very) rough analogy to Ireland. If all Catholics were ethnically Irish, we could substitute "Catholic" for "Irish." But that wouldn't make arguments about the relationship between Irish-Americans and the IRA an argument about Catholicism.

None of this of course, dismisses your critique. But I don't think it helps to conflate the religious and ethnic aspects of jewishness when discussing W&M. I doubt they have any serious beef with judaism.

matty g
9.25.2007 2:29pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
some Reform congregations went so far as to switch the day of Sabbath services to Sunday, and until relatively recently if a worshiper put a kippah (yarmulke/skullcap) on in certain Reform synagogues, an usher would come by and ask him to remove it

David's older than I, but not by much. I was raised and attended Reform synagogue regularly -- in Hebrew School, we were required to wear a kippah in synagogue. What's "recently"? And really, asked to remove it? One thing I have noticed in Reform synagogues of late is that more men are wearit tallits (awkward plural) -- but I now attend conservative services so I rarely go to Reform synagogues.

And the Sunday/Saturday thing??? That hasn't been the case even since my Dad was a kid, and he was born in 1935. Come on David, cut the crap. You remind me of the typical "the synagogue I don't attend is Orthodox" Jew. You live like a Reform or maybe Conservative Jew (I see you regularly post on Shabbat so that looks more Reform to me), but nevertheless take a holier-than-thou attitude towards those movements.
9.25.2007 2:42pm
Yankev (mail):
Guy in the Veal

I'm just talking about lifestyle choices, but other parents have had a far harder time. David opines that the "apartness" is not "out of hostility", but those are merely words and apartness is a sustained rejection and a deliberate withdrawal from the surrounding communities, a rejection of its ways.

Does that mean that you have made a sustained rejection and a deliberate withdrawal from the Jewish community? I suspect that if someone accused you of such a thing, you might feel unfairly judged.

The more one makes a commitment to kashrus, to observing Shabbos, learning Torah on a regular basis, and regulating one's life according to the rythm of the Jewish calendar and its holidays, the more one will find oneself associating more and more with those who do likewise and less and less with those who don't. The decision is in committing to the former; the changes in one's social assocations tend to follow more or less on their own.

Bruno, I agree that there is a certain pride in not taking the easy way out, but I'm not sure I agree that beating anything into anyone is a successful way of transmitting a commitment. It seems to me that instilling in one's children a love for Torah and all that it entails is the key to preserving the next link in the chain.
9.25.2007 2:45pm
Yankev (mail):
CrazyTrain

One thing I have noticed in Reform synagogues of late is that more men are wearit tallits (awkward plural)

And probably more women, too.
For the plural, try tallitot or taliot (both Heb.) when you're at the CJ synagogue, or taleism (Yid.) when among OJs.
9.25.2007 2:49pm
Bruno (mail):
guy in the veal calf office :

Maybe the kids don't want to be "apart", to shop only at kosher supermarkets, eat only kosher dishes, go to schools that are echochambers of their home, etc. Maybe the kids want to "fit in" to the larger, prosperous, bountiful, &interesting culinary, and educational world around them? Maybe they want to play football on Saturdays.


You've got a good point. My parents would have agreed with all their hearts (although I wasn't allowed to play football until after Saturday services).

However, I wasn't talking about what the kids want. The kids want a lot of things that parents don't see fit to give them. To be clear, I'm not questioning any parents' judgement (wouldn't dare to). Not even my own. I'm just stating a fact: Reform Judaism is the way of destruction for the religion over the not-so-long run. It's painless and it appeals to freedom of choice. And it works, as authoritarian means don't (see the 70-year rule of communism as an example of failure). The only such anti-religious campaign that has worked (that I know of) was Teodocious's (sp?) in the fourth century Roman Empire. But that was even more authoritarian and destructive than Stalin's. This would be beyond even the most totalitarian systems today.
9.25.2007 2:54pm
Bruno (mail):
Yankev:

Bruno, I agree that there is a certain pride in not taking the easy way out, but I'm not sure I agree that beating anything into anyone is a successful way of transmitting a commitment. It seems to me that instilling in one's children a love for Torah and all that it entails is the key to preserving the next link in the chain.

I take your point. My "beating into heads" comment was just my militant atheism talking. Of course, "instilling love" of religion is correct. But, then, my overall point still stands: "Instilling love" is the only thing that works, and even then not even close to always. As far as destroying religion goes, Reform movements, like Reform Judaism work most of the time but authoritarian ones never do. That's just a fact. It's why I can respect the current Pope: he seems to prefer a smaller Church of committed Catholics to a larger "reformed" one. That's only looking to the long-term survival of the religion. That's his job. So, even though I don't respect the Catholic religion, I can respect someone who's committed to his or her job.
9.25.2007 3:06pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
As recently as the 1970s, if you want to leading "classical reform" synagogues dominated by old-line German Jews, you would be asked to take off a kippah if you wore one. And yes, some synagogues, especially in the South, did move Sabbath services to Sunday. In the book The Temple Bombing, the author recounts that the leading old Reform congregation in Atlanta thought about doing so, but decided against it because almost the entire choir (composed of local Christians) would be in church on Sunday! Now that's REFORM!

