‘Dumb Jews’ react, more politics, more Israel


Dumb Jews

Your issue focusing on Jews’ Jewish literacy (“Dumb Jews,” Oct. 20) could not have been more appropriate. The key to building strong Jewish communities is creating knowledgeable Jews, aware of the meaning, significance and holiness of their tradition.

Your issue came out just as our synagogue began a program, started by a young rabbinical student at the University of Judaism, Laurence Rosenthal, called the Conservative Kollel. The program meets twice a month, it is free and offers intimate study sessions on a series of topics drawn from traditional Jewish literature.

I hope that it is through programs like this one that we will deepen and strengthen Jews’ commitment to their beautiful tradition.

Rabbi Aaron D. Benson
Congregation Beth Meier
Studio City

You often print obnoxious and anti-Jewish materials, but the front-page cartoon titled, “Dumb Jews” (Oct. 20), depicting a young Jew in a dunce cap, insults Jews as being stupid.

Jews with little knowledge of Judaism may indeed be uneducated in that important area of knowledge but describing them as “dumb” and “dunce” is nasty and misuses those words.

Webster’s dictionary defines “dumb” as lacking intelligence or not having the capability to process data. “Dunce” is defined as a slow-witted or stupid person.

Jews are often cited as among the most intelligent group of people on earth. Nevertheless, there is certainly a lack of good education about Judaism among American Jews. That is worth discussion that will lead to the desire for better Jewish education.

Show respect for the Jewish community and for the English language. Berating and abusing the former while misusing the latter does nothing for your credibility.

Fred Korr
Los Angeles

Your Page 1 heading, “Dumb Jews,” is wrong, stupid and written by a dumb Jew. The correct word to have been used is “ignorant.” If you don’t know the difference between “dumb” and “ignorant,” I suggest you use a dictionary. None of all those Jewish laureates of whom we are so proud were dumb but will readily admit that they are ignorant of matters not within their range of specialty.

Albert M. Goldberg
via e-mail

I was disappointed in your education issue this month. We have been listening to the same bromide answers for the last 50 years.

As someone who makes an effort to study Jewish texts on a daily basis and who loves Jewish learning, I find myself in the odd position of having to say that Jewish literacy is, in and of itself, not the answer.

We all know from life experience that there is an inextricable bond between belief and conditioning. The clarity and quality of what we believe engenders the clarity and quality our commitments in support of those beliefs. These commitments, such as regular Jewish learning, as well as some level of commitment to Jewish law, represent the conditioning side of classical Judaism’s belief – conditioning dynamic.

For example, how many parents who have been brought up to believe that the Torah is an inspiring “myth” will be motivated to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on even one child’s 12 years of Jewish education?

Beyond financial considerations, how many of these parents would want their child to spend half of each school day during those 12 years studying that “myth?” Why would those same parents decide to spend their Sunday mornings in temple pouring over arcane Jewish texts, when they could be on the golf course?

The real reason most adults and their children do not receive a real Jewish education is that, by and large, our leadership has failed to give them compelling reasons to bother to become knowledgeable Jews. A serious conversation about what we believe and what we are willing to do in support of those beliefs is the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room that no one will talk about.

No, its not about more user-friendly courses or cutting-edge pedagogical theories. Until we can engage in a serious communal conversation about Jewish beliefs and understand that that conversation is both necessary and possible, even for sophisticated, 21st century American Jews, we will continue the downward spiral and pretend that Jewish literacy is the answer to all our ills.

Rafael Guber
New York

Are Jews “dumb” or are their educators a bit primitive?Jewish educators need to think out of the box, otherwise it’ll be the same old story for dumb Jews.

Classical Jewish education in day or after-school programs prepares people for b’nai mitzvahs but does not have the sophistication to engage Jews from high school ages through young professional ages. Educators even tout this point, but are they doing enough to change the way they convey Jewish concepts to teens and young adults looking for more sophisticated answers and more 21st century learning modes?

We need only look at the abundance of educational products in the Christian market – Internet, audiovisual, music – that has led to great strides in engaging their audiences to learn about their religion. FOX now even has a FOX Faith branch of film development projects geared at Christian audiences.

