The Jewish Crossroads

Each #metoo scandal is totally different, however most are alike in a minimum of a technique: Whether or not amongst Hollywood moguls or Southern Baptists, congressmen or Catholic bishops, the autumn of distinguished males often accelerates some pre-existing debate about the place the bigger establishment or tradition needs to be going, and which aspect of its inner arguments deserves to realize.

Recently the American Jewish group has offered an fascinating case examine, with the collection of accusations towards Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist who has spent a lot of his profession learning the demography of American Jewish life, and linking traits in Jewish intermarriage and fertility to his folks’s cultural continuity.

In answering his accusers Cohen has embraced the clichés of male huge shot contrition — promising a “session with clergy, therapists {and professional} consultants” and “a strategy of schooling, recognition, regret and restore.” However in the meantime, his fall has impressed a critique not solely of his habits but in addition his life’s work, with three feminine historians writing in The Forward that his sexual sins ought to immediate a bigger reappraisal of “the troubling gender and sexual politics lengthy embedded in communal discussions of Jewish continuity and survival.”

What Cohen’s critics bear in mind, particularly, is the best way that the longstanding angst throughout the American Jewish group round assimilation, intermarriage and fertility tends to maintain a type of tender traditionalist stress even in liberal Jewish life — one which defines Jewish identification in exclusionist phrases, they complain, whereas marginalizing “single girls, queer folks, unwed mother and father, and childless people or {couples}.”

What the authors are describing pejoratively, the best way {that a} basic Jewish liberalism can coexist with extra conservative impulses and attitudes, has lengthy been significantly apparent in debates in regards to the state of Israel, the place probably the most cosmopolitan of Jewish liberals can out of the blue sound like strident nationalists. (Or because the writers of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” put it of their “rap battle” between two rivalrous feminine Jewish legal professionals: “Trigger we’re liberals/ duh, progressive as hell / although in fact, I assist Israel.”) Nevertheless it extends to a basic Jewish curiosity in, and generally alarmism about, points like fertility charges and cultural preservation that on the earth of Gentile politics are related to the social and cultural proper.

This mixture has typically pissed off extra thoroughgoing conservatives — Jewish ones particularly — who don’t perceive why extra American Jews don’t lengthen their conservative impulses past the tribe and vote Republican. However a “liberalism with out/conservatism inside” mixture is widespread to minority populations, and it’s a very affordable response to the expertise of Jewish historical past: An oft-persecuted folks’s flourishing can each depend upon sustaining a sure conservatism about its personal patterns of marrying and begetting and cultural transmission (and, within the case of Israel, the security of its lonely nation-state), and on encouraging liberalism and cosmopolitanism within the wider, potentially-hostile order during which the diaspora subsists.

(After which, in fact, this difficult mixture additionally displays the worry amongst many politically liberal Jews that in the event that they don’t maintain a sure familial traditionalism, they’ll simply cede the Jewish future to the ultra-fecund ultra-Orthodox.)

The fascinating query is whether or not the mix can survive the pressures of our personal period. One type of stress comes from the left, which is more and more intent on rooting out all residues of traditionalism throughout the liberal order — treating any type of nationalism as suspect, any policing of spiritual orthodoxy as harmful, any method to intercourse and household and childrearing that isn’t purely gender-egalitarian as a harmful atavism.

That spirit, searching for ideological consistency and opposing (to cite Cohen’s critics) “patriarchal, misogynistic, and anachronist assumptions about what is sweet for the Jews,” might not be capable of tolerate the combo of cosmopolitanism and tribalism, liberalism and traditionalism, that has outlined American Judaism for years.

On the similar time, there’s a totally different stress from Israel itself. Because the Jewish state’s political and cultural debate has shifted to the appropriate, Benjamin Netanyahu has embraced the view that European Jewry’s previous enemy, Christian nationalism, is much less harmful to the Jewish future than the dissolving results of liberal cosmopolitanism and the menace posed by Islamist anti-Semitism. Thus you’ve got the putting phenomenon of the Netanyahu authorities cultivating friends like Hungary’s Viktor Orban, on the grounds that becoming a member of an alliance of conservative nationalisms truly gives a surer floor for the Jewish state’s survival than sticking with the secularism and anti-nationalism of the current liberal challenge.

These centrifugal forces, pulling leftward and rightward, have already alienated youthful liberal Jews in the US from the uncomplicated pro-Israel sentiments of their grandparents. And so they might portend a future the place the “liberal politics with a dose of cultural conservatism” mixture offers strategy to a sharper alternative for a lot of Jews: a extra constantly conservative Judaism certain to Israeli nationalism, and a liberal Judaism that’s extra constantly liberal and fewer identitarian — and maybe in the end extra secularized and assimilated.

As for whether or not this divergence will in the end be, as they are saying, good for the Jews — effectively, that’s a query this Gentile columnist leaves to the chosen folks to debate.

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Ross Douthat has been an Opinion columnist for The Instances since 2009. He’s the writer of a number of books, most lately, “To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Way forward for Catholicism.”

You may observe him on Twitter (@DouthatNYT). @DouthatNYT


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