What's it been, about 30 years or so since Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and a number of other "mugged liberals" banded together to define a political voice that would challenge the flatulent pieties of the post-'60s American Left?
You didn't have to be a Jew to be in the "Neoconservative" clique, but it didn't hurt. And it was this Jewish angle in the Neocon scene that always struck me as hollow. Their critique of the Left's facile identification of "Jewishness" and "universalism" surely stands.
But what emerged in its place? An equally myopic focus on "Jewish interests" with scarcely a glance at the values for which the Jewish tradition had generally stood.
But that was then. A new generation of Neocons has, since the '90s, produced some intellectuals who have done their theological homework. The young Jewish Neocons dismiss their parents' perfunctory Reform and Conservative Judaism as hopelessly secularist. And they are right. The liberal Judaists fought to achieve a religiously neutral American civic space.
Well and good! But for what? The right to construct enormous, unattended synagogues and link Hanukkah to Christmas in the American marketing of religion as a celebration of minor differences? Maybe there is enough demographic momentum in such Judaism to keep the gift shops open through this century. But, as the Neocons surmise, the future lies with the Frum.
Yeshivot and women's seminaries throughout the various streams of Orthodoxy supply an army of highly motivated, articulate men and women reproducing themselves exponentially. Here are Jews who, daily, sacrifice personal and professional comforts for the sake of Torah, who seek, almost obsessively, to transform their everyday lives into lucid models of covenantal obedience.
So the problem is: how might Neocons con these Yidn into overcoming their ingrained mistrust of Christianity and taking common political cause with the most goyish of all goyim? Some Jewish Neocons -- like Seattle's own Rabbi Daniel Lapin and David Klinghoffer -- proclaim that "core values" of Jewish Orthodoxy intersect with the political agenda of the Christian Right. Thus, Orthodox Jews, like evangelical Christians, should support state intervention to maintain the primacy of heterosexual marriage, eliminate abortion, enhance the abilities of the wealthy to avoid taxation, and support public expressions of religious faith.
Never mind that Orthodox tradition is quite rigorous in its taxation policies, and no friend of the public expression of idolatrous religions, such as, according to most rabbinic opinion, Christianity. And ask yourself this question: if, in the United Christian States of America, rabbis insisted on the integrity of the halachic process in hot-button issues such as abortion, how long before we'd find on our TVs subtle infomercials on "abusive" circumcision rites and "cruel" kosher slaughter?
But the most chutzpadik posturing about "common values" has got to be the one that represents evangelicals as fierce opponents of American secularism. Pardon me? At its best, the Christian right is selectively opposed to certain secular excesses -- like the untrammeled marketing of pornography -- but rather tolerant of many others.
Let's say, for example, that arch-secularists such as gay rights, pro-choice, and anti-school prayer activists (to speak plainly, "liberal" Jews) were miraculously cleansed from God's country. Who would challenge the nihilistic hedonism that drives American capitalism? Don't hold your breath for Pat Robertson to prophecy against the gold, diamonds, and furs draping the firm bosoms and manly shoulders of the professional TV Bible thumpers who market today's wealth-fetishizing fideistic "Scriptural Christianity!"
In their infatuation with evangelical Christianity, the Jewish neocons (like virtually all other American Jews) have overlooked the most obvious conversation partner in the search for other marginalized Americans with whom Jews share "common religious values." I speak, of course, of that favorite whipping boy of contemporary fundamentalist xenophobia -- Islam.
Yeah, I know -- things have been dicey between Jacob and Ishmael for about a millennium. But you want common values? Okay -- Orthodox Jews and Muslims value scrupulous devotion to traditional patterns of culture experienced as sacred obligations (halachah, shariya). Orthodox Jews and Muslims view self-sacrificing obedience to commandments as a spiritual achievement (mesirat nefesh, the other meaning of "jihad"). Rather than a sign of enslavement to "The Law," Orthodox Jews and Muslims conceive almsgiving as "justice" to the poor (tzedakah, zakat), a duty that creates social conscience and embodies mutual obligation.
Spend a little time with an observant Muslim and what do you find? Dietary restrictions, special feasts and fasts, the rhythm of life willingly surrendered to the imperatives of multiple daily prayers, preoccupation with minute observances that signal one's self-separation from the profane. Sound familiar?
So why are the neocons pushing a political alliance with the Christian right rather than with an American Muslim community with an existential stake in genuine peace in the Middle East?
Well, there is that one little Islamic thing: the "Zionist entity" business.
I have a dear Muslim friend. I'll call her Jamila. She has abandoned a lot of cultural baggage while cultivating deep friendships with many Jews. But I know that even my dear Jamila -- who can actually imagine Tel Aviv and Tzfat as vacation destinations -- can't muster any of the genuine bliss that mists the eye of a Christian Dispensationalist at the very mention of the syllables Is-ra-el. Pro-Israel Christians know this every bit as well as their Jewish neocon compatriots. And they have no shame in working it for all it's worth.
Jewish neocons have yet to offer a serious case for an evangelical-Orthodox political alliance based on anything more than ephemeral interests. But until they do, why should Jews trust the narcissistic love of Christians who hug us to death on their way to the Rapture any more than the assurances of Arab apparatchiks who speak of peace in English from one side of their mouths while whispering "for the time being" in Arabic from the other?