Liberalism Is Not Our Religion

Aryeh Rubin, managing director of The Maot Group and president of the Targum Shlishi Foundation, has an opinion piece in the NY Jewish Week bemoaning the new religion of liberal American Jews. He writes as one with excellent liberal credentials, from marching against the Vietnam War to meeting with Arafat. But, he says:

I have not elevated liberalism to the status of religion. I do not blindly follow the liberal agenda and my convictions take a backseat to my commitment to the well-being of Israel and the Jewish people. Unfortunately, this is not the case for the majority of U.S. Jews, who have substituted liberalism for Judaism and whose actions are often governed by misguided priorities. In lieu of traditional Jewish belief or value systems, many American Jews have adopted what is essentially a theology of universalism and tikkun olam, or social justice. In doing so, much of American Jewry has essentially become de-Judaicized.

While I think the entire article should be required reading for American Jews, the following two paragraphs make his point clear:

American Jewry’s loyalty to the liberal political dogma is disturbing when things are going well for the Jews. But when things are not going well, this behavior is self-destructive and helps our enemies.

The future of Israel is at stake. Not only is Israel threatened by the soon-to-be nuclear Iran and its satellites, but its right to exist is being questioned by a virulent, global delegitimization campaign that is being led and energized by the academic left and supported by the elements of the liberal wing. In not speaking out, many Jews are, in effect, endangering Israel and abdicating their responsibility as Jews.

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35 Responses

  1. L. Oberstein says:

    It’s a great day for Conservatives. You guys can all gloat and get smashed tonight as you celebrate the blow out. Now, insteasd of griping the Republicans will have to participate in governance and we will find out if there is any room for common sense compromise between the Sharon Angles of the world and President or if we have two years of grid lock. I am not planning to leave for Sweden or some other socialistic country. I’;; stick it out in the good old USof A. There is a wheel that goes around and sanity will once again rule.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Following the liberal religion with only one exception (with respect to Israel) is not so good, either. Liberal social doctrine often runs counter to Halacha.

  3. Reb Yid says:

    Some historical perspective is in order:

    The vast majority of American Jews backed Israel in 1948 (as did many Americans), premised on a liberal agenda–the promotion of a free, democratic state in the Middle East. Of note is that many Orthodox Jews–particularly Charedim–wanted no part of this. Israel’s very existence was at stake then, too.

    In 1967, once again most Americans and American Jews were supportive of Israel. Again, the basic premise was liberalism. This was best epitomized by none other than Israel’s UN representative, Abba Eban…he was a hero to millions. Again, Israel’s very existence was at stake and it was threatened by many neighboring countries.

    So today, what has changed? Peter Beinart’s argument in The New Republic is spot on–Israel has changed, much moreso than American Jews. Mr. Rubin is inaccurate–there is no “new” religion of American Jews…they are still premising their support based on liberal ideals…but Israel’s government surely has.

  4. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Liberalism is not our religion, but neither is Conservatism. In the frum community, Conservative political dogma has become an ikkur of emunah, and anyone who disagrees is a kofer. In 1992, Rabbonim were telling us that Bush 41’s anti-Israel viewpoint was not important, and that we had to vote for him for America’s sake. So let’s be honest; Israel isn’t the issue now. We are called to vote for the Republicans because of their domestic political agenda.

  5. Bob Miller says:

    Reb Yid’s comment above seems to say that liberals will support Israel to the degree that Israel is liberal. This is far from the historical bond of a Jew to his Land.

  6. robert lebovits says:

    Reb Yid: The liberals of the 40’s & 60’s have no relation to the progressives of our times. Their attitudes toward Israel today is hardly supportive, as they routinely identify Israel as the obstacle to peace in the region with little if any condemnation of Arab terrorism against Israel.
    Neither consevativism nor liberalism should be confused with Torah values, however much one or another may appear to parallel traditional beliefs at any given time. Sadly, most American Jews are so out of touch of their Yiddishkeit that they have accepted situational principles of “fairness” as valid substitutes for Torah & mitzvos.

