The Jewish Fear Of Populism

Only about 25% of American Jews voted for Donald Trump. A big part of the reason is that Jews instinctively fear gentile populism and nationalism. Jews have usually been ruled by an elite, and the more traditional you go in Jewish life, the more hierarchical it becomes.

The idea of everyone doing what is right in his own eyes is frightening from a Jewish perspective. There needs to law and order and a ruling class.

I picked up a 2016 Chayenu on Shabbos that articulated this fear. It was for the parsha of Korach. The “Parsha Snapshot with Perspective” was headlined, “The Need For The Elite.”

Inasmuch as the chief instrument God has given us for accomplishing this goal [sanctifying reality] is His commandments, and all Jews fulfill the commandments incumbent upon them in the same way, Korach concluded that all Jews are equally valuable and there is [no] purpose served by having an elite group of spiritual professionals, such as a leader like Moses or the priestly caste of Aaron and his descendants…

Moses realized that Korach had raised the stakes and was now jot just advocating the abolishment of the priestly caste but contesting Moses’ own leadership. He therefore asked God not to punish the rebels as aspirants to the priesthood…but to simply ignore their incense and punish them instead in some way that would demonstrate their error of challenging God’s appointed leader.

God agreed with Moses’ request, and after the incense offering in the morning, had Moses instruct everyone to distance themselves physically from Korach and his party. After the vast majority of the people had done this, a chasm opened in the earth and swallowed up Korach and the rest of the rebels.

Some of the people (over 14,700) then accused Moses of causing the murder of innocents; this accusation proved that these people still subscribed to Korach’s views, despite the miraculous demonstration of their incorrectness. God therefore caused an outbreak of an epidemic that started killing the guilty parties instantly…

Having conclusively endorsed Moses as the leader and Aaron as the high priest, God then demonstrated to the people that Aaron truly deserved his position…

The rest of the parsha is devoted [to] the laws that were pronounced in response to Korach’s mutiny and its aftermath: First, the Levites were made responsible for keeping lay Israelites away from those sacred precincts into which they were not allowed to enter. Next follows a list of all the donations the lay populace was required to give to the priests and Levites, as well as a list of what the non-priestly Levites had to give to the priests.

From all this, we learn that despite Korach’s correct emphasis on the primacy of action in Judaism, it is still crucial that there be a hierarchy of spiritual leadership, in order that those higher up on the spiritual ladder be able to inspire those lower on it…

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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