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Sacred Cows In The American Jewish Community Are Being Shattered

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September-October 1997

In a review of the Jewish year 5757, Debra Nussbaum Cohen of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency states that, "This was the year some of the Jewish community’s sacred cows were slaughtered. Many of the principles and causes closest to the hearts of American Jews were attacked — and in some cases, mortally wounded . . ." (The Washington Jewish Week, September 25, 1997).  

Steven Bayme, director of Jewish communal affairs at the American Jewish Committee, said: "There have been many changes, and they are not a tragedy per se, but a tremendous opportunity. The community’s challenge is now to articulate what makes a Jewish life worth living," rather than to continue focusing on issues of vulnerability and distress.  

In Cohen’s view, "Coloring events throughout the year . . . was the shattering of the spiritual and historical sense of a single Jewish people. The wake-up call came when a little-known organization of Orthodox rabbis landed on the front pages of mainstream newspapers with its declaration that liberal interpretations of Judaism were ‘not Judaism.’ At the same time, the long-simmering struggle over the lack of official Israeli recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism exploded into a full-fledged confrontation between Israel and American Jews . . . At the end of the day, there is a seemingly unbridgeable chasm between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews and between Israelis and Americans . . . Non-Orthodox Jews who have long been loyal supporters of Israel began articulating a sense of disenchantment from the Jewish state — and their money followed their mood."  

In the case of the pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), there has been a direct legal challenge from six former U.S. government officials who "won an important chapter in their eight-year-long battle to have the Federal Elections Commission deem AIPAC a political action committee. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the case and is expected to rule next July."  

At the same time, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, historian of Zionism and former professor of religion at Dartmouth College, told The Jerusalem Post (Sept. 13, 1997) that Zionism must get over the idea that Jews outside of Israel are doomed to failure. "The Galut (Diaspora) is eternal. Anyone who wants to be a Dr. Kevorkian of the Galut . . . is out of his head. Jewish life is coming alive in Europe. We had written off Jewish life in Europe after the Holocaust, and somehow it refuses to die."  

Hertzberg, whose classic book The Zionist Idea was published in 1959, declares that every important Jewish idea in modern times has come from outside of Israel. "Every Jewish movement, both religious and secular, that exists to this day in the Diaspora and in Israel was created by Jews in the early 19th century and in the early heroic days at the beginning of this century . . . in Odessa and Pinsk, or in Warsaw and Berlin, or in Vienna. All the Jewish movements that are vehemently critical of the Diaspora were fashioned in the Galut."  

It was not only Zionists who rebelled against the mentality of the ghetto, he states, but the millions of European Jews who emigrated to America: "The mass migrations of Jews to the west, and primarily to the U.S. a century ago, equally represented this revolt against the culture of the Galut. The American Jews were new and as seemingly unprecedented in Jewish history as the Second Aliya."  

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