Five Reasons Why Jews Tend to Gravitate to the LeftPosted: November 25, 2012
Five Reasons Why Jews Tend to Gravitate to the Left
This document started-out as a letter to my Uncle which aimed to explain why many Jews identify with the Left. As I started to write it, it dawned on me that I had a few penetrating concepts that, perhaps, should be heard by more than my uncle’s ears and that these ideas should be promulgated to the world at large. (Yes, I know I sound nauseatingly full of myself. But read-on and you shall be edified.)
The other day you said to me that you wondered why so many Jews were situated on the left end of the political spectrum. I think I’ve heard you speculate along those lines before. (Sometimes, I think that when you mention the alleged misdeeds of Leftist Jews, you are, in a roundabout way, taking a snipe at me.) In any event, you are not alone. Lots of people have been annoyed by their perception that many Jews are radicals or socialists. Many people have found Jewish sympathy for the left illogical and stupid. They reason that since much of the left can been seen as anti-Semitic (latter day communists who were anti-Zionist, anti-colonialist Arabists, and advocates of affirmative action, a program that can only harm Jewish representation in higher education and the upper echelons of life since Jews tend to “outscore” all groups on standardized tests save, perhaps, Asians), Jews should not have much to do with the left. Also, although Jewish income levels in the United States approximate those of Anglicans, Jews, it has been said, tend to vote like Roman Catholic Puerto Ricans. And so people wonder: Why are so many Jews so ardently left-of-center. In this note, I will try to tell you why:
1) We are idol smashers.
To a large extent, this has to do with what it means to be a Jew. Being a Jew means being an idol-smasher. The first Jew was Abraham. His father’s profession was that of idol-maker. Abraham looked at the assortment of idols that suffused his primitive world, and he ridiculed the BS. He realized that inanimate heaps of wood and stone cannot govern the universe. Abraham, very simply, asked questions, doubted and disparaged blind acceptance of tradition and authority. Accordingly, the sort of person who is very Jewish is the sort of person who will shun reflexive deference toward conventional wisdom and will constantly venture-out, on his own, to find that which is really true.
Because Jews tend to ask questions and to doubt, they will ask questions of authority. The Jewish proclivity for questioning those in power tends to make Jews more receptive to left of center thought.
Ironically enough, the most Jewish of the Jews will often find themselves alienated from their fellow Jews. Because they decry herd-like acceptance of hoary customs and laws, they will continually find themselves at odds with their faith.
Consider the issue concretely, in the development of a Jew’s mind: In good Jewish schools, a teacher will tell a group of five year olds, on the first day of class, a story of some sort. Then he will ask his students to find the “Kasha,” or inconsistency, in this story. This inculcates the development of a challenging, probing intellect. And the legacy of this sort of education is the very radicalism that you despise.
The most Jewish of the Jews have always chafed at the boundaries of existent knowledge and belief, have always deviated from most Jews and from most other humans, have always been on the outskirts of what was deemed permissible or legal or prudent, and the most Jewish of the Jews have been traitors to their people and leaders of the world: Jesus, Freud, Marx, Spinoza.
2) The Multi-Thousand Year Dialectical Conflict Between Judaism’s Legal and Prophetic Traditions
I can just imagine your response to my use of the word Dialectical. I can veritably visualize Diarrhea’s (My uncle’s wife is named Rhea; I find it pleasing to call her Diarrhea) eyes glaring with Queenly disdain: David is using a Five Dollar Word because he is a pretentious, pseudo-intellectual asshole (Of course, in certain precincts anyone who dares to think who isn’t worth more than a million dollars is automatically tagged with the term pseudo intellectual). I use the word dialectical because a dialectic, as Hegal described it, is exactly what we have here. A dialectic is this: A phenomenon has within it the seeds of its own antithesis. Example: A) We feel love, B) We get really sick of loving that selfish bastard who hasn’t given squat in return and C) we finally feel hate towards that person whom we had loved. In other words, love created its opposite, hate. (Marx of course applied Hegelian dialectics toward material matters: Rich people create their opposite, poor people, i.e., they become rich by making other people poor.) Hegel also said that after the thesis, or original point of view, had created its opposite, or antithetical point of view, a synthesis would emerge.
In Judaism, long before the destruction of the second temple, there had been a civil war between the legal tradition and the prophetic tradition. More specifically, the exacting, almost intellectually sadistic and punitive legal tradition had given birth to its antithesis: The full-throated prophetic tradition calling-out for justice and helping the poor. Occasionally, Jacobean strains in the prophetic tradition (Abbie Hoffman) incite a revitalized and furious right: Think of Norman Podhoretz, writing the same thing for thirty years: “I used to be a radical, and people like Norman Mailer and Lillian Hellman were once my friends, but I have finally become a grown-up Jewish burgher with respectably dreary and bourgeois points of view.” Then, after having endured the sneering, smugness of the neo conservative years when Jews thought Bernie Madoff was G-d because he was rich (Hell, those rich bastards DESERVED to lose their money), many Jews voted for Obama (And he was a grand mistake, but we probably disagree as to why he was a mistake). In any event, this is how the dialectic played itself out in Judaism between the legal and prophetic traditions.
