Minority groups such as Negroes and Jews were major beneficiaries of the New Deal Revolution. They mobilized to defeat conservative opposition to the new constitutional order. It is worth noting that women, too, were predisposed to favor the growth of an American welfare state. Not surprisingly, newly enfranchised women switched their political allegiance during the revolutionary decade of the 1930s from a massively lop-sided preference for the Republicans in 1928 to an equally unbalanced support for Roosevelt in 1936. Negroes, too, were drawn into the New Deal coalition, abandoning their previous allegiance to the party of Lincoln.
As a numerically insignificant minority, Jews contributed little to the tidal wave of votes that propelled FDR into his second term but they were major players in the design and execution of the new constitutional order. According to Benjamin Ginsberg, more than a few Jewish New Dealers harbored a deep animus towards still-established WASP elites. Such hostility was reciprocated in upper-class circles where dark imprecations against the “Jew Deal” were common. But such remarks were just as often disparaged as “unseemly” by more sensitive WASPs who supported the revolutionary ideal of fraternity. Ginsberg reveals as well that “Jews found the Roosevelt administration and New Deal programs to be a major route to power, status, and employment in a society that otherwise subjected them to severe discrimination in virtually every occupational realm.”
In return for the offer of protection and opportunity, “Jews provided the administration of Franklin D Roosevelt with a vitally important pool of talent and expertise.” Jewish lawyers, economists, and other talented professionals provided an especially critical resource for the New Deal because most well-to-do WASPs despised Roosevelt and all his works. As “members of a state-building and governing coalition” promoting the massive expansion of the federal government, “Jews were able to achieve a lasting position of power and prominence.”
While individual Jews enjoyed rising political influence and sometimes spectacular economic success, it was in their collective capacity as an ethnoreligious group that American Jews began to wield a disproportionate influence on the American body politic. Many Jewish groups launched campaigns of legal and social action against discrimination primarily “as a means for creating a distinct group identity for American
Jews.” According to Jonathan Woocher, Jewish civil religion “synthesizes ethnicity and religiosity and places both firmly within the embrace of American pluralism.” His study concludes that civil Judaism rests upon a “constellation of beliefs and practices, myths and rituals” that animate “a sophisticated political system, with hundreds of local and national organizations.”
Operating “through a complex network of linkages,” such organizations “raise and expend hundreds of millions of dollars to carry out the ‘public’ business of American Jewry.” Inspired by a powerfully evocative, ideologically multi-faceted ethnotheology, American Jews are now a nation within the nation. More precisely, precisely, Jews have become an ethnonation with the socially cohesive soul of a synagogue within a bloodless proposition nation with the innocently inclusive soul of an evangelical church.
As soon as the opportunity arose, Jewish activists invoked the Jewish civil religion to rally their co-ethnics in a concerted campaign to displace WASPs from their historical role in the vanguard of the perpetual American Revolution. Depression, war, and the pragmatic, expansive liberalism of the New Deal (and, later, Kennedy’s New Frontier and Johnson’s Great Society) provided Jewish lawyers, in particular, with a golden opportunity to re-imagine America’s (implicitly Anglo-Saxon Protestant) constitutional faith.
Through years of litigation sponsored by organizations such as the Commission on Law and Social Action (CLSA) established by the American Jewish Congress, Jews sought to remove Christianity from the public square. Simultaneously, every effort was made to place Judaism on an equal footing with Protestantism and Catholicism. Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg wrote that the presence of a rabbi at Presidential inaugurations, “the most sacred moment of American civic life,” provides Jews with “visual proof that they are indeed equal, in every sense, and that they do belong as full co-owners of American culture.”
Jews quickly exercised the prerogatives prerogatives of ownership to refashion the religion of the Constitutional Republic to accommodate their messianic faith in cultural pluralism and political liberalism. Jewish lawyers convinced themselves and others that they owed “a duty to mankind” to transform a backward and parochial, ostensibly Christian, Republic into an enlightened and secular liberal state. In its judicial campaigns to enforce a strict separation of church and state, the CLSA was “strongly guided by the belief that Jews would never be able to consider themselves equals in the scheme of American pluralism if they continued to view themselves as guests in a Christian nation.”
As it happened, Jewish lawyers met little resistance in the Supreme Court when they sought to outlaw prayers and Bible readings in American public schools. In the landmark Engel judgement of 1962, only one justice supported the recital of the following vapid, inoffensively ecumenical prayer in the schools of New York state: “Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, as we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”
In the following year, the Schempp decision proscribed daily Bible readings, giving full credence to expert witnesses who testified that readings from the New Testament would be not just “offensive” but “psychologically harmful” to Jewish students. Several decades later, militantly Jewish legal academics still detect an implicitly Christian bias in the conventional liberal understanding of the First Amendment. Stephen Feldman, for example, contends that the Supreme Court reveals a persistent (however subliminal) affinity for Christian folkways and an insensitivity towards non-Christian religious groups. His evidence: a Jewish air force officer was denied the right to wear a yarmulke on duty even as Amish Christian children were exempted from compulsory school attendance laws. His professional judgement: “So long as this nation remains pervasively Christian, legal discourse…cannot eradicate Christian domination.”
