Friday, December 30, 2005

Why Are Jews Liberal Democrats?

There is an interesting post over at the Volokh Conspiracy by David Bernstein on why American Jews tend to be liberal Democrats. Bernstein addresses the assertion that Jews should logically be more conservative economically due to being entrepeneurs.

It's certainly true that many Jews have been successful entrepreneurs--everyone from famous businessmen such Julius Rosenwald, founder of Sears, and Michael Dell, to small-time tailors and shopkeepers. But what isn't often recognized is that a huge, almost certainly much larger number of Jews made their way to the middle class via government.

First, the Jewish population was concentrated in New York City, and until the 1970s the City had an excellent, free, public university system, with CCNY known as the "Jewish Harvard". Many Jews (including my mom) took advantage of this system, often at a time when major private universities had anti-Jewish quotas, and feel they therefore owe some of their success to the government and therefore tend to be statist than libertarian in their politcal leanings:

Second, and relatedly, huge numbers of Jews over the decades found employment with government, especially as teachers. I recall a statistic to the effect that in 1968, when controversy erupted over African American demands for "local control" of New York public schools, about 80% of New York City schoolteachers were Jewish. In the days when whole white-collar industries such as banking, insurance, and more were closed to Jews, civil service desk jobs were open, and Jews vestigially remember the relative lack of discrimination in government with fondness.

My Jewish grandfather left Prussia in the 1920's at nineteen (along with a brother) to come to Ellis Island and lived in New York the rest of his life. He was an entrepeneur and ran successful businesses in the city--maybe this is where I get the Libertarian leanings.


Blogger Der Hahn said...

I don't think David Bernstein is *making* the argument as you present it. He is responding to arguments *made to him* that (paraphrasing) Jews should be libertarian rather than liberal because they are entrepenuers. He points to data that indicate Jewish Americans have benefited substantially from government actions to refute those arguments.

6:55 PM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger Helen said...

Thanks for the clarification.

7:03 PM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger Helen said...


I find that odd also--I think that for many Jews--it is about values and not necessarily about economics--they tend to lean towards social justice and equality--perhaps they have bought into the liberal agenda that preaches equality. I find it odd that some of the biggest anti-semites I have met in my life seem to be liberal Democrats. This apparently does not bother many Jews--as they simply overlook this tendency--especially in liberals who constantly side with the Palestinians and find it offensive that Israel tries to defend itself.

7:27 PM, December 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting that you use the example of your grandfather who emigrated at 19 and "lived in New York the rest of his life". Another blogger in your family recently linked to this TCS post - - which discusses why urban dwellers trend to the left politically. I suspect a lot of our Jewish population are second or third generation descendants of immigrants, who tend to live in urban areas for a variety of reasons. That a significant number of Jews work in the public sector would also push them, collectively, to the left. There's also the phenomenon of seeking the approval of those who look down on you, and as you point out, there's a lot of anti-semitism and criticism of Israel on the left. I doubt there's any single reason for the tilt to the left.

8:40 PM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger chuck b. said...

My grandmother, a conservative New England Republican like they don't make anymore, *hated* Jews. She remembered the Jews from New York who vacationed in New England when she was a girl as rude, terrible people.

Well, whatever.

I doubt any Jew meeting my grandmother later in life came away with positive impressions about conservative Yankee Republicans.

(This anecdote from my life doesn't explain why Jews tend to be socially liberal Democrats, but it's always sufficed in my mind to explain why they tend not to be conservative Republicans.)

10:14 PM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger David Foster said...

A big part of it is probably mental inertia. Many people who consider themselves "liberals" and/or "Democrats" have in mind what these words meant 20 or 40 years ago, not what they have come to mean today.

I once read about an isolated village in Russia where, during WWII, the Jewish residents eagerly awaited the arrival of the German troops. They remembered the polite and correct German officers from the last war, who had been a real improvement over the thuggish and anti-Semitic local leaders. They didn't realize that "Germany" in 1941 was something very different from "Germany" in 1914.

It is very, very dangerous to believe that an abstract entity (like a nation or a political party) that was *once* your friend will *always* be your friend.

