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Daily Briefing:American Jewry: A Divided Community  (December 8,2020)

Table of Contents:

Panorama of the west facade of United States Supreme Court Building at dusk in Washington, D.C., USA (Wikipedia)

The Supreme Court Emerges as a Microcosm of America:  Liel Leibovitz, Tablet, Nov. 26, 2020

Trump’s Parting Gifts:  Nathan Guttman, Moment Magazine, Nov. 30, 2020

Beware the 1619-ing of American Jewry: Gil Troy, Gil, Nov. 13, 2020

‘Goodbye to Hannukah,’ Says a Headline in the Post-Judaism New York Times:  Ira Stoll, Algemeiner, Dec. 6, 2020

The Supreme Court Emerges as a Microcosm of America
Liel Leibovitz
Tablet, Nov. 26, 2020

Supreme Court decisions rarely make for page turners, but the one handed down last night, siding with Jewish and Catholic groups opposing the draconian restrictions placed on religious services by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is an exception. In just 33 pages, the highest court in the land gave us a thrilling study in how the two tribes that compete for dominance in our ravaged America approach the world.First, and briefly, the victors. The five majority justices—Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and new member Amy Coney Barrett—dispensed with the notion that the observant Jews and Catholics who petitioned the court were somehow insufficiently zealous in guarding their communities against the pandemic or responsible somehow for its spread. “Not only is there no evidence that the applicants have contributed to the spread of COVID–19,” they wrote, “but there are many other less restrictive rules that could be adopted to minimize the risk to those attending religious services.”

With that, they turned their attention to Cuomo, whose actions, they found, fell far short of sensible.

“The Governor,” wrote Justice Gorsuch, “has chosen to impose no capacity restrictions on certain businesses he considers ‘essential.’ And it turns out the businesses the Governor considers essential include hardware stores, acupuncturists, and liquor stores. Bicycle repair shops, certain signage companies, accountants, lawyers, and insurance agents are all essential too. So, at least according to the Governor, it may be unsafe to go to church, but it is always fine to pick up another bottle of wine, shop for a new bike, or spend the afternoon exploring your distal points and meridians. Who knew public health would so perfectly align with secular convenience?”

Gorsuch’s logic isn’t hard to follow: If I am, at the moment, free to amble into the wine shop on the corner, chat amiably with Damien behind the counter about the Mets and the latest shipment of Bandols, and take as much time as I’d like fondling Montsants, I should be able to dive into the comparably sized shtiebl two blocks down and pray Mincha. To argue that I may not, Gorsuch concluded, “is exactly the kind of discrimination the First Amendment forbids.”

And the First Amendment, the majority justices remind us, matters. “It is time,” concluded Gorsuch, “past time—to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques.” Amen.

So, that’s one side.

On the other, we have, first, Chief Justice Roberts.

“Numerical capacity limits of 10 and 25 people, depending on the applicable zone, do seem unduly restrictive,” he wrote, acknowledging the argument of the religious groups. “And it may well be that such restrictions violate the Free Exercise Clause. It is not necessary, however, for us to rule on that serious and difficult question at this time.” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Trump’s Parting Gifts
Nathan Guttman
Moment Magazine, Nov. 30, 2020

For Orthodox Jews, Trump’s Supreme Court is the gift that will keep on giving.

Despite a failed reelection campaign, Donald Trump and his team registered several notable gains this election season. Trump slightly increased the share of Black and Hispanic Americans voting for him, alongside an impressive turnout from a small but well-organized subgroup: Orthodox Jews. According to polls and estimates, more than 80 percent of Orthodox Jews cast their vote for Trump, making them one of his most approving constituencies in the nation.

This week, a U.S. Supreme Court decision proved they bet on the right horse.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court delivered a win for religious groups, specifically for Catholic and Orthodox Jewish groups, who sought to overturn a New York State decision to limit prayers in houses of worship located in areas with high rates of coronavirus infections.

