by Larry Yudelson and Yori Yanover
This rejoinder to David Klinghoffer's book, How Would God Vote?: Why the Bible Commands You to be a Conservative, examines the assumptions upon which that book was based, and "analyzes the actual consequences of taking Klinghoffer's beliefs and arguments seriously."
Long-time Forward columnist David Klinghoffer argues as "an Orthodox Jew" that "God commands you to be a conservative." This book begs to differ, offering deeper readings of the Torah and Talmud to make the case for voting liberal this, and every, election. Controversial issues addressed include gay marriage, abortion, drug policy, taxation and capital punishment.
Speaking on behalf of the biblical text and the rabbis of the Talmud in How Would God REALLY Vote?, journalists and scholars Yori Yanover and Larry Yudelson take a look at Klinghoffer's arguments and come up with radically different conclusions than does Mr. Klinghoffer. Not only that, but the duo prove that Klinghoffer does not proceed from a Jewish point of view at all, let alone an Orthodox one.
Stimulating and provocative, How Would God REALLY Vote? is an important addition to pre-election conversation and to shedding light on how God wants us to behave, politically.
What is it about David Klinghoffer’s book, How Would God Vote? Why The Bible Commands You To be a Conservative, that demands a refutation? Why couldn’t we, two traditional Jewish men with families and jobs, leave well enough alone?
Klinghoffer claims to to lay out a traditional Jewish theology of fealty to Bible Belt morality, and invites traditional Jews to embrace conservative values like useless government, restrictions on contraception and the idea that smoking is good for you.
You have to admire Klinghoffer’s ambition, trying to sell the conservative package as Torah from Sinai. The problem: It’s not, and we find intolerable the notion that the descendants of labor unionist and freedom marchers are being urged into the Moral Majority with pseudo-biblical arguments that would have made our sages wince.
We hope we have succeeded in conveying a sense that Torah—understood broadly to include rabbinic commentary—is not a conservative manifesto. Far from it. Where Klinghoffer (like Pat Robertson and company) sees the Bible as a call to wage a culture war in America, as a cudgel to pound everyone into his own image, we see the Torah as a tree of life, offering fragrant succor and a variety of enriching flavors, flowering like Aaron’s staff.
About the Authors
Larry Yudelson is founder and editorial director of Ben Yehuda Press.
Yori Yanover is author of The Cabalist's Daughter and is editor of the Grand Street News
|1. Why We Had To Write This Book, God Help Us||1|
|2.Yes, But Is It Jewish?||5|
|3. His Is Not My Infinite God||17|
|4. A Doom of Her Own: Is Anti-Feminism Jewish?||26|
|5. Marrying for Love, Mating for Life||53|
|6. Klinghoffer’s Abortion Distortion||62|
|7. You Say You Don’t Want Evolution||70|
|8. Taxation and Misrepresentation||80|
|9. Health Care: Conservatives Will Make You Sick||95|
|10. Capital Punishment: The Great Social Cleanser||103|
|11. Warrantless Research: Klinghoffer’s Spy Game||114|
|12. This is a Conservative on Drugs||117|
|13. War: Klinghoffer’s Pope Urban Renewal||127|
|14. Is David Klinghoffer Jewish?||134|
|15. God’s Platform: How Would God REALLY Vote||140|
Darwin is not the Enemy (New York Jewish Week, March 24, 2006)
by Larry Yudelson
A response David Klinghoffer's 2006 Jewish Week op-ed attacking Darwin's Jews
David Klinghoffer wonders why the Jewish community hasn’t joined the struggle against Darwin (“Darwin’s Jews,” Feb. 24). He asserts high theological stakes: If it cannot be proven that the origin of life is a scientific impossibility, then Judaism cannot be believed.
Klinghoffer seems unaware that an Orthodox Jewish response to Darwin was offered a century ago by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook.
Rav Kook, who was to become the chief rabbi of prestate Palestine, saw no need to disprove evolution. Indeed, he saw Darwin’s theory as pointing to “the unfolding of the spiritual dimension of existence, which does not show a hiatus of a single wasted step.”
