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Are Politically Conservative Jews "Turned Off" by the Jewish Establishment?:

Ha'aretz publishes an example of a very typical article in Jewish publications these days, accusing the American Jewish establishment of being too conservative, and too supportive of Israel, and therefore turning off young (which is for some reason used as a synonym for leftist) Jews.

I want to raise the opposite issue, which I've never seen addressed in print before: whether what is actually, judged by the "mainstream" American political spectrum, the pervasive liberalism of the American Jewish establishment and laity, including the (non-Orthodox) religious establishment, "turns off" right-leaning American Jews. I can't imagine I'm the only one who has some ideological religious sympathy with Reform Judaism, but can't stand the prospect of going to a synagogue and hearing, e.g., an incredibly ignorant and religiously irrelevant op-ed-masquerading-as-a-sermon on gun control from the rabbi (which, I should note, actually happened to me in a synagogue in the D.C. area).

Moreover, you can't be a "proud conservative" Jew in many congregations without attracting at best pointed questions, and at worst blatant insults, from your fellow congregants. Long-time readers may recall that I have previously posted some anecdotes along the latter lines, though I can't find the links now. Not to mention putting up with the left-wing sermons, left-wing religious action committees that claim to speak in your name, people who won't date you if they find out you're a Republican(!), et al.

Given that conversion to Christianity by American Jews outside of marriage is relatively rare, it strikes me as remarkable that I can name off the top of my head at least three prominent American Jewish conservatives (a small breed to begin with) who converted to Christianity in their later years, and I know of several others who are rumored to have converted, or at least flirted with it. And several major leaders of American conservative evangelical Christianity were born Jews. I'm not questioning the sincerity of any of these individuals' conversions, just wondering whether a (if not necessarily THE) factor that led them to seek another religious community is discomfort with the way individuals of their political ilk are received in the Jewish community.

So, I'm really just wondering: has anyone ever studied, journalistically or academically, "alienation" from the Jewish community among political conservatives, the way folks are constantly ringing their hands about alienation among leftists? If not, it would make a great sociology or religious studies thesis.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Russian Jews and the Liberal Jewish Establishment:
  2. Are Politically Conservative Jews "Turned Off" by the Jewish Establishment?:
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Russian Jews and the Liberal Jewish Establishment:

David Bernstein's post about conservative Jews being alienated from the liberal Jewish establishment is particularly relevant to the special case of Russian immigrant Jews. Russian Jews are politically well to the right of most native-born Jews. For example, some 75% of Russian Jews voted for Bush in 2004, compared to less than 20% of other Jews.

Russian Jewish immigrants tend to be very secular and are therefore are not socially conservative; although I haven't seen polling data on the subject, I suspect that the vast majority of Russian immigrant Jews are pro-choice, for example. But they are, on average, far to the right of native-born Jews on national security issues and economic policy (because of the experience of living under socialism). Russian Jews are in the unusual position of being a highly secular, yet also generally right-wing ethnic group.

These ideological differences between Russian and native-born Jews are not new. In the 1970s and 80s, many Russian Jewish immigrants were angered by the fact that most mainstream Jewish organizations opposed taking a hard line against the Soviet Union. However, the War on Terror (on which most Russian Jews are more hawkish than native-born Jews), has increased the saliency of these disagreements. This has led to a number of Russian vs. native-born disputes within Jewish organizations, similar to the ones documented in the Wall Street Journal article linked above.

The rapid growth of the Russian Jewish community over the last 30 years has increased the potential importance of this constituency. According to the WSJ article linked above, there are now some 700,000 Russian immigrant Jews in the US, which is about 12% of the total American Jewish population. It is also perhaps worth noting that nearly all of the Russian Jewish academics and intellectuals I can think of are conservative or libertarian - a striking fact given the reality that academics tend to be far more liberal than the general population. While Russian Jews are currently underrepresented in the intellectual world relative to native-born Jews, the gap is likely to keep closing as immigrants rise in socioeconomic status. If Russian Jews continue to increase in numbers and political/intellectual influence, the Jewish establishment may find it more costly to ignore our concerns than has been the case so far.

Will mainstream Jewish organizations moderate their leftism in order to attract more Russian Jews? It's hard to say, but I suspect that most will not. It is possible that assimilation will lead more Russian Jews to become liberal, thus closing the gap between the two communities. But I suspect that the longterm partisan profile of Russian Jews is more likely to resemble that of other relatively affluent white ethnic groups than that of native-born Jews. For these reasons, the ideological alienation of Russian Jews from most mainstream Jewish organizations is likely to continue.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Russian Jews and the Liberal Jewish Establishment:
  2. Are Politically Conservative Jews "Turned Off" by the Jewish Establishment?:
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