Judaism's Conservative Revolution

Article excerpt

For most of this century, American Jews, liberalism and the Democratic Party have gone together like bagels, lox and cream cheese. At present, we can expect this cozy relationship to continue. However, to borrow President Clinton's favorite word, Jewish liberals increasingly will have to contend with change - and it will not be an easy task.

Liberalism already has changed. From a broad national consensus in favor of equal opportunity, individual rights, popular sovereignty and economic growth, modern liberalism has become a minority ideology supporting equality of outcome, group rights, the rule of the elite and redistributionist economics.

Judaism continues to change. The Orthodox community, the largest potential source of Jewish conservatives, remains relatively small, but it is growing and vibrant. At the same time, the liberal denominations (including Reform and Conservative Judaism - the latter not to be confused with Jewish conservatism) sadly have become little more than comfortable exit doors through which grandchildren, if not the kids themselves, leave the faith. With intermarriage rates over 50 percent we can readily understand Rabbi Alexander Schindler, leader of the Reform movement, when he calls for proselytizing - the first such appeal in Jewish history.

And, of course, the Democratic Party has changed. Others have chronicled and catalogued those changes far better than I could; for our present purpose, it will suffice simply to restate the post-November bottom line: minority party.

While our liberal coreligionists deal with these changes, Jewish conservatives should be prepared for an eventual shift within our faith that will mirror what already has occurred in the country as a whole. Such a transformation may not happen for decades, but we should understand its underlying dynamics and do whatever we can to advance the process. To that end, I offer the following guideposts.

First, let us steel ourselves for a long and difficult struggle. Jewish demographics illustrate the problem. Reckoning conservatively (as conservatives should), we estimate that America has 4 million voting-age Jews, that only 20 percent vote Republican and that only 20 percent of those are real conservatives (the other 80 percent might be Jacob Javits types). This leaves us with only 160,000 Jewish conservatives.

That number should both sober and encourage us. Although a minority within a minority, we still can comfortably fund an influential national organization, plus a periodical or two. We can partner effectively with far larger Christian conservative groups, benefiting from their size and influence while helping to guard their flanks. …