A big part of Judaism is the Law.
(People often say that the Jewish contribution to civilization has been the law, but, being a lawyer, I don’t understand why the world should love us for having given it the law. To me the Law is a means of using obfuscation, mental machinations and tricky language to shroud the truth and further injustice. I could give you so many examples of the law being used to further injustice that I wouldn’t really know where to begin. Just for the hell of it, I’ll tell you about the negative pregnant, a rule of law in Anglo-American jurisprudence that has, over the centuries, probably thrust millions of people into servitude and poverty. This is an example of the negative pregnant:
A alleges: B owes me one hundred dollars
B answers: I don’t owe A one hundred dollars
Result: B must pay A 99 dollars and 99 cents.
Reasoning: The allegation, by B, that he did not owe 100 dollars was “Pregnant” with the admission that he owed all lessor sums of money.
The negative pregnant is, to my knowledge, no longer in force in any jurisdictions of the United States; the last hold-out for this ancient tenet was the deep South. It is, incidentally, one of the reasons why lawyers often write documents with an obsessive-compulsive streak, forever wary and forever verbose.)
The law is, largely, all about the governance of commercial relations. By contrast, Christianity sometimes is infused with a longing to transcend petty commercial squabbles and rise to a more spiritual plane.
(Of course, I am not saying that Christians are more honest than Jews. After all, no one can beat the Vatican when it comes to playing the capitalist game. In the era immediately preceding the Reformation, suckers all over Europe gave the Church oodles of gold because the Church had a racket known as the sale of indulgences. Very simply, for X amount of Gold the priest could assure you entry to heaven, for 2X amount of money he could give you a package deal and get you, your wife, your mistress and your first born into heaven. Shortly before the Reformation, one very rich Bishop gave a dinner party in which the silverware and plates were all composed of gold and silver. At the end of the party, the Bishop, to broadcast his wealth, threw all the gold and silver cutlery and dishes into the sea to make it known that he had plenty more of that stuff)
Judaism is suffused with all things commercial. The Talmud, I have been told, seems at times like nothing but an arid treatise on contract law, replete with detailed and comprehensive analyses of every facet and permutation of a case in which a cow, costing x amount of money, fails to deliver milk. Judaism, therefore, in many ways has little to do with the things that we normally think of when we think of religion. It is, supposedly, not much interested in the metaphysical; it is deeply pragmatic and seeks to govern and define all of our day to day affairs, many of which are commercial.
Some of us get a little ill when religious study seems just like Law school. Actually, I first started to think about this and related issues when I heard a man, on line at a bank, say that Law school is liar school.
(This reminds me of my reaction formation theory of the professions. A reaction formation is a state of affairs in which one tries to conceal one’s socially unacceptable tendencies by purporting to believe in, or aspire to, the reverse of that tendency, e.g., one tries to conceal one’s desire to be a drag queen by purporting to be like John Wayne. In the professions, reaction formations play out as follows: a) If you want to make people feel stupid, you conceal this unsavory desire by purporting to want to educate people, and you become a teacher, where the high point of your day is screaming at a student and telling him he is stupid, b) if you want to drive people crazy, you become a psychiatrist (Results from the Eyesenck study: Two-thirds of neurotics who don’t go to therapy get better over time, but only 44 percent of those neurotics who go to analysts get better), c) if you want to hurt people physically, you become a doctor: e.g., i. the first class of anti-neoplastic drugs were derived from the mustard gas of World War One; ii) Electro Convulsive Shock Treatment was introduced to Bellevue straight from Mussolini’s Italy; iii, 100,000 Americans die every year from infections contracted in the hospital; iv) a doctor from the Mayo Clinic Warns that this country will have 25,000 additional cancer deaths per year because of CT scans, which emit 400 to 500 times as much radiation as a chest x ray. Finally, if you want to lie and deceive, you become a lawyer and the best lawyers are those who lie with greatest ease and avidity, e.g., the OJ Simpson defense team.)
Some of us think that not only the Law, but also that which it tries to protect and manage, namely commercial activity, is also all about lying. After all, what is the essence of the capitalistic act: Taking a piece of dreck worth 10 dollars and convincing a poor shnook that it is really worth 50 dollars.
