Thu, 8 June 2017
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 Or it the result of outdated beliefs that have calcified into secular dogma?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.