  7. Reb Yid says:


    Both liberal and conservative Jews have been selective in their support of Israel over the years.

    Plus, when there’s a liberal government in Israel that makes a decision, you hear from conservative US Jews who make a stink about it, while liberal Jews say it’s not for outsiders to meddle in the affairs of another country. Meanwhile, when there’s a more conservative government in Israel that makes a decision, we hear about “achdus” and “unity” from conservatives while the liberals protest.

  8. Steve Ehrlich says:

    Voting for Conservative types isnt free. The price will be paid by those 35 million+ uninsured people who would have their health care benefits curtailed/repealed/rolled back. I wonder how many people will die who didnt have to.

  9. robert lebovits says:

    The health care coverage legislated by the liberals should not be confused with improved access to care. Perhaps 30+ milllion people will now have insurance cards but they will find it much harder to actually be seen by a provider. More demand for care with no greater supply of providers = rationing. And since they are ostensibly insured, they’re no longer eligible for indigent ER services. The system needs to be fixed, but this “cure” is worse than the “disease”.

  10. aron feldman says:

    L. Oberstein,
    is your enmity towards the GOP so great that you will still blindly support a President and a party that have shown so much hostility towards Israel?

  11. Dov says:

    (continuing response to Reb Yid) …

    And Israel is the country that’s blamed for starting a war after 2 years of saying “stop firing rockets at us or we’ll have no choice but to fight back.” Israel is the country that’s blamed for going house to house in Jenin to avoid any unnecessary civilian casualties, and even after studies confirm that the world is convinced of the propoganda. Israel is the country that inflicts less civilian casualties than any other war in history (including WW2 and Iraq) but at the same time is the only country with sanctions for civilian casualties. Israel is blamed for letting Jews build homes in fully Jewish neighborhoods while Arabs build wherever they want. Israel is blamed for the existance of refugee camps created by Jordan and Egypt. Israel is blamed for the fact that the Palestinians don’t have a state, while Jordan and Egypt could have created one for 19 years and didn’t. Israel is blamed for not giving land to the Palestinians, when we’ve said over and over that we’ll do so (as we already have) if they’ll just agree to live peacefully alongside us. Israel is blamed for preventing peace because of allowing Israelis to build homes in the West Bank, when during the months-long period without any building the Palestinians weren’t willing to negotiate anyway. And Israel is blamed for saying that future borders will have to be a compromise, not giving the Palestinians everything they want, when every negotiated country for an indiginous people in history has always had a compromise border defined by the previously existing country, not everything demanded by the indiginous people.

    If liberal American Jews would look as clearly as the facts as they did 30 years ago, and recognize the Arab propoganda for what it is as they were able to do 30 years ago, they’d be as supportive now as they were then.

  12. L. Oberstein says:

    Good morning Aron. I hope you are feeling very happy now. Boehner started to cry during his victory speech. He is the son of a tavern owner who is now going to replace the daughter of an Italian American political machine boss as one of the most powerful people in the USA. That is what America is about, unlimited possibilities, a society where the children of the poor can aspire to rise above class , race and religion and become part of the leadership of hte country. As Jews, we participated in the election without having to do so as Jews. No one pickedd Blumenthal because he is a Jew or Cuomo because he is Italian. Angle was defeated but rand Paul won. Let’s see how this plays out in reality. Can Obama and Boehner compromise and can we deal with the issues or will we have an endless campaign which will harm the people but enrich the powerful.
    If I have enmity toward the element of the GOP that thinks that the solution to all our problems is hardly any government, hardly any regulations, a gravy train for the elite and nothing much for anyone else, then so be it. Nothing in this election angered me more than hearing a Tea Party rally on C Span. How dare they say that they and only they believe in our country, that they and only they believe in our Constitution and that they and only they are Paatriots and lovers of Freedom. America is a better country than those demagogues and we Jews should be part of the dream , notthe nightmare.

