11 thoughts on “Life of Moses as Allegory of Jewish Existence – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
Comments are published at the sole discretion of the owner.

  1. I found this post disturbing. No other type of hyphenated American “struggles” with their dual identity; why should Jews? Your essay implies that Jews see themselves as Jews first, and Americans second. I hope that isn’t true for the majority of Jews.

  2. I was worried that people might read this in the way you did. My post has nothing to do w. that ridiculous canard created to question Jewish loyalty to one’s native country. It’s not about divided loyalties in a political or civic sense.

    I mean this in a religious/spiritual/moral/existential sense. We are divided because we are raised on American (or whatever nation you were raised in) culture, values & politics; yet, our Jewish heritage often conflicts with the prevailing values of our culture. How much can we have in common with Tom DeLay’s construct of Judeo-Christian values? How much can we have in common with a Bush Administration whose very essence violates the phophetic values we practically imbibe with our mother’s milk? Do Americans nowadays “remember the stranger, as you yourself was a stranger in the land of Egypt?” Do we honor the Jewish concept of fighting the “just war” and fighting it only as a last resort?

    We are in a sense the archetypal outsiders and dissenters (as Goffman says in the excerpt quoted above) and justifiably so. As Jews, and even as Americans we should not buy into many of the current values of our society and polity. Societies need such critics as a check upon their moral compass. There must be someone who can tell the emporer he has no clothes. If not, then everyone buys into the perversion of values represented by the prevailing norm.

  3. Being “outsiders” may indeed have helped Jews see that the Emperor has no clothes, when this has been the case. Let’s not pretend, however, that one needs to be a Jew to be opposed to militarism and imperialism. Christianity was founded as a belief system of non-violence; Hinduism and Buddhism also promote non-violence. Tom Delay is hardly a Christian in the eyes of many Christians, such as the Quakers, the Methodists, etc.

    There’s a difference between being a critic of American policy on the one hand and not seeing oneself as primarily American on the other hand. I know some people think being American means following orders, but that’s because they are ignorant of our country’s history and what it really means to be an American.

    I’ll take another look at your essay; I’d like to believe that I misread it.

  4. Here’s another thought: What about when Jews are no longer the “outsiders”? As in Israel–many there don’t seem able to see that their “emperor,” Sharon, has no clothes. And what about Judith Miller? When she became part of the Bush regime’s inner circle, she stopped critiquing the government (assuming she ever did); she began promoting it and its misguided policies. She’s Jewish, in case you forgot.

    I don’t think I misread your essay. You say: Jews “traverse alien cultures” and have a “deeper commitment” to what makes them “special and apart–their Jewishness.” That’s a pretty straightforward expression of the view that Jews aren’t supposed to assimilate (“alien cultures”, “apart”) supposed to place being Jewish over loyalty to the country they live in (“deeper commitment”), and see themselves as superior (“special”) over the other people they are living with–in whose country they are living in. I wonder if that type of arrogance and belief that other people’s rules don’t apply to them might be a big part of what allows the Millers and the Sharons of this world to do what they do?

  5. I’m not saying that there are not honorable religious denominations or political dissenters in our country. There certainly are & more power to them. But the difference between Jews & them is that they do not have an age-old heritage of oppression & hatred to come to terms with. Mostly, none of them have had to live during prolonged periods in which their values & beliefs were attacked & their lives in jeopardy. Most of them do not have an inward-looking tradition which sets itself apart fr. the surrounding culture in subtle, but significant ways.

    And as for Tom DeLay, George Bush, et al…yes, there are other Christians who don’t represent their religious/political views. But you surely will have to admit that those holding evangelical views are ascendant & prevailing in the social discourse. And I’m sure you won’t have trouble saying that those views are anathema to an overwhelming majority of Jews because of the Jewish values we learned. That’s all I was saying.

    We ARE apart. I’m not saying that doesn’t make us Americans. It just makes a different kind of American than almost anyone else here.

    As for your last comment above, yes, Israel presents a different case. Zionism does posit a normative condition for Israel in which they ARE the prevailing culture in their country. But I would argue that once you do place yourself in such a situation it becomes much easier to lose your “edge,” that notion that are can look at your society skeptically & be a minority of one. Jews in the Diaspora find it much easier to do this because we are a minority here.