10:29 PM, December 30, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's probably attributable to misunderstanding/hostility toward people who behave in what, in her context, would be an offensive manner, even though that isn't their intent. There are a lot of behaviors that people from very crowded places routinely engage in that can be perceived as rude by those from less crowded areas (you have a limited amount of time to get on/off that subway car, which may hamper your ability to stand back and be overly polite). Conversely, people from very sparsely populated areas can do things just to be friendly that someone from an urban area might regard as psychotic (why is that weirdo waving at me?). My own experience with New Yorkers has been that they're no more or less rude than any other group of people, though everybody in that city sounds like their from Florida.

10:41 PM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger Gina said...

My sisterinlaw is jewish and she is a democrat , her mom , we all call bubby , she was a very successful entertainer / singer , very glamourous in her younger years ( she is now 89 ) she can still belt out a great song !!!

11:43 PM, December 30, 2005  
Blogger Helen said...


I do think your inertia idea is correct. The Democratic party has changed so much over the past 20 years--but many Jews do not see the tides changing. I sometimes wonder if this is what happened in WWII--the Jews did not heed the warnings signs and by the time they did, it was too late. My grandfather to me was quite intuitive--or maybe just lucky. At 19, he decided that the changes in Prussia were not good and it was time to go--it was 1922.

8:14 AM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

Many Jews arrived in America with significantly socialist leanings, as did the poor of much of Central and Northern Europe. I still have two Swedish Socialist Songbooks that were in my family in the early 1900's. The people who owned things and controlled things in Europe had shown themselves to be no friends of the poor. The downtrodden and persecuted were disproportionately represented among the arrivals. Of course.

On this base, many of the factors listed above were added: the bankers and big owners did not like immigrants, often especially Jews, and kept them out of the seats of power. To the Jews it must have looked like the same thing all over again, though not as bad because the institutional structures provided them freedom and protection. That would further dispose them to government and institutional solutions, whatever they thought of the economic theory. It would be very natural to conclude that it was the safety, and not the freedom, which had allowed them to get ahead.

Northern urban areas tended to be Democratic, then as now, and Jews were regarded as just another player in the immigrant mix. They could also get things done, if they knew how. "Who's your rabbi?" was a Tammany Hall phrase, at first literally for Jews, though the phrase broadened to mean "Who's your connection?" for anyone.

In the 1930's one could dispassionately identify things about the Nazis that were like both the extreme left and extreme right in America. If you were already leftist, you would tend to make the unfavorable connection rightward. As naziism grew and became increasingly obvious in its evil, people were unlikely to rethink their premises. It was the same thing, only worse. It was here, I think, that Jews began to identify most passionately with the left. If you had already decided that the nazis were in some way "right wing," your future politics would have a foundation of Anything But That.

10:15 AM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Helen said...


Don't you love the web--it is the best therapy tool I have found to date. I am often baffled at how few people use or even understand the web. I often work with law enforcement who is unaware of the world of blogs etc. People are shocked when they read sites like Kos, Pandagon etc. I know I am--I rarely go there--only by mistake usually when someone links to them and does not say what the link is about. Most Democrats I know are shocked when they hear about the treatment of Michelle Malkin by the left etc.--I know some of my friends or family members were and I hope somewhere down the line they will think about these issues.

I don't know how much it will change hard core Deomcrats--they are so entrenched in their beliefs that the Democrats are for the poor, and believe in equality that they cannot see the racist and intolerant attitudes displayed by some in their party. Or they just don't care as long as the people silenced are homophobes, rascists, men etc. They do not make the connection that to silence one group is a potential threat to all groups.

10:26 AM, December 31, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two things (out of many) I admire about the Jews are their traditional emphasis on family and celebration of Jewish history and identity. It seems to me, and I am not Jewish so I am making this observation as an "outsider," that this cultural strength might also be a weaknesses.

Any time someone, or some cultural subgroup, strongly identifies as X, all the not-Xs in the vicinity will be antagonized to some extent. Jewish history is replete with this phenomenon which has included some very serious resentment, oppression and even attempted genocide. One possible effect of that history is, I believe, a tendency for Jews to see themselves in one sense as history's principal victim group, with justification going back millenia.