  13. Bob Miller says:

    I used “support Israel” deliberately. This has nothing to do with support or nonsupport of a given ruling party there.

  14. Lawrence M. Reisman says:

    Rabbi Aron Feldman asks, “you will still blindly support a President and a party that have shown so much hostility towards Israel?” That is exactly what we were told to do in 1992, when it was Bush 41. G-d will take care of Israel, and we have to worry about the US. But if that logic justifies voting for a Republican, why can’t it be used to justify voting for a Democrat?

  15. Yaakov Menken says:

    Actually, there was no such “vote Bush” knee-jerk reaction. Orthodox and other Jewish Republicans crossed over and supported Bill Clinton precisely because of Bush 41’s hostility towards Israel. I was in Israel at the time, and distinctly recall an Orthodox Jewish talkshow host discussing our hope that “the Bush will burn.” And Bush did. While he was elected with 36% of the Jewish vote, trailing the pro-Israel record of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton got 80% of the Jewish vote in 1992.

    Since then, however, liberal Jews have completely abandoned concern for our own, with greater than 75% voting in favor of the Democratic candidate regardless of the pro-Israel credentials of his opponent. This is unprecedented in Israel’s history. While Reb Yid points to Charedi opposition to the creation of the modern State (while neatly ignoring the then-dominant Reform movement’s equally anti-Zionist stance), this never meant a lack of concern for the safety of Israel’s Jews.

    Reb Yid has turned the truth on its head. Today’s Likud governments are offering up concessions that the Labor government of 1993 never envisioned, sacrificing the safety of its Jewish population on an unprecedented scale, yet Israel has been rewarded with nothing but ever-increasing worldwide hostility. In response, American Jews voted overwhelmingly against the candidate with an impeccable pro-Israel record and solid commitment to Israel’s right to defend itself, in favor of the candidate who sat in the pews of a virulently anti-Semitic preacher for two decades and with strong family ties to the Muslim world.

    The wrongheadedness of supporting Obama should now be obvious to any nonpartisan Jew, and I would suggest that it is. Obama reversed course on Bush 43’s commitments to Israel, even inventing new terms and conditions that even the Palestinians didn’t ask for (Abbas commented that since Obama was demanding a settlement freeze, how could he not?). It is not the Israeli government that Reb Yid and others don’t like — it is Israeli Jews. Israeli Jewish support for Obama currently runs in the 6-9% range, because Israeli Jews, oddly enough, are concerned about their own survival.

  16. aron feldman says:

    Lawrence M. Reisman,

    If the situation were to present itself as a Dem being better than a Rep,then by all means vote Democrat! But as far as Israel goes,the Republicans have been far more sympathetic than the Dems!

    But all one has to do is look at the track record of the past couple years,are the Republicans calling for the UN to have a greater role in things? (Maybe you feel the UN is productive and honest) Are they calling for the world to appease Iran and Hamas?

    It’s your prerogative to look the other way and support the Dems,how bad could they be anyway,they have the support of Sara Silverman? 😉

  17. L. Oberstein says:

    I suggest that Aron and Yaakov read “The Prime Ministers” by Yehuda Avner. It is simply incorrect to tie the Democratic Party to destruction of the State of Israel and the Republican Party to support for Israel. It is just false.
    I agree with most astute observers of the scene that Obama made the same mistake as many others before him in trying to simplify a solution to an intractible problem . Your friends, the Republicans, took us into an unending bloodbath in Iraq and Afganistan without any sophisticated understanding of the people of that region. They didn’t have a clue about Sunnis vs. Shiites. Bush forced the Palestinians to have free and fair elections and they elected hamas, how stupid can one be? Arrogance is not limited to any one political party. Most Jews support the humane concerns of tzedek,tzedek tirdof and you are mistaken in making us all out to be idiots. Be caeful who you call stupid, because it can riccochet.

  18. dovid 2 says:

    “you will still blindly support a President and a party that have shown so much hostility towards Israel?”

