I always feel a twinge of guilt when I do it, but I often post news and views about Jewish wealth because I think it is such an important factor in the Jewish presence in American life. The guilt comes from the strong Jewish feeling I have that I might be endangering my people or playing into ancient stereotypes. I push this feeling down because a, I’m in my 50s and am sick of censoring recurrent ideas in my thinking, b, the feeling is anti-journalistic and c, it seems pretty selfish to me to worry about possible (and unlikely) persecution of one’s own people when we are talking about wars in the Middle East that have produced real and present suffering on a tremendous scale…
Anyway, I noticed the following in David Hazony’s attack on Rabbi Heschel in Commentary:
Heschel wound up advancing naïve or
even harmful public positions, frequently echoing the most worn clichés
of the universalist Left.
One example concerns his inveterate suspicion of well-earned wealth,
a suspicion ungrounded in Jewish sources. Once, in a classroom
discussion about whether a disused synagogue in New York City should be
sold to a church or to a bank, he said: “If it is sold to a bank then
it will become a temple of capitalism; if sold to a church, it will
continue to be a temple of God.” Thus did Heschel dismiss the one
institution that had probably done more than any other to preserve
Jewish economic life through centuries of persecution and
deprivation—in favor of an institution whose record with regard to his
people was, to say the least, more complicated.
It appears that Commentary is advancing finance as a Jewish value. I believe Commentary is right. As I remember, Paul Johnson’s book A History of the Jews states that wealth and learning were the highest values in the shtetl. Benjamin Ginsberg has written (in the Fatal Embrace) that Jewish financiers helped create the modern state. Wealthy Jews helped spring my ancestors from Russia, as I once exulted here (based on Gary Dean Best’s amazing book, To Free a People, as well as a biography of Jacob Schiff). Those rich Jews were able to do so because they had access to the White House in the late 1800s. Soon after, some of those same Jewish financiers helped defeat Russia in the Russian-Japanese war by denying Russia war loans; and there is evidence that Jewish financial gifts played a role in Britain’s decision to issue the Balfour Declaration in 1917. It is inarguable that those gifts have played a role in the elevation of neoconservative ideas in the last 10 years, from The New Republic to the American Enterprise Institute to the New York Sun, etc. And of course in the power of the Israel lobby.
The great spiritual challenge to my people, and to Commentary, is what role those gifts ought to play when we are not living "in persecution and deprivation" but are principals in American society.