    To the extent that Israelis lose this ability to think skeptically about their leaders and the values they espouse, they lose one of the most important elements of being Jewish–th e ability to think for themselves & not embrace whatever dogma may be foisted upon them by Sharon et al. So in a sense I’d call for Israelis to keep in touch with their Diaspora self & meld it with the best aspects of their Israeli self.

    I’m not sure I see your point in bringing up Miller. Sure she’s Jewish. Did I ever claim that all Jews living here view their religious traditions as I do? My essay talks in broad strokes about general notions. It isn’t meant to apply universally to every Jew. It is meant to apply to the majority of Jews.

    That’s a pretty straightforward expression of the view that Jews aren’t supposed to assimilate

    Precisely. Jews should NOT fully assimilate into any culture. Otherwise, they lose their traditions, lose their skepticism, lose whatever gift they bring to world culture that derives from those traditions.

    There you go with “loyalty” again. I don’t like repeating myself. If I had to choose between honoring my president, or honoring my Congress or honoring my Supreme Court or honoring the countless crimes large & small committed by our nation against other nations & even against its own citizens–well, I say I’m grateful to have a tradition that grants me permission to stand apart from that when I need to. But “standing apart” doesn’t mean I’m not an American or that I’m disloyal to America. I’m sorry you can’t understand that distinction. I don’t think it’s that subtle or obscure.

    That’s a pretty straightforward expression of the view that Jews are supposed…to see themselves as superior (”special”) over the other people they are living with

    No, of course not. You do see there’s a difference between “special” and “superior” don’t you? When have I ever said that Jews are superior? That notion of Jewish exclusivism held my many Orthodox Jews and (mostly right-wing) Israelis is anathema to me. It’s just not in the essay & if you try to read it into it then you’re engaging in your own willful reading of the text which has little to do with what I actually wrote.

    I wonder if that type of arrogance and belief that other people’s rules don’t apply to them…

    Again, didn’t say it–don’t believe it. As I said, we’re Americans. The rules apply to everyone who lives here including Jews. After all, our Talmud says: Dina de’malchuta, dina who (“the laws of the kingdom are the Law”).

    I don’t mind you or anyone disagreeing with me. But do please argue with what I actually wrote and not with what you assume I meant (but didn’t).

  6. Challenging authority is actually part of the American tradition, at least as it was envisaged originally. Loyalty is supposed to be to the Constitution, not to the President or Congress. (A government of laws, not men). It’s unfortunate that so many Americans forget that.

    I just don’t agree with your views. I don’t think one group of people is more special than another. Once you start thinking like that, it’s a slippery slope to thinking the rules and laws of the community at large–which is now the entire world in the 21st century–don’t apply to you and your group. What do the settlers cite to justify their actions? They cite the Torah. And you know what–they don’t cite it inaccurately.

  7. Yes, you’re right–challenging authority is a part of American tradition & I value that as you do.

    You are dead wrong about the settlers use of the Torah. They may translate accurately whatever sources they santimoniously use to justify their religious-political views, but it’s how they INTERPRET those verses that matters. And here they are wrong. If you want to read more about this I wrote this post about the settler’s abuse of Jewish tradition. Not to mention that the settlers, who essentially reject the jurisdiction of the state of Israel as it relates to their God-given task to resettle ancient Israel, violate a cornerstone of Talmudic law: “The law of the kingdom IS the Law.”

    The settlers are NOT true representatives of Jewish tradition. Or if you must believe that they are, they are not normative in their views nor do their views hold a consensus within Israeli society. They are a sect, a powerful sect nonetheless. But they will eventually recede into history once their time has come and gone which it will surely do sometime in the (near?) future.

  8. I read the post you referenced. Although it was interesting, I’m not sure it was relevant to my thoughts because I never said, nor do I believe, that Judaism condones terrorism. Your main point in the post seems to be that practicality may take precedence over religious beliefs at times, and that under Jewish principles people are supposed to obey the state. Hmm. Which state? Today, each nation has its own laws, but we also have a developing consensus on international law. Many states, including Israel, have particular laws that seem immoral to me and which contradict international law and generally accepted principles of human rights. I believe the greater good of the human community at large takes precedence over the laws of any particular “state.” What I am having trouble seeing in Judaism is any reflection of that notion, of the greater good of the human community as opposed to the good of the Jews.

    We aren’t going to agree because I simply don’t believe in Judaism, although I am interested in learning more about it. What I know about Judaism so far does not attract me–I believe a set of moral beliefs has to be universal, not geared to a particular group, or it does not have validity.

  9. Unless I know a religious tradition very well, I always hesitate before making sweeping generalizations about it. I think you’d profit from adopting this attitude toward Judaism. You say “from what I know about Judaism I don’t like it.” You’re entitled to your judgment but it is not an informed one because you’ve admitted you made it only “from what you know.” I would maintain you simply don’t know enough & should learn more before making final judgments.

    You should study the Noachide laws which were ones given to Noah after the Flood. Since these laws predate the Sinaitic relevation they are more limited in their scope than the Torah. But they are intended as universal laws applicable to Jews & non-Jews.

    Also, you can’t blame the Jewish tradition for not embracing international or universal law because there simply was no established concept at the time (other than what I mentioned above). Talmudic Judaism tells Jews to adopt the laws of the land because there were no other laws in place than those (except Jewish halacha). If there was international law at the time then perhaps something different might’ve been established as halachic precedent. And if you expect Judaism now to essentially disband itself or its belief structure in favor of some universal standard of law that ain’t gonna happen. If you believe that Israeli law is racist then you must remember that Israel is not the same as Judaism (though they are related in ways). It’s important to make distinctions here.

    I think you’re getting hung up on the notion that Jews see themselves as the Chosen People which you take to mean that Jews see themselves as better than others or some such. This is not an accurate interpretation of the relevant verses of the Torah. I don’t feel like getting into a long discussion of that here. But that is by no means the only credible interpretation of those verses. Except for some Orthodox Jews, no Jews see themselves as better than any other people or religion.

    However, I would agree that some Israelis and Diaspora Jews do see Israel as superior to the Palestinians. But this has nothing to do with Jewish beliefs and should not be seen as such. Such hatred is because of a national conflict that at times takes on religious overtones. Those who infuse religion into their hatred of Muslims or Palestinians do a great disservice to Judaism which hates no religion or people. And again as I said earlier, they are a distinct minoirty of both Israelis and Jews.

  10. One could come away from your comments with the thought that Judaism isn’t erroneous, it is simply obsolete.

    As a psychotherapist, I can tell you that it is not necessary to “hate” people to oppress them. Many abusive husbands and abusive parents are sure that they love their wives/children. They simply believe that they own the home, and have a right to control it, and they know best. It is a different notion of “rights” than the modern notion of individual rights that now makes the basis for most U.S. law and international law. I have always been struck by the story of Abraham and Isaac, in which God plays a sadistic game of control and submission and mental torture with Abraham. These type of games are also often played by abusive spouses who make their wives prove they love them by forcing them to do things that are against their values. They are also played by conquerors/torturers who, just like God in the story, make war prisoners kill their own children. When you start out with that kind of image of God, it’s hard to create a religion that values individual human rights, mercy, tolerance and compassion.

  11. You have a great deal of animosity both toward Judaism & our Torah. I’ve tried to be as patient as I could in pointing out to you aspects of Judaism which I thought might broaden your view. But it seems you are quite entrenched in these views & that everything I point out merely reinforces them. I’m sorry to hear that & feel that this dialogue (more of a monologue or a one & a half a logue) should end.

    Your interpretation of the Akedah, the binding of Issac is not new though most who feel this way do not express it with such detestation. Many Jews feel that way about it too, though they express their feelings with more nuance than you. While my own interpretation of this passage contains some of that ambivalence, I feel strongly that yours misses the transcendant drama & power in the original text. And you also miss that the text itself is aware of how horrible the demands made upon Abramahm by God are. I have written a long essay about the Akedah in my blog. But since I’m certain it would not create even a flicker of movement in your own view of my tradition, there’s no point in your reading it.

    My religion values “individual human rights, mercy, tolerance and compassion.” And my religion doesn’t owe you or any other obtuse outsiders any defense or apology for its existence. I vehemently object to your absolute distortions of what Judaism stands for.

    I resent your inference that the Jewish God is somehow akin to a domestic abuser. I come from an abused family and know quite well what abuse looks like and how those who abuse act. It is an abomination for me to read such a calumny. And you have no monopoly as an expert in telling us what abuse looks like.

    Please take your views elsewhere.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share via
Copy link