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Posts Tagged ‘identity’

What Does It Mean to Be Jewish?

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The question “What does it mean to be Jewish?” has often been asked. I suppose you could invoke the old joke “Ask two Jews a question and you’ll get three opinions” to better comprehend how different Jews would respond to this question, so when I weigh in here, I hope readers will forgive me if my opinions don’t always accord with theirs.

But the question is legitimate and should be asked. Jewish people share a common heritage and are affected by many of the same issues today. They face a world in which their religion is part of their identity; no matter how far apart they are on the religious and political spectrums (not to mention any others), they share a common bond that unites them in terms of how they relate to each other and to the outside world.

So what does it mean to be Jewish? To me, it means the following:

● To believe in God. Divine affirmation is the foundation of Judaism. Everything else comes after.

● To observe Shabbat and the various yom tovim. What could be more meaningful, spiritual, and fulfilling – more Jewish – than practicing the religious aspects of Judaism?

● To lead an honorable life. Shouldn’t we all aspire to become tzaddikim, righteous people?

● To keep kosher. Certain things just seem to go together, like lox and bagels, gefilte fish and horseradish – and being Jewish and keeping kosher.

● To do mitzvot. There are 613 mitzvot in the Torah, including the above. Carrying out mitzvot is part of our code.

● To carry on Jewish traditions. There’s life after davening, and it’s called Jewish culture. Chanukah gifts, hamantashen, and singing niggunim on Shabbat are just a few of the wonderful customs that have evolved from the religion and its people.

● To be proud of your Jewish heritage. Wear it on your sleeve – you’re a member of a tribe that has nearly 6,000 years of history.

● To feel an immediate bond with fellow Jews. Have you ever felt like you can be anywhere in the world and if you find a fellow Jew, you feel an immediate kinship?

● To involve yourself in a community of Jews. As birds of a feather flock together, it’s only natural for Jews to be immersed in a Jewish world – having Jewish friends, engaging in Jewish activities, living in Jewish neighborhoods.

● To feel a Jewish identity. Even if you’re not as religious as you could or should be, what could possibly make you more Jewish than feeling Judaism is an indelible part of your soul, or that being Jewish is simply who you are?

● To feel a special connection to Jewish history. Who can feel the pain of Jewish persecutions, expulsions, and genocides more than a Jew? Who can feel the catastrophe of the Holocaust more deeply than a Jew?

● To take great pride in Israel. Do you get the chills when you hear “Hatikvah”? After 2,000 years of Jews living in the Diaspora as a weak, defenseless, persecuted people, what greater modern miracle could there be than the resurrection of the Jewish homeland?

● To place an emphasis on education. Jewish parents may be the original “tiger moms and dads.” Perhaps that is why some professions are disproportionately populated by Jews.

● To feel empathy for the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden. You only have to consider how much we’ve suffered as a people to understand how this got into our DNA.

● To have a Jewish funny bone. You can relate to Jewish humor because you’re laughing at yourself and other Jewish people you know – and, nu, do you think there’s any shortage of Jewish foibles?

● To think in “Jewish ways.” How do Jews think? Oy vey iz mir. We think the number 18 brings good luck, so we sometimes give gifts in denominations of 18, like $36 or $180. We try to ward off the evil eye after hearing compliments or wonderful news by saying “kenohora” or mimicking spitting by going “pooh-pooh-pooh.” Oh, and there’s the proverbial Jewish guilt, as well as our inimitable designation of “mishagas” to explain a panoply of crazy behavior with a Jewish edge. Is there such a thing as a Yiddishe kop? Suffice it to say that when you do something stupid, you’re not using it.

Nothing ‘Reasonable’ about Mideast Divide

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Thanks to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to swallow a painful and embarrassing concession to please the Palestinians, Secretary of State John Kerry had his moment of triumph.

In announcing the start of a new round of Middle East peace talks, Kerry has seemingly justified the way he has concentrated his efforts on an issue that was not in crisis mode and with little chance of resolution while treating other more urgent problems such as Egypt, Syria, and the Iranian nuclear threat as lower priorities.

