Is Judaism Right-Wing Or Left-Wing?

It is neither. Judaism was thousands of years old before the modern political terms of Right and Left developed any meaning.

In the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Leon Wieseltier disects Norman Podhoretz’s new book, "Why Are Jews Liberal?"

Over the past 30 years, I’ve found Podhoretz’s writing tiresome (he was right about the dangers of the Oslo Accords to Israel’s well-being). His would have to be the last book available to me before I’d pick it up.

I give Wieseltier the nod in this skirmish.

Rick Richman writes on

If adjectives were analysis, Leon Wieseltier’s review of Norman Podhoretz’s Why Are Jews Liberals? in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review would be impressive. Wieseltier suggested that the book and/or its author is “dreary,” “completely axiomatic,” in a state of “apocalyptic excitation,” “trite,” “anti-intellectual,” “sputtering,” a “heresy hunter,” and possessed of a “voyeuristic” admiration for the Orthodox. Wieseltier was apparently not amused.

I have a different view of the book, as did the 10 prominent writers in the COMMENTARY and Tablet Magazine symposiums, among others. This post is intended not to refute Wieseltier’s argument (to the extent that a string of adjectives is even a reasoned argument) but rather to note that his review is further evidence of one of liberalism’s increasingly illiberal tendencies: reacting with hyperbolic criticism to those who dare challenge it.

The title of Wieseltier’s review—“Because They Believe”—effectively captures its spirit: Jews are liberals, according to Wieseltier, because of “the dispensations of 20th-century liberalism.” The use of the word dispensations, with its religious connotations, is obviously intentional, and the three-word title of the review reflects an analysis only slightly more sophisticated than “It’s the religion, stupid!”

Ari Lamm writes on Gil Student’s Facebook page: Okay so the first part of about how claiming that "Judaism is conservativism" or "Judaism is liberalism" is a massive oversimplification and unbecoming of a serious thinker is great. …The next few paragraphs psychoanalyzing Podhoretz are childish. …The sections debunking Podhoretz’s view of history are excellent as far as they go, but they don’t address Podhoretz’s ultimate argument which is that Jews should feel more at home on the right than on the left. Wieseltier faults Podhoretz for not engaging particular policies, but Wieseltier doesn’t either (probably because neither side can win that argument)…. Read More At the end of the day, Wieseltier does just as much shadowboxing as Podhoretz. Sometimes it just seems to me that the likeliest explanation for Jewish voting trends is that once a view becomes entrenched, it’s hard to dislodge it. But both Podhoretz and Wieseltier are too elegant to ever write that.

JOSEPH PINSKER WRITES: Wieseltier writes nothing to disprove that liberal Jews have supplanted the Torah with liberalism. The holy trinity of liberal Jews (not necessarily Jewish liberals) is Tikkun Olam, the Holocaust and Israel, and liberalism fits well with the first. The reinterpretation or limitation of Jewish law and tradition (halacha) to Tikkun Olam supplants those very laws and traditions AS Judaism.
While I have no concrete data, anecdotally, a larger percentage of Jews who liberal in their religion are liberal in their politics, while the same percentages do not exist among those who are more conservative in their religion.

Wieseltier writes "But nowhere in his book does he explain precisely how the interests of Jews are served by the Republican positions on government, health care, tax policy, gun control, abortion, gay rights, the environment."

Wieseltier never explains how they are served by the Democrat position. The conservative position on some of these issues has almost nothing to do with religion. While charity is certainly encouraged, what does forcibly taxing someone and redistributing their wealth have to do with charity? How does promoting same sex marriage and abortion at will promote Jewish values at all? Where in Judaism (and in the US Constitution) do you find a reason or a right to force people to buy health insurance?

Wieseltier pokes at Podhertz but doesn’t provide any reasonable counter argument.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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