BTW, contrary to some of these comments, I'm not hostile to Reform, and certainly not sympathetic to Orthodoxy. But I would have been hostile to Classical Reform, which has largely died out.
9.25.2007 3:34pm
CrazyTrain (mail):
As recently as the 1970s, if you want to leading "classical reform" synagogues dominated by old-line German Jews, you would be asked to take off a kippah if you wore one.

Could you name one in the United States please? I.e. that actually asked people to remove their kippot? Give me a break.

some synagogues, especially in the South, did move Sabbath services to Sunday

Not disputed -- the question was whether this was "recent" or not. I don't believe it is.
9.25.2007 3:41pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
CT, how often to I have to present the facts to rebut your allegations before you stop wildly accusing me of making stuff up? You're heading for a banning.


http://data.urj.org/iworshipwisdom/browse.cfm?subject=kippah
# Our congregation of 2000 family units is approaching its 150th year and has a proud history of Classical Reform. The wearing of tallitot by all the clergy, even when not robed, is a recent introduction by our new senior rabbi. Only five or so years ago the wearing of tallitot and kippot by the shofar blower on Yom Kippur caused a storm of protest by the old establishment, but was welcomed by many of the more recent members. From a policy of asking worshippers to remove kippot a generation ago, a box of kippot is now available - though not conspicuously displayed. There is a legitimate concern on the part of the establishment minority that a prominent display would suggest that the wearing of kippot is preferable to a bare head. We are careful to preserve the legitimacy of worship without kippah in our congregation. Tallitot are not provided and only a small percentage of men and women customarily wear them. We have moved fairly rapidly towards tolerance of kippot. Most of us welcome the change.

Harvey Gordon
2000 family units

And another one where the RABBIS were barred from wearing kippot until recently: Within the last three years, our congregation removed the restriction placed on rabbis regarding wearing a tallit and kippah on the bimah. Currently, three of our four rabbis wear tallitot, two wear kippot, and one wears neither. We've been members of our congregation for twenty years and congregants and visitors have been wearing tallitot and kippot if they so chose. During this period of time (until our momentous change), only rabbis and cantors were restricted from wearing the particular prayer garb in question.
9.25.2007 4:13pm
Larry the Librarian:
Yankev:

At my liturgically Conservative, but sociopolitically liberal and racially diverse, synagogue we say taleisim. It's as much cultural as anything: I grew up with Ashkenazi Hebrew and Yiddish as my languages of authentic Judaism. My much more religiously conservative wife and my Conservadox ex-girlfriend grew up using Sephardi Hebrew. The language does not necessarily equate to the level of observance.
9.25.2007 4:19pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
If my family and childhood friends are any guide, then Reform Judaism tends to destroy the religion through assimilation.

Well, Vatican II tends to destroy traditional Mel Gibson-style Catholicism through assimilation.

Episocpalianism tends to destroy traditional fundamentalist evangelical protestantism through assimilation.

Another way to look at this is that old religions have some really crazy, medieval, wrongheaded, even evil beliefs, and that these reform movements and more liberal denominations represent attempts to bring the religions up to date and render their beliefs more consistent with what we actually now know about the world and humanity.

Indeed, I'd like to see radical Islam lose a similar struggle with more moderate elements in that religion.

Just depends on your perspective, I guess.
9.25.2007 4:21pm
Bruno (mail):
dilan esper

old religions have some really crazy, medieval, wrongheaded, even evil beliefs, and that these reform movements and more liberal denominations represent attempts to bring the religions up to date and render their beliefs more consistent with what we actually now know about the world and humanity.

You have a point here. The problem with your attitude is, Where to draw the line if you want to bring religions up to date and consistent with what we know? Go too far, and religion lacks any basis for belief. Believers probably feel that they're on a slippery slope, especially since the fact is that such actualizations tend to destroy the religion. This is why people like the Pope take such an intransigent attitude.
9.25.2007 6:17pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Where to draw the line if you want to bring religions up to date and consistent with what we know? ... This is why people like the Pope take such an intransigent attitude.

Forty years of, say, feminism is supposed to wipe out 2000 years of church tradition. But one has to think that Jesus did things they way he did for a reason, and that's why there's no evidence that the Gospels were written by Matthew, Martha, Luke, and Joan.
9.25.2007 7:30pm
Yankev (mail):

My much more religiously conservative wife and my Conservadox ex-girlfriend grew up using Sephardi Hebrew. The language does not necessarily equate to the level of observance.

I agree completely; my somewhat tongue-in-cheek comments were from my days at a very similar and very egalitarian CJ synagogue in Minnepolis when I was in law school.Most of the younger and more committed members used Sephardit-style American Hebrew (If you've ever heard a real Sephardi, or even a real Israeli, you know what I mean), just like they taught us in Hebrew school when I was a kid.

I've noticed that in many American Jewish families, the husband uses Ashkenazi Hebrew and the wife uses American Sephardi. Or, as I call it when I want to get a rise out of someone, "weibishe Ivris".
9.25.2007 7:33pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Forty years of, say, feminism is supposed to wipe out 2000 years of church tradition. But one has to think that Jesus did things they way he did for a reason, and that's why there's no evidence that the Gospels were written by Matthew, Martha, Luke, and Joan.

The evidence that exists doesn't show that they were authored by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John either (at least not in the manner that believers think they were). And 2,000 years ago, just like 150 years ago when Charlotte Bronte wrote under a masculine psuedonym, books by women didn't go over very well with the public.

There is truly no way to know the gender of the people who authored the gospels.

But more generally, the New Testament reflects many of the attitudes about gender which were prominent 2,000 years ago, and which we now rightly view as barbaric and antifeminist. Given that we are now smarter about those things than we once were, I see no reason why we should source those beliefs to God and assert that they are unchanging.
9.25.2007 8:29pm
guy in the veal calf office (mail) (www):
Bruno, thanks for the reply. I agree with your description of the mechanism and apologize for moist defensiveness towards possibly imagined judgment.

Parenting is a sticky wicket. Hebrew or Spanish? Overbearing entitlement (and cheating, Bill Belechik, I'm looking at you) learned at Phillips Academy, or risk bad education at the earthy public school? And so on.
9.25.2007 8:52pm
JM Hanes (mail):
I'm afraid you're fighting what almost any non-Jew would likely regard as the plain language of the Abrams quote, which, I'm sure, is precisely why M &W picked it out. More shame on them for detaching it from the Abrams elaboration on loyalty you cite; it suggests that the authors know their thesis depends on taking Jewish divided loyalties as a given.

Since a different group of readers appear to be responding here, I'm taking the liberty of cross posting an edited version of the comment I made in David Bernstein's earlier thread just before he closed it down. It concerns the very point you're making about what I believe is the poisonous subtext here.

The authors' putative political objective is to discredit neoconservative foreign policy. Blaming Jews for almost anything will always attract an audience somewhere, but it's a particularly useful tool if you're looking for a way to tar neocon strategy as contrary to U.S. national interests.

Aside from basic questions of intellectual rigor, the issue of whether or not neoconservatism can be construed as a Jewish movement only becomes important if you intend to go from granting credence to the old familiar imputation of divided loyalties to insinutating that Jewish loyalty to Israel will inevitably trump Jewish loyalty to the United States.

Make that leap, sell it as a pseudo-historical given, et voila: Neoconservatives should be registering as agents of a foreign government, not perverting the U.S. role in the world to unAmerican ends. That argument would be dismissed out of hand were we talking about virtually any other special interest group. Even corporations are presumed to be self-interested, not treasonous.

One can certainly argue about whether Israel has been an albatross around the neck of U.S. foreign policy or a critical line in the sand, but that's not the vein being mined here. The very first question Mearsheimer &Walt pose in the original essay that spawned the book, makes their premise clear and virtually precludes all but the one answer they intend to supply:
Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?
Receptiveness to their conclusions seems to depend less on the quality of the arguments they advance than on whether the reader starts out already believing that the albatross is self-evident too.

Europeans started dressing up anti-semitic sentiments in anti-Israel guise years ago, and it's been disturbing to watch that contrivance being ever more widely embraced on this side of the pond. M &W exacerbate that conflation, and ultimately make it even harder to tackle what has always been a controversial subject. If the cherry picking you describe is typical, it unfortunately appears that they are doing with deliberation.
9.26.2007 12:05am
David M. Nieporent (www):
But regarding assimilation: Outmarriage would seem to be a way to add to the Jewish population, namely by converting husbands and wives. The wife of the lone Orthodox Jew I had worked with for years had been Catholic till she met her husband.
The problem with that is that traditional Judaism discourages conversion for religious reasons, while reform Judaism has typically discouraged conversion for traditional, practical, and ideological reasons. By traditional, I mean that proselytizing isn't part of Jewish tradition. By ideological/practical reasons, I mean that reform Jews tend to be good tolerant liberals who don't want to send the message that one religion is better than any other -- and they're afraid that if they do send that message, they'll offend the huge number of non-Jewish spouses of Jews, driving the families away.

It was only recently that the URJ made the decision that it would actively welcome conversion.
9.26.2007 6:30am