Religion & Philosophy

Nothing like a fresh Israeli offensive to bring out the Jew in me

The Jew, I said. Not the Israeli.

Though raised Catholic, my father was Jewish (Lithuanian and Romanian). The most WASP-ish Jew you’ll ever meet, though, he imparted none of his ancestral religion to me. My wife, who’s of Scot-Irish descent, likes to joke that she knows more about Judaism than me.

But whenever Israel launches an offensive against Palestine, it brings the Jewish in me to the fore.

Two reasons:

1. With credentials as a Jew, I’m that much less likely to be viewed as an anti-Semite for criticizing Israel. (Though in recent years, because the Jewish lobby and its adherents in the United States have overused it, that charge has lost its power to stigmatize.)

2. As a kid, I had a love-hate relationship with Judaism. I didn’t advertise my Jewish heritage because I thought Jews weren’t cool and, as one, I feared neither would I be. But I was proud of the humanitarian values long demonstrated by American Jews, especially toward those I did think were cool: American blacks.

But so much for humanitarian values when, as it routinely does, Israel injects Exodus with steroids — a HUNDRED eyes for an eye, in the words of Norman Solomon. It’s so, I don’t know, un-Jewish.

The proscription against killing your fellow man is close to, if not at, the core of any religion. Like al-Qaeda and the Taliban beheading people in the name of Islam, wiping out great swaths of Palestinians in the name of the Jewish state hollows out religion. Jews need to stand up to Israel before it renders Judaism a religion in name only.

15 replies »

  1. Me: Perhaps that’s why Russ’s father didn’t pass his religion on to his son. And just maybe the extreme exclusiveness of Judaism is one of the major issues that rends the Eastern Med. Genetics, history, and archaeology all suggest that the Palestinians are probably more Jewish (using the homeland definition) than the Israelis themselves. There is no evidence to suggest that the majority of Jews were expelled from Roman Palestine after the razing of the second Temple. If most of them stayed, many of them would have adopted Islam. It was difficult to become Muslim during the great Islamic expansion, but not impossible.

    We can take this concept deeper into history and theology. The majority of the prescriptions detailed for Jews – dietary, social, etc. – were means to set them apart from the other people of the region. Obviously the uncleanliness of many things wasn’t about actual uncleanliness; i’ve eaten a fair amount of pork over the course of my life and i’m not dead yet. It was about setting the Jewish group apart, which generally leads to a belief of superiority.

    A close reading of the New Testament shows Jesus, the practicing Jew, in open revolt against these types of prescriptions. Most people don’t realize that leprosy as we know it didn’t exist in Israel at the time; the word is a metaphorical translation and would have covered any skin disease. If you had acne you were unclean and hence not allowed to eat with clean Jews…and hence not really a part of society. Jesus almost certainly did not cure the actual diseases, but his behavior cured the social illness. He had a point, and we should remember that he never hoped to start a whole new religion but to reform the religion that he practiced.

    So just maybe the self-proclaimed exclusiveness of Judaism is a root cause of this whole mess. Can the Israelis ever make peace with neighbors who they consider to be so far beneath them?

    As an aside, Israeli cares not one whit for matriarchal descent when it wants settlers. The vast majority of Russian Israelis probably aren’t Jewish at all. Any “proof” from generations back was accepted, which is strange considering how far out of their way Russians have gone for close to a century to remove whatever trace of Jewishness their family might have.

  2. Hey Lex,

    Maybe if you have a clear, cogent thought to express versus some rambling diatribe alluding to what makes jews ‘special’, your viewpoint just might carry an ounce of weight. Only your first sentence even relates to the article or my response.

    As it stands, your poor attempt to promote your own blog through obtuse explanations of centuries of cultural lineage is myopic.

  3. Me: Rambling…yes. Blog promotion…hardly. My name is always linked like that here; i could care less if you read it or not because it’s for me. My apologies for addressing the whole comment to you, as only the first sentence was actually directed at you; the rest was just obtuse rambling.

    But how’s this for clear:

    Jews think that they’re special because they wrote a book in which they described themselves as special. They’re not, at least they’re no more special than anyone else. And every culture thinks that it’s special, the first people, etc. and whatever. Talk about myopic. That’s fine, but some of us have grown a little tired of watching all the special people kill each other in an attempt to prove that God loves them best…because their centuries of cultural lineage are dependent on how they construe the wishes, thoughts, and desires of an imaginary being that they created in the first place.

    Or: “It says in the Book here that God made us all to be just like Him. So if we’re dumb, then God is dumb…and maybe even a little ugly on the side.” ~FZ

  4. Me:
    1. Go take your meds. I mean it. Right now.
    2. You should know that on this blog, we sometimes do crazy things like expanding on concepts or following a train of thought suggested by the original post. If this is somehow offensive to you, see #1. If you still can’t handle it, perhaps this is not the venue for you.
    3. Lex is occasionally wordy, but he is rarely unclear. I had no problem following his comments, and at least he didn’t mention brain worms this time.
    4. As for relevance to your own post, perhaps you missed his entire final paragraph? Knee-jerk defensiveness can have unfortunate effects…
    5. Finally, how about responding with your own point of view rather than generic and rather semantically inaccurate jibes? You obviously have an investment in this subject; tell us what you think. Fire away.

  5. I love this. . .

    . . . some of us have grown a little tired of watching all the special people kill each other in an attempt to prove that God loves them best…because their centuries of cultural lineage are dependent on how they construe the wishes, thoughts, and desires of an imaginary being that they created in the first place.

  6. I like it, too – but is it backwards? People convinced (ostensibly) that God loves them best have a perfect rationale for grabbing anything they want; I don’t think they’re really fighting over who’s God’s favorite. The specialness is the battle cry, not the issue…

  7. Russ,

    Although I was raised an Episcopalian, my mother is Jewish and I understand exactly where you’re coming from.


  8. My statement may, in fact, be backwards. But i think that what’s actually going is circularity…a perpetual specialness machine, if you will.

    And i’d like to add that i’m not of the school that fears Zionists under my bed. I also like religion and generally defend it (even if i’m not a believer). What i don’t like is using the highest of human abilities to rationalize the lowest of its activities.

  9. So a self-perpetuating cycle of entitlement and greed? Makes sense.

    I’m not generally in favor of religion, though I appreciate the importance of ritual in human life, and understand (at least a bit) why we would build a wall of familiarity around the greatest unknown. I suppose I simply don’t trust groups of people with a system to potentially excuse their worst behavior.

    And I admit, a Zionist under my bed would frighten me. What the hell would he be doing there?

  10. Building a settlement probably, or maybe taking over your piggy bank to use towards his own dastardly and maniacal ends.

    I think that it’s important to subdivide religion into those who really experience it and those who believe in someone else’s experience. The former is a mystic (and you don’t need a religion founded in your name to qualify), while the latter may prove the sometimes put forth theory that the religious experience is neurotic. Though Jung noted from his practice that Catholics were far less likely to be neurotic than Protestants or Atheists; he attributed that to ritual and mystery (the Catholic Mass still being given in Latin at the time).

    Another interesting tidbit is that when interfaith groups of priests get together, argument tends to ensue, but when interfaith groups of monks/nuns get together understanding grows. This is generally attributed to the latter living a mystical, rather than theological, life…they know from experience rather than believe. It gives credence to Gandhi’s statement that religions are like spokes on a wheel, with God as the hub.

    But i’m with you, Ann…and it’s why i don’t trust political parties.