    As an answer to my question, my rov told me to vote for Bush Sr. despite his open hostility to Israel only because Clinton’s pro-gay and liberal views where are incompatible with the Torah values.

  19. dovid 2 says:

    L. Oberstein: “Most Jews support the humane concerns of tzedek,tzedek tirdof and you are mistaken in making us all out to be idiots.”

    If one voted for Obama and two yrs. into his administration can describes Obama’s policy as “tzedek,tzedek tirdof”, he surely deserves to be regarded an idiot.

  20. Reb Yid says:

    My purpose was simply to present some historical perspective on the claims of liberalism. And for this I get attacked and slandered by Yaakov Menken, who accuses me and others of not liking Israeli Jews.

    No matter. The fact is that the only reason Zionism took off at all in America was thanks to people like Louis Brandeis, who gave it a newfound respectability, based upon the hopes for a free liberal democracy in the Middle East. And while it is true that Reform Judaism had been initially opposed to Zionist efforts, that had changed dramatically by the middle 1930s. Check out its Columbus Platform of 1937, for example.

    The bottom line is that there was broad-based support in America, premised on liberal credentials. This is a clinical analysis, with no attempt or desire to place a value judgement. Some like Bob Miller believe this to be very dangerous…very well…that is for a separate thread.

    There are many reasons why the dynamic has changed today. But there can be no doubting that one important reason is the effect of the 1967 War, when Israel suddenly found itself in the position of “occupier”. Again–while placing absolutely no judgement on its subsequent actions in the years and decades afterwards–Israel has paid a price in terms of liberalism and democracy…simply because even the best “occupier” in the world (which Israel is, IMHO) is, well…an occupier.

    There are other reasons, which need not be expressed in this thread. But here I see the barbs thrown at Rabbi Oberstein and his gracious responses. There is a big problem when some believe they are the ones who know the “truth”–who is truly “pro-Israel”, who is “Jewish”, who can be called a “Haman”, that to be pro-American requires one to support the Iraq War, etc.

    The politics of guilt by association are outrageous and, as Rabbi Oberstein notes so well, can boomerang. Try Googling “John Boehner” and “Nazi”, for instance…the news is not very pretty. If he were a liberal Representative I have no doubt that Yaakov Menken or someone else on this blog would be calling Boehner a Haman or worse. The difference is that I wouldn’t do that because it is sinking to the gutter to find the worst in everyone. There are still 20-25% of Americans who think that Obama is a Muslim (as if that’s a crime), a similar percentage who think that he wasn’t born in America.

    The thing that struck me about signs for a Tea Party rally near me was the title, “Let’s Take Our Country Back”. An utter shanda. It appeals to the absolute worst, racist and nativist instincts in people, and has popped up from time to time in American history. This is the stuff that’s fueling the direction of the Republican Party, where moderates are an endangered species.

  21. Ori says:

    L. Oberstein: If I have enmity toward the element of the GOP that thinks that the solution to all our problems is hardly any government, hardly any regulations, a gravy train for the elite and nothing much for anyone else, then so be it.

    Ori: This is the key difference. One part of the population believes that more government results in a more equitable society. The other believes that the government is run by an elite group, and responsible primarily to the needs of that elite.

    Does the Torah say anything about this?

  22. Dov says:

    The opening of my response above (“Nov 3 3:19am”) disappeared. Here it is:

    Israel has not changed in a substantial way, but the PERCEPTION of Israel has changed. Liberal supporters of Israel of yesteryear knew Israel’s good despite Arab propaganda, while now liberal Jews are accepting Arab propaganda hook line and sinker.

    Israel is still the country that gave land unilaterally for peace. Israel is the country that sat and did nothing for 2 years of rockets being shot at Sderot and other civilian towns, waiting for the world to do something, before responding. Israel is the country that moved its own civilians out of Gaza because the Palestinians wanted Gaza Judenrein, while at the same time giving Arabs inside Israel voting and representation. And the list goes on.

