Chaim C. Cohen
Chaim C. Cohen Courtesy

Who is afraid of the Big Bad Wolf (of three little pigs’ fame) of the ideological ‘political correctness’ of post modern, radical liberalism? I am not. The ‘wolf’ of political correctness can huff and puff but he will not succeed in blowing down the frameworks of the communal, religious life that Israel’s Jewish haredi, traditional-national religious, and Arab sub societies have erected.

This article argues that these three sub societies have attained a degree of social cultural autonomy that makes them moderately immune to the current pandemic of ‘political correctness’.

Our response to the onslaught of the ideology of political correctness thus must be not one of ‘panic’. Instead, we must use the challenge to further develop, deepen and strengthen the intellectual and spiritual content of our alternative, religious social cultures.

This article will specifically relate to the semi-autonomous, social culture of the national religious community

What constitutes the political ideology of ‘political correctness’?

The social and economic dynamics of the last thirty to forty years have created a social reality of radical individualism. During the last thirty years, many more people are making the decision to live their lives in a singular manner –alone- i.e. refusing to live within the restrictions and mutual obligations of commitment to long term social institutions such as the traditional family, institutionalized religion, or the traditional, historical social norms of a particular ethnic group or geographical community.

This is not the place to analyze how this social phenomenon of radical individualism has come about.

‘Political correctness’ is the propaganda/ideological, ‘voice piece- sales pitch’ of the political-social movement that wants to bless and promote this social phenomenon of radical individualism.

The propaganda-ideology of ‘political correctness’ comes in several brand names- such as ‘wokism’, ‘progressive liberalism’, ‘critical race theory’, ‘whiteness and white privilege’, ‘social intersectionalism ’, ‘radical feminism’, ‘gender liberation’ and ‘social structuralism’.

The clash between the propaganda-ideology of ‘political correctness’ and a social culture based on the Torah

The basic tenets of ‘political correctness’ are in strong contradiction with the social philosophical tenets of a Torah based social culture. It is because of these contradictions that our national religious community is compelled to develop a vibrant, alternative social culture.

Three points of contention.

1. ‘What is our criterion for establishing a standard of ‘truth’ with which to judge and develop our social cultural way of life?’

The Torah answers that its ‘truth’ was divinely given, and that the truth of the Torah is embedded in a reality of a greater, transcendent, spiritual dimension to Existence.

In contrast, liberal political correctness argues that varying definitions of ‘truth’ may be rationally perceived , but in actuality are subjectively determined by one’s social structural position (either a position of ‘oppressor’ (male, heterosexual, white privileged, European), or a position of ‘oppressed’ (female, LGBT, black or colored, non-European minority group).

2.‘How should society adapt to, and initiate, social change?’

The Torah answers that social norms and institutions should adapt and evolve in relation to social change, but that these adaptations should be done in an incremental, conservative manner, and in accordance (when at all possible) with traditional precedents (wisdom) of religious law and social customs.

In contrast, political correctness often wants to radically and immediately socially engineer anew the existing social structures in accord with technological and medical economic changes on the ground. This quick adaption of social structure to social change should done in accord with their ideology that oppressed sectors should achieve a equitable division of society’s goods. Political correctness argues there is no human nature reason why half of the IDF elite commando unit should not be composed of women, and that half of the nation’s kindergarten teachers should not be men.

3. ’How should the individual define his status in society?’

Torah social culture is based on the concept of ‘covenant’, that the individual can obtain optimal self actualization and fulfillment only by being an integral part (with mutual obligations and commitments) of concentric circles of extended family, community, nation, and historical destiny. An individual who lives detached from such commitments will live a spiritually and socially less meaningful life.

In contrast, political correctness argues that the autonomous individual should be free to decide the way of life that most enables him to find self fulfillment. He will attach and commit himself to social frameworks outside himself (marriage, family, community , religion) only to the extent that they help him in a utilitarian way achieve the meaning and self fulfillment he understands to be most appropriate for him. In general, political correctness believes that traditional social institutions oppress, rather enable, self fulfillment.

The impact of ‘political correctness ‘ in Israel

The ideology of ‘political correctness’ has made serious inroads into the political and social life of Israeli society. It ‘rules with an iron hand’ in most of the liberal arts and social sciences in the top universities.

Also,most recent rulings of the Israeli Supreme Court have adopted the activist legal premise that the free, autonomous choice of the individual is ‘sacred’ and thus in most cases overrides laws that restrict individual choice in the name of promoting traditional/communal interests. The clearest example is that the Supreme Court has ruled that the individuals’ right/freedom to eat chametz during the seven days of Passover overrides the hospital’s efforts to maintain traditional-communal restrictions on chametz that would allow religious Jews to freely eat hospital food. This Supreme Court’s adoption of the principle of the legal primacy of autonomous individual choice is closely related to the ideology of political correctness.

The media and entertainment industries actively promote content that furthers the ideology of political correctness, although somewhat less aggressively than in America, because the Israeli public is more socially conservative in its norms than the American.

Finally, the Army is making a determined effort to create a greater equality of military roles between men and women. While their main motivation should be to place the most talented person in each role, these efforts are also clearly influenced by the ideology of political correctness.

How must the national religious sector respond to this forceful ongoing onslaught of political correctness?

Our national religious sector must respond to the growing onslaught of political correctness in two ways.

One, we should not panic. We should not allow political and religious leaders to give disproportionate weight to this threat in order to ‘whip up’ religious identification.

Two, the correct response to political correctness is to work ceaselessly and creatively to increase the Torah based social and cultural content of our sector’s everyday way of life.

Do not panic.

Despite what certain rabbis and political leaders are saying, the Torah based way of life of our sector is not seriously threatened by the specific ideology of political correctness. Our Torah way of life, however, is ‘challenged’ by the social/economic changes that accompany modernity and exist independently of the ideological phenomenon of political correctness.

I will cite two examples, that of family life, and that of the gender role of women.

1. Singlehood, and not LGBTism, is the most serious challenge to religious family life

The LGBT phenomenon that is an integral tenet of political correctness is not threatening our religious Zionist way of life. Lets look at the numbers: there are probably 15,000-20,000 (1-2%) adults at most in our sector who identify themselves as LGBT, which means that there are probably only around 3000- 5,000 single gender households who have national religious socio-ethnic background. The vast majorities of these couples want to live their lives in private, and are not clamoring on the doors of Orthodox synagogues to gain the legitimacy of having LGBT family life passage events (brit, bar mitzvah, weddings, births) publicly celebrated in Orthodox synagogues.

It is thus important that we realize that the real challenges to religious family life lie outside our conflict with political correctness. Specifically the most urgent challenge is the growing phenomenon of singles living outside of stable marriages. Probably close to ten percent of religious women are not married, or are divorced/widowed and running single parent households.

Torah family life is a two parent, two gender family life. Single parent families are very challenged to lead a sustainable family religious life. Thus the most serious family based challenge of our sector is helping our children get married at an earlier age, and finding appropriate marital partners at any age, while providing urgent emotional and social support for single parent households.

We are also challenged by the halakhic implications of intimacy between older, unmarried religious singles.

Through conservative, incremental change our sector has successfully increased the role and contribution of women in our religious family and community life

2. The second most significant example that we are not seriously threatened by political correctness is the fact that over the last twenty years ‘politically correct ‘feminism (defined as demanding that men and women enact identical, normative social roles) has remained a fringe movement in the national religious community.

When I say a fringe movement, I mean that there are virtually no Orthodox communities which are demanding that women serve as the central spiritual and halakhic leader of the community (there are a few with women in supportive, educational leadership synagogue roles). Halakhic guided egalitarian Shabbat services are not ‘spreading like wild fire’ or becoming the social norm. Women are not showing up to attend weekday services on a daily basis. There are more programs for women Torah learning – including certain rabbinic studies- but women are not creating more yeshivot with Torah learning as the total environment and sole occupation. There are virtually no real female ‘avrechim’. There are more religious girls serving in the army, but over ninety percent are in non combat roles, are serve primarily in intelligence and educational and social service roles, and many receive a year of serious religious orientation before entering the IDF.

