“Politics makes for strange bedfellows.” This slogan has been around for a long time, probably for about as long as there have been politicians. This observation applies outside of politics.
One of the strangest developments over the last 50 years has been a growing social and political alliance of left-wing Jews and left-wing Gentiles on the one hand, and right-wing Jews and right-wing Gentiles on the other hand. It has to do with common enemies.
The Left-wing alliance was described colorfully by Judge Jonah Goldstein in early 1945. “The Jews have three veltn (worlds): di velt (this world), yene velt (the next world), and Roosevelt.” Goldstein was a Republican politician who ran for mayor of New York City. He lost.
Another slogan is now referred to as an old saying. “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.” It is not a very old saying. It was coined by Milton Himmelfarb, brother of Gertrude Himmelfarb, the neoconservative historian, who was married to Irving Kristol and is the mother of William Kristol. These two families were a neoconservative dynasty.
In contrast are the Orthodox Jews. They have been involved in a conflict with liberal Jews, atheistic Jews, assimilationist Jews, and Reform Jews for two centuries. Even the term “Orthodox Jew” came as a term of derision from liberal Jews in the mid-19th century. The term was accepted by the great theological leader of Orthodox Judaism, S. R. Hirsch.
When I wrote my 17-volume commentary on the economics of the Pentateuch, I repeatedly used the five-volume commentary by Rabbi Hirsch. He had sensible things to say about the meaning of the texts. Yet when I went to almost all other Protestant commentaries on these texts, I found an amazing ignorance of both the background and implication of these texts. Why should I be closer in my interpretations to those set forth by Rabbi Hirsch? Because he took the texts seriously. He also believed they remain applicable in modern times.
In the era of the Reformation, Protestants and Jews, meaning Orthodox Jews, had almost nothing to do with each other. Jews lived in urban ghettos: enclaves where Talmudic law was enforced by Rabbis. The main exception to this was Oliver Cromwell, who in the 1640s invited Jews to come to England. He was not doing this in order to get loans. His theology was committed to the idea that Jews have a legitimate place in modern life. He saw Jews as important in Christian eschatology. So did the Puritans in general. So did many of the Presbyterian Scottish theologians. There is even a section in the Scottish churches’ Larger Catechism that says that Christians should pray for the conversion of Jews (Answer 191). No other ethnic or religious group is singled out by the catechism.
I suppose the best example I know of this somewhat strange alliance is in the classic Gary Cooper movie, Sergeant York. One of the characters was from New York City, obviously Jewish, who was a friend of York’s. They fought the same Germans. One of the script writers was Abem Finkel, who does not sound Puerto Rican. The character was played by George Tobias, a Jewish character actor from New York City.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)