by Rabbi Yaakov Menken in Mishpacha Magazine
For nearly 250 years, America has provided shelter to Jews by upholding freedom of expression and religion, while rejecting the notion of a state religion that could force its beliefs upon others. But the “woke” religion of today’s progressives — with its irrational dogma, rituals, and declarations of faith — provides a new framework to justify bias against Torah Jews.
A Jew — or anyone else for that matter — who maintains beliefs grounded in Torah can be labeled “phobic” and “bigoted,” worthy of being censured, fired, or driven out of business. With increasing frequency, bakers, florists, and even web designers who decline to celebrate “alternative lifestyles” have faced penalties and lawsuits, and now healthcare providers and those in many other fields are threatened as well.
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Jack Philips, the evangelical Christian designer behind the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, has faced over a decade of legal battles — even after the Supreme Court found that his religious faith was treated with obvious and unconstitutional bias — simply because he believes he cannot celebrate behaviors that violate his religion. Lorie Smith of 303 Creative similarly had to go to the Supreme Court to secure her right to choose which wedding websites she will design.
Imagining that our community will escape persecution is naive at best. Just several weeks ago, a kosher bakery declined to create “pride-themed” products — and multiple non-Orthodox synagogues and the local Jewish Federation accused the owner of “bigotry.”
New proposed rules from the Biden administration would ban any effort to keep men out of women’s sports and even penalize doctors who refuse to prescribe unhealthy drugs or do surgical harm to their patients. Several states will help a formerly frum ex-spouse violate custody and schooling agreements for a child purportedly in need of “sanctuary” to pursue damaging “treatments.” These inhumane proposals are specific, undeniable attacks upon Torah observance, basic decency, and common sense.
And it is only getting worse. Ten years ago, no one imagined that New York would try to force Yeshiva University to recognize a club advocating for anti-Torah lifestyles. If one wanted to engage in anti-Semitic persecution without once mentioning Judaism, this is precisely how one would go about it.
Dealing with the new progressive hostility requires a three-fold strategy: articulating an authentic Jewish voice; speaking before our community is attacked directly; and building broad alliances.
A Torah voice on these issues is crucial to counteract the influence of progressive Jewish movements. America calls its founding values “Judeo-Christian ethics,” giving disproportionate weight to the Jewish view. When the only “Jewish” perspective they hear is that of anti-Torah leftists, it is an extraordinary chillul Hashem that causes extraordinary damage. Many on the left now regularly portray Torah values as uniquely Christian, and rational stances as violating church-state separation, because there has been no Jewish voice for Torah values.
Multiple existing organizations do outstanding advocacy work for our community’s unique needs. But were they to also counter the claims of Jewish progressives in less immediately relevant areas, they would risk distancing themselves from leftist legislators otherwise willing to support school busing, synagogue security, and other communal priorities. And so, six years ago, a group of rabbanim launched the Coalition for Jewish Values (CJV) to articulate our principles in areas that stretch beyond our community.
Whereas others joined us in supporting Phillips and Smith, CJV was recently cited as the only national Jewish organization actively opposing men in women’s sports. Our schools do not have swim teams, but our community will eventually lose access to separate swimming and private spaces if we do not speak now. Similarly, we recently formed a Health Care Council, because, despite the leftist threats to the careers of frum providers, there was no observant Jewish group to collaborate with the medical organizations defending their rights.
That connects to alliance-building with others — senators, congressmen, and major think tanks who have long awaited a Jewish partner in pursuit of shared policy goals. Our community organizations have always engaged in this, but that effort needs to be upgraded. By extending ourselves to voice support for others before our community is impacted directly, we demonstrate that we as a community stand for something, and come from a place of deep moral conviction, and knowledge of right and wrong.
Such efforts give us credibility with these powerful allies when we address issues closer to home. Our letters were instrumental both in removing Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she could do the most damage to the US-Israel relationship; and in stopping Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s “Nakba” event from happening in the Capitol building. These letters were effective precisely because members of Congress knew about our other work, and knew that our concern was genuine and moral, rather than political.
There are other, practical steps to take: Our schools and organizations should revise their bylaws to require fealty to Torah law. Synagogues, which are entirely religious in nature, are relatively immune from attack, but not so our other community resources. There was already a Torah day school teacher who claimed to be frum, but turned out to be violating numerous Torah prohibitions in front of his students on a daily basis. Guides from Religious Freedom Institute and similar groups can help institutions make relatively simple changes now that will shield them from expensive legal battles down the road.
When we follow Torah and they call us names, we have nothing for which to apologize. But our community must respond because the mob is already at our doorstep. We cannot wait until they treif up the metaphorical kitchen before articulating our views and declaring that those views are under attack. At that point, the only question will be which of our rights we can recapture, and which we will have to give up.
That’s why we must expand these and similar efforts both nationally and internationally because similar battles — replete with misrepresentations of the authentic Jewish view — are being waged in state and local legislatures, and in the governments of most Western countries.
We can correct the record of Torah values if we are willing to proclaim them in the public square.
Originally published in Mishpacha Magazine
Photo Credit; Wikimedia Commons