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In return for our chains March 8, 2014

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Freedom.
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In 1890, when American women had no right to vote (the Nineteenth Amendment wasn’t passed till 1920), and marital rape wasn’t considered a crime (which remained the case in some states until 1993), Voltairine de Cleyre gave a lecture entitled “Sex Slavery”.

Let Woman ask herself, “Why am I the slave of Man? Why is my brain said not to be the equal of his brain? Why is my work not paid equally with his? Why must my body be controlled by my husband? Why may he take my labor in the household, giving me in exchange what he deems fit? Why may he take my children from me? Will them away while yet unborn?” Let every woman ask…

From the birth of the Church, out of the womb of Fear and the fatherhood of Ignorance, it has taught the inferiority of woman. In one form or another through the various mythical legends of the various mythical creeds, runs the undercurrent of the belief in the fall of man through the persuasion of woman, her subjective condition as punishment, her natural vileness, total depravity, etc.; and from the days of Adam until now the Christian Church, with which we have specially to deal, has made Woman the excuse, the scapegoat for the evil deeds of man…

At Macon, in the sixth century, says August Bebel, the fathers of the Church met and proposed the decision of the question, “has Woman a soul?” Having ascertained that the permission to own a nonentity wasn’t going to injure any of their parsnips, a small majority vote decided the momentous question in our favor. Now, holy fathers, it was a tolerably good scheme on your part to offer the reward of your pitiable “salvation or damnation” (odds in favor of the latter) as a bait for the hook of earthly submission; it wasn’t a bad sop in those days of faith and ignorance. But fortunately fourteen hundred years have made it stale. You, tyrant radicals, have no heaven to offer, — you have no delightful chimeras in the form of “merit cards;” you have (save the mark) the respect, the good offices, the smiles — of a slave-holder! This in return for our chains! Thanks!


Majority opinion June 30, 2013

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Freedom, Law.
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In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld (Bowers v. Hardwick) a Georgia sodomy law that criminalized private sexual acts between consenting same-sex adults. The case was decided by a margin of 5 to 4.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote:

I believe we must analyze respondent Hardwick’s claim in the light of the values that underlie the constitutional right to privacy. If that right means anything, it means that, before Georgia can prosecute its citizens for making choices about the most intimate aspects of their lives, it must do more than assert that the choice they have made is an “abominable crime not fit to be named among Christians”…

I cannot agree that either the length of time a majority has held its convictions or the passions with which it defends them can withdraw legislation from this Court’s scrutiny…

That certain, but by no means all, religious groups condemn the behavior at issue gives the State no license to impose their judgments on the entire citizenry. The legitimacy of secular legislation depends, instead, on whether the State can advance some justification for its law beyond its conformity to religious doctrine… A State can no more punish private behavior because of religious intolerance than it can punish such behavior because of racial animus…

I can only hope that… the Court soon will reconsider its analysis and conclude that depriving individuals of the right to choose for themselves how to conduct their intimate relationships poses a far greater threat to the values most deeply rooted in our Nation’s history than tolerance of nonconformity could ever do. Because I think the Court today betrays those values, I dissent.

Equal justice under lawThe Court reversed its ruling in 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas), invalidating all remaining sodomy laws — making same-sex sexual activity legal in all U.S. states. The case was decided by a margin of 6 to 3.

On June 26, 2013, the Court ruled (United States v. Windsor) that Section 3 of the “Defense of Marriage Act” is unconstitutional, and that the federal government may not discriminate against same-sex married couples.

The case was decided by a margin of 5 to 4.

An Islamist lexicon March 17, 2013

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Language, Religion.
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The Muslim Brotherhood is extremely concerned:

The 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), taking place from March 4 to 15 at UN headquarters, seeks to ratify a declaration euphemistically entitled ‘End Violence against Women’.

That title, however, is misleading and deceptive.

Does the Brotherhood mean to say that the UN declaration is not actually aimed at eliminating the disenfranchisement, maltreatment, and subjugation of women? Well, not exactly.

That title, however, is misleading and deceptive. The document includes articles that contradict established principles of Islam, undermine Islamic ethics and destroy the family, the basic building block of society, according to the Egyptian Constitution.

