The most frequently asked question I receive from non-Jews about Jews is, why are Jews so liberal?
The question is entirely legitimate since Jews (outside of Israel) are indeed overwhelmingly liberal and disproportionately left of liberal as well. For example, other than blacks, no American group votes so lopsidedly for the Democratic Party. And the question is further sharpened given that traditional Jewish values are not leftist. That is why the more religiously involved the Jew, the less likely he is to be on the Left. The old saw, "There are two types of Jews -- those who believe Judaism is social justice and those who know Hebrew," contains more than a kernel of truth.
In no order of importance, here are six reasons:
1. Judaism is indeed preoccupied with social justice (as well as with holiness and personal morality), and many Jews believe that the only way to achieve a just society is through leftist policies.
2. More than any other major religion, Judaism has always been preoccupied with this world. The (secular) Encyclopedia Judaica begins its entry on "Afterlife" by noting that "Judaism has always affirmed belief in an afterlife." But the preoccupation of Judaism has been making this world a better place. That is why the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) is largely silent about the afterlife; and it is preoccupied with rejecting ancient Egyptian values. That value system was centered on the afterlife -- its bible was the Book of the Dead, and its greatest monuments, the pyramids, were tombs.
3. Most Jews are frightened by anything that connotes right wing -- such as the words "right-wing" and "conservative." Especially since the Holocaust, they think that threats to their security emanate from the Right only. (It is pointless to argue that Nazism stood for National Socialism and therefore was really a leftist ideology. Whether that is theoretically accurate doesn't matter; nearly everyone regards the Nazis as far Right, and, therefore, Jews fear the Right.) The fact that the Jews' best friends today are conservatives and the fact that the Left is the home of most of the Jews' enemies outside of the Muslim world have made little impact on Jews' psyches.
4. Liberal Jews fear most religion. They identify religion -- especially fundamentalist religion and especially Christianity -- with anti-Semitism. Jews are taught from birth about the horrors of the Holocaust, and of nearly 2,000 years of European, meaning Christian, anti-Semitism. They therefore tend to fear Christianity and believe that secularism guarantees their physical security. That is what animates the ACLU and its disproportionately Jewish membership, under the guise of concern with the Constitution and "separation of church and state" (words that do not appear in the Constitution), to fight all public expressions of Christianity in America.
5. Despite their secularism, Jews may be the most religious ethnic group in the world. The problem is that their religion is rarely Judaism; rather it is every "ism" of the Left. These include liberalism, socialism, feminism, Marxism and environmentalism. Jews involved in these movements believe in them with the same ideological fervor and same suspension of critical reason with which many religious people believe in their religion. It is therefore usually as hard to shake a liberal Jew's belief in the Left and in the Democratic Party as it is to shake an evangelical Christian's belief in Christianity. The big difference, however, is that the Christian believer acknowledges his Christianity is a belief, whereas the believer in liberalism views his belief as entirely the product of rational inquiry.
The Jews' religious fervor emanates from the origins of the Jewish people as a religious people elected by God to help guide humanity to a better future. Of course, the original intent was to bring humanity to ethical monotheism, God-based universal moral standards, not to secular liberalism or to feminism or to socialism. Leftist Jews have simply secularized their religious calling.
6. Liberal Jews fear nationalism. The birth of nationalism in Europe planted the secular seeds of the Holocaust (religious seeds had been planted by some early and medieval Church teachings and reinforced by Martin Luther). European nationalists welcomed all national identities except the Jews'. That is a major reason so many Jews identify primarily as "world citizens"; they have contempt for nationalism and believe that strong national identities, even in America, will exclude them.
Just as liberal Jews fear a resurgent Christianity despite the fact that contemporary Christians are the Jews' best friends, leftist Jews fear American nationalism despite the fact that Americans who believe in American exceptionalism are far more pro-Jewish and pro-Israel than leftist Americans. But most leftist Jews so abhor nationalism, they don't even like the Jews' nationalism (Zionism).
If you believe that leftist ideas and policies are good for America and for the world, then you are particularly pleased to know how deeply Jews -- with their moral passion, intellectual energies and abilities, and financial clout -- are involved with the Left. If, on the other hand, you believe that the Left is morally confused and largely a destructive force in America and the world, then the Jews' disproportionate involvement on the Left is nothing less than a tragedy -- for the world and especially for the Jews.
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”