The first is a humorous but insightful anecdote from Jeff Jacoby's remarks:
According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, only 16 percent of Jews attend religious services at least once a week, compared with 39 percent of Americans generally. Just 31 percent say religion is “very important” in their lives (vs. 56 percent of Americans).David Gelernter is professor of computer science at Yale University and the author of "Judaism: A Way of Being," to be published in January by Yale University Press.
Such data led Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s chief rabbi, to quote a comment made by the late hasidic troubadour Shlomo Carlebach after a lifetime of visiting American campuses: “I ask students what they are. If someone gets up and says, I’m a Catholic, I know that’s a Catholic. If someone says, I’m a Protestant, I know that’s a Protestant. If someone gets up and says, I’m just a human being, I know that’s a Jew.”
Here is an excerpt from his contribution to the symposium:
So what’s happened in Europe?Finally, Michael Medved, a radio talk show host, offers what was perhaps the most provocative contribution to the symposium:
In much of Western (especially northwestern) Europe, marriage seems to be dying. (“Today . . . 0nly the lower orders and what remains of the gentry bother to marry, and everyone else takes a partner, as if life were a dance, or a business venture.” Thus the Irish writer John Banville in his 2006 novel, The Sea.) Up-to-date Englishmen on the topic of science versus religion sound, too often, like smug low-church curates in Trollope holding forth on the British Empire versus the filthy natives. (This suffocating self-righteousness ruins the novels of — for example — the contemporary Englishman Ian McEwan.) European sex (casual or not, hetero- or homo-) seems to have developed the moral significance of an ATM transaction on a street corner. The “Green party” was a German invention, the English Conservatives have recently adopted a green tree as their emblem, and European eco-priests speaking ex cathedra are generally regarded as infallible.
The strangest aspect of modern Europe is its tentative yet progressing love affair with death. (We think of Keats listening, darkling, to his nightingale.) The death wish is plain among Europeans who shrug off birthrates so low (and immigration rates so high) that their nations will be gone within a few generations. The death wish probably plays a part in the fervor some European nations (especially Germany) feel to lose themselves in the European Union, and in the outright enthusiasm in parts of Europe for assisted suicide. Modern Germany often cremates the dead with no rites and no comment, making death as humdrum as taking out the garbage.
If we sum up these tendencies, we arrive at a belief that man should be happy as an animal among animals, should aspire to nothing higher, and should be satisfied to worship the earth and himself if he must worship anything. This is a new sort of paganism but is clearly related to older types. In fact, mulling German history in particular, one wonders whether the Germans ever were more than half-Christianized, whether paganism hasn’t always appealed to the lofty German Geist. It’s not surprising that Germany should be a leader not only in the new liberalism but also the new paganism.
Will American Jewish liberalism drift by inches into American Jewish paganism? Not necessarily. But that fate will be avoided only if American Jews form a clear picture of the direction in which they are headed before they follow Europe into the anonymous pagan abyss and disappear. Jewish religious genius is capable of rearing up at any time and changing the direction of history—but only if Jewish prophets speak up loud and clear . . .
For most American Jews, the core of their Jewish identity isn’t solidarity with Israel; it’s rejection of Christianity. This observation may help to explain the otherwise puzzling political preferences of the Jewish community explored in Norman Podhoretz’s book. Jewish voters don’t embrace candidates based on their support for the state of Israel as much as they passionately oppose candidates based on their identification with Christianity—especially the fervent evangelicalism of the dreaded “Christian Right.” . . .The whole symposium is here.
Anyone who doubts that rejection of Jesus has replaced acceptance of Torah (or commitment to Israel) as the eekur sach—the essential element—of American Jewish identity should pause to consider an uncomfortable question. What is the one political or religious position that makes a Jew utterly unwelcome in the organized community? We accept atheist Jews, Buddhist Jews, pro-Palestinian Jews, Communist Jews, homosexual Jews, and even sanction Hindu-Jewish meditation societies. “Jews for Jesus,” however, or “Messianic Jews” face resistance and exclusion everywhere. In Left-leaning congregations, many rabbis welcome stridently anti-Israel speakers and even Palestinian apologists for Islamo-Nazi terror. But if they invited a “Messianic Jewish” missionary, they’d face indignant denunciation from their boards and, very probably, condemnation by their national denominational leadership. It is far more acceptable in the Jewish community today to denounce Israel (or the United States), to deny the existence of God, or to deride the validity of Torah than it is to affirm Jesus as Lord and Savior.
For many Americans, the last remaining scrap of Jewish distinctiveness involves our denial of New Testament claims, so any support for those claims becomes a threat to the very essence of our Jewish identity. Many Jews therefore view enthusiastic Christian believers—no matter how reliably they support Israel and American Jews—as enemies by definition. Rather than acknowledge the key role played by Christian Zionists (prominently including Harry Truman) in establishing and sustaining the U.S.-Israel alliance, liberal partisans love to invoke 2,000 years of bloody Christian anti-Semitism. Today, however, the echoes of that poisonous hatred, complete with seething contempt for the allegedly disloyal and manipulative -“Israel lobby” in American politics, turn up far more frequently in the newsrooms of prestige newspapers or the faculty lounges of Ivy League universities than they do in Baptist churches in Georgia or Alabama.