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Why are Jews liberal…and why we're becoming more conservative

By Charles Morse
web posted December 15, 2003

The best way for me to tackle this question would be to start with my own story. How did I, Chuck Morse, previously a run of the mill liberal who was born and raised in a liberal atmosphere and who was not terribly political, evolve, or some may say devolve into a conservative.

I trace my political transformation to a single date, April 7, 1986. That was the date that I saw my first tax return as a self-employed businessman. I had gone to "The Taxman" in Central Square, Cambridge to get help in filling out my forms. At the time, I was filled with enthusiasm and idealism over the idea of filing my first return. It had been a fairly promising first year in business for me and I was prepared to pay my fair share.

When the accountant tabulated the initial figure in terms of what I would have to pay, it seemed like a lot of money but not an overwhelming amount. But then she informed me that she was not yet finished, she still had to tabulate my social security, Fica, state tax, penalties for late payment, and other factors. My reaction to the final figure was total shock, I was dumbfounded. How was I going to come up with this much money? I would have to take the modest amount of money that I had accumulated in the course of the year, money that I had hoped to invest in expanding the business, and send it all to the government and then some. I was literally speechless.

This proved to be a turning point for me. What exactly was the government doing with all this money? I had always believed that the government should provide social programs but was the government actually doing the work of helping people or were they fattening its own coffers? Was it really wise for the government to take that much money out of a business, money that could have been used to increase production, creativity and jobs? Was the government helping or hurting working people and did a safety net for the needy really have to come at such a high price? Couldn't it be done better and whose money was it anyway? These were some of the questions I started asking and I began my own investigation.

What I discovered was that the old maxim "Government that governs best govern least" was true. That while government ought to play a role in providing a safety net for people, genuine social services do better when they're privately funded or when government provides assistance without actually getting into the business itself. I also discovered that, when left to their own devises, people are by and large very charitable, that most people want to do good and help their neighbor, and that government coercion is actually counterproductive. I discovered that when government got involved in a program there were inevitably strings attached and those strings invariably involved some level of a forcible intrusion into the private lives of people.

The second aspect of my political transformation was more spiritual and involved my embrace of Judaism. I had grown up as a secular Jew and had been quite ignorant regarding Jewish faith. My faith contained three basic tenets, which were support for Israel, revulsion over the Nazi Holocaust, and a fear of anti-Semitism. While these tenets remain important to me, standing alone they failed to provide a spiritual context that would guide my life and values.

The taxing arm of government had led me to believe that individuals did not have to depend on the state for services. So where, then, did the individual look for guidance if not the state? I'd always assumed that government was an instrument that could change man if controlled by enlightened people but I now found that I could no longer accept this.

I found the answer in the Declaration of Independence, which declares, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

I believe that this simple expression of faith is completely in accord with Judaism, which is to say that "the creator" or God, endows us with rights as opposed to being endowed by the state and that "truths" or rights and responsibilities are "self-evident." The founders of this great Republic acknowledged as "self evident" that individual rights come from the creator as opposed to the State and this discovery was and remains the most revolutionary and liberating idea known to man.

This simple acknowledgement of faith set this nation on a course that has led to the freest, most creative, and most prosperous civilization in human history. America is a light unto the nations because we have understood that we are not beholden to the state. Human beings cannot take the place of the creator because man is created in his image and is therefore fallible as only the creator is perfect. When we have tried to create a perfect world by force, as Nimrod did with the Tower of Babel, and as both Nazism and Communism have attempted to do in modern times, the result is always ruinous.

So why, then, have Jews been "liberal?" By this I mean why have Jews been attracted to a form of worship of the state as opposed to worship of God? Why have so many Jews viewed government as a messianic force as opposed to the Torah, which calls for a covenantal relationship between the Jew and God? Why have so many Jews sought collective as opposed to personal redemption? Why have so many Jews chosen man over God?