Various behaviors grow out of this perspective coupled with a strong and understandable desire to prevent any reprise of past experiences. Enter the Democratic Party, which fosters an emotion-laden world view of oppressed and oppressors and promises to right such wrongs. Never mind the hypocritical behavior or inevitable socialist/Marxist leanings that go hand-in-hand with that world view.

My point, I guess, is that even though Jews "logically" would not adhere to Leftist views, on a visceral level they are vulnerable to some of the stock arguments. Democratic Party survival depends on this human susceptibility and absolutely not on analytical thought. We see this "strategy" clearly reflected in everyday Dem behavior and heated rhetoric - and mindlessly supported by left-leaning media pundits.

Repetitious assertion is a fundamental tool of conditioning, eradicating "dangerous" independent thought and replacing it with "the message." And conditioning will be all the more effective if it can leverage existing feelings and beliefs (witness Hitler, Lenin, Pol Pot, Mao, Castro...). The MSM is a willing participants in this ongoing effort and its victim, regularly and consistently "drinking its own dirty bath water."

The Left cannot and will not encourage its adherents to actually think about anything. If it did, if would quickly disappear. Instead it inculcates talking points which are intended to substitute for reason, and we on the Right fall into the trap of believing (wishfully, and falsely) that actual dialog is possible. It isn't, when dedicated Leftist adherents are involved, and it can't be.

Apologies for wandering off into the darkness. I sometimes get carried away out of my own Rightist frustration.

11:20 AM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Jeff with one 'f' said...

Roger L. Simon, Dennis Prager, and (yes!) Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder have all addressed this issue in the last few years.

12:58 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger SWBarns said...

A little interia story for you. My grandmother was active in democratic politics (in the 40's, 50's & 60's)and voted democratic until the day she died. I once asked her why she voted this way and she thought for a long time and replied, "FDR saved the farm."

I think a better term would be loyalty. Membership in political parties is locked in early and is difficult to change.

3:27 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Greg Kuperberg said...

I see a lot of merit to free-market capitalism and I see truth in libertarian principles. (I don't see them as the only good wisdom in politics, but that's a different matter.) I do not see why I should trust the Bush Administration on these scores. The tax cuts are not matched by spending cuts; in fact they are contradicted by spending increases. The war in Iraq could hardly be less libertarian.

Does it have anything to do with my half-Jewish ethnic orientation? It might, although it has nothing to do with Judaism as a religion. I don't believe in God. I believe in American principles and American interests, but I don't believe in American nationalism or American hegemony. Maybe if I believed in these things, I would trust Bush's explanations of what he is doing and why. But as it stands, most of it strikes me as the Misrepresentation Administration. The only part that seems straightforward is "faith-based government".

Reagan was much the same. Some Republicans seem okay though. Bloomberg, for example. Schwarzenegger isn't so terrible either.

6:22 PM, December 31, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an American citizen I believe in American nationalism. and American hegemony. I find it preferable to the German, French, Russian or Chinese variety. I can't see why other Americans don't.

At the core Jews have always felt to be, and indeed have been treated as outsiders throughout history. The ethos of the left is it's ( supposed) universality. that has been the principal attraction of the left for Jews, that they too can belong as well as the other reasons mentioned by other commenter's.

7:43 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger AmericanWoman said...

Perhaps Jews simply believe in the system that they have done well by and haven't caught on that it has passed them by, or don't want to abandon it.

And perhaps the fundamentalist Christian aspect of many conservatives turns them off, it does me.

7:48 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Jeff with one 'f' said...

American nationalism as a system has served Jews very well; transnationalism as a system is failing Jews miserably.

Also, George W. Bush is not a fundamentalist. Having said that, many "funamentalist Christians" are avid supporters of Israel. Unlike many Democrats and leftists, both secular and not.

9:07 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger David Foster said...

cubanbob...Good point about universality. I think that while liberalism has traditionally been associated with universalism (in a philosophical rather than a religious sense), the modern left has pretty much abandoned univeralism. The focus is increasingly on a person's race, gender, and (sometime) economic class background, rather than on common humanity.

