David G. Dalin
I strongly believe that religion should play a central role in American public life, that a multiplicity of religious symbols belong in the public square. I am not now (nor have I ever been) comfortable with the liberal Jewish position that religion and public life must remain rigidly distinct. I have never shared the strict separationist faith espoused by Leo Pfeffer (among others) that religious freedom is most secure where church and state are separated and least secure where government and religion are intertwined. On the contrary: I remain convinced that an American political culture uninformed by religious beliefs and symbols undermines the position of religiously observant Jews, and of other communities of faith, within American society. In their own self-interest, believing Jews should seek and applaud judicial decisions that permit far more, rather than less, accommodation of religion in public life. They should, moreover, applaud the decisions of those courts and judges that have recognized that although certain practices arising out of the requirements of Jewish religious law may conflict with society’s normal practices, these requirements are entitled to reasonable accommodation. (Those judicial decisions of recent years that have affirmed that employers must attempt to make “reasonable accommodations” to the religious needs of employees and, in so doing, have upheld the free exercise claims of Jewish sabbath and holiday observers, are a case in point.) Instead of fighting for the elimination of religious symbols in the public arena, more Jewish leaders ought to be fighting (as some already have) for “equal time” for Jewish symbols, for the “free exercise” of religion through laws and judicial rulings designed to make it easier for observant Jews to uphold the tenets of their faith. As much, perhaps, as any other church-state question, the issue of religious symbols on public property has generated increasing concern and debate within the American Jewish community in recent years. This concern has derived, in part, from the growing recognition that the triumph of strict separationism as a legal doctrine, with its promise to expunge all religious symbols from the public arena, may actually infringe upon the free exercise of religion cherished by American Jews. The 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Goldman V. Weinberger is illustrative of this tendency, one too often ignored by liberal Jewish adherents to the prevailing separationist faith. Simcha Goldman, an Orthodox Jew and ordained rabbi serving as a clinical psychologist in an Air Force hospital, wore a yarmulke at all times and contended that an Air Force dress code regulation which forbade the wearing of “headgear” (such as a yarmulke) while indoors infringed upon his First Amendment right to free exercise of his religious belief. The Supreme Court, however, upheld the Air Force regulation, implying that to do otherwise would violate the separation of church and state. The First Amendment’s free exercise protection, ruled the court, did not require the military to accommodate Captain Goldman’s religious obligation. Implicit in the doctrine of church-state separation that the Supreme Court enforced in this case is the assumption that religious symbols such as the yarmulke, while appropriate for private religious devotion in home or synagogue, have no legitimate place in any public institution. The Supreme Court’s denial of Simcha Goldman’s exercise of his religious obligation to wear a yarmulke is, it seems to me, but one recent and especially troubling example of what the Pfefferian ideal of strict separationism has wrought. Another troubling example has involved the unbending efforts of liberal Jewish organizations to keep religious symbols, such as the crèche and menorah, outside the public arena. Recently, however, the traditional liberal Jewish opposition to the public display of religious symbols has been countered by a growing demand on the part of many Jews for “equal time” for specifically Jewish symbols. With the recent Supreme Court ruling in the case of Allegheny County v. ACLU, I believe a new and exciting chapter in the church-state debate may be evolving around Jewish attempts in Pittsburgh and other places to legitimate the display of Jewish religious symbols in the public square. The cases in question have to do with the constitutional propriety of placing a Hanukkah menorah in front of a public building or in a public park. Jewish opponents of these displays have argued that “since there is no religious need to place sacred symbols of any faith on public property . . . there is no religious need to be accommodated by the government.” Other Jews, including this writer, believe that such a compelling religious need indeed exists. Especially so, as in the Allegheny case, where religious symbols of differing faiths”the Hanukkah menorah and Christmas tree”are displayed side by side. When there are a multiplicity of religious symbols in the public square, the government is not favoring one religion over another but rather is expressing equal respect for all religious faiths. Promoting harmony among religious groups is profoundly different from the “establishing” of one religion that the First Amendment forbids. By giving a Jewish religious display “equal time” with a Christian one, Pittsburgh was showing the very “neutrality with regard to all religions” that the First Amendment was enacted to guarantee. As a religiously observant Jew, I find this a welcome, and compelling argument that other Jewish believers, of all denominations, should be able to support and applaud. It is my hope, moreover, that this argument may be reflected in a continuing shift away from the strict separationist ideal that has for so long guided (and often misguided) Supreme Court rulings on church-state issues. I believe it should be the shared hope and prayer of religious believers of all faiths that the Allegheny County decision may usher in a new post-separationist era in church-state relations in America, an era characterized by a greater spirit of accommodation of religion by government, wherein a multitude of religious symbols and concerns may help to transform and reshape our public life. David G. Dalin, an ordained rabbi, teaches American Jewish history at the University of Hartford. His book From Marxism to Judaism: The Collected Essays of Will Herberg, was published last year. The editors of First Things thank Rabbi Dalin, a member of the First Things Editorial Advisory Board, for his help in planning and organizing this symposium.
Marc D. Stern
The jumping-off point for this symposium is the contention that Jews are “increasingly contending for equal time’ in law and government programs that encourage rather than restrict the role of religion in public life.” Both the poll evidence and the evidence of organizational behavior belie the existence of such a shift. No Jewish organization supported the Equal Access Act, which wrote the equal time principle into law and allowed religious students a platform from which to inject religion into the public high school environment. None supported giving creationism equal time with evolution. None supported ending the special status religious individuals enjoyed under the Free Exercise Clause in favor of a new rule that treats religious and nonreligious citizens equally. There are good reasons for the Jewish community’s refusal to adopt equality as the overriding principle for defining religion’s public role. Shortly after the Supreme Court upheld the equal access law, fundamentalist and evangelical groups announced campaigns to spread the gospel in the public schools. Describing the decision, one group dedicated to encouraging that effort has written, “God has opened up a huge mission field. Our missionaries to this field must be our high school students. They can reach their generation for Jesus.” Equality that encourages such activity is no boon to Jews. Some Orthodox groups have sought to ensure “equal treatment or encouragement of religion in public life.” That is surely true of the Lubavitch’s campaign to erect menorahs at government sites, or of its support for moments of silent prayer, or, for the broader Orthodox community, support for aid to parochial schools. These efforts represent the voice of, at most, 10 percent of American Jewry. And the fact is that even within Orthodoxy there are sharp and deep disagreements about the wisdom of these efforts, of which only Lubavitch’s really represents a desire to increase government involvement with religion. The rest of the Orthodox community is motivated by the very different principle of equality, or sheer necessity, not any independent judgment about the desirability of increased public involvement with religion. In short, if there is any wholesale shift of Jewish opinion on church-state issues from a separationist point of view to an equal treatment or greater involvement point of view, it is not yet visible. It would indeed be startling if Jews were seeking to inject religion into the public life of the nation when for American Jewry as a whole religion has less significance than ever. This is not to say that equality is not a religious clause value for most Jews. There is a unanimity that synagogues cannot be denied benefits accorded churches. Almost certainly, had the Supreme Court given unqualified approval to the display of crèches, Jews would have demanded equal treatment for menorahs. That demand would have represented not the view that it was healthy for government to be involved with religion, or that the public square needs greater input from religion, but the bedrock view of Jews that they should not allow themselves to be treated as second-class citizens. Equality between religious and nonreligious, however, is simply not the only, or even the most important, value for American Jews. The substantive question posed is what ought to be the role of religion in American public life. That question could mean three different things: it could refer to the problem of church-state relations”prayer in the schools, religious holiday observances, and the like. The current rule has on the whole served the Jewish community well. Beyond such pragmatic considerations lies an ethical one: it is right that in a society as diverse as this government should not inject itself into religious matters. And it is hard to see any great benefit to religion from the use of opening prayers. In God We Trust, or other ceremonial notations of religious influence. Such events only trivialize religion, contributing a patina of piety, not its reality. Or the question posed might be whether the government ought to be especially tolerant of religious practices by exempting them, if at all practicable, from restrictions imposed by laws of general applicability. Here, the situation has been unsatisfactory ever since the Supreme Court’s “peyote” decision ( Employment Division v. Smith ) which held that the Free Exercise Clause did not mandate such accommodation. The organized Jewish community was for many years not sufficiently interested in the problems of the religiously observant. If Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg is correct in describing the Jewish community as increasingly divorced from any substantial religious impulse (a description I believe to be correct), this lack of interest is hardly surprising. But what I suspect the question means is yet a third thing: whether religious leaders ought to inject their religious views into political debates over the secular issues confronting society. Jews of all stripes in fact do just that: Orthodox Jews in the name of halakha. Reform Jews under the rubric of the prophetic tradition. Even secular umbrella groups such as the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Committee invoke the Jewish tradition as justification for involvement in public affairs. Aside from a few early hypocritical denunciations of the religious right (and occasional critiques of anti-abortion activists), the Jewish community as a whole has not challenged such activity, even when it disagrees with the substance of what is said. It is not at all clear that this involvement under the rubric of religion produces very much or has significant impact on the real world. Despite the celebratory claims of Allen Hertzke in Representing God in Washington: The Role of Religious Lobbies in the American Polity, I do not believe that American religious groups have any large impact on issues other than legislation directly affecting the religious community as such. At most, religious advocacy gives moral legitimacy to policy urged on other (secular) grounds. On rare occasions that may be significant, but these cases are only a small percentage of the matters in which a religious voice is heard. There is uncertainty within the Jewish community over how far religious leaders should go in advocating religious positions. May they use religious language? What are appropriate means of speech? What claim do ministers have on their adherents, whether legislators or government officials? Governor Cuomo, and before him President Kennedy, insisted that the answer was easy”that other than in their private lives, the clergy had no claim to control the action of public officials. That answer has the advantage of simplicity and of avoiding religious warfare and quasi-theocracies. But it also means that public officials must be religiously schizophrenic. Still, it seems advisable under present conditions for religious leaders as a matter of prudence not to seek to hold officeholders to religious discipline. The debate over the appropriate role of religion in the public square was the most interesting church-state controversy of the 1980s. That debate led to no clear answers, which is not a particularly troubling situation. The fact is that there are conflicting policies and pressures involving a balance among competing interests of religious freedom, pluralism, freedom of speech, and civility. It is instructive that while Richard John Neuhaus made a manful effort in his Naked Public Square, he was never quite able to explain”even, if I understand him, to his own satisfaction”what the implementation of his thesis calling for greater religious involvement in the public square would mean for religious minorities. For Jews, that is no minor objection to advocacy of greater political activity by religious groups. Probably the best that we as a society can do is muddle through, giving due regard for the conflicting interests. In a way, however, the issue is an unfortunate distraction from more pressing realities. There is no lack of religious voice in American society. There is real lack of religious influence. In part, this is because of the give and take of the legislative process, a give and take for which the absolute commands of religious ethics are ill-matched. But the problem goes beyond that. It is that religion’s pronouncements do not generate deep commitments. The question for churches is how to persuade people that their pronouncements are weighty and deserving of implementation. How can religion speak to a society whose organs of communication are secular (and in which religious affairs receive relatively little coverage), a society whose values are pragmatic and short-term, where the commitment to religion is increasingly superficial, where most of the roles that religion once filled”whether setting moral standards, providing social services, or providing community”are now filled by groups and institutions in which religion doesn’t play a role? The immediate problem, then, for religion is to persuade internally before turning to the public square. It is ultimately by persuading their adherents that religious groups will have influence, not by getting on the evening news. I am not calling for a retreat into purely personal piety or a mystical insistence on communing with the Divine to the exclusion of all else, nor do I believe that the secular world is corrupt and beyond redemption. Rather, the question is where struggles for religious influence should be fought”whether the primary forum ought to be the public square. The public square is attractive and beguiling; it offers mass audiences, and the illusion of fame. What it does not offer for religious leaders is a substantial chance of success. That lies in creating communities of believers. This prescription depends on the existence of religious institutions with the wherewithal to demonstrate the viability of alternatives to the prevailing secular morality, and the legal freedom to implement those lifestyles as much as possible. Both of these preconditions are now in substantial doubt. Here, then, is the future of church-state relations. And on this turns the future of religious influence on the public square. Marc D. Stern is Co-Director of the Commission on Law and Social Action for the American Jewish Congress.
Secular Jewish activists have been doing both America and American Jewry great harm in their unrelenting war against any manifestation of religion outside the church or synagogue and the home. The harm to Jews has been the raising of a generation of “Jews for Nothing.” I deliberately choose this phrase because many American Jews resent”correctly, I believe””Jews for Jesus.” Yet Jewish fears of “Jews for Jesus” have been utterly disproportionate to the threat. The few “Jews for Jesus” are a negligible threat to Jewish welfare and survival, while Jews for Nothing pose an almost fatal threat to American Jewry. The harm to American society at large is that we have been also raising non-Jews with no commitments to anything higher than themselves. And when these products of our secular world do have commitments, they are increasingly to trees and to sea otters rather than to humans, and certainly not to anything so quaint as God, character development, or the holy. In lectures to American Jews, one of the points I emphasize is the tragic irony that the Jews, the people who brought God into the world, are today among the leaders of virtually every American movement dedicated to removing God and religion from the world. To cite one of too many possible examples, a Jewish organization, the aggressively secularist American Jewish Congress, welcomed the Supreme Court ruling upholding a state ban on the posting of the Ten Commandments in public high schools. We Jews gave the world the Ten Commandments, and the secular Jews of the American Jewish Congress and the non-Jewish Jews of the ACLU devote their lives to taking them back. How and why this happened is a theme that Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and I developed in the chapter on non-Jewish Jews in our book Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism. Suffice it to say here that activist secular Jews are highly religious and they do profoundly believe in shaping society according to their beliefs. The problem is that their religion is not Judaism. It is liberalism. Liberalism possesses every characteristic of a religion, with the exception of God-based ethics. Liberalism is a leap of faith (to, for example, the inherent goodness of man); it offers idealistic passion and a community of fellow true believers (in the myriad liberal organizations). It offers commitments to things higher than self; it even has saints (liberal heroes and liberal organizations such as the ACLU) and of course villains (conservatives, particularly neo-conservatives, Ronald Reagan). It has its own sacred scriptures (e.g., the Constitution), its inviolable laws (just as Orthodox Jews venerate and rely on halakha, liberal Jews venerate and rely on American law), and even a Devil who causes all evil (socioeconomic forces). Thus, before addressing the question of how religion should enter into public life, it is imperative that we recognize two things: First, secular religion, i.e., liberalism, has no problem whatsoever with imposing its agenda on American life. If liberalism could be officially listed as a religion, we could then use the separation of church and state clause against liberal authoritarianism just as liberals use it against religious authoritarianism. Second, were it not for the Judeo-Christian tradition (I am quite aware of the many differences between Judaism and Christianity, but I am equally well aware of the values that the two religions share), America would have been a moral and economic wasteland. And that is precisely what America will become without religion. Having said this, I do wish to emphasize the importance of separating church and state. The mixture of the two has never been good, not historically in Christendom, and not today in Israel. It is also particularly bad for religion, which becomes weak and corrupt when it can rely on the state for its force. The dilemma is then quite clear: without religious values, America will rapidly crumble, yet the state and religion must be kept separate. How can we reconcile these divergent realities? The answer lies in one of the least common traits in contemporary American life”moderation. The secular government must bold as an American value that cultivating religion is a good thing for purely practical reasons. Even an atheist can acknowledge the negative ramifications of the death of God in society”e.g., the late Michael Harrington in his book The Politics at God’s Funeral. That is why this Jew has no problem with a crèche at city hall. Only secular extremists can find offense in such an innocuous governmental display of religion. (But have you noticed that there is no such thing in the American lexicon as secular extremists, only religious extremists?) Not only does this Jew not object to a crèche in city ball, I think it can actually benefit Jews. I want Jewish children to ask their parents questions about who they are. Quite aside from my belief that a vibrant Christianity is indispensable to American life, I want Christianity to be vibrant in America for selfish Jewish reasons: When the non-Jews are religious, the Jews stay Jewish; and when the majority culture believes in nothing, most Jews will believe in nothing. Thus, I want Christians to fight the battle against abortion on demand even though, as a Jew, I strongly disagree about abortion being murder. For the secular liberal view of the fetus as of no more value than a decayed tooth”what else can “a woman can do what she wants with her own body” mean?”is frightening. Moreover, that Jewish organizations should hold such a position constitutes one of the gravest Jewish sins, a khillul Hashem (desecration of God’s name). I want the Ten Commandments taught, not just displayed, in public schools. I do not want young people to get a secular brainwash, going from kindergarten through college without once having been challenged to look at life through religious eyes. Most of all, I want religious men and women to advocate religion in the public square (not through government). But I mean religion, not liberalism and not conservatism. When the National Conference of Catholic Bishops sounds identical to Jesse Jackson and the secular left on the role of American force in a world of evil, I wonder whether this is Catholicism or liberalism that I am hearing. When Protestants start flirting with or even embracing pacifism, a doctrine that holds that it is morally preferable to allow Dr. Mengele to continue to perform medical experiments on men, women, and children than it is to kill him, I see why many people regard liberal Protestantism as secularism with Christ’s name added on. My ideal is a secular government and a religious society. But with every passing day I see America moving further and further from this ideal, becoming militantly, nihilistically secular. Only if Jews and Christians begin pointing out that it is not socioeconomic conditions but the decline of religion that is the greatest single cause of the moral decline of our country do we have a prayer. Without doing so, prayer won’t help. Dennis Prager is coauthor of The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism and of Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism. He also has his own program on KABC Radio in Los Angeles.
