In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • "Shul"
  • Marjorie N. Feld (bio)

On April 14, 2003, an ad hoc group of fourteen demonstrators calling themselves Jews Saying No to the Christian Right picketed outside of Temple Beth Sholom, a synagogue in Framingham, Massachusetts.1 Inside, Pat Robertson, former presidential candidate, host of the Christian program The 700 Club, and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, delivered his speech, "The Importance of American Support for Israel." He praised Ariel Sharon's policies, blasted Palestinian resistance, and spoke of Jews and members of the Christian Right and their "common enemies": "There has never been a gulf between Evangelicals and Jews," he said. "This is a commitment that transcends the political."

The protesters outside the shul, a Yiddish word meaning synagogue, disputed this linkage. "Robertson's views run counter to many long-cherished values within the organized Jewish community," one protester told the Jewish Journal. "Inviting [him] into a Jewish house of worship does an even greater disservice to those members of our community who identify as members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community, who identify as feminists, and who identify as Jews of color." Another was quoted in the Boston Globe as saying that Robertson's "beliefs and goals contradict our most basic and treasured Jewish values." At the request of members of the synagogue, the police removed the protestors from shul property before the lecture. Afterwards, they arrested one of the two protestors who remained on the property to distribute leaflets.2

When the Globe asked for a comment from Reverend Philip Jacobs, an activist member of the Peace and Justice Committee of the state's Episcopal Diocese, he would say only that the shul's inviting Robertson to speak was "not my business." Yet he felt compelled to offer a measured observation of its significance: "I think the fact that there is this new alliance between two groups [End Page 22] who would normally disagree on a number of issues reflects a new reality," he said. "This is a new world now."3

This "new world" is marked by the divide of the Framingham shul's walls: the audience inside at the Robertson lecture and the protestors outside both claimed their positions as in line with Jewish values. The fact that the shul itself—and the local law enforcement—was in the hands of the right is also indicative: much of the contemporary infighting in the American Jewish community is a response to the conservatism that allows for these new alliances between Jews and the Christian Right.

Jewish communal infighting has a long history and has focused on foreign and domestic policy, civil rights, feminism, gay rights, and the nature of Jewishness itself. Especially since the mid-1990s, the media has focused considerable attention on growing political conservatism among American Jews.4 What is indeed "new" is the depth of these divisions in recent years, especially since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon initiated his hardline tactics against Palestinians, which provided immediate cause for the second Intifada, and the U.S. government responded to 9/11 with warmongering and fear tactics. Many American Jews have turned more hawkish on Israel, allying themselves with Bush and other Far Right Republicans like Robertson, and supporting the abridgement of civil liberties as legalized by the Patriot Act.5 Perhaps not surprisingly, the Republican Party views Israel as the defining feature of Jewish conservatism: Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition and currently chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, told the Washington Post that because of Bush's strong support of Israel, Bush captured 19 percent of the Jewish vote in 2000 and hoped for 30 percent in 2004.6 [End Page 23]

In this political climate, intra-Jewish debates over the meaning of Jewish values grow more urgent, and the rightward drift of the American shul, in particular, is having a profound impact on the American Jewish community. "Shul" is the keyword I will use to discuss a new challenge to Jewish Studies, and though I translated it first literally, as synagogue, for the remainder of my talk I want to use "shul" to suggest the organized Jewish community in broader terms. Invoking "shul" in this way keys us...


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