While radical feminism thus has not seriously penetrated our community, conservative, Torah based ‘feminism’ has become a very positive force. The roles and contribution of women in community religious life has blessedly increased dramatically, and primarily so in accord with halakhic tradition. Halakhic tradition holds that the spiritual life of men and women (including Torah learning) is fundamentally of a different, distinct nature, and should primarily be conducted in separate settings.

In accordance with these guidelines, the amount of women learning and teaching Torah is constantly increasing and dramatically strengthening and vitalizing our community and religious life. Women serve important roles supplying guidance in matters of family purity, and are providing critical inspirational, spiritual teachings that are most inspirational when women can teach other women.

The number of religious women receiving academic degrees is more than that of men, and religious women are serving in unprecedented range of professional roles, including leadership roles.

However, most important, most women in the national religious sector are miraculously succeeding in balancing professional and family life. The religious woman is still the dominant, existential spiritual force in the family, (although in the younger generation, religious men are involved in a range of household roles that their fathers were not).

We can all take encouragement from the sociological fact that national religious women in Israel are the only sector in the whole world where an increase in academic education has not lead to a decrease in the number of children in the family.

In brief, this dramatic increase in the role of women in our communal and family religious life is an excellent example of the point made above that conservative, incremental social change can be real without being revolutionary.

The implications of the above analysis: the best way to combat the political correctness of radical individualism is to deepen and energize a Torah based social culture in our semi autonomous national religious community

While most (around eighty percent) of us national religious Jews work as ‘Israelis’ and are fully integrated into the public Israeli economic and service sector, when it comes to family, religious and more intimate social life we tend to live as ‘religious Jews’ in our semi autonomous social communities.

The proofs are obvious. Eighty percent of our sector live in predominately religious neighborhoods, send their children to religious schools, religious youth groups, and get higher Torah and professional education either in religious institutions, or learn in universities or serve in the army with a religious peer group. And most of our primary social relationships are with our extended family, or people from a similar social religious background.

The implications of this analysis concerning the combating of political correctness should be obvious.

-We have to take this ‘vessel’ of social autonomy and fill it with as much Torah based social content as possible.

-We must create educational frameworks which address the spiritual searching of our children. We will want to create recreational sites, literature ,poetry, movies, music, newspapers and internet site that have spiritual and nationalistic content that is both relevant, realistic, exploratory, argumentative and at the same time spiritually uplifting.

-Finally we should make an effort to directly relate our professional lives in the general Israeli public sector to Torah based social values and perspective.

I will end by exemplifying this last point with a personal example. I worked twelve years as the social worker of a hospital geriatric ward. A major challenge was helping both the elderly and their families cope with declining functioning and often impending death. When appropriate I helped my clients using traditional faith. For all clients , I encouraged them to look at life’s challenges from an existential-spiritual perspective.

I used a nationalistic perspective of the client’s biographical participation in the historical redemption of his people to give his soon to end life overriding, personal meaning.

I counseled clients on end of life questions (when appropriate) from a Torah halakhic perspective.

And I conducted internationally recognized research on the topic of family coping with end of life relatives based on research questions and variables derived from a socially conservative perspective.

Based on this personal model, I would say that there is both a real need and possibility of professionals in all fields to integrate Torah based values, content and perspective to their professional lives.

Our Jewish home will withstand the huffing and puffing of the Big Bad Wolf of radical, p.c. individualism

We can successfully combat the penetration of political correctness to the extent that we create ‘Torah based Jewish experiences’ in our family, social and professional lives.

If we succeed in this task, then the Big Bad Wolf of ‘political correctness' - radical individualism - can huff and puff, but will not be able to blow down the Jewish home we are blessed to be building in our historic Jewish State.

Dr. Chaim C. Cohen, whose PhD. is from Hebrew U., is a social worker and teacher at the Hebrew Univ. School of Social Work, and Efrata College. He lives in Psagot, Binyamin.

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