This declaration, if ratified, would lead to complete disintegration of society, and would certainly be the final step in the intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries, eliminating the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies.

A closer look at these articles reveals what decadence awaits our world, if we sign this document:

1. Granting girls full sexual freedom, as well as the freedom to decide their own gender and the gender of their partners (ie, choose to have normal or homo- sexual relationships), while raising the age of marriage.

2. Providing contraceptives for adolescent girls and training them to use those, while legalizing abortion to get rid of unwanted pregnancies, in the name of sexual and reproductive rights.

3. Granting equal rights to adulterous wives and illegitimate sons resulting from adulterous relationships.

4. Granting equal rights to homosexuals, and providing protection and respect for prostitutes.

5. Giving wives full rights to file legal complaints against husbands accusing them of rape or sexual harassment, obliging competent authorities to deal husbands punishments similar to those prescribed for raping or sexually harassing a stranger.

6. Equal inheritance (between men and women).

7. Replacing guardianship with partnership, and full sharing of roles within the family between men and women such as: spending, child care and home chores.

8. Full equality in marriage legislation such as: allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men, and abolition of polygamy, dowry, men taking charge of family spending, etc.

9. Removing the authority of divorce from husbands and placing it in the hands of judges, and sharing all property after divorce.

10. Cancelling the need for a husband’s consent in matters like: travel, work, or use of contraception.

These are destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an important institution; they would subvert the entire society, and drag it to pre-Islamic ignorance.

The Muslim Brotherhood urges the leaders of Muslim countries and their UN representatives to reject and condemn this document, and to call upon this organization to rise to the high morals and principles of family relations prescribed by Islam.

un-women So, ‘End Violence against Women’ isn’t really a “misleading and deceptive” title for the UN declaration, after all. On the other hand, I think I might have spotted a euphemism or two creeping into the Brotherhood’s heartfelt protest (which could non-euphemistically be titled ‘More Violence against Women’). Here, then, is a handy lexicon listing some common Islamist code words along with their actual meanings:

undermine the family: make it harder for men to control their wives and daughters

complete disintegration of society: a society where women are free and equal members

intellectual and cultural invasion of Muslim countries: concern for the wellbeing of all inhabitants of Muslim countries

the moral specificity that helps preserve cohesion of Islamic societies: brainwashing, ignorance, and coercion

decadence: anything not prescribed in the worldview of a 7th-century tribal warlord

(via Butterflies & Wheels)

Dominion over the faith of others September 2, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Freedom, Politics, Religion.

The Republican Party’s 2012 platform talks an awful lot about freedom and equality, but it seems to apply them rather inconsistently. For instance, it says this:

We are the party of the Constitution, the solemn compact which confirms our God-given individual rights and assures that all Americans stand equal before the law… We will strongly enforce anti-discrimination statutes and ask all to join us in rejecting the forces of hatred and bigotry and in denouncing all who practice or promote racism, anti-Semitism, ethnic prejudice, or religious intolerance.

But just a few paragraphs later, there’s this:

… Congressional Republicans took the lead in enacting the Defense of Marriage Act, affirming the right of States and the federal government not to recognize same-sex relationships licensed in other jurisdictions… We reaffirm our support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. We applaud the citizens of the majority of States which have enshrined in their constitutions the traditional concept of marriage, and we support the campaigns underway in several other States to do so.

In other words, discrimination and bigotry towards homosexuals is to be applauded and supported.

On the subject of religious freedom, the platform invokes Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute,

which declared that no one should “suffer on account of his religious opinion or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion…” That assurance has never been more needed than it is today, as liberal elites try to drive religious beliefs — and religious believers — out of the public square… The most offensive instance of this war on religion has been the current Administration’s attempt to compel faith-related institutions, as well as believing individuals, to contravene their deeply held religious, moral, or ethical beliefs regarding health services, traditional marriage, or abortion.

But the current Administration has not been attempting to compel anyone to use a health service, marry, or get an abortion in contravention of his or her religious beliefs; the Administration has merely been attempting to ensure that these options are available to those who want them. Whereas Republicans are saying that if something goes against their religious beliefs, no one should be allowed to do it.

It’s a shame they didn’t read the rest of Jefferson’s Statute:

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time…

Brain-dead ethics May 5, 2012

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Ethics, Law, Religion.
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The rate of organ donation in Israel is lower than in other countries, partially because some religious authorities forbid harvesting organs from someone who is irreversibly brain dead until cardiac death (at which point organs are usually unfit for transplant). In an attempt to increase the organ supply, a new Israeli law gives priority to patients in line for transplant if they (or their families) are registered as donors. In Haaretz, David Shabtai cries foul:

Yes, physicians are necessary to diagnose death, utilizing advanced technologies and relying on their expertise to do so. But identifying those vital qualities that characterize life and differentiate a living person from a corpse is something that medicine cannot do. These questions demand a philosophical response, an ethical value judgment as to what it means to be alive. In modern society, these questions demand legislation that reflects the value judgments of the community it represents. In Judaism, this is a question of Jewish law, and as in many areas of Jewish law, reasonable people reach reasonably different conclusions.

I’m not sure Shabtai understands what “reasonable” means. It is not reasonable to base one’s medical definitions on the scriptural interpretations of rabbis (instead of scientific evidence), or to base one’s ethics on the presumed will of some absolute authority (instead of a concern for people’s well-being). Not all value judgments are equally valid or deserving of equal consideration from the legal system. Should a Christian Science community that denies life-saving medical treatment from its children be immune from prosecution?

Shabtai, however, goes on to condemn the new law as — you guessed it — religious discrimination:

Jewish law is full of conflicting opinions on virtually all issues, and determining the moment of death is no exception. While Jacob may follow the opinion that does not equate brain death with death, Isaac may adopt the opposite approach. Both Jacob and Isaac, ready to uphold the esteemed value of saving lives, may be willing to donate their organs after death even as they disagree on when that point begins. Both can and should be willing to help each other to the best of his abilities and according to his beliefs and conscience.

The new Israeli law, however, ranks Jacob and Isaac differently when it comes to eligibility for receiving organs, and this seems particularly unfair. Both are willing to do whatever they can to save lives, including postmortem organ donation. Both reject the idea of killing one person to save another. Both oppose removing organs from a living person, even to save a life. Because of current medical limitations, however, most organs are harvested from brain-dead patients – patients whom Isaac identifies as dead but Jacob considers alive. Isaac therefore signs up as a potential organ donor, while Jacob cannot. It is not Jacob’s unwillingness to donate that is at issue, but rather his religious convictions regarding the particular circumstances by which organs are most often harvested.

The incentive offered in the new law, by pushing Isaac toward the top of the waiting list, unfairly punishes Jacob for his religious views. While nobly intentioned as a means of increasing the organ supply, practically this new law institutionalizes religious discrimination in medical treatment. Such a notion flies in the face of the Hippocratic tradition that has guided medical practice since its inception. Treating patients differently based on their religious convictions is something that good people should not tolerate.

But patients are not being treated differently based on their religion: preferential treatment is given to anyone registered as an organ donor, which is a perfectly relevant criterion that anyone can meet. Anyone who chooses not to contribute to the societal effort, for whatever reason, faces the same consequences. For comparison, Israel also has laws granting various benefits to military veterans and reservists — do those laws unfairly discriminate against people who didn’t serve in the military for religious reasons? Refusing to grant people special privileges due to their religious beliefs is not discrimination — in fact, it’s the opposite of discrimination.

By the way, why are those religious people who refuse to be donors — because they believe it’s wrong to harvest organs before cardiac death — nevertheless happy to accept such organs harvested from others? That sounds hypocritical to me, but I guess it’s “reasonable” in Shabtai’s world.

If only more people made good use of their brains while they’re still alive.

(via Religion and State in Israel)

Hear no evil September 14, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Religion.

Four (male) cadets have been dismissed from the Israeli Military’s officer training academy for walking out of a commemorative ceremony. Why did they walk out? Because the event included women singing solo, and the cadets’ religious beliefs forbid them from hearing such things. The matter has been appealed to the Supreme Court.