I do not share the assumption that more Jews are having “second thoughts” about the relationship between church and state. In my personal experience in organized Jewish life, there is no major shift. No doubt many in orthodox Jewish groups desire a breakdown in the wall between church and state, but the mainstream liberal Jewish organizations continue to maintain the old position. They do so with good reason. It is in the self-interest of minority religions to uphold the separation principle embedded in the First Amendment. Breach the constitutional barrier, and dominant religious forces will flood the schools and public life with the majoritarian religious beliefs of the day. There will soon be no breathing space for minority voices. There is nothing inherently cynical in alluding to Jewish self-interest. It is an interest shared by all the other minority voices in the country. It is, in essence, shorthand for a description of the core purpose of the First Amendment, whether in free speech or in religious expression and the separation principle. That core is the protection of the minority in fundamental matters from the oppression of the majority, no matter bow sincerely or passionately the majority makes its claims. Indeed, in affairs of religion, passionate sincerity is present more often than not. In a democratic society that passion will always lead to excesses, unless checked by the anti-majoritarian principles of the First Amendment. I believe that some Jewish conservatives, or neoconservatives, have been influenced by the 1980s rhetoric of Christian conservatives calling for the return to traditional values. I need not remind the readers of this journal of the argument which suggests that morality in private life can be restored only if religion is returned to the public square. It is based on a kind of Aristotelian notion that the state has the opportunity and responsibility to develop a cohesive moral order. This is in conflict with modern libertarian ideas that men and women should be free, as John Stuart Mill put it, to express themselves in word and action so long as they do not harm another. I do not share the conservative faith in the wisdom of the state. Modern experience with the cruel excesses of state power has taught us the value of government restraint in areas of personal belief and action. Belief in the beneficent role of government, intermixed with religion, embodies a nostalgic longing for an imagined premodern golden age where religious leaders led the common populace in a private (and public) life of piety centered in the happy nuclear family. If ever there was such a world”and I doubt it”it cannot be introduced in modern Western society without coercive government suppression of heretical (as the government sees them) movements. There is a passionate diversity in religious belief. For example. Orthodox Jewry, the Catholic leadership, and other religious orthodoxies belittle the role of women in religious leadership. Reform and Orthodox Jewish groups and other religious groups differ deeply over the legitimacy of homosexuality. Reform and Orthodox Jews cannot even agree as to who is a Jew. In the current Gulf crisis and other crises, different religious groups argue over the moral legitimacy of the use of military force. What religion, then, do we bring into the schools and American public life? The answer, tragically, will be the religious belief that the dominant majority endorses. Another obvious example of the dangers of religion in public life is the abortion issue. Catholic prelates, driven by fundamental belief, have threatened to excommunicate Catholic politicians who do not toe the line on this great debate. Fortunately, their effort at creating conformity appears to have failed. But their campaign is an indication of the kinds of censorship that will ultimately be brought to bear on minorities if religion is introduced as an instrument of proper belief into the schools and public life. Unfortunately, Jews have only to look at Israel for a lesson in the dangers that religion in public life can bring. In Israel, Jews are the dominant majority. Religious leaders, under a complex set of laws and customs, have a powerful grip on the role of religious life in the public square. Marriage, divorce, and family life are largely subject to the dominant religious voices, which in Israel happen to be those of the Orthodox. As a result, although Israel is the only democracy in the region, the freedoms we are accustomed to in the United States as a consequence of the First Amendment are diminished. Indeed, my sense is that American Jews, and many citizens of Israel, are having second thoughts about this problem, which they view as equal in significance to the Israel-Palestinian issue. Nicholas Wolfson is the Ellen Ash Peters Professor of Law, University of Connecticut School of Law. His most recent book is Corporate First Amendment Rights and the SEC.
