2016 Election Blog #5: Jewish Political Conservatism: The Emergence of Republican Jews
Jewish conservative thought has deep roots in the American political tradition. In more recent times particular emphasis has been given to the presence and growth of Jewish Republicans, sparking a renewed discussion of the place of conservative political ideas within contemporary Jewish life and within American society. Today, Jews who are Republicans must be seen as an active component of the Jewish communal story.
Globally, Jews have been operating historically in a conservative political frame. Today Jewish voters in Europe, Israel and elsewhere have demonstrated a higher degree of support for right of center political parties than has been the case within the American context. There is ample evidence as well that conservative political practice defined how Jews understood their place and role in feudal and authoritarian societies in which they would reside during much of their Diaspora historical experience, often aligning themselves with politically entrenched players as a means of securing protection against the rule of the mob.
From the Thirteenth Century, Jews in many countries held the legal status of servi camerae (servants of the royal household), making the feudal monarch or lord their legal protector. As Yosif Hayim Yerushalmi would note a myth would be created framing this Jewish political axiom as a “royal alliance.”
During the Middle Ages Jews would often identify with the power and safety of the government against those social forces that threatened their status and security. In turn they would construct liturgy designed to pray for the wellbeing of public authorities, calling upon God to “bless, guard, protect, help, exalt, magnify, and highly aggrandize” the royal court.
“The prayer’s manifest content is, nevertheless, highly conservative, and it bespeaks the unique and necessary relationship that frequently developed over the years between the Jewish minority and the ruling authorities-a relationship based on the widespread Jewish assumption that “kings, and royal officials generally, are always ardent protectors of the Jews against the attacks of the rabble.”