Kingdom of Priests

A function of this blog is correcting mistaken views about Judaism held by Jews. The same reader comment that prompted me to declare myself guilty of being “Christian-friendly” also castigated Eric Cohen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center for having written on National Review Online that:

On the stem-cell question, the conscience of Judaism has been misguided….Jews seem to have forgotten even the minimal liberal wisdom of tolerance — the wisdom of not trampling on the moral opinions of their fellow citizens, like pro-life Christians, who believe embryo destruction is not only evil but the gravest evil. As Jews, don’t we owe our fellow citizens the minimal decency of not asking them to pay for the activity that most offends them?

The disgruntled reader triumphantly held up his own misconception about the stem-cell issue: “Remember: embryonic stem-cell research is one of the few subjects on which all Jews across the board — from secular humanists to ultra-Orthodox — agree.” He felt this made Cohen and me a couple of Stepin Fetchits for Christianity, especially Catholicism.
Uh, not exactly. Cohen may have meant that the conscience of the Jewish community has been misguided. If so, I’d agree with him. But Judaism itself is not misguided. Perhaps the most distinguished writer on Jewish legal issues today in the mainstream Orthodox community is Rabbi J. David Bleich of Yeshiva University, where he holds the Herbert and Florence Tenzer Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics. Bleich takes a view on stem cells in which he commends Christian, particularly Catholic, leadership on the issue.

As Cohen points out elsewhere, Bleich doesn’t represent anything like a consensus among Orthodox Jews, but he speaks with considerable and widely acknowledged authority from the classical sources. Rabbi Bleich’s essays in Tradition, the journal of the (modern Orthodox) Rabbinical Council of America, represent the highest level of Jewish legal scholarship. The sources define Judaism. What the sociological grouping called “Orthodox Jews” says at any given moment, or “Reform Jews” or “Conservative Jews,” does not. You can download the whole essay for yourself.
The concluding two paragraphs are key. After a long legal analysis, he writes of “the absence of a halakhic [legal] imperative to engage in stem cell research” and the “grave halakhic issues posed by destruction of even nascent embryos.” 
He speculates that if Maimonides himself were alive, he would see the Catholic church as 

uniquely fulfil[ling] a…role in the transcendental divine plan, i.e., it tenaciously promulgates the notion of the sanctity of fetal life and the teaching that abortion constitutes homicide. Non-Jews who engage in that endeavor do so with divine approbation. Non-Jews engaged in fulfilling a sacred mission are surely deserving of commendation, applause and support.

If that puts Cohen, Rabbi Bleich, and me all in the position of “self-hating Jews,” I guess I’d wear that badge proudly.
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