So, should the military allow religious soldiers to skip a ceremony if attending goes against their faith? Phrased that way, the answer must automatically be no: granting special privileges exclusively to religious people discriminates against the nonreligious. “Freedom of Religion” doesn’t mean that we must allow people to do anything their religion tells them to do; it means that everyone shall be treated equally, regardless of their religion (or lack thereof). The rule “all soldiers must attend official ceremonies, except for religious soldiers” is just as discriminatory as the rule “all soldiers may apply for officer training, except for religious soldiers.” If the military is entitled to require its personnel to attend certain ceremonies, then no one should get a pass merely because of their religious beliefs.

Of course, sometimes it is reasonable to allow exceptions to a rule due to special circumstances, such as medical reasons: an epileptic soldier could be exempted from participating in ceremonies that include flashing lights, for instance. But again, all such exceptions should apply to religious and nonreligious individuals equally: religious people’s preferences do not deserve special consideration merely because they are religious. If some soldier wants to claim that hearing women sing gives him an uncontrollable urge to commit rape, that’s one thing (though such a person needs professional help and shouldn’t be in the military to begin with); but merely saying “that’s what my religion tells me to do” is not a reason that deserves any special consideration.

Some may say: Why make a mountain out of a molehill? Can’t we show some flexibility for the sake of social cohesion and harmony? Can’t we respect other people’s beliefs, even if we disagree with them? But this conflict has far-reaching implications, and must be confronted head-on. The general problem is that religion (like all dogma) causes well-intentioned people to do morally repugnant things, while thinking they are doing good. The dismissed cadets are certain that they occupy the moral high-ground, since they are obeying God’s will; but the worldview that is actually promoted by their actions is one where women are considered impure vehicles of temptation and sin, to be controlled by men (who apparently cannot control themselves). Needless to say, this view is baseless and dysfunctional, and must be unequivocally opposed. The cadets need to understand that refusing to hear a woman sing just because she is a woman indicates a moral failing, comparable to shunning blacks or gays. The fact that such bigotry is supported by religious beliefs doesn’t make it any more respectable — it merely discredits those beliefs.

If you don’t get this, I don’t want you leading an army.

If by whiskey July 17, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Logic, Religion.
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Richard Elliot Friedman and Shawna Dolansky have written a book called The Bible Now, reviewed by Adam Kirsch for The New Republic:

They have set out to explain “what the Bible has to say about the major issues of our time,” in particular “five current controversial matters: homosexuality, abortion, women’s status, capital punishment, and the earth.”

What, for instance, does the Bible have to say about homosexuality? Leviticus (20:13) seems pretty clear: “And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed abomination: they shall surely be put to death: their blood shall be upon them.” Well, that’s what it says, but what does it really mean?

Friedman and Dolansky use [other ancient Near Eastern texts] to establish “the wider cultural context” of Leviticus, from which it follows that “what the authors of Leviticus … may be prohibiting is not homosexuality as we would construe the category today but, rather, an act that they understood to rob another man of his social status by feminizing him.” Why, then, does Leviticus, uniquely among ancient Near Eastern law codes, prescribe death for both partners in homosexual acts? Friedman and Dolansky argue, quoting another Bible scholar, that it is because Leviticus “emphasizes the equality of all. It does not have the class distinctions that are in the other cultures’ laws.”

This is a remarkable performance. Before you know it, a law that unambiguously prescribes death for gay men has been turned into an example of latent egalitarianism. Friedman and Dolansky imply that it was not homosexuality the Bible wanted to condemn, but the humiliation of the passive partner. And since we no longer think of consensual sex acts as humiliating, surely the logic of the Bible itself means that homosexuality is no longer culpable: “The prohibition in the Bible applies only so long as male homosexual acts are perceived to be offensive.”

But of course, one of the main reasons why people still perceive male homosexual acts as offensive is because the Bible declares them an abomination. Though I’m sure that will now change, as soon as “the wider cultural context” is more widely known…

Speaking of controversial matters: in 1952, Mississippi lawmaker Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat gave a speech on the floor of his state legislature, explicating his position on the prohibition of alcoholic beverages:

My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:

If when you say whiskey you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.

