August 22, 2019

Can Judaism and Liberalism Coexist?

“The theme of a recent Yeshiva University Beit Midrash Shabbaton was “Can Orthodoxy and Liberalism Coexist?” I believe the question was wrong, if it refers to classical liberalism and the philosophical foundation upon which our Canadian democracy stands. We should not ask “Can Orthodoxy and Liberalism Coexist?” – We must ask, “Can Orthodoxy and Judaism exist today WITHOUT Liberalism?” I refer to liberalism not in the sense of the Liberal party or the welfare state. I refer to the idea, codified in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms that everyone has fundamental freedoms (life, liberty and property). Governments exist to serve the needs of their people, and to protect these basic rights; not visa versa.

Today, these concepts are under attack. Some argue that the nation-state must protect only some of its citizens, based upon their ethnicity. Some argue that the nation-state must look upon its citizens through the prism of their identification with historically marginalized groups and intervene to rebalance past wrongs. These are serious claims – but they are dangerous. They are dangerous to us as Jews and as human beings. To see a person based upon their ethnicity is not to see them as a person. It behoves us to advocate with whatever political power we have on behalf of the life and liberty of every person, irrespective of their ethnicity.

With this said, I imagine that there is another definition of liberalism that lies at the root of the question, “Can Liberalism and Orthodoxy Coexist?” Liberalism privileges the individual to the exclusion of the community and, to some degree, of God. It is this call to freedom that says my truth need not accord with anyone else’s. My rights entitle me to live for myself, without interference from anyone. This individualism interferes with any ability to judge the individual – be it by God or by man.”

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