To the Editor:
Speaking on behalf of the progressive Democrats who read your paper, I was annoyed to see yet another piece by Jeff Dunetz using Judaism as a justification for a partisan political position [“A Rosh Hashana message to our President,” Sept. 6].
Sentences like, “Jews who support progressivism are rejecting the free will given to us by our Maker, and giving it to the government,” are wrong not only because they are deeply offensive to those of us who are practicing Jews and also political progressives, but also because they are complete nonsense.
I am not aware of any progressive who thinks, as Jeff asserts, that everyone is born with equal abilities, though I do know progressives who believe that everyone is entitled to the basics, like an education, health care, and shelter, and also entitled to a fair shot in society. Based on his laughable definition of a progressive as someone who believes that government should make all choices for the people, I think Jeff has progressivism confused with some comic-book version of extreme Communism. (Even in most Communist societies, people had some opportunity to make moral decisions of right and wrong.)
It also happens to be an awful analogy, since Judaism is a highly regulated way of life, and since Jewish lawmaking is all about legislating a set of correct choices for literally every situation.
Jewish notions of societal governance could not be more different than American ones. The great thing about the American way of life is that they can easily exist side by side, because the American way protects the Jewish way.
By the way, progressivism, in the philosophical sense, is the Enlightenment era idea that advancements in science and technology can be used to improve the human condition. In the modern sense, it’s the idea that government can contribute to the creation of a fairer and more equitable society. (Fairer means equal opportunity, not equal wealth.)
Thus, progressive movements pushed for things like women’s suffrage, civil rights, social safety net programs like Medicare, child labor regulations, universal education, and in Louis Brandeis’s case, increased government efficiency through the use of scientific data.
Theodore Roosevelt was a trust-buster who broke up monopolies that were impeding competition and pushed for child labor laws (or, in Mr. Dunetz’s language, a Communist who overregulated big business and denied poor small children the ability to make a choice to earn money). Perhaps Mr. Dunetz would have opposed civil rights legislation in the 1960s, since it removed from people the ability to make a moral choice about whether to discriminate.
I will not be so arrogant as to say that my political beliefs are more Jewish than Mr. Dunetz’s are. Suffice to say, religion and politics do not mix.
But Jeff would do well to be more respectful of other people, have the humility to understand that Judaism is above these secular political philosophies, and recognize that we all worship the same G-d and, finally, that regardless of our theories on the role of government in society, teshuva (repentence) is essential. Michael Brenner, Brooklyn