A rabbi explains why Orthodox Jews are rightwingers

In an article here, Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer (profile here), writing in the Times of Israel (profile here), explains “the connection between Orthodox Jews and right-wing politics in America.”

I’ll let him speak (“fair use” and brevity requires some editing):

“Why are so many Orthodox Jews politically to the right? The answer is twofold, but is based on one foundation.

“Over the past half-century, American politics and society as a whole have taken a sharp turn to the left. Attitudes … regarding issues of morality, public decency, the economy and tolerance of crime are quite far from where they were decades ago. …

“For most Orthodox Jews, though, the issue is not merely one of politics. Substantive political and social movement to the left in areas of morality (e.g. gay marriage, increasing liberalization of abortion laws), public decency (e.g. legalizing recreational marijuana, and an overall increase in permissiveness and lewdness), the economy (ever-rising taxes and government spending, making it increasingly challenging to stay afloat and support a full family) and crime (rampant in large Democrat-controlled jurisdictions, where most Jewish neighborhoods are still located) – not to mention weakened Democratic support for the State of Israel and outright ‘progressive’ animus thereto – have compelled large numbers of Orthodox Jews to identify with the Republican party and conservative politics in general.

“When Orthodox Jews sensed that their way of life and dearly-held values were threatened, their political affiliations perforce gravitated to those who more closely identified with their perspectives and needs. Both for pragmatic reasons as well as religious principle, the Republican/conservative approach is a far better match for those who adhere to traditional Torah values, are committed to a secure State of Israel, and seek to raise families in a more wholesome, safe and solvent society.”

Now I’d like to throw in my two cents. I respect Rabbi Gordimer and his viewpoint, but when people argue their case, I want them to be factually accurate. I see some issues.

  1. What is the evidence of an “overall increase in lewdness”? Is there more than there used to be? What data is he using?
  2. Whether federal tax collections and spending are “rising” is easy enough to check. Go here.
  3. Is there more crime now? What do the data show?

Now my thoughts.

  1. I think the changes in American society over the past half-century are mostly for the good. As Lydia O’Conner, writing at Huffington Post, pointed out (here), before then women were treated as second-class citizens, were barred from many jobs, couldn’t apply “for a credit card without a man’s permission,” could be fired for getting pregnant, and couldn’t sue workplace sexual harassers. And, “until the 1990s, several states did not recognize marital rape as a crime.” I don’t want to turn the clock back on social change.
  2. I paid 13%-14% of my taxable income to the IRS every year from 2009 to 2020. So, on a percentage basis, my taxes didn’t go up. Since I pay taxes under the same rules he does, I assume his didn’t, either. In recent years Congress has repeatedly passed tax cuts, and no tax increases. So what is he talking about?
  3. The tax collection data I linked to shows federal revenues fluctuating up and down with the economy, and trending up over time, but keep in mind this is aggregate, not per capita, tax revenue and isn’t adjusted for population growth, inflation, or rising incomes. If you adjust for those factors, taxes aren’t “rising.” If spending has, it’s because of special factors like the 2008-09 financial crisis, and the pandemic. This chart shows that the trend over the last 20 years has been for government to take a smaller, not larger, share of GDP.
  4. If it’s increasingly harder to support a family, that’s because of rising costs for child care, education, and other expenses. For example, college tuition rose faster than inflation and personal incomes. But that added burden on family finances isn’t from “rising taxes and government spending.” In the case of public colleges, it’s a result of less spending, because public college tuition increases resulted in substantial part from less state support for higher education. He’s blaming the general cost of living on government (read: Democratic) tax and spending policies. The facts don’t support that.
  5. It’s true crime is higher in cities, and most big cities are run by Democratic politicians. But “correlation isn’t causation.” A BBC fact-check (here) in September 2020 concluded “some of the fastest increases in murder rates are in Republican-run cities. Data from local police departments does show stark increases in Democratic-run Chicago and New York. But that’s also a trend seen in some Republican-run metropolitan areas.” And from what I’m reading, while homicides are up, overall crime is down. Crime peaked in the 1990s and has been declining since then; as this article notes, “murder rates are still 30% lower than they were during peaks in the 1970s and 1990s,” and the recent uptick may subside as pandemic stress eases. The overall crime rate is partly demographic; crime is a youth phenomenon, and our society is aging. In any case, the reasons for urban crime are complex (see article here); and blaming it on the Democratic politicians who run cities is oversimplistic. What evidence is there that Republicans manage urban crime better than Democrats?
  6. If you don’t like marijuana, don’t to use it. What business is it of his what other people do? Why is drinking moral, but marijuana is immoral? Why is he trying to regulate other people’s morality in the first place?
  7. We’ve always had abortion. Back-alley abortions killed thousands of women. Roe v. Wade made abortions safe. But for women, it’s also about control over their bodies and lives. And what’s moral about forcing a woman to bear and raise her rapist’s child? Do those who oppose abortion in any and all circumstances give any thought to the damage this does to her? And the child? Do they care?
  8. He may see gay marriage as a moral issue, but lots of other people see it as a civil rights issue. He may think different sexuality is immoral, but in fact it’s a biological condition people are born with and can’t do anything about. Is he also prejudiced against legless people because they don’t have legs? And why does he care whether two gay men get married? How does that affect him? Purging bigotry from our laws is a good thing, not a bad thing.
  9. The U.S. has been a strong supporter of Israel under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Presidents of both parties have been involved in Middle East peace efforts, such as Jimmy Carter’s Camp David accords. A couple of progressive Democrats in Congress are Palestinian sympathizers. This may be hard for strongly pro-Israel people to swallow, given the history of Palestinian terrorism and the pigheaded determination of Palestinian leadership to “destroy Israel.”  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the world’s most intractable problems, and nobody has been able to solve it. The hardline policies of Israeli rightwingers, and how far the U.S. should go in supporting that faction of Israeli politics (as distinguished from supporting the nation of Israel), is legitimately debatable. Figuring out something that will bring peace is in Israel’s best interests. You won’t get there by treating the Palestinians as a conquered and subjugated people, or stealing their land. A coherent argument can be made that Netanyahu’s policies have exacerbated the frictions. The Israeli people themselves voted him out of office.

I don’t find Rabbi Gordimer’s arguments persuasive. They’re polemical, not fact-based and pragmatic. I don’t see that his way of thinking offers solutions to society’s problems. I do see suggestions that he wants to turn the clock back to a more ignoble time, when women and minorities were poorly treated, and wants to tell others how to live. I think letting two men legally marry, and live discrimination-free, is more — not less — moral than the old ways of bigotry and closeting LBGQT people. Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated. Jews have been a mistreated minority for thousands of years, so how could he miss that principle?

You expect a very conservative Orthodox community of any religion to be, well, conservative. Nobody’s saying they can’t live their lives as they wish. That’s what America’s freedom is all about. But people lose me when they talk about “values” and “Republicans” in the same breath. This isn’t Eisenhower’s Republican Party of “Main Street” types anymore. The GOP today are shrieking freaks. And you can’t vote for a corrupt, immoral, racist liar and then say you’re doing it to uphold “values.” When you do that, you’re sacrificing values to political expediency. People have their reasons for voting Republican. But don’t try to convince me it has anything to do with morality. Of course, I don’t assume everyone else wants what I do: A society that’s fair and just for everyone.

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