    BOTTOM LINE the change in liberal support is because of liberal perceptions and following “party line,” not a change in Israel.

  23. aron feldman says:

    dovid 2,

    Don’t you see that joining the UNHRC as the epitomy of “tzedek,tzedek tirdof”? 😉

  24. Moe says:

    I have struggled over the past few years to determine whether it’s the Democrats or the Republicans that are more in line with Jewish values. In the mean time I’ve adopted the noncommittal view of the Independents figuring that I shouldn’t have a party determine my values when the Torah should be the arbiter of my doubts. I would like to learn more about each of the parties though.

    Can anyone perhaps suggest some books that would explain the history behind the parties and the views of each of the parties so I can be better equipped to decide the next time the elections come around? Maybe 1 book embodying the Democrat’s view and 1 book embodying the Republican’s view. Every book is biased but maybe a book from each side would help even things out.

  25. Reb Yid says:

    Ori: [i]This is the key difference. One part of the population believes that more government results in a more equitable society. The other believes that the government is run by an elite group, and responsible primarily to the needs of that elite.[/i]

    Reb Yid: I think that both parts of the population believe that an elite group is running the government and wants to change it. Democrats believe that big business/corporations/management are running the show, and that they employ cultural wedges to get the middle and lower classes to vote against their economic interests. That’s the irony about Palin, et al. who poke fun at the ‘elites’, because it’s the Republicans and Tea Party folks who want to keep the tax cuts for everyone, even for elite millionaires and billionaires.

  26. robert lebovits says:

    Reb Yid:
    Liberal ideals of the 30’s & 40’s have no continuity to the the progressive ideology we are seeing in today’s world. You know perfectly well that the anti-Zionism in vogue among the intellectual/academic Left is simply a euphemism for intense anti-Semitism preached in universities all over the country. Their pro-Palestinian posture is a convenient vehicle for villifying Jewish identity. In one way you are correct about the ’67 war, though not for the reason you indicated. We have been viewed negatively since then by the Left not because we became “occupiers” (the PLO accused us of that in 1964 when they came into existence and called for our expulsion from usurped Arab lands), but because we survived & shed the stereotype of the Nebbish Jew they so loved. The immediate aftermath of the Six Day War was a near-complete absence of hostilities in the areas conquered by the Israelis. In the late 60’s & the 70’s one could travel anywhere in the West Bank with no military escort or fear of attack. That certainly was my personal experience. The most pressing concern of the Arab populace at that time was how to make the most of their newly-acquired commercial audience for personal gain without the oversight of the Jordanian taxman. Only after the Israelis brought Arafat back from exile in Lebanon in the early 80’s with the fantasy that he could somehow become a leader who would negotiate peace on behalf of the Arabs was the occupation concept presented as the source of conflict. Even UN Resolution 242 which was the basis for ending hostilites never specifically referred to Israel as an “occupier” & allowed for the likely result that Israel would hold on to some of the captured territory, at the least.
    I have an alternate theory as to the relative merits of Liberals vs. Conservatives. The most ardent anti-Israel liberals appear to be over-represented by Jews. People like Noam Chomsky, Tony Judt, & Norman Finkelstein are among the most vocal critics on the Left as well as many others. We know that no one can be more destructive to our people than our own. Since Liberalism is a corrupted representation of Jewish values of Chesed it’s no surprise that lost Jews may find it so compelling. I would therefore suggest that Liberalism per se may not be so dangerous; it’s confusion with Torah is the real threat. Consevatism may simply not be as easily mistaken for Torah as it is more akin to Din than Chesed.

  27. Ori says:

    Oops, in my post from the 4th, 1:46 am I should have written “The other believes that the government is run by an elite group, and responsive primarily to the needs of that elite.” I apologize.

  28. Ori says:

    Reb Yid, you’re right – I was inexact. Republicans tend to believe that the government has to be run by an elite group, because that’s part of its nature. That’s the reason we’re afraid of giving the government additional power beyond that required for defense and law enforcement. Democrats tend to believe that the government either is, or can be made, responsive to everybody’s needs.