But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.

(via Why Evolution is True)

Your existence offends me July 4, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Religion.

The Israeli National-Civilian Service is planning a festive event to honor its volunteers. In order to decide which singers should perform at the event, the Service conducted a survey among its men and women, and the most popular artist was Harel Skaat — so he was invited. Skaat is male, which is a necessary qualification for the job — because some of the volunteers are haredi men whose religious beliefs forbid them from hearing a woman sing (lest they be tempted to sin). However, some religious folk are still extremely upset about Skaat’s selection:

Information obtained by Ynet reveals that a group of National Service girls complained to the National-Civilian Service Administration in recent days that “an artist who does not fit the event’s nature” has been invited to the ceremony. [...]

Kiryat Shmona Rabbi Zephaniah Drori, chairman of the Agudah Lehitnadvut (“The Association for Volunteering” — one of the biggest National Service contracting organizations) told religious culture magazine “Motzash”: “It’s clear that this isn’t a pleasant thing, and it’s certainly disrespectful to the National Service girls.” [...]

Knesset Member Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) sent a letter on the matter to Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, whose office is in charge of the National-Civilian Service Administration. He noted that he was amazed to hear that Skaat was selected to sing.

According to Ben-Ari, religious and haredi girls serving in the National Service told him that “Harel Skaat’s personal lifestyle, which is expressed on every stage, contradicts their world of values, and inviting him to an event in their honor offends them.”

What did Skaat do to earn all this hatred?

He’s gay.

And therefore, his very existence is disrespectful and offensive to religious people. Well, you know what? I think religious bigotry is offensive. I think the protesters’ so-called “world of values” is shameful, and deserves derision, not respect. How is their behavior different from an antisemite objecting to a performer for being Jewish?


(via Religion and State in Israel)

There’s no such thing as a Jewish democracy February 4, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Democracy, Equality, Politics, Religion.
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Arye Carmon, Mordechai Kremnitzer and Yedidia Stern, of the Israel Democracy Institute, are rightfully worried about the state of Israeli democracy: there seems to have been a recent increase in discriminatory laws, incitement to violence, racist rhetoric, etc.

The above phenomena are related to the ongoing struggle over Israel’s dual identity as a Jewish and democratic state, which has been under attack for years … The main source of energy that is feeding this attack is a distorted interpretation of the Jewish character of the state, which pits Israel’s Jewish character against its democratic principles…

Another aspect of the attack on democracy has its origins in religious beliefs… A number of Rabbis have challenged the validity of Knesset decisions, while others are pressing impressionable youth to disobey military commanders. The infamous “Rabbis’ Letter,” which prohibits the rental of property in Israel to non-Jews, has tried to make use of religious values to prevent equal rights for Arab citizens. At the most extreme fringe, we have witnessed systematic distortions of the Torah that permit violence and bloodshed aimed at non-Jews.

The Zionist Israeli center—religious and secular alike—must take responsibility for the Jewish character of the state and not leave this task in the hands of radicals who are not committed to democracy.  It must fight for the humanistic interpretations of Jewish sources in order to develop a nation state that respects the “Other” and treats those who are different in the classical Jewish spirit, following the precepts “and you shall love the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:19) and “the stranger will be like a citizen” (Leviticus 24:22).

I agree that Israeli democracy is in trouble, and I support some of the political reforms proposed by Carmon et al.; but I think they are confused about the root of the problem — and hence about the solution we should be aiming for. This confusion is illustrated by their appeal to “the classical Jewish spirit,” supported by Biblical quotations — while it is a plain fact that for every Bible verse which seems to promote tolerance and coexistence, there are ten verses (at least) that promote xenophobia, intolerance, discrimination and racism. Anyone who thinks that legitimizing “violence and bloodshed aimed at non-Jews” requires “systematic distortions of the Torah” has not read it. So if we want a liberal democracy, sending people to Jewish sources for inspiration is not a good idea.

