Tuesday, June 19, 2007

On Jewish Loyalties

I’ve been going through the book Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in preparation for some classes I’ll be teaching this fall on Judaism and Jewish history. It's a superb resource and a great overview of all things Jewish. I thought it would be helpful (for me, maybe for you) to regularly blog on what he has to say.

So today's thought comes out of Rabbi Telushkin’s article on “Louis Brandeis (1856-1941)” which includes this, on Jewish loyalties:
Brandeis aggressively criticized Jews who expressed fear that support for Zionism would call their loyalty to America into question. “Multiple loyalties,” he cogently explained, do not necessarily imply “mutually exclusive loyalties. A man can be loyal to his family, his city, his state and his country, and need have no fear that these loyalties will conflict.” Today, some three quarters of a century later, American Jews still cite Brandeis’s formulation to counter accusations that those who work on behalf of Israel are guilty of having dual loyalties [pages 412-413].
This fear of divided loyalties was also part of early Reform Judaism’s resistance to Zionism, as Telushkin explains elsewhere:

Reform Jews feared that Zionism’s insistence that Jews should live in Palestine would call into question Jewish loyalties to their native lands [“Neturei Karta,” p. 335].
Jews who have come to believe in Jesus but insist they are still Jews claim loyalty both to the Jewish people and to Jesus. And they claim loyalty both to the Jewish people and to all people who follow Jesus, Jewish or gentile.

Brandeis was no believer in Jesus, but one wonders if he would have extended the dictum—“Multiple loyalties do not necessarily imply mutually exclusive loyalties”—to the case of Jesus-believing Jews. Or would he have said, as many do, that for a Jew to be for Jesus is an oxymoron, like vegetarians for meat?

Oxymoron or multiple loyalties? What do you think?

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