Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Grasping at Flags and Straws

Posted by Ellen W. Horowitz

Last week Jewish Republicans were frantically prospecting for a Jew-friendly sign – any sign - in the great Northwest wilderness. And Eureka! A video clip revealed that Sarah Palin’s office window sports a small - but noticeable - Israeli flag.

For all I know it could have been a remnant left by one of the participants of the “Farthest North Jewish Film Festival.” in Fairbanks last spring, but it is more likely an Evangelical statement in support of the Jewish state.

Meanwhile, Jewish Democrats were desperately panning for a few nuggets of their own, and it seems they have hit Pentecostal pay dirt in the form of Palin’s recent attendance at a nasty Jews for Jesus sermon at her present church, and her spirited delivery of a commencement speech to young missionaries a few months ago at a church she had attended for decades.

The concept of a Jesus-loving, moose-hunting, hockey-Mom-turned-governor of Alaska, is far more goyishe than yiddishe – and that makes for great Jewish humor. This is blockbuster sitcom material and the comedians and cartoonists are having, and will continue to have, a field day for days, and possibly for years to come. But I have hunch that Palin has the true grit to ride this out.

Extraordinary as she is, Sarah Palin is only human, and juggling high political office and the campaign trail with a special-needs infant, soldier son, and unwed pregnant daughter engaged to a self-proclaimed “f - - -in' redneck", has given Americans on both the left and right of the political spectrum something to laud, laugh, cry, and shrie about - because Sarah Palin is but a microcosm of everything that’s great and embarrassing about America and the human condition.

So lighten-up Jewish Republicans, because all’s fair in love and war; and while Palin is sure to be admired, she will also be relentlessly lampooned by Comedy Central, harpooned by Greenpeace liberals, skinned alive by the people from PETA – not to mention ravaged by the packs of media hounds who are howling, prowling, and out for blood.

But in all seriousness, the prospects of a determined Pentecostal Vice President has increased the angst among some Americans who feel legitimately threatened by the relentless evangelical battering of the sacred wall separating church and state. This Israeli mother – who does not vote in U.S. elections – is similarly concerned about maintaining a respectful distance and border between Judaism and Christianity. And this has become increasingly difficult given the evangelical biblical spin on, and fusion of, “Judeo-Christian” values, heritage, and faith.

Sarah Palin, the Great Mother of the North, appears to be very capable and may be a tremendous asset to the McCain campaign, but she is not our savior - unless you’re a “Jewish believer” in another “perfected” American female fundamentalist by the name Anne Coulter who claims, "the survival of Israel is inextricably linked to the survival of the Republican Party and its evangelical base."

That Sarah attends churches affiliated with the Assemblies of God is something that should make every Jew squirm a bit, but her attending a sermon by a Jews for Jesus leader is less of a concern for Israelis than some of the more disturbing legislative meddling in Israel’s affairs that we hope any prospective evangelical Vice President will avoid.

There have been ongoing attempts by Capital Hill pro-lifers to influence Israel's stance and legislation on abortion and stem cell research.

Evangelical groups have repeatedly used the 1998 Congressional International Freedoms of Religion Act as a means to promote missionary activity while preventing Israel from adopting and enforcing anti-missionary legislation. Religious freedoms grounds are also being used to bolster the case for “messianic Judaism” (Christianity) in Israel, and in attempts to introduce changes in the Law of Return.

Accusations leveled by the State Department, ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice), and evangelical lobbying groups have depicted Orthodox Jews as violent persecutors of the church and messianic groups in Israel.

In some respects Israel’s relationship with American Evangelicals takes on a certain Esauvian quality. Biblically and quite literally speaking, Sarah Palin is "a cunning (skillful) hunter, a [wo]man of the field". She also has a hankerin’ for large, hairy redheads that seems to be taken straight out of Genesis.

After she blesses the Assemblies of God Masters Commissions students in their mission to go out and “bring people in”, she goes on to say that, “You guys are all a bunch of cool looking Christians… People are going to be interested in Jesus Christ through you because of the way you look. This red-headed Sasquatch for Jesus…you look good!

The Wasilla Hollywood trailer promoting the Masters Commission is downright dark and frightening with its special fiery effects and ominous voice-over proclaiming that the missionary program is “one of the keys in God’s plan for Alaska , the United States, and the entire world”

Sarah concludes her speech to a group of young missionary graduates by saying…
“I grew up at Wasilla Assemblies of God, nothing freaks me out about the worship service.”

But it does and should “freak out” some of us Jews, because - for us - it is strange worship.

Sarah Palin is an entrenched Christian Fundamentalist who admittedly “grew up” in a church which statements of belief include the following :

WE The Millennial Reign of Christ when Jesus returns with His saints at His second coming and begins His benevolent rule over earth for 1,000 years. At that time many in the nation of Israel will recognize and accept Him as the Messiah, the Savior who died for them and all mankind.

