Two Old Jewish Socialists: Henry Roth Meets Bernie Sanders

UrlNathaniel Popkin at Tablet Magazine:

Hiat was born in Kletsk, a town south of Minsk, in Belarus. As a child, he began to doubt the possibility of God. “I’ve seen children die, small children, and the doubt of a merciful God really drove me” away from religious belief, he said to Roth during the first interview session, describing the crucible of his political consciousness and suggesting the rigor of his autodidactic mind. But at the same time, at the cheder in Kletsk, Hiat was introduced to the Jewish teaching that opened him intellectually to a “revolutionary instinctive upbringing.” “Socialism,” he said, “is part of philosophical Judaism.” There is, he explained to Roth, who never received, or pursued, a full Jewish education, “a certain Hebrew word, ein kemach, ein Torah: If you have no bread, you have no Torah.”

Bernie Sanders, who perhaps embodies this connection as thoroughly as any American public figure in history, rarely draws that line. In a speech last year to the students of the Evangelical Christian Liberty University, he quoted the Book of Matthew, not Torah or Talmud, in citing a religious influence in his political ideology. (Hillary Clinton, for her part, draws a connection between the Christianity she experienced growing up and her instinct to volunteer in poor neighborhoods of Chicago.) Sanders sometimes directs the question of how his Jewish self-identity inspired his political beliefs to the specter of the Holocaust, from which his father escaped but many of his relatives in Poland did not; more often, he simply identifies his parents as “Polish.”

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