A similar case was brought before the Supreme Court earlier this year and was rejected, with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg casting the deciding vote. This time, her successor, Amy Coney Barrett, tilted the court in favor of the religious groups. Coney Barrett was appointed by Trump only months before the elections, to the delight of conservative and religious supporters.

The decision bears very little practical importance since the neighborhoods in which limitations were imposed on religious gatherings are no longer considered danger zones. But it does mark a significant shift in the highest court of the land—a recognition of the primacy of religious freedom as a protected liberty under the first amendment, even when public health considerations could justify infringing on such freedoms.

Agudath Israel of America, the ultra-Orthodox group which filed the challenge, alongside the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, celebrated the decision as a “historic” one that reaffirmed “the bedrock American principle that religious freedom shall not be a second class right in the United States.” In its statement, Agudath Israel added that “this ruling is certain to have nationwide legal impact on the status of religious freedom for years to come.”

And this is where Trump’s legacy becomes so significant for the Orthodox Jewish community.

Overruling New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision is a notable feather in the cap of these Orthodox Jewish groups, which have been at war with the governor and the mayor of New York ever since the pandemic broke out.

But ramifications of the court’s decision are sure to be much broader.

The Orthodox community cares deeply about issues that put into question the balance between church and state, such as government funding for private, parochial education, support for religious institutions, exemptions from certain equal hiring practices, and easing restrictions on tax-exempt religious groups and institutions.

Trump has left America with a Supreme Court more open than ever to rule in favor of religious groups on these matters, and that, for many in the Orthodox community, means a lot…. [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Beware the 1619-ing of American Jewry
Gil Troy

Gil, Nov. 13, 2020

Look closely. Parts of the American Jewish community are silently committing ideological suicide. Most American Jews have long embraced a liberal American dreamism that allowed many to live well while doing good. They celebrated prosperity and liberty while voting liberal and donating generously. It works surprisingly well for them — so why abandon this effective survival strategy so quickly?

That’s what happened this summer. In a matter of weeks, leading parts of the mainstream Jewish community joined the media, major corporations, and their neighbors in swallowing the 1619 Project’s perspective of America — that racism is systemic, ineradicable, and programmed into the nation’s DNA. This indictment is not only contestable — it also denies the expansive American identity and American Jewish identity that built the United States and American Jewry.

The 1619 Project was a series of New York Times essays pivoting American history around the first major consignment of slaves to arrive in the British North American colonies rather than the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. By repudiating America’s defining historical narrative, the project questions America’s core values. Jews are not targeted here, but American Jewry’s narratives and values have become collateral damage.

Many schools are already teaching 1619’s dogma. But if Jewish day schools and other Jewish institutions surrender to this worldview uncritically, they will eviscerate whatever Jewishness remains within them while erasing the proud Americanism that has made American Jewry rich, proud, free, and happy.
Noble intentions spurred this act of ideological self-destruction. Following George Floyd’s brutal murder in May, many Jews tried understanding African-American anguish. Mainstream organizations, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, offered educational materials to fight racism. But the anti-racist links they shared peddled this one re-interpretation of American history based, broadly, on a rigid reading of American racism. Clicking on the sources establishment Jewish organizations provided in email after email, I did not find one article offering a liberal perspective — or any alternative viewpoint. Instead, the 1619 orthodoxy has apparently become the New Blue American Gospel — and the New American Jewish Gospel, too.

American Jews must not sweep racism under the rug. It’s time to shine a light on racism in ways that are thought-provoking, not propagandizing, empowering for all Americans, not identity-shattering for most. We need healthy debates about racism that are complex and multi-dimensional, not judgmental or suffocating.