The deeper issue is that quoting scripture in this way legitimizes appeals to tradition and authority, when we should be stressing the opposite: just because something is in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s right. We need to talk clearly about why we don’t want to live in the type of society recommended by Jewish scripture. All positions on public matters ought to be rationally defended, and we can then keep the good ideas (even if they are foreign to Judaism) and get rid of the bad ones (even if they are ancient Jewish traditions). What we need is not “humanistic interpretations of Jewish sources;” we need to argue the merits of humanism — and equality, and liberty, and rule of law, etc. — without anchoring ourselves to traditions that reject these values.

What Israel most desperately needs is complete separation between religion and the state. The government must not be allowed to pass any law privileging one religion over another, or privileging religion over non-religion. Tax money should not be used to support religious institutions. The government must not be in the business of determining a person’s religion or adjudicating religious questions. Such actions are inherently discriminatory, and they are the source of many of our never-ending political problems. For example, it is simply intolerable that two Israeli citizens who wish to marry cannot do so if they are of different religions (as determined by the state), or if they do not wish to go through certain religious rituals.

The only sense in which Israel can legitimately be a “Jewish state” is in an unofficial sense: Israel is a state with a Jewish majority, and this fact has obvious (and legitimate) implications on its culture. But a state with an officially privileged religion cannot be fully democratic. Jews immigrated to Israel to avoid discrimination in their homelands; but by officially designating Israel a Jewish state, we become guilty of discrimination ourselves.

How (not) to win a culture war December 22, 2010

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Politics, Religion.
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When considering the recent religious ruling by dozens of municipal chief rabbis in Israel, forbidding Jews from renting or selling their houses to non-Jews, Daniel Gordis opines that concepts like “racism,” while relevant in America, may not be applicable to Israel:

[...] America does not need to struggle to guarantee its Christian nature. Our society, though largely Jewish now, could easily become something very different with time. If that is what these rabbis meant to say, they were right.

Apply the ethnicity-blind standards of American life here, and in a generation or two, Israel’s Jewish quality might be gone.

Gordis goes on to imply that discriminating against non-Jews may be acceptable in order to “guarantee a long-term Jewish quality of this country”. To see the problem with this approach, begin by noticing that there is not actually any agreement among Israeli Jews about just what kind of “Jewish quality” Israel ought to have. There is not even any agreement about who is considered a Jew in the first place — witness the never-ending political struggles over conversion. Would it be acceptable to discriminate against Conservative and Reform Jews in order to guarantee a long-term Orthodox quality for Israel? (“I won’t rent my house to Conservatives!”) Conversely, many Israeli Jews consider the Haredi way of life to be antithetical to the kind of state they would like to live in; would we be justified in treating Haredim differently from all other citizens? (“Haredim are not welcome in my store!”)

Taking Gordis’s approach to its logical conclusion would seem to entail the creation of separate countries for every different culture/worldview. But what happens when people who have lived their whole lives in a Jewish (Orthodox?) state decide they want to be Christians (or Reform Jews) — must they leave their homes and move to a Christian (or Reform) country? Or face discrimination if they stay? And how exactly are we going to decide who is considered a “real Jew” for this purpose? For that matter, there’s no reason why religion should be the only kind of “quality” a state might want to preserve — would the French be justified in discriminating against citizens who want to change their country’s wine and cheese culture?

The fact is that we will always have to live in a society together with people who have different opinions and priorities, and that is actually a good thing: it exposes us to different perspectives and forces us to think critically and to rigorously defend our views in a free marketplace of ideas — may the best ideas win. Being surrounded only by like-minded people is a recipe for stagnation. And as Jews should be the first to remember, any of us could one day find ourselves in the minority. Only a system where all citizens are treated equally can guarantee that people with different beliefs and backgrounds can live together peacefully, and be free to choose their own lives. The “quality” of a state may indeed change over time, but that is often beneficial: would any of us want to live in a Biblical Jewish society, where slavery is permitted and where a woman who is raped must marry her rapist?

Each of us has values and traditions he would like to preserve; people of similar worldviews are free to get together as communities, and build themselves a thriving cultural life. But the honest way to preserve a culture is by persuading other people of its value. If the only way to keep your culture alive is by forcing it on others and discriminating against those who are different, your culture ought to go extinct.


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