  29. Reb Yid says:

    The fact is that historically some, and arguably many, Jews have conflated their “Americanism” with their Jewishness. One of many examples: on the issue here, Brandeis himself said that to be a good American is to be a good Zionist. This is value neutral pshat.

    But I do agree with the basic premise of this thread…taken too far, liberalism–and while we’re at it, don’t forget conservatism–is not our religion…we fool ourselves when we insist there’s never any dissonance.

    I mentioned some of the many reasons for the changing dynamics over the past few decades, but they certainly include some of the factors other posters have mentioned. We’ve just scratched the surface.

    Finally, in terms of the current anti-Israel mood…if the Tea Party folks get more power, then Rand Paul and his “America First” mentality will be a whiff of things to come…not what you want to see if you want a strong US-Israel relationship.

  30. Bob Miller says:

    1. Some Jews have conflated their socialism or other political ism with their Jewishness.

    2. Rand Paul represents one Tea Party attitude but by no means the only one or even the general one. It’s a very diverse group. Anyone who would seriously investigate would agree.

  31. aron feldman says:

    L. Oberstein

    While I grant you that the Republicans do not have the exclusive on support for Israel (as written so eloquently by Yehuda Avner) we are not talking about the 60’s and 70’s! As they say in New York “What have you done for me lately?”

    While you have expressed tremendous disdain for the “Tea Party” it’ quite possible that they are a knee jerk reaction to the so called idealists who inhabit the WH today, who due to their condescending attitude and pomposity have failed to connect with the regular,run of the mill American.Maybe the Average Joe is turned off by their association with radicals and preachers who have gone on record saying how much they hate America? Are the groveling apology tours to foreign capitols and the misguided belief that the UN is actually an organization that does good rather than a group of thugs and hypocrites not a turn off to a salt of the earth American?

  32. L. Oberstein says:

    Marco Rubio is the hope of the Republican Party, not Sarah Palin. He is the new Obama, an untested neophyte who will rise in prominence because he projects the right image. All of those people who insist on identifying support for humanity, justice and decency i.e. tzedek ,tzedek tirdof, with blind support for Obama as if he were the totality of the philosophy and reason d’etre of the Democratic Party should know better. If your memory hasn’t failed you, think back to a few years back when the power brokers picked a mediocre Texas Governor and made him nominee of their party but never really thought he would be the one in charge. In the olden days they called this “the smoke filled room”. With billions being spent by those with an agenda on politics, the guys in the back room need a face to project.
    Obama was perfect, an untested local politician who embodied the image they needed. That he won was at least as much a rejection of Bush as a victory for the Democrats.I attended a gathering where each and every candidate for the Democratic nomination made a pitch to us (the National Jewish Democratic Coalition -I could take you as a guest Aron and you could go in a disguise). I was impressed far more by Edwards by his sincerity ( we are get fooled), by Hillary for her self assuredness that she had it in the bag, by Biden, who knew what he was talking about except that he was delusional that he could get the nomination, and by several others more than Obama. I think he won because Hillary lost.
    Thus, I take offense when people gratuitiously try to blame me personally or make me into a nit wit for every stupidity that Obama has done. Even if his heart is in the right place (which you won’t grant him but I am willing to contemplate but not decide), he has not been adroit or effective and he has shown a mixture of ignorance and arrogance that reminds one of Jimmy Carter.
    As far as Middle East policy, it is a complex issue and can’t be boiled down to blanket support for one party or the other, either here in the USA or in Israel. American Jews should not assume that Israelis speak with one voice or that the policies of one party or another are the only right path. This recent election was fought totally on domestic issues, 100%. At the moment, the same elecdtorate that brought the neophyte to immense power, has clipped his wings. This was for many reasons, but Israel has nothing to do with it.
    What I find disconcerting is that otherwise intelligent people, including some rabbis that I know, can’t seem to understand that their way is not the only way.

