Why Jews hate Lieberman's God talk

By Samuel G. Freedman



Salon Staff
September 7, 2000 11:54PM (UTC)

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Thank you for a perceptive article. However, there is another very simple reason that American Jews are uncomfortable with Senator Lieberman: good old Jewish guilt. By wearing his Yiddishkeit proudly while actively participating in the highest echelons of public life, he blows the secure secular identity that many Jews have worked so hard to build and calls into question the basic assumptions of much of Jewish life here.

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The vast majority of Jews in the U.S. are either unaffiliated secularists or members of the Reform movement, and they are disconcerted by Orthodox Judaism and its passionate adherence to tradition and belief in G-d. Reform Judaism began in Germany as a movement specifically designed to aid the assimilation of Jews into the majority culture. This required the wholesale abandonment of specifically Jewish practices such as Sabbath observance and keeping kosher. The Reform strategy has worked brilliantly: Jews are busily intermarrying and assimilating themselves out of existence. This is a far bigger threat to meaningful Jewish life in the U.S. than any bunch of anti-Semites could ever possibly be.

Joseph Lieberman upsets people because he doesn't apologize for being Orthodox. He shows that you can be Orthodox and completely normal at the same time. He is a walking challenge to those Jews who have abandoned their tradition and are secretly guilty for doing so.

-- Earl Hartman

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Samuel Freedman's assertion that Senator Lieberman's "God talk" makes non-observant Jews "squirm" may or may not be true, but Freedman misinterprets Lieberman's use of such God talk to begin with.

In my opinion, Senator Lieberman's God talk is meant for a largely Christian audience which has no or little familiarity with Jewish belief and practice and is meant to make THEM feel comfortable -- as if to say, "Hey, we're just like you so it's OK to trust me with the country!"

The vast majority of Christian America knows one thing about Jews (if they know anything about us from a religious standpoint), and that's that we do not believe in Jesus. They don't know what exactly we don't believe about Jesus or why, and they don't know what we believe in its place. And frankly that still makes us outsiders as far as Christian America is concerned. The unmitigated hubris of George W.'s declaration of Jesus Day in Texas underscores that quite well.

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-- Toni L. Kamins

Samuel Freedman makes many good points. I would like to note, however, that there are large differences in the use to which religious language is put in political discourse. The invocation of Jesus Christ by Republicans has sadly become shorthand for the advocacy of a legislative agenda; this agenda includes, among other things, support for school-sanctioned prayer and opposition to abortion rights. Republican politicians can telegraph their positions on such issues without stirring up controversy by being explicit; indeed, by this tactic, they can play the victim when called to task on their profession of faith, as they do when they claim there is a "double standard" on the use of religious speech. Religious language has no similar uniform function in the discourse of Democratic politicians. When the political right finally leaves behind its desire to legislate its particular moral vision, there will be less reason to "squirm" when politicians discuss their beliefs.

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-- Scott Malsin


Salon Staff

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