Standing somewhere between the dominant position of the white majority and the marginal position of peoples of color, Jews respond with ambivalence to the attack of multiculturalism on the Enlightenment. For two centuries Jews have staked their position in Western society on the promise of the Enlightenment. When given the chance, they used emancipation to enormous benefit and they came to repay the Enlightenment with almost excessive gratitude, rushing to adopt political liberalism and cultural rationalism to a much greater degree than any other group. At the same time, the Jewish embrace of the Enlightenment reflected the limitations within the Enlightenment itself: it was Jewish men, much more than Jewish women, who realized the benefits of the Enlightenment, so the very enthusiasm for the Enlightenment needs to be qualified to some degree along gender lines. And Jews also recognize that the very failure of the Enlightenment led to Auschwitz. The dialectic of Jewish Enlightenment therefore oscillates between these two poles of enthusiastic celebration of modern Western culture and awareness of its most horrific results.
Having finally reaped the fruits of the promise of the Enlightenment, American Jews sometimes ask why liberalism can’t do for other marginalized American groups what it has done for them. This is the source of the conflict among Jews about affirmative action, a policy often associated with multiculturalism. If Jews historically associate quotas with barriers to opportunity, it is then particularly difficult for some to accept such quotas (or similar vehicles) as just means for American society to redress inequities. As beneficiaries, for whatever historical and cultural reasons, of the Enlightenment’s equality of opportunity, some Jews find it hard to understand why such slogans might be inadequate in dealing with the long-term consequences of slavery. At the same time, however, since probably the greatest beneficiaries of affirmative action have been Jewish women, Jews have just as many self-interested reasons to see the virtues of preferences.
(Biale does not offer a citation for his claim in that last sentence.)