Benjamin Guinsburg, a Johns Hopkins Professor, presents an interesting theory in his book The Fatal Embrace – Jews and the State. Guinsburg's thesis is that in order to survive 2000 years of Diaspora with an identity intact, Jews, or Jewish leadership, curried favor with the host government of the country in which they resided. This meant that Jewish leadership would occasionally perform tasks for the Christian King that the King might not otherwise be able to do. In exchange for these favors, the Jews would be allowed to live and even prosper for a time. This would often lead to disaster when the King would be replaced by a new and unfriendly King who would then turn on the Jews and persecute them, thus you have "the fatal embrace."

In the late 19th and 20th centuries, this tendency by Jews to embrace the powerful state drove many Jews to a radical embrace of Communism. This was a full manifestation of the idea that no rights whatsoever come from "the creator" and that all rights must come from a totalitarian state. Communism replaced God with the promise that the state would bring about human redemption and utopia at the hand of an enlightened and properly educated elite. One of the strangest aspects of this embrace by many Jews of Communism and Marxism, an embrace that completely contradicts every tenet of Judaism, was that after immigrating to the United States many Jews still clung to it even though they would now reside in a nation that was, essentially, molded on Jewish values. American success, and their own personal success in many cases, should have made this fact "self-evident" to these immigrants but instead they chose to live in the land of milk and honey while pretending that they were still in bondage in Egypt.

So why, then, are so many Jews now changing? Why are Jews becoming more conservative? I'd like to think it's because the scales are falling from our eyes. Perhaps, at long last, we are realizing that security and protection is not going to come from the powerful state but rather from our own assertion of our individual rights and our own assumption of responsibility for our affairs. Perhaps we are no longer buying the totalitarian sales pitch that the state is where social ills will be addressed, if we only turn over our freedoms and treasure to its tender ministrations, but rather that most social ills are best addressed by private citizens and organizations that actually care and that have to demonstrate success in order to earn our support. Perhaps we are getting enough confidence in ourselves as individuals that we don't feel we have to conform to authoritarian tendencies in order to be accepted but rather that we are gaining the courage to become free thinkers and free agents.

Which leads me to my final point. Conservatives and Christians have traditionally been associated with anti-Semitism and this has too often been the case. On the other hand liberals, and on the radical left the Communists, claimed to reject anti-Semitism and in the case of Communism, there was an attempt to eradicate anti-Semitism by eradicating religion all together.

Regardless of whether this was once true about conservatives, to whatever degree it may have once been true, it is no longer true that conservatives and Christians in this country are anti-Semitic. Sure, there will always be some conservatives and Christians who are anti-Semites. Man is not perfect and he will never be made perfect. But it should be acknowledged that the real nexus of anti-Semitism today is on the left. Anyone who went to one of those so-called anti-war rallies sponsored by International ANSWER, for example, saw disgusting displays of Jew hatred that were quite reminiscent of the atmosphere of the Nazi rallies of the 1930s. Jew hatred is inundating American campuses today. Europe hasn't been this bad since the year Hitler retreated to his Berlin bunker. The practitioners of this hate are overwhelmingly from the left side of the political spectrum and I think that Jews are quickly becoming cognizant of this fact. We once again find ourselves in a fatal embrace.

It is time to consider new ideas, ideas that many of us may have thought anathema even only a few years ago. Basic truths, for example, indicate that a policy of appeasement and surrender in America, in Israel and in the free world lead to violence and defeat, a fact of life that conservatives have always understand intrinsically. Big government programs at home generally serve to institutionalize whatever problem they claim to be addressing, and serve to primarily benefit the providers of those programs. Big government is costing the rest of us dearly in lost production, lost creativity, and lost freedom.

This is why I believe that Jews are turning toward a more genuine Jewish belief and outlook. This is why I believe that Jews are looking anew at the system that made this nation great and strong. This is why I believe that Jews are becoming more conservative.

Chuck Morse is the Republican candidate for Congress in the 4th congressional district of Massachusetts. This article is adapted from a speech Morse delivered at Congregation Kehillath Israel on December 2.

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