In any event, the legal tradition of Judaism inspired the prophetic tradition: Damn your legal equivocations and distortions. Take from the rich and give to the poor. The Jewish drive to the left is inspired by the Prophetic strain of Jewish life. Judaism, I have often thought, has some of the biggest and most successful capitalists, and this has birthed our tendency to have the biggest communists, e.g.,Leon Trotsky.
3) The Legacy of Pesach (Passover)
One of our cardinal holidays is Pesach, when we commemorate our freedom from slavery. Is it really that very hard to understand why Judaism sparks an identification with, or at the very least sympathy for, people who are persecuted. Perhaps this is hard to understand for those whose Judaism is what Kahane called “mere gastro intestinal Judaism” (a Judaism that revolves around Eastern European cooking);
[Incidentally, from what I have read, I sense that gastrointestinal Judaism might help explain why Jewish women are so often so adept at dominating Jewish men. Before the enlightenment, many, many Jewish people were extremely pious, and truly believed in G-d, and worshipped with real authenticity. Science could not do that much (There was no electricity, no cars, no penicillin) There were no implements to help us determine that the earth was billions of years old. There was only the beastly Tzar, and our sustaining faith.
Judaism was also something that was largely dominated by men. Only men could become Rabbis, only men prayed – women cooked instead of going to shul. When Jews came to America, many very quickly chucked their Judaism because through assimilation and deracination they could make a mint. Almost overnight, our religion declined in importance. Since our religion was a male thing, the decline of the faith prompted the decline of men’s self-esteem. Consider Passover Sedars: In the past, the Sedar meal was enjoyed, but it was accompanied by something more important than the ingestion of brisket: The recitation of the Haggadah, or story of our bondage and liberation from Egypt. There were roles for both sexes: Women cooked a sumptuous meal, and men told the Passover story. After Jews became Americanized, and lost their faith, the prayers were forgotten, although most families still had a child ask the Four Questions. But the Father who answered the four questions was now mute. In this modern and vacuous appreciation of Pesach, men were sort of useless and had no role, while the mothers and Grandmothers were lauded for the simple feat of wadding food with a whole lot of cholesterol and calories.]
In any event, Passover induces sympathy for the oppressed, downtrodden and poor. When I hear some people say that Jewish leftism makes no sense, I tend to think that these people, even if they are observant Jews, have serious deficits of Jewish knowledge.
4) From the French Revolution until the 1950’s, an era once satirized by the phrase, “Allen Dulles, Henry Luce, GOP hypotenuse”
From the time of the French Revolution until, perhaps, the Sinai crisis of 1956, when the Soviet Union assumed an unequivocally hostile stance toward aggression against Egypt, the left and the Jews were on the same side in almost all European conflicts.
The Church was of course anti-Semitic and the Church was the prime defender of the ancien regime. Through doctrines like the divine right of kings, which held that the King is the King because that is what G-d wants, Christianity buttressed autocracy and repression. Those who sought to demolish aristocratic privilege tended to despise Christianity because it aided the aristocracy and this engendered a natural sympathy, for the Jews, among revolutionary factions. Consider Marx’s ode to the Paris Commune: “Compare these Parisians, storming Heaven, with the slaves to Heaven of the German, Prussian, Holy Roman Empire, with their posthumous masquerades, reeking of the Church, of the barracks, of cabbage Junkerdom, and above all, the philistine.” The revolution will not wait for Heaven; the revolution seeks justice now whereas reactionary German Christians will bow down to their masters and believe that their salvation will be had in some heaven that none of us have ever glimpsed.
This alignment between the Left and Jewry continued during the early days of the Bolshevik revolution: An inordinate proportion of Communist agitators were Jews, most of Hungary’s leading Bolsheviks (Bella Kuhn and company) during the post WWI communist insurrection were Jews, Germany’s post WW1 Bolshevik revolution was run by the Jewish Pole Rosa Luxembourg and in the 1930s and 1940’s the Jewish affinity for the left made all the sense in the world because the Left was at war with Fascism and Nazism. For example, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, there were two Polish undergrounds – one for communists and one which was backed by London. The Polish Home Guard, which took London’s lead, for the most part handed Jews, in hiding, over to the Nazis and did nothing to help the Jews during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. By contrast, the Polish Peoples Guard, which was associated with Moscow, sent radiograms to Moscow regarding the uprising and the Red Army bombarded German Positions which were harassing the Ghetto.(I don’t know how this was done because during April of 1943 no Soviet troops were anywhere near Warsaw.)
[Incidentally, some people who say that Jews should not be on the left allege that Soviet armies were inert while the Nazis destroyed the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto. This is LIBEL. The Jewish Ghetto was destroyed in 1943, and the Soviets rendered some aid. In 1944, the Soviet army idled on the East bank of the Vistula River while Christian Warsaw (essentially reactionary Catholics who hated the Soviets and the Jews), which had done nothing to help the Jews of the Ghetto, was destroyed by the Nazis.]