But now that he has had his victory, the focus turns to the talks where few, if any, observers think there is a ghost of a chance of that the negotiations can succeed despite Kerry’s call for “reasonable compromises.”

The reason for that is that despite the traditional American belief that the two sides can split the difference on their disagreements, as Kerry seems to want, the problem is much deeper than drawing a new line on a map.

Ironically, proof of this comes from a new poll that some are touting as evidence that both Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution. The poll was a joint project of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah. It shows, among other often-contradictory results, that a majority of Israelis (62 percent) supports a two-state solution while 33 percent oppose it. Among Palestinians, 53 percent support and 46 percent oppose the two-state solution.

But the question to ask about this poll and the conflict is what the two sides mean by a two-state solution. The answer comes in a subsequent query:

We asked Israelis and Palestinians about their readiness for a mutual recognition as part of a permanent status agreement and after all issues in the conflict are resolved and a Palestinian State is established. Our current poll shows that 57% of the Israeli public supports such a mutual recognition and 37% opposes it. Among Palestinians, 42% support and 56% oppose this step.

In other words, Israelis see a two-state solution as a way to permanently end the conflict and achieve peace. But since a majority of Palestinians cannot envision mutual recognition even after all issues are resolved and they get a state, they obviously see it as merely a pause before the conflict would begin anew on terms decidedly less advantageous to Israel.

There are many reasons why the peace negotiations are likely to fail. The Palestinians are deeply split, with Gaza being ruled by the Islamists of Hamas who still won’t even contemplate talks with Israel, let alone peace. Kerry has praised Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, but he is weak and hasn’t the ability to make a peace deal stick even in the unlikely event he signs one.

Though Netanyahu went out on a political limb to enable the talks to begin by releasing scores of Palestinian terrorists, Abbas has shown in the past that he will say no, even when offered virtually everything he has asked for. Netanyahu will rightly drive a harder bargain and refuse to contemplate a deal that involves a complete retreat to the 1967 lines or a Palestinian state that isn’t demilitarized. But it’s hard to imagine Abbas ever recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

The real problem, however, isn’t about where negotiators would draw those lines. As the poll indicates, even after Israel withdraws from almost all of the West Bank (reports indicate Netanyahu is ready to give up 86 percent of it), a substantial majority of Palestinians still can’t fathom the possibility of mutual recognition and normal relations.

How can that be?

The reason is very simple and is not something Kerry or his lead negotiator Martin Indyk (a veteran of numerous diplomatic failures who hasn’t seemed to learn a thing from any of them) can fix. Palestinian nationalism was born in the 20th century as a reaction to Zionism, not by focusing on fostering a separate identity and culture from that of other Arab populations. That doesn’t mean Palestinians aren’t now a separate people with their own identity, but it does explain why they see that identity as indistinguishable from the effort to make Israel disappear.

Hellenism is Alive and Well in America

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Sorry to spoil your Chanukah. While many people consider the leftists in Israel the Hellenists of today, the term more fittingly describes the Jews of the Diaspora who have the ability to move to Israel, but prefer to identify with the foreign country and foreign culture where they live.

This is exactly what a Hellenist is – as Webster’s Dictionary states: “A person living in Hellenist times who was Greek in language, outlook, and way of life, but was not Greek in ancestry, like a Hellenist Jew.”

This description fits the American Jew, or English Jew, or Australian Jew of today. They prefer a foreign language over Hebrew; they prefer to live in a foreign land; and they chase after foreign cultures, outlooks, and ways of living, to be just like the Americans, loving baseball, the movies, the New York Times, addicting to American TV shows, fashions, cars, Presidents, and American ambitions, just like the Hellenists did in the time of the Greeks, abandoning their holy identity as Bnei Yisrael, their own Hebrew language, their beards and Hebrew garb, to become clean shaven, tunic-wearing copies of the Greeks, going to their bawdy theaters, concerts, brothels and pubs, rushing to their sporting events held in the nude, and even extending their foreskins to hide the holy mark of their circumcisions so they would look like everyone else at the baths.

Ask any Israeli leftist what his identity is, and he will answer, an Israeli, or a Jew. Ask your average American Jew what his identity is, and he will answer, an American. This is true Hellenism. Today it’s called Americanism, that’s all.

Even the Chanukah dreidel makes this distinction clear. In the Diaspora, a kid spinning the dreidel understands that “A great miracle happened THERE.” In Israel. Not in Paris, Melbourne, or New York. He instinctively realizes that the real Jewish place is Israel. That’s where Jewish history happened, and that’s where it is unfolding today. The Jewish child naturally understands that Israel is his true home, until his parents and Hebrew school teachers and rabbis and Federations brainwash him into becoming a Hellenist like they are.

Chanukah and Purim are both holidays established by the Sages, but we only recite the joyous Hallel prayer on Chanukah. Why? Because, even though the Jews were saved on Purim, it was only a partial salvation since they were still living under the Persians in a foreign land. At the end of the dramatic victory, Ester was still living in the palace with Achashverus, the goy.

In contrast, the salvation of Chanukah and its joy were complete, for the victory led to renewed Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel and the eradication of Hellenism. Our true joy can only come when we are in the Land of Israel being our true selves, as we say in the Psalm we recite on Shabbat before Birkat HaMazone, the Grace after Meals: “When the Lord brought back the exiles to Zion, we were like those who dream. Our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongues with joyous song.” In contrast, the Sages decreed that we should recite a different Psalm during the week after eating (not that anyone bothers or wants to remember): “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?”

There is no true Jewish happiness in Brooklyn or Beverly Hills. Thus, the Sages established that it be written on all Diaspora dreidels: “A great miracle happened THERE,” so that every child would know (before he was brainwashed) that true Jewish happiness, heroism, and life happens THERE, in the Land of Israel, not in foreign lands among the Greeks and their modern-day counterparts, who, instead of wearing sandals and tunics, wear Florsheims, designer sport jackets, and ties.

Happy Chanukah!

With a Pocketful of Democracy

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

The age of the encyclopedia salesman and the vacuum cleaner salesman peddling heavy bundles of books and snakelike cables door to door is done. But the age of the democracy salesman has taken its place.

No longer do bright young lads tote along everything there is to know about the letter E in one omnibus volume or demonstrate how the latest Suck-O-Zoom can get stains out of any carpet as an introduction to the wonders of free enterprise. Instead, if they haven’t been sidetracked by the siren lure of the dot com or the minimum wage job, they, like the late Christopher Stevens, jet off to foreign climes with FDR’s Four Freedoms under one arm and a local dictionary under the other to convince the natives that their lives will be freer, brighter and shinier with the Demo-O-Vote as the arbiter of their holy wars.

Like a lot of salesmen, the democracy salesman has never really stopped to wonder why any of his prospective customers should want to buy democracy for only twelve easy payments of bloody civil war? Born in a society where democracy has been idolized for the last century, where cleanliness and godliness may have gone by the wayside, but democracy is still one of those faded old virtues that the arbiters of the Living Constitution haven’t taken out back and put a bullet in its head in between elections and commercial breaks, they have never thought to consider that anyone might not want their democracy.

In an amoral society, democracy is one of the few things left to us by dead white men that is held to be a virtue, rather than a vice. It goes unquestioned because to most people it represents the power of the common man over his rulers, even if the common man no more rules his rulers than he did some two-hundred years ago. But democracy for the grandfathers of the salesmen goes deeper than fact. It represents a classless society where one man is as good as another and there are no lords or kings.

This however is not the effect of American democracy, it is rather the cause of American democracy, particularly in its Jacksonian flavor. And that old Scots-Irish flavor can be served locally, but it can’t be exported. The ballot box is not a society of rugged individualists, it is not a classless society where no one bends a knee before lords or the ascension of the common man. Those are features you can see in the showroom, but they don’t come with the device.

