Politics and Judaism

Some important thoughts about Judaism and politics. If you believe that the Torah always supports your candidate’s political decisions, isn’t it possible that your political beliefs are what you follow, rather than Torah?

Page of Talmud
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I’ve asked several correspondents a simple question and received not one satisfactory answer: What policies do you support on major questions that differ with what you would believe if you were not a religious Jew? If Judaism supports all the policies you believe anyway, can’t you be at least a little suspicious that your politics are guiding your Torah, and not your Torah leading to your politics?

  • Rabbi David Wolpe, A response to my critics, 6/13/2017, Jewish Journal (California)
    He is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple.
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I am, by nature and disposition, a political centrist. That is to say, I lean mostly liberal on American domestic issues and am slightly more conservative on foreign-policy and security issues. Like Wolpe and Neusner, I wish that Jews on or near the political left would be more intellectually honest. As that Commentary symposium was published a half-century ago, it’s past time for us to admit that too often our political and social stances come first and are then followed by interpretations of Jewish texts that serve as post facto justification. Today, American Jews find themselves in sociological, economic, and political environments that are wholly unlike those of the Jewish past. While we can draw on the past for inspiration, there are very few policy recommendations to be found there.

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In 1966, Commentary published a symposium on “The Condition of Jewish Belief.” In it, Jacob Neusner captured the nature of the challenge we still face:

Judaism may provide political insight. It is to be discovered through a search for the political implications of its theology, surely not through a hunt for texts proving whatever we have already decided we want to do. We have not been sufficiently serious about either a study of Jewish tradition, or reflection upon Jewish realities today, to say just what political insight Judaism has now to offer.

  • Rabbi Jacob Neusner, “The Condition of Jewish Belief.”, Commentary, 1966

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