11:47 PM, December 31, 2005  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

It is in the interests of Democrats to exaggerate the beliefs and overestimate the number of fundamentalist Christians. It's about the only card they've got left, claiming to be the only barrier between the American population and the return of the Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials.

They also misrepresent the history of those two items, though that is a tangential topic for another day.

1:05 AM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Frank from Delavan said...

Hmm. In Chicago in the 70's there was a similar situation.

Chicago's downtown university, Roosevelt U, was often referred to as "Jewsevelt."

7:43 AM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Greg Kuperberg said...

AVI: I am not sure what the word "fundamentalist" means in this conversation. According to the most recent Gallup poll (in 2004), 45% of Americans believe that God created human beings in their present form within the past 10,000 years. By other polls, comparably many Americans answer "yes" to the question "Is abortion murder?" This is plenty fundamentalist enough for me. I would not know how to reason with such people on any topic with any connection to their religion. Moreover, Mr. Gallup is a religious Republican, not a Democrat.

I can't say exactly what case Democrats have against Republicanism or conservatism in the abstract. Christian theocracy is not remotely the only case that the Democrats could make against Republicans in charge now, if they cared to. They could point out that Bush is not, in fact, winning the war in Iraq. His team declares victory in Iraq every day, but it's just Groundhog Day all over again. And they could point out that Republicans cannot possibly balance the budget without trashing what is left of their reputation. Even an economy that they call "booming" won't give them that miracle. They must either undo their large tax cuts or their large spending increases, or half of both.

10:02 AM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Greg Kuperberg said...

Sorry, the Gallup Poll link is here.

10:03 AM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

I, in turn, am not sure how to argue with a person who doesn't believe we are winning in Iraq, or who doesn't consider consistent 3.5% GDP growth "booming."

You wouldn't be from Northern California, wouldja?

As to the fundamentalism, I think you need to seek out polls and discussions which ask a wider range of questions on the topic. The Gallup results capture an important part of the picture, but not the whole picture. There are two missing questions which are sometimes asked which put a different slant on things. I also wouldn't necessarily assume that those categories break down into Republican votes and Democratic votes as much as the daily MSM conversation would have one think.

2:44 PM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Greg Kuperberg said...

First, I'm not from Northern California; I just live there now. I was mostly raised in Auburn, Alabama, from age 7 to 14.

Second, it's not that I believe or disbelieve that the economy is "booming". Rather, I think that it's hyperbolic terminology for the American economy in general. If you sold 100 widgets three years ago and 110 widgets this year, would you say that business is "booming"? For the record, the economy expanded by 3.45% per year (in real dollars) from 1993 to 2001, then by 2.83% per year from 2001 to 2004. So Bush's record is about the same as Clinton's, except that the record in question is really due to American capitalism and not to who sits in the Oval Office. For that matter, about 1% of either figure is just due to population expansion. Or, to make another comparison, Ireland's GDP grew by 9% per year from 1995 to 2000. That is more like a "boom" to me.

My real point is that the Republicans can say that the economy is "booming" if they want to, but it only begs the question about the budget deficit. If they can't balance the budget when the economy "booms", when can they?

As for the war in Iraq, the insurgency that the US fights there is vastly outnumbered, poorly organized, poorly armed, and controls no territory. It is nothing like Japanese or German World War II armies. So why hasn't the US won already? How can it forever be "winning" without winning once and for all? The only way that it could happen is if the entire American strategy is self-defeating. In other words, those rag-tags can't defeat us, but we can defeat ourselves by fighting the wrong war. That is exactly how it has gone for the past two and a half years.

Certainly by two key metrics that Americans should care about, the war in Iraq did not look better in 2005 than in 2004. Insurgents killed almost as many Americans in 2005 as in 2004, and wounded more. And Iraqi oil output probably decreased, even as it rose in the rest of OPEC due to record prices.

3:51 PM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

I knew it was either that or Western Mass.

Economies should be read as "belonging" to a president, insofar as that may be meaningful at all, about 18-24 months after election. On Day One or even Day 100, what the occupant of the White House has done, no matter how brilliant, dramatic, or stupid, is unlikely to have much effect. I don't see that as contradicting anything you wrote.

I have a similar dislike for deficits. Somehow, it doesn't seem to affect the economy as much as I would have expected. I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop on that for 30 years. Thus, I can't take that as my only measure of an economy. Growth, inflation, and unemployment numbers are granted more weight in my current analysis. I can see why Democrats would take that as their star measure.

I don't dismiss your key metrics out of hand, but by those measures we suddenly started losing the war against Germany in late 1946. The best analyses I have read recently are by Tigerhawk and Steven Del Beste. Both find significant specific fault with George Bush, yet conclude that the overall effort is going well.

6:49 PM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

Forgot to mention. My specific comparisons for a booming economy would be the other industrialized nations. Granted, there are higher growth rates in more than half of the eastern European economies, and tax changes in Ireland a few years ago have worked out very well for them. I still call our economy "booming," but take your point that it is a matter of perspective.

6:53 PM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Greg Kuperberg said...

AVI: I think that we can agree that the American economy should not really be read as belonging to the President. The United States has a free-market capitalist economy, not a command economy dictated from the Oval Office.

To the extent that the president's actions have any effect on the economy, then you can suppose a 18-24 month lag if you like — I don't agree or disagree with that. But if so, then the relevant years for Clinton would be 1994, the last year before you would connect the economy to him, to 2002, the last year that you would attribute to him. Again, going back to the numbers at, the economy grew by 3.15% per year on average for those 8 years. The numbers for the Bush administration, which comes to only 3 years by your time lag, are only moderately better than that. And, as I said, 1% growth comes just from population expansion.

I don't think that you should be surprised that the deficit hasn't yet mattered much. Its effect is spread out over more than a decade. It's like buying a house with bad financing. Even over the course of 5 years, you might not yet notice the problem. And, as I keep saying, there is more to the economy than federal fiscal policy. Even if you have a house with bad financing, you might still work hard and get a raise, etc.

Turning to the war in Iraq, I don't see any useful comparison with Germany in 1946 or at any other time. During World War II, tens of thousands of American soldiers were killed every year in Europe. Nothing like that happened in Germany in 1946. Meanwhile in Iraq, only 486 Americans were killed in 2003, a year in which Bush declared the end of "major combat". Then 848 Americans were killed in minor (?) combat in 2004, while 845 were killed in 2005. (Granted, only 80% of those are combat deaths.) If you view this as postwar reconstruction, it is more violent than the invasion itself was. Postwar Germany was nothing like that. How many American troops were killed in combat in Germany in 1946?

9:53 PM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Greg Kuperberg said...

ronin1516: The first question is whether the United States is winning the war in Iraq, not why it isn't winning. I agree that one reason that the United States is not winning this war is that there aren't enough troops there to win. But I do not agree that either "the left" or the Democratic Party somehow blocked the Bush Administration from deploying enough troops. On the contrary, Bush has never said that he has too few troops in Iraq. Nor has he claimed any shortage of any other crucial resource for this operation. The only shortage that he'll admit to is a shortage of positive thinking.

10:38 PM, January 01, 2006  
Blogger Jay Solo said...

Heh. I have visited this topic myself. See here, in which I wrote:
"And I still don’t understand how Jews can predominantly support Democrats. The main explanation I have heard is a crazy conspiracy theory about how the Republicans, and especially Bush who thinks he talks directly to God, are controlled by the religious right, which wants to speed along armageddon by fomenting discord in Israel, working in a conspiracy with the conservative Jewish militants there, by supporting Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. Plus apparently Jews in this country are being totally oppressed. Ashcroft! Halliburton! Patriot Act! Falwell! Orbital mind control! Argh...."

10:34 AM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger Jay Solo said...

Ah, I knew I had brought up the topic even earlier. I asked the question in this post in March 2004:

"I have never been able to comprehend how Jewish support for the Democrats or the left could be so disproportionate, or even barely exist for that matter. It strikes me that Republicans or the right are far more likely to support Israel's right to exist and defend itself, as well as more of a free market economy that would theoretically appeal to the legendary industriousness of the Jewish people. It simply makes no sense."

