Lecturer sees costs to Jewish achievement
Rabbi Ken Spiro praised Jews for the disproportionate influence they’ve had on society throughout history, but warned that their penchant for activism in the name of universal causes has led to “a dissipation of the Jewish drive” that threatens to undermine their own long-term survival.
“Today, many Jews support every ‘ism’ except ‘Judaism’ and 96 percent of all Jewish charitable giving is going to non-Jewish causes,” Spiro said in a lecture at Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor on Feb. 11. “The ‘Light to Nations’ needs to relight its own charge.”
More than 75 people attended the lecture, including more than 25 students from Beth El’s high school program.
A senior lecturer and researcher for Aish HaTorah’s Discovery Seminar, Spiro shared examples of the Jews’ influence on government and political thought over the last several centuries.
“Great political thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and John Selden were obsessed with the Bible and studied it for its access to Jewish law” and clues to Jewish political traditions, he said.
According to Spiro, leading American figures, beginning in the 1700s, looked to the Old Testament for guidance on efficient government. They included Samuel Langdon, president of Harvard University from 1774 to 1780, who said that biblical government represented “a perfect republic” and “an excellent general model of civil polity,” and Woodrow Wilson, who remarked that “the influence of the Hebrew commonwealth was paramount” in the development of the Constitution.
Jewish contributions to general society continue with their disproportionate representation among professionals, university faculty, and Nobel Prize winners.
“Abraham had a clarity and commitment and was a truth seeker with a drive for meaning regardless of the consequences,” Spiro said, noting that Jews have continued to embody a unique level of “chutzpah” that’s been evidenced by their accomplishments throughout history.
Spiro also noted the Jews’ preference for the Democratic Party, with a majority of Jews defining themselves as liberal.
Though their relative affluence would suggest that Jews would align with Republicans, Spiro attributes the “anomaly” of their largely Democratic affiliation to the concept of “spiritual genetics” — a set of traits which represent “the very essence of who we are” and which he said can be traced back to Abraham and Sarah.
“Jews are a driven people who have been disproportionately impactful in the world, who think out of the box and are attracted to radical causes, and who are inclined to stand up to the whole world,” he said, adding that such characteristics are more consistent with Democratic thinking. “We are also a merciful and modest people who love to do kindness.”
Unfortunately, said Spiro, “American Jews believe more in a commitment to social equality” than they do in the Jewish religious tradition. “As a result, the Jewish people are imploding, and far more Jews have ‘disappeared’ [by leaving Judaism] since World War II than Hitler killed,” he said.
“The first priority for Jews is maintaining their Jewish identity, seeing its beauty and meaning, and making it an essential part of their life,” Spiro concluded. “Jews for Judaism make better people for the world.”
Spiro’s lecture at Beth El was the last in a series of six presented as part of a recent “Celebrate Israel” course designed to “celebrate Jewish life, values, and connection to the State of Israel,” said Naomi Vilko, course director and a member of the board of directors of Jerusalem Online University.
The lecture was sponsored by Hadassah, the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, Shalom TV, Jerusalem Online University, the Jewish National Fund, and Beth El’s Israel Affairs Committee.