In our democracy salesmanship we never really troubled to ask ourselves why the Muslim world would want democracy and what it would do with it. Saddam Hussein bought 4000 Playstation game consoles, not because he was trying to train suicide bombers on copies of Sonic the Hedgehog, but because some of its components could be used in weapons. Those Muslim groups most interested in democracy were looking to weaponize it as well.

To the Muslim world, democracy did not mean individualism, it meant majority rule. Our democracy salesmen conceived of the Muslim world divided between the rule of its dictators and the will of its people.

The innate assumption in that use of “the people” as applied to people of different religious and ethnic backgrounds is very American. When used by the left, “the People” carries it with the ominous resonance of a collectivization that transcends all individual attributes. But when used by that old fashioned creature, the pre-post-America ‘American’  it throbs with the assumption that the people of a free society will unite around their freedoms, rather than around their identities. That assumption may be outdated, but it is still what we expected Iraqis and Egyptians to do. And our salesmen never really got around to asking what being a people meant to Iraqis and Egyptians, rather than Americans.

The Muslim world is not divided between the dictators and, that construct, the people. It is divided between the possible dictators that different groups within it champion.

There is no conflict between Assad and the Syrian People, because there is no Syrian people. There are Neo-Shiite Alawites and Sunni Salafists battling it out in the ruins of major cities, over the bodies of Christians, to decide who will rule Syria. The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood might win an election, but that election would not elevate it as the choice of the people, but as the choice of a sectarian coalition whose religious affiliates happen to be in the majority. Peoplehood is an illusion in places where there are too many peoples, too many guns and the government is the way that one group forces its will on another.

Democracy, under such circumstances, is a way for the majority to assert its identity as the defining national identity. And once that’s done, future elections become optional. Egypt’s election was no more about the ascension of the common man or individual freedom than Saddam Hussein was busy playing with his Playstation in the hole while waiting for the Americans to come and get him. Like the American elections of 2012, it was about entitled groups elevating a totemic figure on a pole that represented their identity. And when group identity is asserted as national identity, then elections come down to demographic contests where group power, not ideas or policies, is the true prize.

Group votes don’t lead to human rights, they lead to group privileges. They lead to rights for some and no rights for others. They lead to a group state where group membership is citizenship and lack of group membership is treason. And that is exactly what the Arab Spring has given us;an Egypt where religion defines citizenship and a Syria where religion determines who you’ll be shooting at. This is Muslim democracy and it’s a foolproof recipe for civil war and tyranny, in any order.

Dictatorship is democracy and democracy is dictatorship. Elections don’t lead to a marketplace of ideas and smooth transitions, but to populist power grabs that eventually end in new revolutions. When no one group emerges as the winner, then there is a transitional period of chaos that some mistakenly assume are the birth pangs of democracy, but actually act as the prelude to the rise of a new tyranny. Where the population is do divided and the military is so inept that no such tyranny is possible; you end up with Lebanon. Perpetual civil war.

There might be a way out of this conundrum, but parachuting elections into the region is not the answer. Nor is getting rid of the dictators only to replace them with new dictators. And really why should we expect Egyptians or Iraqis to be able to do what millions of our own citizens cannot? When our country is ruled by a man who commands demographic bloc votes, then who are we to tell Egyptian Muslims not to act like them?

And that raises the final question. Who are we really selling democracy to and why? The Arab Spring stampeded otherwise sensible people into believing that they had to buy into an inevitable trend or be left behind. But there was no inevitable trend. Not even Islamism is truly inevitable. The inevitable progress of history is a progressive myth. History is not the inevitable outcome of a philosophy, but the accumulated interpretations of past events.

History did not arrive in the Arab Spring, it was manufactured, shipped and uncrated in Tahrir Square by legions of hardworking activists and reporters. And the history isn’t going where they expected it to. And it won’t even go where the Islamists expect it to. Because there are two kinds of democracy. One is the tame democracy of the ballot box where people vote in a fixed pattern. And then there is the wild democracy of crowds, of the chaotic interactions between popular needs and patterns of power. The overgrown territories of that wild democracy is where inevitable history goes off to die.