After world war two, London was opposed to the creation of the Jewish state and actively aided the Jordanian and Egyptian armies in attempting to strangle the nascent Jewish state in the cradle. America gave no aid, whatsoever, to the Jews. Russia, however, supplied Israel with oil and the communist block, particularly Prague, was for the most part Israel’s only source of weaponry. Until 1967, the membership of the Soviet Academy of Science was two-thirds Jewish.
The Jews, very simply, had an alignment with the left that lasted for almost two-hundred years. Such old friendships do not die overnight.
5) Alfred Kazin’s unmerited happiness
Many people in your generation looked at the supposed savagery of the Jewish Radicalism of the 60’s, which is still with us although to a markedly muted degree, and concluded that younger Jews had an almost animalistic, primitive radicalism. You guys felt revulsion towards the social as well as the political radicalism of the hippies and the yippies, the drugs, the long hair, and the student strikes that started in Berkeley and sooner or later spread to every good university in the nation.
Many of these young leftist Jews may have seemed anti-Semitic because their exultation of youth was like a kick in the shins to our elders, who were of course Jewish. And some conservative Jews were horrified, noting that such anti-semitism was especially grotesque so soon after the holocaust. However, the holocaust is precisely what made younger Jews so radical in the sixties.
We looked at our American elders and all we could think of was one thing: What did they do to try to stop the Holocaust. We found that in most cases, they – with the exception of Jewish men who fought as soldiers — did absolutely nothing. They were far too busy trying to make it in America, trying to conform to White Protestant norms, trying to kiss the asses of the goyishe teachers in school, trying to get good grades, trying to become part of what William James called the American National Obsession, worshipping at the altar of the bitch goddess success, to care about anyone but themselves. And this was conservatism and this was capitalism, caring about no one but yourself, and it was conducive to the Holocaust because if Jews had devoted less time to their financial interests, and more time toward their European brethren, more Jews would have been saved. And we hated our conservative elders because they seemed so self-satisfied with things that were immaterial, they would eat kugel and look at younger Jews and plead for inactivity and passivity and we had contempt for their passivity, which, we reasoned, is why six million died.
I remember when I was very young I, like many other little children, showed in inordinate interest in the oddities and differences in strangers. At times, I spoke about what I saw. My Grandmother used to respond to me by saying, MYOB, mind your own business. But I thought that minding one’s own business was the primary problem with life. That was why my Father had died (He reputedly was choking on his food in a restaurant for several minutes while no one intervened) and that was why six million had died. And so I wanted to shun and shuck all the conformist and conservative behaviors that one might associate with the MYOB mode of behavior.
But I by no means saw this lack of sympathy only in my relatives. This was reflected, for example, in Philip Roth’s novel “My Life as A Man,” which revolves around, in its opening scenes, a Jewish hotel in the Catskills in the 1940’s. The author shows us a bunch of Jews having a fun-filled time in the Summer. And I wonder: What the fuck is so funny if it is 1943 and millions of Jews are facing extermination. And why do the Jews of the novel have such a tolerant view of the Jewish guy who allegedly got out of army duty for fraudulent reasons when it seemed clear that every Jew should have done his duty toward Judaism, and the United States, by willing to fight for Uncle Sam. And I find this lack of care evident in Alfred Kazin’s autobiographical book ‘New York Jew.” This book, in large measure, is one prosaic Ode to the intellect of Alfred Kazin. At the beginning of the book, Kazin recounts his ecstatic happiness in the early 1940s: A great work of his is published and received great criticism, he moves from parochial Brooklyn to cosmopolitan Manhattan, and he is invited to all the really right cocktail and dinner parties where the pampered and erudite guests ferociously argue about Communism and Fascism all hours of the night. And upon reading this, I want to stab Kazin: What was left to be argued about after the Wehrmacht. There was only one think to do, join the marines, or the royal air force or the red army. The extreme radicalism of young, leftist Jews can be traced to an overwhelming revulsion for complacency and passivity in the face of evil.
And so I always wondered what you guys were doing in 1942. And this is why I became contemptuous of you and this is why I became radical.
 I have a weird idea: I have often thought that a staple of Pesach, Kenadelah, or matzho ball soup, violates Pesach dietary laws. During Pesach, we are not supposed to eat leavened products, or products that have risen (e.g., bread) in the process of cooking because when our ancestors fled from Egypt they had no time to bake bread, which of course rises. However, Matzoh balls grow, or in other words rise, in the process of cooking. They double in diameter after being cooked in boiling water. Actually, I think they may contain baking soda and baking powder, the classic leavening agents of cakes. Matzoh balls are thus a leavened product and should not be deemed Kosher for Pesach. I have been told I am wrong. I would like to know why.