A few weeks ago, I wrote an article critical of Reform Rabbi Joshu a Davidson who had written an article in The Jerusalem Post critical of the Bible, worthy of some of history’s worst anti-Semites.
In Davidson’s original article, he quoted a survey that stated that most non-observant Jews do not believe that Israel is the Promised Land, while 84 percent of Orthodox do. Parenthetically, I wondered out loud who those 16 percent of Orthodox Jews are who do not believe that.
In the subsequent edition of the Queens Jewish Link, letter-writer Choni Kantor asked if I could express my thoughts on who those 16 percent might represent. In truth, I still have a lot of trouble coming to grips with who those people might be. It seems to me that if one is a practicing, believing Orthodox Jew, then one must believe that Eretz Yisrael is the Promised Land as made clear in the Torah countless times.
The easiest approach would be to dismiss the survey as flat-out wrong. After all, there is no way that that percentage can be accurate. Sixteen percent of G-d-fearing Jews do not believe that Israel is the land promised by Hashem to Avraham, with Avraham’s direct descendents personally led there by Him following the Exodus from Egypt? No way! Of course, like all surveys, it is very possible that it is indeed flawed.
But alas, there is a distinct possibility that there is some truth to the survey. “Exclusivity” has become a dirty word in today’s parlance. It’s almost up there with racism. In today’s culture, many on the Left refuse to accept the idea of American exclusivity or exceptionalism. There is nothing unique about America nor is there anything special about it. We are a nation like all nations – some good points and some bad points.
Never mind that the United States has been a beacon of hope and freedom to the entire world. Never mind that it has led the fight throughout the globe to save others from oppression. Never mind that it is the showcase of the glorious benefits of capitalism with the world’s most powerful economy. Never mind that its mighty armed forces are only used for good purposes and to fight evil. Never mind that it has become a melting pot for countless cultures. Never mind that it has shared its wealth within and beyond its borders more so than any other society. Never mind that people are free to express their religious and political beliefs no matter what they may be. Never mind that it has fought a civil war to rid itself of the scourge of slavery and racism. And never mind that it continues to be the most desired country on earth for people to immigrate to, and to seek opportunity. As Jews, this country has been more benevolent and accepting than any other country in world history.
Yet so many, especially the young elements of today’s society, bristle at the mention of American exceptionalism. A certain guilt rises within, which says: Who are we to say that we are special or superior to any society? Are we not subscribing to a form of racial superiority by making such a declaration?
The same thing, I’m afraid, applies to many in the Orthodox community as well. How dare we declare ourselves special? How dare we declare our Land of Israel as special? This raises a certain discomfort level from within. It’s not cool as Americans to think that, and it’s not cool as Jews.
About two years ago I wrote an article titled “How Crazy Are We?” In it, I point to yarmulke-clad students and their female counterparts who rallied against President Trump because of his attitude toward illegal immigration and the influx of Muslims hailing from terrorist countries. I questioned why these students seemed to care more about all other ethnic groups, even those representing our own peril, while protesting the friendliest president the Jews and Israel have ever known.
For that, I got hammered by several self-declared Orthodox letter-writers. Worse, a Queens Orthodox rabbi wrote a whole article condemning my words as making Judaism appear to be too self-centered. Furthermore, when I arranged this past winter, together with our Vaad and the QJCC, a rally in front of our library to protest anti-Semitism in Congress, a local Orthodox rabbi declared publicly in his shul that he will not be attending, as the rally may be offensive to other ethnic groups that were not mentioned in the publicity. In other words, there is nothing unique about anti-Semitism as compared to other forms of hatred.
I wonder: If a reporter came to one of these rabbis or Orthodox laymen and stuck a microphone into his face and asked, “Do you believe in the concept of the Chosen People,” what would he say? What would he say if asked, “Do you believe that Israel is the Promised Land?”
I will confess that caution needs to be taken when answering these questions to a reporter, because they may be loaded with a sinister objective. But what would they answer in a concealed survey? What percent of today’s young Orthodox generation would be willing to answer “yes” to these questions under any circumstance?
It may well be that 16 percent was a lowball figure. I hope I’m wrong.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.