WE BELIEVE...A Final Judgment Will Take Place for those who have rejected Christ. They will be judged for their sin and consigned to eternal punishment in a punishing lake of fire.

Like our forefather Yitzchak, we Jews tend to be terribly impressed to the point of blindness by looks and those who can walk the walk and talk the talk., And because of our tendency to fall into traps, I would think we should use the Talmudic approach of "respect and suspect" whether sizing-up Palin, Obama or any other politician or preacher.

We have to remember that neither the born-again status of Bush, the bible-teaching background of Carter, nor Clinton's bedside promises to his dying pastor regarding Israel, have managed to invigorate or strengthen the Jewish state’s position regionally or internationally.

Sarah Palin is an impressive figure who may put Mcain over the top, and she could very well direct her evangelical influence and constituency towards reaching out in a positive manner to Israel. Alternatively, if we don’t keep our guard up, we may be witness to "outreach" efforts in the form of unwanted Christian influence.

So if you’ll permit me to get biblical again, some commentators see Yaacov’s prayer of " Please save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav", as an indication that Yaakov was more frightened of Eisav as a loving brother and friend than of a violent Eisav.
And our sages and great teachers recognize that "all the actions of the forefathers are auguries for their descendants;" With this in mind, it would appear that a polite and respectful insistence of a separation between the church and the State of Israel would be in keeping with our forefather Yaacov's footsteps.

When it comes to the American election, this Golan mother of six – who has been known to handle a Glock, a few goats, and wrangle with a pet wolf – will watch from a distance, and hope and pray that the best man or woman win. And like Yaacov, we as a nation and as individuals will have to turn inward, wrestle with our demons, and come out on top - regardless of the changes in a U.S. administration.


Anonymous said...

What, and Obama going to Jeremiah Wright's church is any better? What really motivated you to write this post?

Anonymous said...

my motivation?
hmmmmm. let's see....
a) a desire to see my people get real and to stimulate some critical and creative Jewish thinking when examining this issue

b) an aversion to idolatry. I see no reason why we need to put any candidate on a pedestal. so I put Palin in perspective

c) I want Israelis and American Jews to take their destiny into their own hands, and to stop relying on Capital Hill or evangelicals as caregivers

d) I want my people to lighten up and learn to laugh again. Jewish Republicans simply aren't funny

I think Jeremiah Wright is outrageous and dangerous. I am very concerned about a possible Obama victory. What more needs to be said?

goyisherebbe said...

I think we should be more worried about making Israel more Jewish rather tnan freaking out about the Christian shtick of an American candidate. The expectation that somehow American and Jewish values should coincide is not very healthy and not very realistic. It says in Parshat Vaethanan which we read a few weeks ago that the nations of the world will appreciate our knowing what we are doing when we keep the Torah. It does NOT say that they will love us for it. Nor does it say that they will change their basic culture because of it, nor should they. Eventually they will give up idolatry and serve Hashem, but they will still be different from us, and that is okay. I saw the video and was not particularly bothered. I've seen that before. I'm from "out of town", i.e. the West Bank of the Hudson.
I do agree with your objectives, Ellen. The Buchanans of America would appreciate it if we stopped taking handouts from America and stood on our own two feet. They probably wouldn't like it so much when we took a more independent position without listening to the world's threats.

goyisherebbe said...

on Sarah Palin, Israel and Jews.

Anonymous said...


I agree "we should be more worried about making Israel more Jewish rather tnan freaking out about the Christian shtick of an American candidate.", but I think it's important to note that the American Christians keep sticking their shtick at us in Israel, because that's what evangelicals live for.

And surprisingly, it's not the secular Jews who have been inviting this shtick, but rather the Torah observant Jews who are "so secure in their faith", that they aren't bothered by this shtick. But what about our bretheren who are not so secure in their Judaism?

And I think it's sort of sad that Diaspora Jews are no longer repulsed when they see Christian shtick. In a certain sense it means we have lost our sensitivity to idolatry. This stuff should look and feel strange.

thanks for your comments

Avi said...

Again, Am Yisrael is between a rock and a hard place.

I'm going to link to this post.

Anonymous said...

You are using the word "idolatry" very freely here, perhaps out of ignorance. At worst, the Protestant trinitarian belief would be characterized as "shituf" - worship of lesser gods along with the true God. While this is completely forbidden for Jews, there is a legitimate halachic debate as to whether this prohibition applies to non-Jews as well.

Anonymous said...


Christianity is idolatry for the Jews. And this is my concern. Whether it's permissible for non-Jews is another issue altogether.

The concept of shituf and its halachic implications may be something Diaspora Jews need to concern themselves with vis a vis business, personal, and social dealings. It's my understanding that the very concept of shituf was developed for Jews in the Diaspora.

But once back in Israel, the halachic status and ethical standards with regards to our dealings with Christians change.