  33. One Christian's perspective says:

    L. Oberstein : “It’s a great day for Conservatives. You guys can all gloat and get smashed tonight as you celebrate the blow out. Now, insteasd of griping the Republicans will have to participate in governance and we will find out if there is any room for common sense compromise between the Sharon Angles of the world and President or if we have two years of grid lock.”

    Ouch ! Personally, I believe the result of the recent election demonstrated the common sense of the electorate. When the President and Congress have majority in one Party, there is no balance in power and it is very easy for that power to be corrupted by their own ego, self-glorification and self-preservation motives for the office they hold. I find it interesting that you abhor “grid lock” because this was the Party MOP during the last years of President Bush. Personally, I find both “grid-lock” and the “fast train of ramming bills through without wisdom” to both be offensive to the nation. Both Parties have been acting like children in need of discipline for sometime now. The Republicans did not win; the Democrats lost. This does not call for gloating. It calls for humility before God.

    BTW – I have only been to one political event in my life outside of voting and it was a Tea Party event. I can’t speak for all Tea Party events but this one began with the pledge to the flag of the United States of America, one nation under God and ended with all singing “God bless America” – many with tears in their eyes. None of the attendees were what some would call elite. We all appeared to be extraordinarily ordinary.

  34. Steve Brizel says:

    Robert Lebovits’s summary of the leftward evolution of the American political and academic world summs up the isssues quite well. One should never forget that with the collapse of the FSU and the Iron Curtain, and the rise of post modernism and transnationalism as regnant ideologies in Western Europe and in the academic left, the left had no other target than the US and its allies-Israel being one of the main allies of the US. Tony Judt’s role in praising the role of the nation state in Europe and Germany in particular, while denying the same right to the Jewish People and Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust, struck me as one virulent and particularly acute example of Jewish leftist self hatred writ large.

  35. evanstonjew says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein..I have a problem with this sentence…”Readers should mentally review the stories they undoubtedly know about the great Rebbes of the past who made a point of emphasizing to their Chassidim the potential of their own tefilos, rather than relying upon the intercession of a third-party intercessor, regardless of his stature.”

    I don’t think this true. Rebbes of old and today encouraged their chassidim to come to their courts for the chagim and yomin noroim. Tens of thousands of Jews trekked across Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine to be with their rebbe sometimes for longer periods, leaving their wives and young children alone at home. As you know the doctrine of tzadikism, that a rebbe can be poel yeshuos in himel more so than an ordinary person was accepted throughout the chassidic velt. It is implicit in the practises of kvitlech and pidyonim.

    I understand many today have a more naturalist conception of miracles, and cringe where they hear about Moroccan miracle workers, good luck charms and all the rest.Where to draw the line bwetween myth and reason is not fixed once and for all times. Different generations had different ideas.

    [YA – Your point is a good one, but I don’t think it puts a dent in the thought I expressed. There are indeed many stories of the earlier, greater rebbes who, despite the adulation of their own Chassidim, still stressed the efficacy of the tefillah of the most affected party – the person in need. These stories should not be discounted.

    I don’t think they are contradicted by the throngs who gathered to be near their rebbe. Rebbes had many reasons for encouraging the visits of their faithful, including being in a position to both advise and, if needed, make demands of their Chassidim. (Chabad succeeded in setting up a global network of chesed and kiruv in large part because their Rebbe zt”l was able to demand, not just to suggest and inspire.) I would want to see evidence that someone like the Berditchiver or the Sfas Emes encouraged stories about themselves as baalei mofsim. (Their Chassidim and gabboim are a different story.)

    I’m also not so sure that I am advocating a more “naturalist” approach than Moroccan miracle workers. Like many yeshiva-trained people, I am a great fan of Ramban on Chumash. His formulation at the end of Parshas Bo – that the link between our spiritual output and the way we are touched by Divine Providence amounts to nothing less than a miracle – is something I value greatly, despite the problems we have understanding it. ]

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