Sunday, February 05, 2006

Jews vs. Jews on Christians

The February issue of First Things has an essay by David Klinghoffer titled "Jews vs. Christians" in which Klinghoffer launches an attack on Union for Reform Judaism president Eric Yoffie and Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman. Klinghoffer poses six questions about these gentlemen's recent public positions. While I sympathize more with Klinghoffer's politics, I find his attack so off-base that I feel the need to respond on behalf of the subjects of his harsh criticisms.

1. At a time when radical Muslims threaten Jews and others around the world, why vilify American Christians?

First, Klinghoffer makes the mistake of attributing an attack on all Christians to his subjects. This is not true. The attack was on political conservatives, a group that includes many Christians but certainly not all. Second, Klinghoffer seems to be under the impression that people are so limited that they can only comment on one issue. Why, if he can write on a number of different issues in the same week, does he not extend the same ability to his subjects? Yes, time and resources are limited. But that does not mean that we can only be concerned with one perceived danger at a time to the neglect of all others.

2. If conservative Christians were less politically powerful, would this help or hurt the security of the state of Israel?

This is a very astute and important question. However, Klinghoffer's subjects might respond that they are concerned with longer-term security and not just today's danger. What will the world look like in fifty to one hundred years and how will that impact the state of Israel? The answer to that question might be very different than the answer to Klinghoffer's.

3. Practically, what positive ends could anti-Christian attacks possibly accomplish?

Again, Klinghoffer makes the mistake of attributing an anti-Christian attack to his subjects. I am willing to wager that millions of Christians would nod in agreement with the statements of Klinghoffer's subjects. The subjects' goal, presumably, was to raise awareness of the issues and give impetus to organized opposition.

Klinghoffer also raises the issue of opposition to Mel Gibson's movie The Passion and states that "the anti-Semitism the ADL warned the movie would spur never even began to materialize." Here, Klinghoffer is being overly simplistic. No one expected anti-Jewish riots to erupt after showings of the movie. The fear was and is that the movie will serve to educate millions of people in negative stereotypes and theological positions that will eventually encourage and intensify anti-Semitic feelings. It is currently way too early to evaluate whether the movie is, in fact, increasing anti-Semitism.

4. When is the last time anyone tried to Christianize you?

I must assume here that Klinghoffer lives in a different world than I do. I live in an enclave of Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn and work near the diamond district in Manhattan. I estimate that over the past decade I have been approached by missionaries an average of 5 times a year, despite (or perhaps because) I am very obviously an Orthodox Jew. Missionaries come knocking on my door, approach me on the subways, and occasionally accost me in the streets of Manhattan. Just last summer I had to extricate an Orthodox mother of six down the block from a conversation with very persistent missionaries that she could not seem to end. I envy Klinghoffer's world in which Jews are free from pestering missionaries.

5. How do you explain the fact that "bigoted" Christian political positions mirror the traditional views of Judaism?

I am surprised by this because it is not at all clear to me that the traditional views of Judaism are consistent with conservative Christian political positions. Certainly on issues such as abortion, stem-cell research, euthanasia, and cloning our positions differ. Rabbi David M. Feldman, the man who literally wrote the book on the traditional Jewish position on abortion, argues that point at great length in his new book Where There's Life, There's Life. There is a strong case made by (Orthodox) Rabbi Michael J. Broyde for gay rights as well, and Marc D. Stern has recently made another strong case in the pages of the Rabbinical Council of America's journal Tradition. Klinghoffer would do well not to speak in the sole name of traditional Judaism.

6. What of the economics behind these anti-Christian attacks?

Klinghoffer is correct that salaries to Jewish communal figures are sometimes outrageous and that issue needs to be dealt with. Personally, I lose faith in (and refuse to contribute to) charitable organizations that compensate its professionals so lavishly, and choose instead to direct my charity dollars to more fiscally responsible organizations. However, I suspect that Klinghoffer is overly cynical. Anti-Semitism is still very much in existence and the Anti-Defamation League, for example, serves an important function in our community. This is regardless of its director's public statements and, even without such a person at the helm, the organization would still need to exist and be properly funded.

Klinghoffer concludes by stating that his "are fair questions." I disagree. They are loaded in terminology and incorrect in fact.

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