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February 28, 2015 / 9 Adar , 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Who is a Jew?’

Yisrael Beitenu MK Says ‘Reform Movement Is not Jewish’

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Likud-Beiteinu Knesset Member David Rotem, chairman of the Knesset Committee on Constitution, Law and Justice, said Tuesday “The Reform movement is not Jewish… they are another religion.”

The Reform Judaism in Israel movement said in an e-mail to its members, “The expression ‘another religion’ was not used by MK Rotem by accident. The Israeli Law of Return uses this exact term to exclude non-Jews from making Aliyah, and therefore according to him, Reform Jews have no place in Israel. ”

Israel Reform Movement’s Executive Director, Rabbi Gilad Kariv responded, “We were witness to this unrestrained declaration of MK Rotem about non-orthodox streams of Judaism. An assertion such as this makes it impossible for MK Rotem to continue to chair discussions on sensitive issues such as conversion, who is a Jew and other topics that are associated with Religion & State matters and the relationship between Israel and the diaspora.”

That may have won over a few Orthodox liberals, but Kariv then showed the Reform movement’s penchant for interpreting the Bible for its own principles of showing how little it knows and quoted Proverbs 3:17, which states, “Its ways are the ways of pleasantness and all her paths lead to peace.” It follows, according to him, “We must all ask ourselves, with which religious heritage MK Rotem identifies.”

Chances are that the MK would answer, “I identify with the Torah and Jewish Law as handed down by sages and Torah scholars and not with some kind of instant heritage created by those whose Judaism is defined by their own personal interests.”

How Jewish Is Jewish History?

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Once we asked, “Who is a Jew?” Now the big question is, “What is Jewish History?” Both questions are largely academic and typical of a particular mindset that desires to know exactly how to characterize human affairs and where other human beings fit it. It is a product of Western philosophical culture, modern nationalism, and indeed scientific categorization.

I don’t for the life of me understand why it has taken me so long to read Moshe Rosman’s excellent How Jewish is Jewish History? (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization). I must have been sleepwalking, for it is a most important and essential book for anyone interested in Jewish affairs. It is an overview of how academic theories of modernism are changing and have changed perceptions. It is a vital analysis of how many different approaches to Jewish history there are.

Even the ancillary issue of when does “modern Jewish history” begin is the subject of constant debate and modification. Was it the French Revolution? The American Revolution? Napoleon? The Haskalah, the Enlightenment? Mercantilism? The exile from Iberia? The rise of nationalism? The collapse of autonomous Jewish life in Poland? The first mass migration to Israel under Yehuda Hachasid? Does it really make any serious difference?

It all confirms what we inside have always known. You can define neither Jews nor Judaism in a way that will satisfy all its various elements. What is the difference between a “people” and a “nation”? Is Judaism an “ethnic culture” a “religious culture” or neither? Jean-Paul Sartre thought it was anyone who others think is Jewish. Homi Bhabha thinks it is any group that suffers as a result of imperialist domination.

Modern theory is right to try to avoid “The Simple Solution”, “The Grand Scheme”, or the “Neat Title”, whether it is “The End of History” or “The Clash of Civilizations”. They might sell books, but they get just as much wrong as right. We do know that modernism has freed us to think more as individuals than as members of established ideologies. The internet in all its varieties has, for better and worse, enabled more of us to “pursue our own ideas and goals”. Political, religious, and social groups try to control and dominate, but the genius of mankind is its ability to resist automatonism and to allow us to be ourselves as we define it. We might call it existentialism or phenomenology, but the fact is that just as much as some humans need to lose themselves in the comforting but suffocating embrace of societies, communities, and ghettos, many others resist these constrictions. There are plusses and minuses in both, and it would be wrong to say only one is right and all the others wrong. But that sadly is precisely what fundamentalism does.

Rosman’s book highlights the achievements, advances, and the limitations of academia. Old models are challenged and superseded, and the new models in turn will face revisionism. It is a world in which great minds toil and produce theories, defend them with aggression and determination, devote passion and animosity to demolishing competition, and invariably end up being as doctrinaire, unreasonable, and closed-minded as the worst anti-academic fanatics. Those of you who saw that brilliant Israeli film Footnote know exactly how it works on the academic shop floor. It is hard to find a more competitive and cutthroat atmosphere outside of a Marxist coven. It makes rabbinic conflict look positively benign, and it explains why so much antagonism towards Israel comes from universities.

Rosman raises all the fascinating issues. Can Jewish history only be about Jews? What about their relationship, for better and worse, with their host societies? Is an English Jew more English or more Jewish than a French Jew? Is an American Jew more comfortable with other Americans or with other Jews? Is a Charedi Jew more at home with a Salafist Muslim or a secular Jew? Is a liberal Jewish female more at home with other feminists?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/how-jewish-is-jewish-history/2014/02/02/

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