Jewish education must adapt and be more innovative in its approaches. I’m not saying today’s teens and young adults suffer from a Jewish attention deficit; educators are just not reaching us.

Dan Witzling
Business Director
The J-Flicks Project
Los Angeles

I was terribly upset when I picked up The Jewish Journal just outside of my driveway, face up with the headline, “Dumb Jews.” I thought for a moment that it was perhaps an anti-Semitic publication but was shocked to see that it was indeed The Jewish Journal.

Don’t we have enough people around town, around the country, across the globe bashing us? Is it necessary for you to get your point across in such a demeaning way with the exposure to many who may not understand the significance behind the headline ?

I think you wonderful writers at The Journal could have come up with a better choice for your headline so as not to create more disharmony – not only amongst ourselves but fuel our critics as well.

Idea of Dumb Bush Voters Lacks Reality


 

As the furor over the election dies down, with unseemly whining from sore losers and unseemly gloating from sore winners, certain stereotypes of Bush voters continue to command currency among disgruntled liberals. One of them is that Bush supporters, and conservatives in general, are dumb, ignorant and out of touch with reality.

This notion has been bandied about with quite a bit of smugness. Some on the left, taking an ironic cue from the widely reported comments of a “senior Bush adviser” to reporter Ron Suskind, have begun calling themselves “the reality-based community.”

The idea that Bush voters are reality-challenged is based partly on surveys showing that a large percentage of Bush supporters believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction or a program to develop them. Many also persist in the belief that Iraq had substantial ties to the Al Qaeda. Other Republicans who support tougher environmental and labor standards incorrectly assume that Bush favors these positions as well.

Is this a damning indictment of Bush voters and conservatives?

George Mason University law professor David Bernstein, a libertarian who was highly critical of both candidates in the past election, points out on the Volokh Conspiracy blog that in other surveys, Republicans have on average scored higher than Democrats on knowledge of political issues than Democrats — although voters across the board tend to be woefully ill-informed. Bernstein speculates that in the more recent polls, ignorant Bush supporters were likely to pick answers flattering to Bush, while ignorant Kerry voters did the opposite.

Is it possible that Republican voters are likely to fall for the administration’s spin on the issues? Of course.

But is there any evidence that Democratic voters are less likely to fall for their own side’s spin or to buy into their own side’s myths? Not really.

I’m willing to bet that if you asked people whether it’s true or false that Bush wanted to allow higher levels of arsenic in drinking water after he took office (a charge made in a MoveOn.org ad), many more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters would have said it was true. Yet this claim has been conclusively debunked as a lie by New Republic writer Greg Easterbrook, who is no conservative and no Bush supporter.

Democrats, I suspect, would also be much more likely to believe that if the Florida recount in 2000 had not been halted by the Supreme Court, Al Gore would have won the state and the election. In fact, a 2001 review of the Florida ballots by a media consortium concluded that both the recount in several Democratic counties that Gore had requested and the statewide recount of undervotes that was actually under way would have given a victory to Bush (although Gore could have won under some other recount scenarios).

And, no doubt, far more Kerry supporters than Bush supporters believed Kerry’s groundless claim in a campaign stump speech that 1 million African American votes weren’t counted in Florida.

A particularly amusing instance of the “Americans voted for Bush because they’re so dumb” trope occurred in a post-election discussion in Slate. Laura Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern University, noted that “the United States ranks 14th out of 15 industrialized countries in per capita education spending.”

In fact, comparisons conducted by the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have found that only four countries — Switzerland, Austria, Denmark and Norway — spend more per pupil on primary and secondary education than the United States. We also spend a higher percentage of our gross domestic product on education than most other industrialized nations.

But Kipnis’ statistic — for which she was unable to provide a source, saying that she used it in her last book but currently had no access to her notes — fits neatly into the stereotypes of American stupidity and greed.

In other news, a poll conducted on Nov. 3 showed that 13 percent of all voters believed Bush had stolen the election. That adds up to about a quarter of Kerry voters.

Another 10 percent believed that he had won it “on a technicality.” After Salon, a strongly anti-Bush online magazine, published an article debunking various election fraud theories, the author, Farhad Manjoo, was deluged with e-mails asking if he was on the Republican payroll.

“Reality-based,” indeed.

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe.