Politics

The Fundamentalist Right is Misrepresenting Judaism to Further "Religious Liberty" Discrimination

The Evangelical Christian obsession with Jews has always fascinated me. There’s an incredible dissonce of being propped up and put on a theological pedestal by a group who whole heartedly believes we’re all doomed to hell.
The most obvious manifestation of this damned-yet-chosen theology is found in Evangelical support for Israel. And while I’m always wary of any group that encourages all Jews to collectively resettle to one geographic location, the Israel thing worries me less than what the Evangelicals are currently up to in America with the whole push for discrimination disguised as “religious liberty.”
Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians are invoking (their misunderstood version of) Jewish law as a means to further their interests. Namely, they’re exploiting Jews and Jewish law in order to gain support for discrimination. And with Passover on the horizon, these references are become more pointed – and more uncomfortable.
Recently we saw presidential candidate John Kasich touring a Yeshiva and awkwardly lecturing its students on Torah and Christian interpretation of it (“…when the Angel of Death came and saw the blood of the lamb, the Angel of Death would pass over their homes…Jesus Christ is known as the Lamb of God!”) while Ted Cruz was visiting a New York matzah factory, as though he thought Jews actually enjoy eating nothing but matzah for a week. (Cruz is a lot like matzah, isn’t he? Dry, flat, flavorless, and if you get too much of him you don’t feel satisfied, just constipated.)
Look, I get it. Jews are a nice target crowd. You want to make us feel like you care and that we’re special. Ok. That’s nice. They’re buttering us up. It’s nice to feel wanted, isn’t it? But let’s be clear: They’re buttering us up so they can use us as a talking point.
Remember Cruz’s casually anti-Semitic “New York Values” comments a few months ago? Or how about a few weeks back when he claimed he was helping Jewish day schools in his fight for “religious liberty?”
Across the country, and especially in the South, the Fundamentalist Right is using their poor understanding of Jewish law to bolster support for their arguments in favor what they call “religious liberty.” It’s desperate, it’s factually incorrect, and it needs to stop. Here’s what they’re doing, and why it makes no sense legally or Judaically:
“Religious Freedom Laws Protect Jewish Day Schools!”: Jewish day schools hire non-Jewish teachers, faculty, and staff regularly. They teach secular subjects, and while they’re expected to respect Jewish law while in school, they’re never expected to hide or change who they are, because Jewish law only applies to Jews. (Besides, religious schools are already legally protected in choosing who to hire for religious instruction and those teachers are expected to live to the school’s standards of Jewish law, as they should be.)
“Religious Freedom Laws Protect Jews Bodies from Autopsies”: Jewish law typically prohibits messing with a body after the person has died and before it’s buried. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, though. There are exceptions (there are always exeptions) that are fully compatible with civil law, and in five states so far they’ve enacted autopsy-specific legislation that supports religious objections in a mechanism that works for everyone.
“Religious Freedom Laws Make Sure A Kosher Deli Will Never Have To Serve Pork”: This one’s my favorite, and by favorite, I mean the most absurd. There’s a school of thought that without religious liberty legislation, kosher butchers will be forced to sell ham. I know, I know, I can’t stop laughing, either. But it’s real, and these folks are serious. They’ve testified on it, and even though it’s been disproven, it’s not stopping them.
Georgia’s own discrimination-as-religious-liberty Poster Boy, Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), regularly uses it as a talking point on Twitter, even though he himself as acknowledged that it’s false.
The Federalist’s Senior Editor, David Harsanyi has said it, too. Of course, I don’t expect a nuanced understanding of Jewish law (or civil law, for that matter) from anyone at the Federalist, but, come on. Apparently, we need to break this down:
Public accommodations laws are about whom you serve, not what you serve. I can’t go into a Taco Bell and demand they sell me a Whopper, and I can’t go into a kosher deli and demand they sell me a ham. If the product isn’t on the menu, I have no reasonable expectation for it to be sold or served to me. But, if a deli does serve ham, then the sales folks don’t get to decide which customers get to buy it. But again, if they don’t serve ham, they have nothing to worry about at all.
In response, Harsanyi (who is emblematic of the larger, clueless Fundamentalist movement) argues that Christian bakers NEVER make “specialized gay wedding cakes” so they should be safe. The obvious next question is, “What’s a specialized gay wedding cake?” Is the cake itself gay? Is it rainbow layered and covered in glitter with little marzipan buff guys having an orgy on top? No? It’s just a traditional wedding cake that looks just like any other cake? Oh, ok. I suppose now’s a good point to remind folks that in the United States we don’t call them “gay marriages” anymore – they’re just marriages, and all marriages are legally the same.
Ridiculous arguments aside, this all boils down to the fact that the Fundamentalist Right simply doesn’t like LGBT people and they’re so desperate to use whatever arguments they can to get their way, even if that means co-opting and misinterpreting the religious laws of those they’ve spent most of the past few decades reviling.
They know they’re losing their battle for Christian supremacy and they’re hoping they’ve buttered (schmaltzed?) us Jews up enough for us to turn the other way.
Judaism doesn’t have an expectation for discrimination they way they assume their own religion does. We don’t require quarantine from other beliefs in order to live out our own and we know that religion should never be used as a weapon, no matter what the Fundamentalist Right may think.

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