Such a compelling personal need to expunge even residual traces of a merely implicit Christian identity from the Constitutional Republic bespeaks the powerful influence of an explicitly Jewish civil religion. Because “Christian domination” is perceived as a perennial threat to the survival and well-being of the Jewish people, every good Jew falls under a religious duty to promote the de-Christianization of American civil religion. Jewish ethnotheology “is a religion of ethnic survival, which became its highest good.” It is a primary tenet of civil Judaism that “there is nothing incompatible in being a good Jew and a good American.”
To avoid any possibility of contradiction between Americanism and Judaism, America’s constitutional faith had to be made safe for the Jews. The ethnotheology of American Judaism identifies in-group solidarity as the highest religious duty of every Jew. Accordingly, the “appropriate goal for Jewish communal endeavor” became “the strengthening of all Jewish communities—in Israel and wherever Jews live—as ends in their own right.” The maintenance of Jewish identity is central. As one community leader put it: “We want our children to conceive themselves as Jews who happen to be Americans—not Americans who happen to be Jews.” The distinctive Jewish contribution to America’s constitutional faith has been to promote a pluralistic society which encourages and accepts difference. But the Jewish celebration of diversity in America lacks an essential element of moral reciprocity. Jewish civil religion explicitly disallows the desire of both Anglo-Saxon Protestants and ethnic Catholics to live in predominantly European Christian societies. At the same time, organized Jewry loudly insists that Israel’s character as an explicitly Jewish state must be preserved and protected. When Rabbi Hertzberg contends that the “deepest and most messianic need” of the American Jew is for “a truly equal status status in American culture,” he implies that some cultures are more equal than others. The doctrine of the chosen people—and the correlative ethnic ingredient in Judaism—can be neither concealed nor foresworn. Judaism is not just another religious denomination; ethnicity and chosenness cannot be locked away in the closet. Civil Judaism is an ethnocentric religion of Jewish destiny; references to God or any other form of transcendent reality are all but irrelevant to most American Jews. Jews are on a secular mission to institutionalize the revolutionary idea of fraternity in a just and orderly society that will supposedly be “enriched by the interaction of many groups, many cultures, many faiths.” Jews and Jewishness will remain securely at the center of that pluralistic world. Indeed, the obsessive preoccupation of Jews with their own sacred survival raises the question of whether civil Judaism “advocates a collective Jewish self-deification.”
Orthodox Christianity long recognized Judaism as an ethnotheology dedicated to waging a perpetual propaganda war against Christianity. The Talmud provides its own narrative of the life of Christ, turning it into “a powerful anti-Christian weapon with the declared goal to discredit the new sect now and forever.”
Jewishness, therefore, is not a genetically determined biological or racial phenomenon codified in an individual’s DNA. Rather, it is an ethnoreligious community of memory and tradition set in permanent opposition to Christianity. The Talmud flatly denies the divinity of Christ. According to Princeton Professor Peter Schäfer, rabbis steeped in Talmudic lore fight against Christianity by “means of parody, inversion, deliberate distortion, and not least with the proud proclamation that what their fellow Jews did to this Jesus was right.” In other words, Christ “deserved to be executed because of his blasphemy.” The Talmud teaches “that he will sit in hell forever, and that those who follow his example up until today will not, as he has promised, gain eternal life but will share his horrible fate.” A congenital anti-Christian animus with biocultural roots tapping into a rich reservoir of real and imagined grievances accumulated over two millenia of ethnoreligious rivalry is the defining feature of American Jewish identity. For most Jews, such inveterate hostility to Christianity is more important to their collective identity than “solidarity with Israel.” Indeed, according to Michael Medved, the “rejection of Christianity” by Jews “remains the sole unifying element in an increasingly fractious and secularized community.”
…Few WASPs now profess a belief in God; fewer still believe that people of British ancestry have a providential mission in this world. Clinging to the deracinated constitutional faith of their rebel ancestors, American WASPs know little and care less for the folk religion of their Anglo-Saxon forefathers. Blind to their own biocultural interests, WASPs have applauded the infusion of the Jewish revolutionary spirit into the official religion of the Constitutional Republic. Traditionalist Catholic writers, however, warn that, like the Jewish colonies scattered throughout the Roman Empire after the fall of the Temple, every Jewish communal organization in America’s Third Republic should be regarded as “a potentially revolutionary cell, emboldening Jews not only to revolt, but urging other subjugated ethnic groups to revolt too.” According to Jones, the Jewish revolutionary vision has always been “both ethnocentric and altruistic. As God’s chosen people, they bore revolutionary liberation to the nations.” Under the Roman Empire, “Jewish revolutionaries saw themselves as the little stone that would shatter the Roman colossus.”
In the American Third Republic, Jewish liberals and leftists forged an alliance with Negro activists struggling to throw off the weight of the Jim Crow regime in the white South. Jews “allied themselves with blacks, at least in part, to eliminate discrimination against themselves;” but inspired by an age-old sense of mission they acted as well for the benefit of benighted gentiles, white and black, “who would seek their liberation under Jewish auspices.” Jewish liberals set out to do good and, as the old saying goes, they did right well. There remains a reasonable doubt, however, whether Negroes profited in equal measure from Jewish advice and leadership in the civil rights revolution.