Amer­i­can Jew­ish Polit­i­cal Cul­ture and the Lib­er­al Persuasion

Hen­ry L. Feingold
  • Review
By – October 29, 2014

The often cit­ed quip that Jews are the only eth­nic group that lives like Epis­co­palians but votes like Puer­to Ricans” is borne out by the analy­sis pro­vid­ed by Hen­ry L. Fein­gold in his fas­ci­nat­ing book, Amer­i­can Jew­ish Polit­i­cal Cul­ture and the Lib­er­al Per­sua­sion. The Jew­ish elec­torate tends to vote against its own pock­et­book inter­ests” and be commit­ted Democ­rats and key sup­port­ers of lib­er­al caus­es. Fein­gold reports that a 1995 study esti­mat­ed Jew­ish vot­ing pat­terns to be 9 to 15 per­cent­age points more lib­er­al than oth­er white eth­no-reli­gious groups” after con­trol­ling for demo­graph­ic characteristics. 

Accord­ing to Fein­gold, Jew­ish will­ing­ness to sup­port and advo­cate for lib­er­al caus­es dates back to the very first Jew­ish set­tle­ment in New Ams­ter­dam in 1654. The set­tle­ment was com­posed of Sephardic Jews who had a dis­tinct­ly Jew­ish polit­i­cal voice.” They demand­ed equal­ity of sta­tus” in their deal­ings with Gov­er­nor Peter Stuyvesant despite the fact Stuyvesant char­ac­ter­ized Jews as the deceit­ful race” and object­ed to any set­tlers who were not mem­bers of the Dutch Reformed Church. 

Fein­gold does a mas­ter­ful job in describ­ing the social and his­tor­i­cal forces that con­tribute to shap­ing the Jew­ish lib­er­al per­sua­sion.” The fac­tors include the Jew­ish com­mit­ment to Tikkun Olam, or fix­ing the world to make it a bet­ter place; the bib­li­cal injunc­tion to be kind to strangers because we were once strangers in a strange land;” the sense of being a dis­tinct eth­no-reli­gious group eter­nal­ly sub­ject­ed to anti-Semi­tism; a com­mit­ment to Jew­ish equal­i­ty pro­mul­gat­ed in the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry in the Euro­pean Enlight­en­ment and pro­mot­ed by the Ger­man Jew­ish immi­grants; notions of social­ism, rev­o­lu­tion, and Zion­ism per­va­sive in the waves of East­ern Euro­pean Jew­ish immi­grants; and the wrench­ing effects of the tragedy of the Shoah. All these fac­tors and more have con­tributed to the Jew­ish vot­er stress­ing the impor­tance of the role gov­ern­ment can play in cre­at­ing and maintain­ing a just soci­ety. These forces in the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty trans­late into vot­ing for lib­er­al can­di­dates and causes. 

One need not be inter­est­ed in pol­i­tics to thor­ough­ly enjoy this book and come away with a greater under­stand­ing of Jew­ish his­to­ry and fac­tors shap­ing Jew­ish polit­i­cal activ­i­ty. Index, notes.

Relat­ed content:

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions