Every now and then a book is published that makes me proud to be Jewish. This does not happen often, but Rabbi Samuel Dresner’s book, Can Families Survive in Pagan America? is one such book. Let me confess my prejudice right up front; I admire heroes. The American Jewish community, which seems to confront the twilight of its glory with a ceaseless chatter of well-meant platitudes, has pitifully few heroes left. Rabbi Samuel Dresner is one. In spite of our well-known intolerance of anyone who deviates from secular-liberal orthodoxy, Rabbi Dresner fearlessly tells the truth.
Rabbi Dresner begins by stating what should be but is unfortunately not obvious to most American Jews: that “Jew and Christian must unite in defense of the family, the most fundamental of America’s democratic institutions in jeopardy today.” With detailed and horrifying quotations and statistics, he outlines the extent to which the American family has broken down over the last thirty years and the tragic effect this breakdown has had on our children.
The solution, Rabbi Dresner argues, lies in renewing the strength of the traditional family, and he then details what the Jewish contribution could be toward such an effort. It is uplifting to read his description of the dignity and holiness that has been Jewish family life throughout the ages, the family being the key, as he notes, to Jewish survival. This noble tradition should be our example to humanity, but as Rabbi Dresner shows, the statistics unfortunately find Jewish leadership to be more antifamily than the general public. Sadly, most Americans misinterpret their secularism to be illustrative of normative Judaism.
One of the most chilling exposes Rabbi Dresner offers is the extent to which American Jews have promoted anti-Semitic themes. “After Auschwitz,” he writes, “Christian writers dealt with the Jew with a new sense of respect. To find a recurrence of anti-Semitic themes in contemporary fiction after the war, one must go to the Jewish writers!” Chapters six and seven are the most masterful essays I have ever read on the self-hating Jewish “intellectual” frauds known as Isaac Bashevis Singer and Woody Allen. These chapters are worth the price of the book themselves, and it is important for all Americans to read these depictions, for we Jews have held up these two in particular as Jewish cultural icons for far too long. It is time for us to recognize them as the anti-Semites that they are.
I commend these two chapters because I believe that failure to indict Singer, Allen, and others who demean Judaism and Jews can mean only one thing. It means that we subscribe to the noxious racism that, by definition, no Jew can be guilty of anti-Semitism. By agreeing to this nonsense we strip the term anti-Semitism of all objective meaning and convert it into a club with which to bludgeon our political opponents. Pretty soon, people will start paying as much attention to our frantic cries of anti-Semitism as they did to the boy who cried wolf.
Another important theme Rabbi Dresner at least tacitly develops is that of Jewish togetherness. His chapter on Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds me that he and I studied and were brought up in two different Jewish worlds, for I am an orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Dresner’s teachers were not my teachers. The different Jewish “movements” have long been deeply divided over theological issues. Rabbi Dresner advances the cause of Jewish unity by showing how on issues of morality and family, he and I, and all like-minded Jews, orthodox, conservative, reform, non-affiliated, speak the same language. We do not agree halachically or theologically, but we can agree on major policy questions of the day. We can agree on the damage that secular liberalism is doing to American Judaism. It is time, with the crisis that faces American Jewish families, for all Jews to work together, for there is so much yet to be done.
Rabbi Dresner assures Americans that the behavior of Jews is not what defines Judaism. Only the Bible can do that. His book is unquestionable a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name, for it details how American Jews can once again play our destined role as ennobler of humanity. Rabbi Dresner explains that contemporary America is almost begging us to play this role for it finds reasons for optimism in our historic survival over overwhelming adversity. America’s call is our calling. have set before you life and death,” to quote Deuteronomy, “the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that you may live, you and your seed.”