We were told that the end of the era of dictators had arrived. And here is Morsi squatting on a brand new throne while the mobs cry for his head in Tahrir Square. The inevitable history has become caught in its own circularity in a region where events have a way of repeating themselves, even more so than they do on the outside. The era of dictators has neither begun nor ended. It merely goes on existing for as long as people go on crying for freedom when they really mean power.

The United States sought to end the cycle of violence by replacing dictators with elections, but it was a doomed course of action considering how close the United States has been drifting to electing dictators. American politics has had its ups and downs, but it has been relentlessly polarized for the last twenty years with no end in sight.

All the efforts invested into promoting democracy abroad might have been better employed by working safeguard the character of a nation that is capable of choosing its representatives through elections, rather than using those same elections to ratify its tyrants. Egypt will be Egypt and Iraq will be Iraq. It is up to their people to find a way out of their cycle of violence and tyranny. Our task is to make certain that America remains America and that we do not find ourselves in the same cycle as the protesters challenging tyranny in Tahrir Square.

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

Arab Men Under 40 Barred from the Temple Mount Tomorrow

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Tomorrow, Friday, Jerusalem police plans to limit entrance of Muslim worshipers to the Temple Mount to men ages 40 and older, carrying blue identity cards only (Israeli citizens). Women of any age will be permitted to enter.

Police will increase the forces staged around the Temple Mount and the Old City by several thousand policemen, to prevent attempts to disturb the peace in response to the “pillar of defense” operation in the Gaza Strip.

The Jewish and Post-Jewish Vote

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

Last Shabbat I sat at a table in my local synagogue while a group of men argued over the election. They weren’t arguing over who they should vote for, they were arguing over just how bad Obama was, their voices rising and falling as they named one detail after another. They weren’t necessarily Republicans, but they were politically conservative, as my community and as almost all of the traditional Jewish communities in America are.

This is how I grew up, and while for many, the Liberal Jew in the norm, for me he remains a strange creature, a shipwrecked sailor marooned on a liberal desert island for a century who no longer knows who he is anymore.

There is a great deal of talk about the Jewish vote in this and every election. Probably more talk than it merits. But let us clarify what we are talking about when we talk about the Jewish vote. As with the Catholic vote and the vote of every religious group, there are the votes of those who believe in the religion and the votes of those who do not. With the Jews, who are not only a religion, but a race and an ethnicity, there is the Jewish vote and the post-Jewish vote.

Or to put it another way; there are Jews and there are shipwrecked Jews.

American Jews can be broken down roughly into the products of three periods of immigration. The first began with Columbus’ Jewish crew members and continued down to the mid 19th Century bringing primarily Spanish Jews and then German Jews to the American Colonies and later the United States.

This is the immigration that produced famous American Jews like Asser Levy, the first Jew to win the right to bear arms in defense of the place that would later become New York, Uriah P. Levy, a Navy Commodore who helped preserve Monticello,Judah P. Benjamin, the Secretary of State for the Confederacy and Emma Lazarus, whose famous poem has become synonymous with the Statue of Liberty.

This group was roughly split between Republicans and Democrats; though at the time those party identifiers didn’t have the same conservative and liberal signifiers that they do today.

The next wave of immigration was primarily made up of Jewish refugees from Russia and Eastern Europe escaping the meltdown of Czarism. They arrived mostly after the Civil War, in time for the Unionist experiment that created centralized educational systems and the “melting pot” that was meant to efficiently transform the United States of America into a modern republic.

This second wave turned rigidly Democratic under the rough tutelage of the urban political machine and the gentler tutelage of an educational system meant to turn Jewish, Irish and Italian immigrants into proper Americans– and to the people running the melting pot machine, Americanism meant Liberalism. They didn’t always succeed, but they succeeded well enough to build an immigrant electorate for the Democratic Party.

The Liberal Jew was a product of that melting pot which stripped him of his cultural identity and his religion, leaving behind a hole that he filled with the messianism of liberal politics. The graduates of the melting pot were economically successful and well educated, but they had lost their sense of self. Looking for that sense of self, they became devout attendees of progressive politics, filling the hole with bitter greenie humor that poked fun at everything, especially themselves.

