There was an interesting story in the news Wednesday. The group American Atheists tried to put up a billboard in a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood in New York, and the owner of the building where the billboard was to be posted denied workers access to the building.
The article mentions that the president of American Atheists is a man named Dave Silverman, and describes him as having been “raised in the Jewish faith.” Interestingly, the MSNBC reporter who wrote the story was not willing to describe Silverman as ethnically Jewish, despite his obviously Jewish surname and his own account of his childhood.
So is the word “Jew” strictly a religious designation?
I’ve noticed over the years that the definition of that word tends to change without notice. Liberal sophists, especially those who are ethnically Jewish themselves, are very clever at using words to generate more heat than light, and “Jew” and “Jewish” are two favorites.
Communist sympathizers in academia tend to use the word in its ethnic sense when they are trying to portray anti-Communism as a form of religious intolerance by mean-spirited Christians. Most of the freshman history books I’ve surveyed for my columns describe Julius and Ethel Rosenberg as “Jewish,” without any further explanation, in describing the supposedly unfair process under which they were convicted and sentenced for espionage.
Left wing historian Eric Foner, who is ethnically Jewish himself, puts it this way: “The most sensational trial involved Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a working class Jewish Communist couple from New York City (quite different from Hiss, a member of the eastern Protestant ‘establishment’).”
Professor Foner’s implication that Communist spy Alger Hiss was a Protestant is extremely dishonest, as there is no room for argument about the meaning of the word “Protestant.” That word can only be a religious designation. A Protestant is a believing Christian who is not Catholic; and no Communist can be a Protestant, any more than a Communist can be religiously Jewish.
Atheism is mandatory for Communists. If the Rosenbergs were “Jewish Communists,” then so was Karl Marx. And if Hiss had been a Protestant the Communist Party would not have accepted him.
Just in passing it’s interesting to note that Hitler’s National Socialists used the same definition of “Jewish” that Professor Foner uses in his account of the Rosenberg trial. There was no end of Nazi propaganda about the harm that “Jewish Communists” were supposedly doing to Germany’s non-Jewish population, and the National Socialists knew perfectly well that atheism was a pre-condition of membership in the German Communist Party. The Nazi’s consistently used the word in its ethnic, rather than religious, sense.
The distinction between the two definitions of the word “Jew” are important when talking about American politics. It’s a well-known fact that self-identified Jews vote overwhelmingly Democrat, but it’s equally well-known that regular church-goers vote Republican.
I suspect that religiously observant Jews who keep Kosher and attend Synagogue every week vote Republican a lot more often than ethnically Jewish atheists.