The problem raised by evolution, said Rav Kook, was based on its conflict with the religious views of the masses, not on the inner truth of Judaism.
“For this,” he wrote, “there is need of great illumination, which is to penetrate all strata of society, until it reaches with its agreeable harmonization even the simplest circles of the masses” (Orot Hakodesh II 556-560).
Rav Kook’s faith-filled response to science contrasts with that of Klinghoffer and his colleagues in the Intelligent Design movement, desperately seeking God at the final line of the scientific enterprise. It is a challenging search, in part because our understanding of biochemistry and molecular genetics has deepened in recent years. Whether Klinghoffer likes it or not, we are simply understanding more about how the world works.
That is why Intelligent Design is ridiculed for worshiping a “God of the gaps,” a deity whose existence is found in the failure of scientists to fully explain every natural phenomenon. The majesty of such a God decreases with every new scientific study.
Certainly the Catholic Church did itself no favors when it placed its theological bets against the astronomical discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo.
The Church, like Klinghoffer, would have done well to follow the path of Maimonides, who opposed his contemporaries who preached the eternity of the world simply because “the theory has not been proved” (Guide II 25), while allowing that were it to be proved, it would not contradict the core Jewish beliefs.
(Maimonides’ willingness to interpret the Torah figuratively places him at odds with today’s haredi Creationists, who insist the world is less than 6,000 years old and ban dinosaurs from their classrooms.)
The true beauty of Rav Kook’s approach, however, is not its pragmatism but its piety. He believes that God is the premise, not the conclusion. His God is not ascertained in scientific arguments but through perception and faith.
In marked contrast to Klinghoffer’s fear, Rav Kook reacted to those who postulate a purely physical world with equanimity, regarding “this childish construction as one which fashions the outer shell of life while not knowing how to build life itself” (Igrot I 44).
Rav Kook explicitly rejects the very moral logic of seeking God through the scientific means: “We do not base our faith in God on an inference from the existence of the world, or the character of the world, but on inner sensibility, on our disposition for the divine (ibid.).”
Rav Kook’s perspective, for all its poetic majesty, is self-evident for any Jew who takes the prayerbook seriously.
In the morning, when we praise God for “mercifully shining light on the Earth and those who dwell on it,” we are not claiming that physics is inadequate to explain the sunrise. Rather, we see the nuclear furnace 93 million miles away as a reflection of God.
The next line tells us a key fact for a believing Jew: God constantly renews the work of creation. Our prayerbook does not deny any materialistic mechanism to the sunrise, be it the chariot of Apollo or the laws of gravity. It asserts only that the rising of the sun reflects God’s will, constancy and love.
We believe that God maintains each spinning electron not because we can think of no better explanation for physics but because that is our core belief about God. And our belief in God does not preclude our working to examine and understand the workings of His world as fully as is possible.
In fact, for Rav Kook the developing conception of science is important because it fosters a developing conception of God. Conversely, Rav Kook would argue that atheism among evolutionary theorists is not a sign that something is wrong with the structure of biological science, but rather as a sign that something is wrong with religion.
Rav Kook would argue that Klinghoffer should not be toiling in the journals of biological research, but should be seeking to penetrate the inner meaning of Torah’s mystical core: “In general this is an important principle in the conflict of ideas, that when an idea comes to negate some teaching in the Torah, we must not, to begin with, reject it, but build the edifice of the Torah above it, and thereby we ascend higher, and through this ascent, the ideas are clarified” (Igrot I 124).
Klinghoffer is right in one respect: As a key architect of our modern world, Darwin presents a challenge to religion. But the real challenge we religious Jews face is not to destroy what Darwin built but to build what Rav Kook envisioned, a living religion as dazzling in its way as Darwinian science is in its way. n
Larry Yudelson is editorial director of Ben Yehuda Press, which recently reprinted “The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook,” translated and edited by Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser