It was Thomas Jefferson, in a now-famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, who first wrote of a “wall of separation between Church & State.” And it has long been America’s Jews who have stood at the forefront of public arguments to keep that wall as high as possible. Why are Jews so devoted to the separation of religion and government? Is it because of a prudent assessment of Jewish interests? Or it the result of outdated beliefs that have calcified into secular dogma?
In one of his most important essays, “Church and State: How High a Wall?,” Milton Himmelfarb tackles these very questions. Published in Commentary in 1966, the piece argues that the American Jewish dedication to strict separationism is misguided and isolates the Jewish community from a democratic consensus in America without any obvious benefit.
In this podcast, Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver is joined by Professor Samuel Goldman of the George Washington University’s Loeb Institute for Religious Freedom to discuss this classic essay. They discuss the complex history and logic of American Jews’ changing attitudes toward church-state separation as well as the most powerful arguments against the separationist consensus. In so doing, they begin to paint a picture of what an authentically American idea of religious freedom ought to look like in a truly pluralistic America.
Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble, as well as Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.
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- Yuval Levin on the Long Way to Liberty
- Ruth Wisse on Sartre and Anti-Semitism
- Edward Rothstein on Jerusalem Syndrome at the Met
- Matthew Continetti on Irving Kristol’s Theological Politics
- Meir Soloveichik on King David
- R.R. Reno on “Faith in the Flesh”
- Arthur Herman on Why Everybody Loves Israel
- Meir Soloveichik on Rembrandt, Tolkien, and the Jews
- Yoram Hazony on Nationalism and the Future of Western Freedom
- Jason Bedrick on Jewish Day Schools and School Choice
- Allan Arkush on Ahad Ha’am and “The Jewish State and Jewish Problem”
- Bret Stephens on the Legacy of 1967 and the U.S.-Israel Relationship
- Jay Lefkowitz on Social Orthodoxy
- Norman Podhoretz on Jerusalem and Jewish Particularity
- Michael Doran on Western Elites and the Middle East
- Ruth Wisse on Campus Anti-Semitism
- Meir Soloveichik on “Confrontation”
- Yuval Levin on Religious Liberty
- Elliott Abrams on American Jews and Israel
More about: • Jewish Political Thought • Religious Liberty and the Jews • The American Jewish Experience • Tikvah Podcasts
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