Among the pleasures of taking up space on this page is the chance, from time to time, to report on some accomplishment that might otherwise go undernoticed. When the accomplishment belongs to a friend well, OK, this is a puff piece. But the puffery’s deserved, because the accomplishment is magnificent.
Adam Pruzan works for Toward Tradition, a Seattle-based Jewish-conservative group that fights a two-front war. One front is political. Toward Tradition works with and supports various Christian groups on an array of conservative issues and causes. The other front is more narrowly sectarian. Toward Tradition wants to convince American Jews that conservatism, properly understood, embodies traditional Jewish values far more than liberalism or, more aptly, what liberalism has become.
Mr. Pruzan has a curious blend of backgrounds. Scion of one of Seattle’s most noted (and liberal) Jewish families, he attended St. John’s College in New Mexico, did the Great Books curriculum, then joined the Navy. Later came religious study in Israel, work in Israeli and American think tanks and educational institutions, and an urge to write.
A couple years ago, Toward Tradition began an intellectual experiment of sorts. Why not apply Jewish sources, the Torah, Talmud, Halacha (Jewish law) and the vast rabbinical literature, to contemporary problems? Of course, seeking guidance from the Bible hardly qualifies as novelty among conservatives. But what Toward Tradition, under their president, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, set out to do was apply uniquely Jewish logic and precepts to current affairs.
Mr. Pruzan turned out an early paper, “Esau’s Delusion,” in support of repealing the inheritance tax. Esau, you’ll recall, was the brother of Jacob, who sold his birthright for a mess of porridge and later had his father’s blessing stolen by his brother. The mix of ancient and modern was, to say the least, evocative. We toyed briefly with co-authoring a paper on defense, “Nehemiah’s Neurosis.” (No, I’m not going to explain it. Get out your Bibles and look it up.) That didn’t happen, and maybe just as well. But Toward Tradition has launched a new pamphlet series entitled, “Modern Problems, Ancient Solutions.”
Pamphlet One, “Diligently to Thy Children: The Case for School Choice,” by Adam Pruzan, is, to put it simply, a masterpiece. In a mere 20 checkbook-sized pages, he demolishes every argument put forth by opponents of choice. No hype, no histrionics, no jargon just calm, relentless logic, command of his facts, and a compressed lucidity that leaves you shaking your head, yes, yes, yes, tell me more.
He takes only three pages, for example, to demonstrate that vouchers for religious schools are constitutional because the courts work education and religion along two precedent tracks. One forbids the practice of religion in public schools. The other mandates support for secular activities that may be performed by religious institutions. He demonstrates that, while vouchers typically provide less than the total cost of educating a child in a public school, parents pooling their vouchers can start schools or send their children to private schools that already have considerable assets.
Above all else, he shows that, at all socio-economic levels, education succeeds when parents follow the Biblical and Halachic commandment to take responsibility for their children’s education, and to regard the educational establishment teachers and bureaucrats alike as their agents, not their masters or their surrogates.
But “Diligently to Thy Children” has another purpose: to convince American Jews that conservatism’s the more “authentic” expression of Jewish values. So how do you go about persuading one of the best educated, most influential and most argumentative minorities in the United States that they’ve gotten it all backward? Perhaps the way Mr. Pruzan does. Again, no hype, no histrionics, no invective. He simply suggests that Jews are right to insist that every American child receive the best possible education, right to remember the role of public schools in their own rise, but wrong to pretend that the system they knew and venerate is still there. And what is true with education may be true in many other areas. It’s time to take a second look at a lot of things.
Mr. Pruzan’s got a few more pamphlets in the works, but is also moving toward a book-length study of the American Jewish orientation and how to change it. Of itself, it may not be that important. After all, as the journalistic cliché goes, “Jews ain’t news.” But as a case study of how groups can come to work against their own interests and values without even realizing it, and how to change such self-destructive behavior, the effort could be fascinating. Certainly, Jews aren’t the only group in this country to cling to old notions and affiliations even after they become patently injurious to their interests.
In any event, folks, get the pamphlet. It’s free. Try www.towardtradition.org or, for those still into snail mail, Box 58, Mercer Island, WA 98040. The phone number (800) 591-7579 or (206) 236-3046.
Tell them Philip sent you.
Philip Gold is president of Aretea, the Seattle Center for the New Work.