The Second Lady of these not entirely United States, Karen Pence, is being lambasted by the “enlightened” media for her decision to teach again in a Christian school that unabashedly professes biblical values. The school’s main crime seems to be its endorsement of marriage as the uniting of “one man and one woman in a single, exclusive covenant union.” This has aroused the ire not of advocates for polygamy but those for same sex marriage, apparently still unaware that the Bible repudiates those relationships. The reaction should send a chill down the spine of every faithful Jew. Karen Pence has committed the modern sin (one of the only sins still on the books) of embracing traditional concepts of sin; alas, the abolition of all forms of biblical sin is now deemed by the purveyors of today’s culture as sophisticated, liberating, avant-garde, and trendy.
She might be today’s target – but religious Jews are in their gun sights as well.
Most American Jews today are, sadly, unaware of the Torah’s morality, conflate it with secular progressivism at its worst, or reject it in whole or in part. Advocates for the new morality clamored for several years to have their seat at the table; having gained it, they now seek to drive traditionalists out of the house entirely. Increasingly, people of religious faith find their views mocked and scorned in the public domain, and accused of being haters by real haters of G-d, tradition, morality and common sense. All this was predictable. The quest for legitimacy was not simply about rights for some but about eradicating from society all traditional norms and public expressions thereof. Will it be long before religious schools are threatened by the government with revocation of their charters and denial of any government funds (even for religiously neutral activities) if they continue to teach certain biblical passages that reflect the moral mandates by which mankind lived and civilization prospered for thousands of years? It will happen, sooner rather than later.
This poses a particular dilemma for Jews. This will not be the first exile in our history in which the primary assault was on Jewish values. The so-called “Greek” exile, in which Jews in Israel were threatened by Hellenistic dominance, culminated in the rebellion whose victory is celebrated on Chanuka. That threat was almost entirely spiritual. Jews were allowed to live in the land of Israel with a functioning polity and Temple – as long as Hellenism was embraced. Greek culture was pluralistic in that sense. G-d could take His place among the pantheon of other gods, G-d forbid. To pious, faithful Jews, that was unbearable, and worth a war.
Its successor Roman culture similarly challenged Jewish values, even as Rome conquered the land of Israel, destroyed the Temple, exiled most Jews, and sought to suppress the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot. These cultural assaults on Jews were almost non-existent during the Christian and Muslim exiles, as both embraced biblical morality in some form but were antagonized by the Jews’ persistence in clinging to the Torah and not converting to their updated versions of the Torah. The hostility was physical, personal and religious, even as we shared similar values, more or less.
The 20th century saw again the rise of cultural challenges to Judaism, where the ethos of the Torah itself came under assault. While America was mostly accommodating, Europe collapsed under the weight of Nazism and Communism. The Nazi hatred for Judaism and Torah paralleled its barbarous hatred for Jews. But before and after the Holocaust, it was the Soviet Union that concentrated the brutal organs of its dictatorship on waging war against the Torah and those Jews who studied it and followed its precepts. The attempt to eliminate all traces of religion – and of the Torah as the source of all morality – was pervasive and relentless. The banning of the Jewish calendar, the teaching of Torah and even the Hebrew language, the prohibition on the performance of mitzvot and even the acknowledgment of fidelity to G-d greatly offended the state authorities who, as good atheists usually do, worshiped themselves and the works of their hands.
The Nazi system was destroyed seventy- five years ago and the Soviet Union imploded thirty years ago, but hatred of G-d and His morality has surfaced again, as it always must somewhere, in the form of new morality that has made personal freedom and individual autonomy the highest of all values. That notion is barely tolerable – but what has made it intolerable is the demand by these advocates of freedom that their freedom takes precedence over the freedom of others. Their insistence on living as they choose to live –marrying whomever they want, flaunting their lifestyles however they want – pales before their demand that everyone else accept it, embrace it, love it, promote it and utter nary a dissenting word.
And those who still dissent, nonetheless, will be shamed and victimized, pilloried and persecuted – from the bakers, florists and photographers who have had their personal autonomy trampled to the religious Jews and Christians whose expressions of faith and commitment to traditional morality mark them, in the thinking of the new Torquemadas, as haters and bigots.
All they lack is the official machinery of state power to enforce their doctrines at the point of a bayonet or under threat of riots and mobs that will harass every school, student, storekeeper or servant of G-d who resists and doesn’t comply. That is what they lack. So far.
George Washington said that “If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” The United States was founded, and became a haven for Jews and others, because of its firm commitment to the freedoms of speech, worship, religion, press, assembly and association. Those freedoms are being endangered by the progressive mob – and by the silence of those who have been intimidated by that mob. Undoubtedly, this clash of cultures is at the core of the polarization and discontent that is roiling America. The positive outcome of this clash is that leaders of various faith communities, whatever our other differences, have bonded together to confront this threat to universal morality and these attacks on religious faith. Again, to quote George Washington, “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
It is not unforeseeable that the culture and values of modern America may become so antithetical to Jewish life as to negate any benefits this exile provided in the past. It might make living a complete Torah life so difficult that many more Jews will be swept away by this torrent and divine service driven underground – as has happened to us before. Ironic, indeed, if this exile ends not because of a wave of physical persecution and limits to our freedom but by the excesses that freedom without responsibility, unmoored from its biblical origins, engendered, proliferated, inundated and overwhelmed this land, from sea to shining sea.