By analyzing the anti-racist dogma objectively, American Jews will realize their core identity messaging is under a well-meaning, yet debilitating, attack. Rejecting the false choice between the “God damn America” version of history and the “God bless America” version, they should seek the constructive middle ground. No serious educator today peddles the cartoonish feel-good U.S. history our grandparents imbibed — so there’s no need to overcompensate. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Goodbye to Hannukah,’ Says a Headline in the Post-Judaism New York Times
Ira Stoll
Algemeiner, Dec. 6, 2020

The New York Times is greeting the holiday of Chanukah with an article by a woman explaining why she won’t transmit to her children her family’s tradition of celebrating the holiday. “Saying Goodbye to Hannukah” is the headline over the Times article, which is subheadlined “I lit the menorah as a child, but my kids are growing up in a different type of household.”

The author, Sarah Prager, explains that she celebrated Chanukah as a child because her father was Jewish. “Each of those eight nights we’d recite the Hebrew prayer about God while lighting the menorah. We memorized the syllables and repeated them, but they had no meaning to us and my parents didn’t expect, or want, us to believe what we were reciting.”

The Times article goes on “I married a woman who was raised Catholic but who, like my parents, had left her family religion as an adult. She and I are part of America’s ever-growing ‘nones’ with no religious affiliation at all. Before we had kids, we imagined we’d choose a religion to raise them in, maybe Unitarian Universalism or even Reform Judaism. But when our first child was born four years ago, we realized that going to any house of worship and following a religion just for our children to feel a connection to something wouldn’t be authentic. We couldn’t teach them to believe in anything we didn’t believe in ourselves.”

Though she claims she is “none,” her family actually slides into the Christian dominant culture: “our two daughters will celebrate Christmas and Easter because that’s what my extended family still celebrates.”

The article says the author respects tradition. “I respect the incredible value of keeping traditions alive, especially those that centuries of persecution have sought to erase. But while I have more of a connection to Judaism than some, I am not Jewish and it doesn’t feel authentic to celebrate a Jewish holiday religiously. My kids may end up playing dreidel sometimes, but they won’t learn the prayer that begins Baruch atah Adonai, sacred words that are nonetheless empty to them,” the Times article says. “Discontinuing my family’s Hanukkah celebration fits right in with our family’s tradition of bucking tradition.”

The article was met with scorn by Jewish readers. “Oh, is it NYT publishes thin, uninformed, somewhat self-hating article on Chanukah o’clock again? I can’t even look,” tweeted Rabbi Jill Jacobs.

Rabbi Marisa Elana James tweeted, “It is an INTERESTING choice for the NYT to publish a piece ostensibly about Hanukkah where 2/3 of the way in the author writes ‘I’m not Jewish.’ Just one piece on Hanukkah by someone who is Jewish and *likes* being Jewish would be great!”

Arsen Ostrovsky wrote, “Of all the essays @nytimes could publish for #Chanukah, they chose this by @Sarah_Prager , who does not even identify as Jewish, about why she’s choosing not to celebrate this beautiful holiday. Could the NYT have any more contempt for the Jewish people?” … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

For Orthodox Groups, US Supreme Court’s Ruling On Religious Schools Is A Big Win:  Shira Hanau, Times of Israel, July 1, 2020 –– For Orthodox Jewish advocacy groups, the last day of the US Supreme Court’s 2020 session brought a big win.

Supreme Court Must Protect Religious Freedom from Abuse of Power Amid Pandemic: Kelly Shackelford, Epoch Times, Dec. 6, 2020 — The U.S. Supreme Court is now the focus of a battle about whether government officials can put places of worship under their control using emergency powers they gained amid the CCP virus pandemic, said Kelly Shackelford, who has been leading legal efforts to defend religious freedom for three decades.

Our True Colors Marra B. Gad, Tablet, May 5, 2020 — In April 1970 I was adopted as a 3-day-old infant by a white Jewish couple from Chicago. My biological mother was unwed, white, and Jewish; my biological father was black.

I Moved to St. John’s, and I Find Myself Yearning for My Jewish Identity: Drew Wolfson Bell, CBC, Dec. 5, 2020 — Oi, where to begin? First things first — I’m not from here. I grew up in Toronto and then moved to Montreal. That’s where I started working in restaurants and ended up hanging around for the better part of a decade.


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