American Jewish identity became liberal identity, and the massive cultural hole was filled with humor which has found its natural end in the degraded vaudeville of Woody Allen and Larry David or the bitter frustrations of a Philip Roth. The trinity of FDR, JFK and Obama became their faith and their identity became a series of in-jokes about eating Chinese food on Christmas. Like the Spanish Jewish Conversos, they had a secret identity but they no longer knew what the secret was.

This second wave of immigration would define American Jewish identity. It is the invariable focus of American Jewish literature and the PBS specials on the American Jewish journey that run before major Jewish holidays. It is also on the way out for the simple reason that such an identity is in no shape to be passed on to the next generation. The copying errors of cultural DNA in such bad shape mean that each generation ends up knowing less about who it is than the last one. And that means each generation is also less likely to be Jewish and more likely to be liberal.

The second wave’s DNA copying errors has produced a lot of abortion and gay rights activists, it hasn’t produced a lot of children. Like all cultural mistakes, Liberal Judaism is wiping itself out. It leaves behind a lot of jokes, some inventive pop products that defined 20th Century Americana and some Unitarians with Jewish roots who fast for Gaza and denounce Israel.

Second wave liberal Jews had become Post-Jews within a Post-American ideology. And though they still identify as Jewish, what they mostly are is an echo, a faint snatch of song now rendered illegible, a lost people slipping away into the shadows.

The third wave of Jewish immigration began shortly before World War II and continues into the present day. It consists of the Jewish communities of Europe who fled Nazi persecution, Russian Jews who fled Communist persecution and Jews from the Middle East who fled Muslim persecution.

This third wave is largely conservative, and while the same could have been said of the second wave  arriving in 1882 or 1914, the third wave came as communities, and have largely been able to transplant their culture and religion to the United States.

In 1892, Jews came to the United States as cheap labor. In 1946 they came with the remnants of communities that they were determined to rebuild. While the second wave fled to the suburbs, they stuck it out in the cities building up integrated communities that remained true to their culture and their religion. These communities were primarily concerned with the education of their children.

This is not true of the entire third wave, just as not everything that I have said is true of the entire second wave. But largely the second wave operated on a progressive impulse, while the third wave operated on a traditionalist impulse. The second wave was concerned with leaving behind the old ways, while the third wave tried to preserve them, reconstructing the ashes of the thriving Jewish communities of Russia, Poland, Syria, Egypt and Iran in the United States.

The second wave adapted, and lost their identity. The third wave adapted and kept their identity. The second wave had few children and even fewer Jewish children. The third wave had a great many children and viewed having children as a cultural and religious duty. And through the force of simple demographics, theirs is the future. 74 percent of Jewish children in New York are Orthodox. Ten years from now, the New York Jewish vote will be as reliably Republican as it was once Democrat.

The third wave is innately conservative. Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe and Syria are as reliably conservative, as second wave Jewish college educated suburbanites were liberal, and Russian refugees from Communism are as conservative as Cubans refugees from Communism. All three groups have an instinctive distaste and distrust for the rhetoric of progressivism. They have lost too much not to be traditionalists. Their identity is all that they have.

Second wave liberal Jews is what most people think of when they think of American Jews, but the relevance and demographic sway of that group is dimming. The new American Jew can be found in the working class sections of New York and he is an Orthodox small businessman poring over boxes of t-shirts or toasters in a hole in the wall in Brooklyn, he is a Syrian Jew clearing land on a new lot and an Israeli getting another moving company off the ground and a Russian immigrant driving a cab.

This is the new face of the American Jew and it will be the definitive one for some time to come. The Post-Jewish vote of the Liberal Post-American Post-Jew is on the way out and the Jewish vote is already coming into play in Brooklyn where Republicans are beginning to win Jewish districts.

