The Jewish Journalism of Joel Shurkin

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bush looses an ally as Orthodox bail out of the stem cell debate

Wait a minute, didn’t I have some Jews behind me?—One of more interesting political alliances of the time is that between observant (mostly Orthodox) Jews, President Bush and the evangelical wing of the Republican party on many social issues. Since Jews are supposed to be all liberals, that intrigues people, but the right wing of the American Jewish population is socially conservative. On the issue of stem cells, however, they are taking a walk. The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the umbrella group for the most conservative (that is a small c), which sides with the Christian right on Terry Schiavo, same sex marriages and federal support for religious activities, has broken ranks, applauding the U.S. House of Representative bill that Bush threatens to veto. The "potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life," it said. "Moreover, the traditional Jewish perspective does not accord an embryo outside of the womb the full status of humanhood and its attendant protections." Liberal Jewish groups, the vast majority in the U.S., agree completely, and that unanimity is rare. Stem cells are a unique issue.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Jews of Kansas and the 2nd Scopes Trial in their own backyard

Jewish leaders in Kansas are appalled at the current evolution trial
May 8, 2005


The Kansas School Board last week began a "trial" on whether to teach "Intelligent Design" as an addition to Darwinian evolution in the public schools, and the Jewish leaders of Kansas want none of it. Jeff Stone, writing in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, says that the state's rabbis and the community watchdogs on inter-faith relations are "looking askance" at the hearings, which the scientific community is boycotting. They all agree that there was some supernatural force behind the Creation, but it ain't "Intelligent Design," which most scientists consider a stalking horse for Creationism.
Rabbi David Fine of the Orthodox Congregation Beth Israel Abraham and Voliner said his thoughts on the debate are best summed up quoting Alan Mittleman, director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary:

"It doesn't seem to me that intelligent design theory really lives up to scientific standards. Having said that, I don't think science is the ultimate explanation of our world. Science is an elaborate conceptual game, but it's not the only game."

"I believe in intelligent design," said Rabbi Mark Levin of the Reform Congregation Beth Torah. "But it isn't science; it's theology." The rabbi said he believes in a divine intelligence behind the creation of the world and its natural laws.

And yet he sees the attempt to introduce the notion of "intelligent design" into schools as one that breaches the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

"It is clearly objectionable to teach theology as though it is science," said Rabbi Levin, "because ... it misinforms children and introduces religious faith into the public school system under the guise of science."

Morris B. Margolies, who is rabbi emeritus at Congregation Beth Shalom, said that intelligent design is "simply a phony renaming of creationism that has fallen out of favor even with some creationists, because they feel very susceptible to attack right now."

To him, Darwin's "illuminations" are no more subject to debate than Newton's Laws.
Rabbi Margolis said the push for Intelligent Design was being fostered by a "pack of fanatics" trying to discredit proven science.

The vote wasn't unanimous. Richard Nadler, a locally well-known Republican operative and self-described Orthodox Jew, thinks Darwin is bunk. He said that if parents are concerned that their children will be taught evangelical Christian beliefs in science class, they can always go to private school. "I'm a private-school advocate," he said. "If you are concerned that Jewish kids are going to be educated in non-Jewish ways, send them to a Jewish school."

Blogs devoted to the Kansas debate quoted the Chronicle story widely. See Panda's Thumb, the best known. Since science is a Jewish plot anyhow, what the hell. Get on with it.