It has been said before, and needs to be said again: The trouble is not that religion in general has too small a role in American public life or American life simply. The trouble is that a particular religion has too great a role”paganism, the de facto established religion. When dissenters pleaded that it is no business of government to endow art like Robert Mapplethorpe’s, all they got for their pains was a derisory token victory and the expectable disdain of the New York Times. Let historicists wince at statements that begin, “Judaism is.” Judaism is against paganism. Ha-yehudi, “the Jew,” occurs six times in Scripture, only in the book of Esther and always in apposition to “Mordecai,” who is also once “a Jewish man” and once “a Jew.” In Rabbi Johanan’s exegesis (Megillah 13a), Mordecai is so insistently called a Jew “because he abjured paganism [avodah zarah], for everyone who abjures paganism is called a Jew; as is written (Daniel 3:12): . . . Jews . . . serve not thy gods nor worship the golden image which thou has set up.’ “For the Rabbis, as for Scripture, the essence of paganism is unchastity. In Leviticus 18 the unchastities forbidden to Israel are not merely the practices of the Egyptian and Canaanite pagans but actually their laws (huqqot = Septuagint’s nomima): paganism does more than tolerate, it demands unchastity. Rabbinically, only paganism’s licentiousness explains its appeal. About Israelite paganism in the age of the First Temple, “Rabbi Judah said, citing Rav: Israel knew that avodah zarah has no substance. They adopted avodah zarah only in order to give themselves license for overt sexual transgression” (Sanhedrin 63b). For the most solemn possible abjuration of paganism/unchastity, therefore, the Rabbis ordained Leviticus 18 to be read in the synagogue toward the close of Yom Kippur. (Was it in Queen Victoria’s reign that Reform, fearing that Leviticus 18 might bring a blush to the cheek of the young person, banished it in favor of selected verses from 19? The delayed payoff for a heteroclite rabbinate now is that 18:22 need never be heard by its congregations.) The honorific subtitle of the historian Peter Gay’s Enlightenment is the Rise of Modern Paganism. The Enlightenment’s project was liberal”to liberate us for the pursuit of our happiness”but some of what began as liberal has become libertine, and libertinism has brought enslavement and misery more than it has brought liberation and happiness: AIDS, kids who have kids, the vanishing father. First the French Revolution devoured its children, then the Bolshevik Revolution, and now the sexual revolution. Drugs, too, are a pagan devourer. In Judaism, you are equally forbidden to injure yourself and your neighbor, but in paganism, you own your body and are free to inflict on it any injury you wish. With less paganism and less of its bitter fruit, the country would be less diseased, less fear-ridden, less ignorant, less poor. Surely all must agree that American Jewry should try to help bring that about? As the Duke of Wellington said about something else: If you can believe that, you can believe anything. A New York Times editorial being sacred writ, if the Times says so then government must endow exhibits that “documented a sadomasochistic homosexual subculture.” We have not yet been instructed about endowing exhibits that documented a sadomasochistic Aryan National subculture. In Cincinnati, a curator was tried for obscenity because his museum defended the cause of Art by showing the Mapplethorpe collection. (He was acquitted, the jury deferring to its betters about “What Is Art?”) One expert witness testified for the defense that the photograph of a penis with a finger inserted into it “was a very ordered, classical composition” and that another photograph, of an arm in an anus, was formally similar to the photograph of a flower. In the opinion of the Times’ photography editor, the curator of a university museum “came closest to the truth when she told the prosecutor . . . , It’s the tension between the physical beauty of the photograph and the brutal nature of what’s going on in it that gives it the particular quality that this work of art has.’ “ The prosecutor failed to ask her a hypothetical question: What would be her expert opinion of a photograph in which there was tension between its beauty and the brutal nature of what was going on in a Nazi torture chamber? When the esthetic and the ethical (or moral) conflict, as they do here, paganism sides with the esthetic and Judaism with the ethical. In the nineteenth century, Matthew Arnold’s Hellenism/Hebraism and Samuel David Luzzatto’s Atticism/Abrahamism drew that distinction. (In the twelfth century, Judah Ha-levi’s Kuzari drew it.) In Arnold’s time he thought that Hebraism pressed too hard on Hellenism. Now the effortless low paganism that ousted his kind of Hellenism presses much harder on Hebraism, but American Jews do not champion Hebraism in its distress. They champion separationism”separation of church and state elevated almost to the rank of summum bonum ”and separationism favors paganism. Responding to the backward who say that a Christ-in-urine is not what government should endow, the Establishment shudders at the censorship of not giving an artist the money he applies for. (Besides, it was only a tiny fraction of the Arts budget.) If, implausibly, the tiny fraction had endowed art for a church or synagogue, that would have been an unforgivable breach in the Wall of Separation. Whether the money was much or little would not matter, principle would be at stake. The money must be returned, the guilty exposed, watchdogs posted. It would be funny if it were not so sad. I first published my objections to the separationist dogma of the American Jewish community almost twenty-five years ago, and I have since called American Jews diehard conservatives. We have seen the unimaginable become real, the impossible become actual, the obdurate become yielding: Berlin wall down, statues of Lenin toppled, the triumphant religion of Marxism-Leninism in ruins. Can American Jewry, uniquely, hold out against necessary change? British Jews are always puzzled by what they take to be our fuss about separation. They do not mind at all that their Chief Rabbi is in the House of Lords. In France and its Jewish community separationism was once even more deeply rooted than in the United States and its Jewish community, but a Chief Rabbi of France once told me how disappointed he was to find American Jews still vigorously separationist. In substance, he said: “Don’t they realize how that has fostered irreligion””he meant paganism””and how that in turn has fostered crime and every other evil? In France we realize it.” I have forgotten what I told him, but I remember wondering what he would have said if he had been Ashkenazi. Tiqqûn means “setting right, repairing, correcting, perfecting.” For Jews on the left who like to give a Jewish cast to their politics, the tradition’s tiqqun olam, “setting the world right,” means whatever is on the left’s agenda, and the problem of paganism never is. In the tradition itself the Alenu prayer (which Solomon Schechter called the Jewish “Marseillaise”) has this: “ . . . in hope we wait, O Lord our God, . . . for Thee to remove the idols from the earth, the no-gods being utterly cut down, to taqqen olam bemalkhut Shaddai set the world right by the Almighty’s kingship . . . .” The prayer ends in two verses from Scripture: “The Lord shall reign for ever and ever” (Exodus 15:18) and “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one” (Zechariah 14:9). Tiqqûn olam is tiqqûn from paganism. When will the Synagogue Council, the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, ADL, and the two AJCs each appoint its Task Force on Combating Paganism? We should live so long. Are Jews unlikely to bestir themselves soon to seek relief and deliverance from paganism and its bitter fruit? Then let us hope with Mordecai that “relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter.” Milton Himmelfarb is a former Director of Research for the American Jewish Committee and a former Editor of the American Jewish Year Book. He is author of The Jews of Modernity.