The new American Jew is not overly committed to political parties, but to values. He believes that small business should be able to operate without government interference, he believes that families raise children, not governments, and he distrusts government in general. The messianic impulse of progressivism holds little appeal for him. He does not feel guilt over race relations and is not moved by appeals to abortion. He has no use for gay marriage and while, like a lot of working class people, he feels some sympathy for unions, he does not like public sector unions who seem to have it made.

Unlike his liberal second wave predecessors, he believes in G-d, not as some abstract inspiration, but as an actual reality. Values to him are objective, right and wrong is black and white, and family is all that matters. Government to him exists to crack down on criminals and on foreign invaders, he does believe that the country can kill its way to a solution and dismisses politicians who think it can’t.

He is a man or woman of common sense and what his common sense tells him is to distrust glibness and to trust results. He doesn’t want to lower the oceans or worship at the feet of a political messiah. He isn’t looking for a religion to replace his religion, he doesn’t want a savior, he wants a future for his family. He is the new American Jew and his vote, the vote of the third wave is the vote of the Jewish future.

Rosenblatt v. Silverman: A Culture War

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

The numerous comments we’ve received on Rabbi Rosenblatt’s Open Letter to Sarah Silverman are fascinating. Once you get past the expletives, you can learn a lot about the culture that produced them. The statements and the tone of the comments demonstrate the differences, even the massive gap between Jewish culture and Jewish-American culture.

Rosenblatt addressed a public figure who has no problems exposing her inner self and saying whatever is on her mind on any subject, no matter how offensive or inappropriate it might be to anyone. Rosenblatt questioned what her underlying motives might be and offered what he believes is the answer. He couched his message, as Silverman sometimes does hers, using his notion of Judaic values and cultural identity.

And that’s when it hit the fan.

Certainly it’s permissible, possible, even easy to disagree with Rosenblatt’s explanation and worldview. I certainly expected to see some intelligent conversations developing around the article. But why all the openly hostile obscenity?

Silverman’s father’s foul mouthed reaction was the first indication that Rosenblatt had inadvertently hit a very raw nerve.

By and large, the commenters were using an obvious double standard. They claimed the Rabbi crossed the line. The Rabbi was offensive. The Rabbi was [fill in the obscene word], and followed it up with their thoughts on Judaism (in some cases displaying ignorance and hatred).

Yet, Silverman, who prides herself on her “potty mouth” and crossing the verbal line on many social mores is untouchable and can do no wrong.

When Sarah Silverman, on video, propositions Sheldon Adelson, using her doggie in mock soft-porn as substitute for the elderly billionaire — that’s humor and acceptable.

When Rabbi Rosenblatt tells Sarah Silverman to get married and have children — that’s an expression of hatred and intolerance.

The question is, why?

I propose that many of the Jewish-American commenters got so upset because the Rabbi crossed a line. But the line he crossed was not about his views on motherhood, but rather his views on the role of the Rabbi and of Judaism.

Judaism, to some of those commenters, belongs locked in a box in a synagogue, and should never be allowed out to offer any moral observations, opinions or guidelines that disagree with the most permissive of Western cultural values.

As expressed by some of these commenters, Silverman actually represents “Judaism” to them.

Some of them might have a list of humanitarian/liberal values and call them Jewish values, while taking traditional Jewish values like Shabbat and Kashrut (as well as Judaism’s own social values), and relegating them to archaic, comical, even dark places in the culture.

For them, Judaism is Liberalism. A definition and identity where anything is permitted, alongside a strong pride in their cultural/ethnic identity as Jews, regardless of whether that identity actually represent a Jewish value system, or an accident of birth.

The question is certainly open as to whether the Rabbi was right or wrong in his analysis of Silverman, but one thing is clear, Rosenblatt rattled something deep and painful in the psyches of those who define themselves as cultural/ethnic Jews, without any actual Judaism to go with it.

Finally, we don’t moderate comments on our website, because we believe in the free exchange of ideas. But as our guests, we request that you refrain from obscenities and Antisemitism in your remarks.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/rosenblatt-v-silverman-a-culture-war/2012/10/17/

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