The answer a Jewish friend left me in the comments was:

"Fanatics R NOT Us, or Why I'm a Democrat on Israel

Support for Israel is all well and good. But it's not the be all and end all of the issues in this upcoming year. Fundamentalist Jews, like some of the fanatics who settle places in the West Bank because this was "our" land 2000+ years ago, tend to believe that Israel can do no wrong. I don't believe that about my OWN country, let alone a foreign country.

Plus, the biggest reason the Republican Party supports anything the government of Israel does is due to their Conservative Christian wing. To these Christians it's the fulfillment of the New Testament prophesies for the Apocalypse. Of course these Republicans don't mention the fact that these prophesies not only predict the "End of the World", but the "Resurrection" of ONLY those who believe in Christ as their savior. Which also means the end of the Jews.

The whole alliance of fundamentalists on both sides makes me nervous. Fanaticism of any kind makes me nervous. When I'm 100% right, and you're 100% wrong, and we can't agree to disagree or compromise, well.... That's what is at the root of the Islamic Extremists who interpret the Koran literally and use that as a justification for blowing themselves up. It's at the root of what makes Christian Fanatics blow up abortion clinics and doctors. It's what makes a Fundamentalist Jew walk into a mosque with a gun and massacre worshipers. It's what the Nazis did to the 6,000,000. Get my drift?"

10:42 AM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger Greg Kuperberg said...

ronin1516: It would really be an outrageous stance of buck-passing for Bush to claim that war critics have ruined his game. Anyone should be suspicious of a party that controls the White House and Congress, and made 7 out of 9 Supreme Court appointments too, and still complains that it doesn't have enough control. They do complain about the Senate filibuster, but that hasn't been used for the war in Iraq. On the contrary, Bush has gotten everything that he has asked from Congress for the war in Iraq. Bush has also said that his election victory in 2004 vindicated his war strategies. If all of that now isn't enough, then the man can't take "yes" for an answer.

For example, you say that there aren't enough troops in Iraq. But if Bush needs the draft to win this war, he should ask for it. Did he ever ask for the draft? No, on the contrary only anti-war Democrats have suggested that the war in Iraq might need the draft. The Republicans have consistently shouted it down as unnecessary.

You shouldn't change the subject from the war in Iraq to the rest of the war on terrorism. Almost no one thinks that the rest of the war on terrorism is unwinnable, only that the war in Iraq is. In some crucial respects, the war in Iraq is the opposite of the war on terrorism. For example, even as the US fights one set of Islamic radicals, it installs other Islamic radicals into power. One of the big winners in the recent election there is a party called "the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq". It would be hard for these guys to spell out their intentions more clearly than that.

11:28 AM, January 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of us Christians think supporting Israel is right.
And God didn't tell us this. We figured it out all by ourselves.

How are you going to discredit me, Jay?

And you busted Godwin's law. You lose.

11:32 AM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger Jay Solo said...

Richard, I agree with you! I didn't bust Godwin's law. I was quoting a friend of mine who is Jewish, liberal, and gives that absurd reason for being so. I think that is one of the nuttiest, tinfoilest, nonsensical conspiracy theories I have ever heard. (She's not that irrational in all matters, fortunately.)

Not only did she write that in a comment, but also I have been party to her talking about it in person. Very weird.

I think if you read my comments again carefully, you'll see where I was coming from. I was posing the same question as Helen and noting the ridiculousness of the answer I received. At least, it's ridiculous to those of us who support Israel because it's right and can't imagine someone having to make up a rabid motivation.

12:37 PM, January 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a just as much of a political spectrum in Judaism as in the rest of the population. People don't notice politically conservative Jews as much, because they are also RELIGIOUSLY more conservative, i.e. tending more toward Orthodoxy. For religious reasons, they don't take part in a lot of activities, and most people have limited exposure to them. To most gentiles in America, the most liberal side of Judaism is all they see.

1:47 PM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

Greg K, one of your comments above set me thinking about a tangential topic, which I have posted on at my own site. I am curious about the question "What do people generally know?" I am already turning up some surprises.

