As American as Passover
A few more idle thoughts on the preeminence of American Jewry:
It’s not as if Jews haven’t played important roles in government before now – I once read that Charlemagne relied heavily on Jewish functionaries, who were entirely dependent on the Emperor’s patronage and therefore apt to remain loyal. But as Weiss notes, the interesting thing about Kagan’s appointment to the Supreme Court is that her religious background is almost entirely unremarked upon, except for the odd lament that we’re running out of Protestant jurists (how nice it is to finally get to be a member of an embattled minority!).
I also think we tend to underestimate how new this development is in American history. I can’t find the exact quote, but I vividly recall a passage from Theodore Rex that described Roosevelt’s Secretary of State as “jovially anti-Semitic.” Which is a pretty awful thing to say about anyone, much less a cabinet member of one of our most celebrated presidencies.
The arc of Kagan’s family (Weiss: “Elena Kagan’s parents’ generation experienced anti-Semitism in seeking position, but her generation experienced no such discrimination.”) also interests me. Would Kagan’s faith receive more attention if American Judaism retained some of its cultural or ethnic distinctiveness? If elite American Jews are basically indistinguishable from elite American atheists or elite American Protestants, is Kagan’s appointment to the Supreme Court really a triumph of liberal inclusion?