I am proud to be”and always have been”an antidisestablishmentarianist. This was, in my grade-school days, the longest English word we could imagine. No one seemed to know what it meant, and I surely never dreamed I would describe myself as one. But that is what I am. The strict separationists”those who condemn every financial or ceremonial link of government with religion”have succeeded in persuading the courts over the past half-century to dismantle or forbid any church-state association that might be viewed as an “establishment of religion.” Their success has, I think, crippled Judaism in the United States. Rather than stimulating Jewish identity, observance, and pride, the national Jewish organizations have promoted Jewish ignorance, indifference, and insecurity by their determined campaign to eliminate religion from public life. It was momentarily satisfying for me to win in the Supreme Court, against the opposition of the Jewish disestablishmentarianists, the right to display a menorah in front of a city hall. I recognize that while we prevailed in a small battle, they have won the war. Twenty years ago, when I wrote the amicus curiae brief for the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs (COLPA) in the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman ”the landmark case on aid to parochial schools”I truly believed we could win. We argued a constitutional proposition that seemed right to me then and seems right to me today. We claimed that it was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to require religious parents, who are conscientiously bound to send their children to religious schools, to pay taxes for public education (which they cannot enjoy) if their religious schools are not compensated for the cost of teachers in secular programs that are required by state law. I still remember my great disappointment in reading Chief Justice Burger’s opinion in Lemon, but I hoped then that we would, some day, have a Supreme Court majority that would recognize the paramount importance of the Free Exercise Clause. The current conservative Court majority has taken a different and unexpected tack, instead of strengthening the Free Exercise Clause and diminishing the Establishment Clause, it has chosen to strangle the former and starve the latter. The Oregon peyote decision suddenly eradicated the Free Exercise Clause. With all the advance notice of Pearl Harbor and with no relevant request from any party in the case or from any amicus, Justice Antonin Scalia and four of his brethren obliterated the few Supreme Court precedents that protect religious observers and gave lower courts, as well as federal agencies, free rein to override the good-faith claims of religious minorities. This ominous development heightens the need for Jews to ensure that we and our institutions remain visible. If the Constitution, as presently interpreted, gives the courts no power to guarantee the observance of our religion, we must be certain that other societal institutions give us latitude and visibility. Jewish adults and children feel they are part of America and its culture when they see a municipality’s Hanukkah menorah. A land with so celebrated a tradition of religious diversity may surely signify its respect for the conscientious convictions of its citizens. Judaism will survive in the United States, notwithstanding the lure of assimilation, if Jewish identity is respected and Jewish learning encouraged. Prohibiting all public acknowledgments of Judaism and barring any possible public benefits to Jewish institutions conveys the wrong message to America’s Jews. It tells them to hang, rather than lift, their heads. Nathan Lewin is a Washington attorney who has been a Vice President of COLPA since 1969 and has litigated a number of religious liberty cases in the Supreme Court.
Jonathan D. Sarna
In a petition to the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in 1787, the German-Jewish immigrant Jonas Phillips enunciated what to my mind should still be the proper approach of American Jews to the question of religion in American life. “The Israeletes,” he wrote, “will think them self happy to live under a government where all Relegious societies are on an Eaquel footing.” Two centuries later, we know how difficult even this seemingly simple goal has been to achieve. Equal footing, after all, clashes with basic American notions of majority rule. Why should majority faiths have to accommodate themselves to minority ones? Doesn’t democracy imply that it is the minority faiths that need to adapt? While the First Amendment would seem to provide the answer to these objections by limiting majority rule in the case of fundamental freedoms, minority faiths in America know all too well that even constitutional guarantees are not iron-clad. Through the years, zealous legislators have, among other things, forced Catholics to fund Protestant public schools, Jews to conform to sectarian Sunday laws, non-Christians to recognize the national holiday of Christmas, and Mormons and Indians to observe laws of the state rather than the requirements of their faith. Had some political leaders been successful, the Constitution itself would now be Christian, complete with a Christological amendment that would, in effect, have made some Americans more equal than others. It is on account of this zeal that many American Jews late in the nineteenth century abandoned their longstanding commitment to equal footing and forged a new alliance with advocates of strict church-state separation. Only a complete divorce between government and religion, they came to believe, could prevent the kind of abuses that would otherwise transform America into a bigoted Christian state. The “wall of separation between church and state” that Thomas Jefferson invoked in his famous 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists became Jews’ new rallying cry. In the twentieth century, led by lawyers like Leo Pfeffer, Jews and like-minded Americans fought through the courts to translate this ill-defined wall into a hardy bulwark of constitutional law. Like many young American Jews, I too grew up believing in this “Wall of Separation””so much so that I was convinced it had been written into the Constitution itself. The Justices of the Supreme Court in those days were our heroes. We cheered as they decided one case after another in “our favor,” further separating religion from the state. Indeed, we fervently looked forward to the day when religion would be totally confined to home and house of worship, and the state would be divorced from religion altogether”better that, we believed, than state-sponsored Christianity. What we did not know (how could we, it was not taught in our schools), and what I myself came only to appreciate much later, was how valuable and vital a force religion has been in American life. Antislavery, Progressive-era reforms, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam movement, the movement to aid Soviet Jews”all depended, in significant part, on religious activism within the public square. In addition, religious leaders have played a critical role (although, alas, not recently) in promoting high standards of ethics and morality. Historically, they have served as behavioral role models, speaking out fearlessly on behalf of “good government” and against social corruption. Were these, I asked myself, the kinds of activities that I wanted now to curtail by restricting religion to home and to church? More recently, it has struck me that the separationist ideal, essentially a theory of separate spheres, reflects an ideology that I and most of my friends have long since rejected. At one time, a large number of American Jews fervently believed that one should be a Jew at home and a person like everybody else on the outside. My generation, however, vigorously dissented from this view; we wore our Judaism on the outside too. Since we no longer confined our Judaism to home and house of worship (any more than we confined our wives to “women’s sphere”), had we any right to expect others to do differently? Clearly, the whole basis of “strict separation,” with its assumption that religion and state should occupy completely different spheres of life, needed to be rethought. Nevertheless, I today still worry about state-sponsored Christianity. I continue to fear that some of those who pay lip service to “religion in American life” really have in mind one religion”and not mine. I know that even in this, the bicentennial of the First Amendment, numbers of Americans would, given the chance, write their religion into American law. But I also know that religions of every sort need to be nurtured in America. They strengthen the fabric of American life and promote social betterment. Strict separation is neither possible nor desirable. Religion is much too valuable and all-encompassing to be restricted to a “separate sphere” of its own. My own vision resembles instead the hope expressed by Jonas Phillips back in 1787: to live in an America where people of all faiths stand on an equal footing. Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and author of American Jews and Church-State Relations: The Search for “Equal Footing.”
My thinking about the role of religion in public life has been influenced by wildly different forces. First there was the Vietnam war and the Kulturkampf it unleashed in America, which released me from an undifferentiated Milwaukee childhood into the late 1960s stampede of many Americans to find an alternative identity that was not primarily American, with all the ugly imperialistic resonances and responsibilities the name implied. With America seen as a global oppressor, I sought refuge in my Jewish identity. The comforting and conveniently guilt-free identity of the Jew as victim was, in my mind at least, immune to the facts of Jewish power and acceptance in America. In that guilt-ridden time I needed to cloak myself in the moral innocence of a victim. I became a Jewish Radical, one of the many hyphenated rebels of that tumultuous time. The one virtue of this charade was that I came to consciousness believing that my religious identity and my sense of political activism were utterly intertwined. My socialism at the time included more quotations from Isaiah than Marx, which was fair enough because my Judaism included more quotations from Marx than from Isaiah. However infantile my theology and my political theories may have been, I believed then, and I believe now, that God commands us to speak the truth of our faith both in our home and on our way, both when we lie down and when we rise up. A religion that does not matter in the streets cannot matter in the pews. I had no real idea at the time how all this played out. I was satisfied simply to trail the Movement providing biblical and talmudic quotes to justify what the left was going to do anyway. I left the left when I perceived it as turning against Israel. What I felt among my comrades was the strong and frankly anti-Semitic impulse to blame Jews once we were no longer victims. Oppressive Arab dictatorships received nothing like the calumny which the left heaped on democratic Israel, and I resented it deeply. I retain my sympathy for the Palestinian people, but from my vantage point I remain unconvinced that a true Palestinian moderate leader can survive and be followed. Clearly it was my Jewish identity that compelled me to alter my political identity. In other times the opposite would no doubt have occurred. The second blow from the left came when the black power movement in America turned its back on whites and, with special vitriol, Jews. This was a bitter time for me. My first rabbinic mentor had been fired from his pulpit because he decided to march with Rev. King in the South. I felt deeply proud of the Jewish contributions to the civil rights movement. I considered Schwerner and Goodman to be martyrs, not just political victims. My hero. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, marched with King in Selma not as a token Jew but as a trusted partner in the struggle. The civil rights movement was for me redolent with religious meaning and metaphor. For me King was primarily a Reverend, not a Doctor. I felt then and I feel now that it was the power of his faith more than the power of his political ideology that accounted both for his political successes and certainly his oratorical passion. When the civil rights movement was taken over by secular black radicals, that religious vision faded and the movement collapsed. It left me with the lesson that a religious vision is essential to overcoming the social ills of America. I believed then and I believe now that the forces of goodness and understanding, of toleration and justice, must find their authentic religious roots again before the tree of social justice will once more bear fruit. Then I began to think about fetuses. I thought about them first in the context of my doctoral dissertation in Philosophy, and later as a Jew and as a recovering American. To my shock and amazement, the more I thought about it the more I realized that my liberal and radical friends had gotten the abortion thing all wrong. This struggle for a woman’s right to have an abortion when the pregnancy does not threaten her life or her health does not feel like the struggle to get Rosa Parks a place on the Montgomery bus or James Meredith a place in the University of Mississippi. Those struggles were full of the aroma of justice overcoming bigotry. This struggle smells like a fight to keep women and men from accepting the consequences of sexual promiscuity. How narrow and selfish that seems to me now. I was bewildered that so many of my Movement friends could not translate their compassion and peacefulness, their regard for life and health, into compassion for fetuses who, despite their disputed moral status before birth, would eventually and surely become persons with the right to find a life for themselves too. I suspected that the primary reason for the blindness of the left on abortion was the instinctive cultural disdain felt for prolife advocates. They listened to Lawrence Welk, not the Grateful Dead, they had purple hair and white sequined glasses, not long hair and wire-rimmed glasses. They were the ones we had seen across the picket lines in Selma. But on this issue they somehow got it right and we got it wrong. It did not escape my notice that many of the prolife people were moved by their faith to take this position. I could not say that about the prochoice people I knew. The prolife people spoke of rights and wrongs, while the prochoice people spoke of rights and laws. The former language was far more congenial to me personally, and far closer to my sense of how God wants us to make religion real in the world. Absent a clear danger or palpable threat to the life of the mother, I found that I could no longer condone the morality of killing fetuses. In consulting my faith and its rich legal traditions, I found that my thinking was much in line with orthodox Jewish law on the morality of abortion. Though Jewish law is relatively clear in not considering the fetus a bearer of moral rights, it is equally clear that save to protect the life or basic health of the mother, abortion is absolutely prohibited. Never did it occur to me that Judaism’s opposition to elective abortions should be considered an inappropriate reason to be prolife. Never did I think that the separation doctrine of the Constitution prohibited my Judaism from informing my moral choices and from motivating me to work to see those choices made real in the marketplace of ideas and politics that shapes public policy. I had never apologized for being pro-civil rights on the basis of the Bible. Why should I apologize for being prolife on the basis of the Talmud? What I concluded was that there was bad faith here on the part of prochoice people who, because they disagreed with the conclusion of religiously motivated prolife citizens of America, disparaged the religious motivations that undergirded them. There was no such uproar about Reverend King’s religious motivations for civil rights. They were a part of making civil rights a holy crusade. I saw and I see no reason why religious Americans should feel hesitant to express their religious views or to urge that those views become public policy. I am still uncertain about how my views on abortion ought to be translated, if at all, into public policy, but I know that the killing of a fetus is not a morally neutral act that ought to be covered by some privacy doctrine whether invented or discovered in the Constitution. God is not finished with me, but I know now that the Judaism that has been with me since I came to maturity speaks not only in the room where I light shabbat candles, but also and essentially to the world that shivers outside the glow of those candles. Marc Gellman is Rabbi of Temple Beth Torah in Dix Hills, NY, and coauthor (with Thomas Hartman) of Where Does God Live?