2:46 PM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger pst314 said...

Dr. Helen, I have read that the Jewish tendency towards liberal politics is related to the idea of "tikkun olam" or repair of the world. (Hence the liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun.) Being neither Jewish nor properly educated in theology, I don't know how much merit the assertion has, but perhaps one of your readers knows more about this.

2:55 PM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger Helen said...


I think that many liberal Jews have social justice and assisting others as values that translates into liberalism. There is more on this topic on Volohk's blog if you want to persue it further in the comment section.

I know that Jews in general and radical leftist Jews especially have a higher need for affiliation which would translate into helping and cooperating with others--one of the supposed goals of the Democratic party. I find this to be a crock as the "help" being given to the oppressed appears to be one of political gain and not true assistance in terms of helping people to help themselves.

3:10 PM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger Greg Kuperberg said...

People in this thread have assumed that there is only one way to support Israel — either you are pro-Israel in the straight Likud/Republican/hawkish sense or you aren't for it at all. Or maybe the thinking is that any gain for Palestinians is a loss for Israelis.

I don't see it that way. I think that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is bad for Israel, even if it is good for a few settlers. I see that in the case of the Gaza Strip even Ariel Sharon has come to agree with this. I think that everyone here can understand how it would be bad for the United States if it annexed Iraq as the 51st state. Regardless of its effect on Iraqis, it would be a poison pill for America. The West Bank has been called a poison pill for Israel for the same reason.

So I am certainly pro-Israel, not because of any feelings of Jewish identity, but perhaps indirectly because of so many of my relatives are Jewish. I'm just not pro-Israel in the same way as Tom DeLay, for example. In fact, like a lot of things that Tom DeLay does, I think that his kind of support for Israel is demagogical and retrograde.

4:30 PM, January 02, 2006  
Blogger pst314 said...

"I find this to be a crock"

You'll get no argument from me!

4:51 PM, January 02, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sorry for missing the context.

I would take the discussion a bit further. I have some Jewish friends for whom I would stand up "all the way" as the saying goes.
I'm sure many Americans are the same.
Annoying those who would be willing to help you close to home makes even less sense than annoying those who support a country thousands of miles away.
It might be said that Jews face no trouble in the US, but if liberal Jews said that, said they didn't fear anti-Semitism here, they'd be read out of the temple. They're sort of stuck.

10:17 AM, January 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The reason Jews, myself included, are Liberal has nothing to do with economy and free enterprise. We, the Jews, follow a religion that allows, for certain cases, to perform an abortion, and is significantly different from Christianity. We need to make sure state/church divide is enforced. We need to make sure that equality is enforced as we have a collective memory of the days and places where lack of such was damning to us all.

So, I find myself incapable of voting for a pro-life, heavily christian, anti-equality GOP candidate. I will, although rarely, give my vote to a moderate Republican, only when I know that he is moderate in social issues. I can live with whatever economical attitude he has.

9:04 AM, March 09, 2006  
Blogger Serket said...

This is something I have wondered about before and that is interesting concept about public education and government jobs leading to more liberal Jews. At least we have you, Dennis Prager and Dr. Laura.

Greg said: "Then 848 Americans were killed in minor (?) combat in 2004, while 845 were killed in 2005." In 2006, there were 821 deaths which was lower than the previous two years.

Ronin1516 said: "They have been bitching and whining since Pres Bush took office in 2000." Actually he took office in 2001. There was a trivia question on "The Weakest Link" about the first president of the new millennium and the answer is Bill Clinton.

3:59 PM, January 29, 2007  
Blogger Unknown said...

I am reading this from a LDS or 'Mormon' point of view. The LDS church was heavily discriminated against when it was first formed by Joseph Smith. The church had to move it headquarters from New York state to Ohio, then Missouri, Illinois, and finally Utah, which was then a part of Mexico, just to find safety from persecution. Many of its' members were murdered under an extermination order issued by the governor of Missouri, Governor Boggs. This order was not recinded until the 1970's I believe! Luckily no one took advantage of it....
My point is that even with the discrimination that has been, and still is, pointed at the LDS church, most members are conservative, and republican. We also believe that abortion is necessary in a few circumstances, health, rape, incest. I still find it strange that many Jews are liberal, especially when there own party seems to use them as scapegoats for all the problems in the middle east...

2:04 PM, September 26, 2007  
Blogger Rabbi Michael Solomon Boekstal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:16 PM, October 04, 2007  
Blogger Rabbi Michael Solomon Boekstal said...

Although this thread goes way back and seems to be on a respirator, I can’t resist to comment just to get the facts straight.

Why do Jews tend to be liberal regardless of their socio-economic status? To answer this question correctly, one has to look at two aspects that have shaped the Jewish experience: religion and history.

You don’t have to be observant in any religion; you can even be an atheist or an agnostic and still you are influenced by the pervading religion of your society, your class, your heritage. To those who are on the outside of Judaism, it generally seems to be a religion of rituals and restrictive laws that even extend to what is served for dinner. However, the core of Judaism, its overriding principle is a concept that is known as ‘tikkun olam’, which is generally translated with ‘repair of the world’. Although whole libraries are written about this concept, it basically comes down to this: God has created the world imperfect and has created us as His partners to bring His creation to perfection. The user’s manual for this task is the Torah, which tells us how to bring the world to perfection. There is a reason why ‘Love your neighbor like yourself’ and ‘Love the stranger’ are the most repeated commandments. When rabbi Hillel, who lived around 100 B.C., was asked to summarize the Torah, he replied with: “Don’t do to others what is hateful to you. The rest is commentary.” The Golden Rule is a Jewish concept.
It is worthy to note that the Divine Imperative to leave the world a better place than when one entered it, is not a matter of choice, of personal opinion, or dependent on socio-economic status, it is what a Jew is supposed to do, period. To explain where Judaism and Christianity diverge in this attitude, the approach to sharing one’s wealth is very illustrating.
When we give to worthy causes, we use the term ‘charity’. This is a Christian term with a Latin etymology, referring to the heart and love. In other words: Giving money is an expression of one’s goodness, one’s heart, one’s love. The Hebrew term for the same action is ‘tzedakah’, which means no more or less than ‘justice’. In Judaism there is no concern for your inner thoughts, only your actions make a difference in the world. Sharing your wealth is the right thing to do, and the wealthier you are, the heavier the responsibility of justice weighs on you. When you become a successful entrepreneur, you are expected not to become more selfish, but to become more sharing.

Of course, for many Jews who came to America and saw the opportunity to throw off the yoke of Orthodoxy, religion became less important. Yet it is undeniable that more than 2,000 years of tradition becomes part of one’s cultural make up, of one’s ethical and moral fiber. And even when the Jewish immigrants made the choice to lessen their religious observance in their desire to integrate in American society, they still carried the experiences of social injustice with them.
It has been said more than once that Jews are to a society what a canary is to miners, the quality of social justice of a society can be measured by how the Jews are doing. Jews know through centuries of experience that societies start to rot at the bottom. When the weakest and most defenseless are neglected, discriminated, it will slowly work its way up until it reaches the Jews, sooner when they are at the bottom of the social ladder, later when they have been able to become middle class or upper middle class. By making sure that everyone in society is taken care of, acknowledged and respected, Jews protect their own position. The overrepresentation of Jews in the Civil Rights Movement was not just because Jews are liberals, because they had been slaves ones themselves, or because it is their religion that tells them to stand up for the weak and discriminated, it was just as much because Jews know all too well that when a society allows one group to be outcasted, there is no rational, historical or ethical reason to believe that the Jews will be safe from that same discrimination. In the 1930’s Jews lived and thrived in what was then known as the most culturally, intellectually and scientifically sophisticated society. A society that democratically elected a certain ideology. An ideology that led to the following poem by pastor Martin Niemoller:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

In conclusion: Jews make choices informed by heritage, the total sum of upbringing, religion, historical perspective and experience. Jews make choices that balance between the benefit of the greater good and self-serving interests. And that makes Jews no different than anyone else.

2:26 PM, October 04, 2007  
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