Ruth R. Wisse
Not long ago, on the campus of my university, I was talking to one of our activists, a professor who devotes much of her time to defending the rights of various academic constituencies. It is here relevant to note that this professor is an American and a non-Jewish Jew”that is, someone identifiably Jewish who underscores her disaffiliation from both the religious and the national content of Jewishness. I was deploring what seemed a marked increase in the use of the classroom as a pulpit. Students were complaining of the promotion of political causes during regular class hours, a practice that had been mercifully slow in overtaking McGill. She nodded agreement: She herself, having lately complained to the building director about the presence in the lobby of a “Christian exhibit,” had asked him to remove the offensive material. I was dumbfounded by this turn in the conversation. “How can you object to an exhibit?” I asked. “What was offensive about the material?” “It was religious material,” she said. “That was offensive to me!” I am not an American, and I cannot properly address the constitutional issues of church and state, but this chance conversation may help to explain why my thinking on the role of religion in public life has, indeed, changed. I had once assumed that liberalism was the guarantor of rights, only to discover that an illiberal liberalism could become the denier of rights. My objection to the doctrinaire university classroom, an objection influenced by the great Old Liberal Sidney Hook, takes for granted the right of everyone to promote his views, as long as the promoter is not empowered to deny the same freedom to others. But the New Liberal (my fellow professor to the core) defines freedom as the right to promote her views, and oppression as the attempt of others to express theirs. She regards religion as her special enemy, since its claim to speak in the name of ultimate Truth is the most serious challenge to her identical claim for irreligion. Thus my defense of religion in public life is first and foremost a defense of religion against the illiberal liberal who would deny it the right of free speech. If religion enjoys no privileged place in American life, it should certainly be accorded its competitive place, its right of influence as well as of worship. I would go even further. The way I judge ideas is not through their highest claim, but through their lowest perversion. It is for this reason that Judaism seems to me a superior religion. Focused inward on containing man’s capacity for evil through a pattern of small habits, it runs the risk of atrophying into dry ritual rather than enriching civilized life to the fullest”but that is the worst it does. I leave it to others to make their comparisons. By the same token, I have come to trust the religious faith in God more than the liberal faith in Reason. At its best, the belief in a higher-than-human power breeds humility, which is the spiritual guarantor of tolerance. And even at its worst, every God-centered religion is at least open to the appeal to its highest transcendent principles. Contrarily, the evidence of our century suggests that the totalitarian impulse is implicit rather than accidental in doctrinaire irreligion which adores its shrunken vision of humankind. The difference between my illiberal colleague and a Communist commissar is only one of degree. I am convinced that the uniquely democratic American Constitution could not have been conceived save under the aegis of God. Nor do I believe that American democracy can flourish without a sense of the God who inspired the Founders. It may seem bizarre, both to those who are religiously gifted and to those who deny the existence of God, to suggest that faith in the God of our ancestors can be a substitute for faith of one’s own, but if the closest one can come to God is through what was fashioned in His Spirit, it is still sufficiently humbling. The appeal to God in the oath of allegiance, the oath of office, in benedictions on ceremonial occasions, and even on the coin of the realm, is an attenuated but still vital reminder of the source of the American idea of freedom. I very much doubt that American freedom can survive without it. Ruth R. Wisse is Professor of Yiddish Literature at McGill University in Montreal and author of A Little Love in Big Manhattan: Two Yiddish Poets.
Certainly since the First World War, with the rise to prominence of the major secular Jewish organizations in America, the official line of the American Jewish “Establishment” has been that the strictest possible separation of religion and the state is something that is good for Jews and good for America. The clear implication is that the more secular American society, the better. I would argue that this line has not been good for Jews or for America, either. It has not been good for Jews because it has relegated Judaism (along with Christianity) to the realm of the private. Now despite the great value Americans place on privacy, they do so by public means. Even those who speak of a “right to privacy” speak of it in the context of a constitutional (that is, a public) guarantee. It is the self-limitation of the public realm that makes room for the private. Thus, if the public realm is where the important moral issues are decided (importance being defined as that to which more effort and attention is directed), and if Judaism is something private, Judaism would then seem to become something of secondary moral import at best. However, Judaism does not survive very well, let alone thrive, in an atmosphere where it is not the primary moral authority in the lives of Jews. According to classical Jewish teaching, the whole world was created for the sake of the Torah; the Torah cannot simply be a subordinate part of a larger whole. This do