Judaism Without Tribalism: A Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5773

From my Rosh Hashanah sermon last Monday:

However – I also wonder if Jewish tribalism is starting to come at a cost.  I especially wonder what it means for the Jewish community to be tribal in this day and age, when we are experiencing openness and freedom in historically unprecedented ways.  Given the global realities of our 21st century world, I wonder if there might be new models for Jewish identity – ones that value tribalism less than a deeper sense of engagement and kinship with the world outside.

Click below to read the entire sermon:

Like many of you, I’m sure, I was thoroughly caught up in the London Olympics this past summer.  Yes, the pageantry sometimes got a bit over the top for my taste, but in the end, I loved the Olympics.  I couldn’t resist the incredible talent on display, the drama of the competitions and the often inspiring human stories behind them.

And almost as inevitably, I couldn’t resist rooting for Team USA.

Now in all fairness to me, some of the blame must be laid at the feet of an obnoxiously biased US media, but I’ll be honest: I can’t put it all on NBC.  If I’m to be completely honest, I’d have to admit there’s was something deep inside me that reflexively pulls for US athletes.

At one point during the games, I took some time to ponder my loyalties.  I asked myself, “Why?” Why do I care so much about the performance of one competitor or team over another?  Why should I feel an attachment to certain athletes just because they happened to inhabit the same general geography as me?  Why, during the Women’s 400 meter freestyle, did I cheer on the American swimmer Allison Schmitt over Rebecca Adlington from Great Britain?  I don’t know either of them personally.  If I was going to be completely honest, I’d have to admit that the American was really just as much a stranger to me as the Brit.  Who knows?  Maybe I share more important things in common with the Brit than the American.  And still – I felt this special connection to the US athlete – an involuntary kind of gut connection.

Now this gut feeling may feel like a trivial matter during athletic competitions, but when experienced on a collective level, I’d suggest this phenomenon has been a major driving force behind the very course of human civilization.  Call it what you want: patriotism, nationalism, tribalism – I’d argue this primal sense of group allegiance has had an overwhelming influence on human consciousness and history to this very day.

I’d also argue that these gut feelings of kinship are not essentially biological reactions.  I tend to agree with those who suggest that the concept of nationhood is a social construction.  The connections of allegiance and loyalty we feel toward those in our group are imagined, culturally-conditioned connections.  Nations are what scholar Benedict Anderson famously defined as “Imaginary Communities.”

Nevertheless, even if they are are socially determined, we experience these connections on a deep and basic level.  As Anderson pointed out, the tribal pull of nationalism has the power to cause millions of people to kill and to “willingly die for such limited imaginings.”

I think a great deal about the concept of tribalism.  I’m particularly intrigued that even though human society can trace its very origins to tribal communities, today, the term “tribalism” often carries a pejorative connotation.  Though tribes have been essential to the course of human evolution, this word more often than not refers to an overly parochial or particularistic world view – a bias in which people save their ultimate care and concern toward those in their own group.

It certainly is true that national cultures are self-centered – perhaps necessarily so.  The ideologies of nations are deeply biased; the narratives they construct for themselves are invariably self-serving.  You can think of countless examples I’m sure. Here’s a fairly recent one: at the conventions of both the Republican and Democratic national parties this past summer, speaker after speaker referred to the US as the “greatest nation on earth.” And of course, it has become a sacred rule that every speech end with the words, “God Bless America!”

We cannot deny that historically, there is a deeply tribal component to Jewish identity as well.  After all, the Torah tells us that we began as a tribe (well, actually twelve) and even today it’s common to refer to one another as MOTs (“Members of the Tribe”).  In one sense, we certainly could say that tribalism has served the Jewish People well over the centuries.  When you stop to ponder it, it’s truly remarkable that we’ve been able to maintain our sense of group cohesion and identity for so many centuries – particularly considering we’ve been dispersed throughout other nations for almost our entire history.

It’s fair to say that the notion of peoplehood has always been central to Jewish identity. From the very beginning, we’ve self-described as “Am Yisrael” – the People of Israel.  And although we’re a notoriously diverse people, even though Jewish life and practice has been culturally influenced in countless ways in a myriad of countries throughout the world, we’ve still maintained an underlying sense of belonging to one another.

However – I also wonder if Jewish tribalism is starting to come at a cost.  I especially wonder what it means for the Jewish community to be tribal in this day and age, when we are experiencing openness and freedom in historically unprecedented ways.  Given the global realities of our 21st century world, I wonder if there might be new models for Jewish identity – ones that value tribalism less than a deeper sense of engagement and kinship with the world outside.

Let’s start at the beginning. Every group has its formative myths, and we certainly have ours.  Our Biblical narratives in particular loom large in our identity, even though contemporary scholars are increasingly casting doubt on the historicity of these stories.  Indeed, most Near Eastern historians today tend to agree there was no Exodus from Egypt – and that the Israelites were likely a loosely connected group of nomadic tribes that gradually migrated into ancient Canaan.  Some prominent Israeli archaeologists are now suggesting that the kingdom of David and Solomon was actually at most a small tribal kingdom, not the glorious capital of an Israelite empire.

Nevertheless, whether these narratives are historically accurate ot not isn’t important – they have become indelibly imprinted into our Jewish hearts and minds over the centuries.  They have also been shaped by our very real experience of antisemitism and oppression throughout the diaspora.  Among other things, oppression puts a kind of centripetal force on a community, causing it tighten and turn inward.  Nothing binds a people together more quickly or more tightly than persecution, as Pharaohs from time immemorial have learned all too well.

There’s no question that the experience of oppression has strengthened and molded our Jewish sense of allegiance and responsibility to one another.  One of our most primary Jewish values, after all, is Ahavat Yisrael – love of your fellow Jew.  As the Talmud teaches,

Kol yisrael arivin zeh le’zeh.

All Jews are responsible for one another.

Many classical Jewish commentators teach, in fact, that the Torah command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” refers to Jewish “neighbors” only.

I can understand how such an ideology can develop.  I understand that if a people is abused repeatedly, they will need to learn to depend upon one another first and foremost.  To be sure, it’s not simply a matter of group loyalty – it’s a matter of survival.

If there was ever any doubt, this mentality became seared into our consciousness as a result of the Holocaust.  This trauma, along with our sense of abandonment by the rest of the world, continues to affect so many of us so deeply.  Since that time, the imperative to band together and survive at all costs has become an even more palpable aspect of our identity.  The prominent Jewish theologian, Emil Fackenheim summed this impulse up very well.  He famously proposed the creation of a new mitzvah – a 614th commandment: “Thou shalt not hand Hitler a posthumous victory.”

I know this mentality all too well.  I know it because it is a deeply ingrained part of my Jewish identity.  A key part of my own Jewish education and socialization was the lesson that to be a Jew means to survive.  To forever be on guard for those who would do us harm.  To understand the hard lesson that when push comes to shove, we really can’t depend on anyone else but ourselves.

However, I have also come to understand that it is not quite that simple. I also know that the trauma of World War II and the Holocaust left behind many different legacies for the Jewish people.  While it left many in our community with deep scars and suspicion toward the outside world, it also signaled the beginning of a Jewish rebirth – and a deeper Jewish engagement with the world.  In short, Jews have come out of the ghetto and we are thriving.  Today, in so many ways, the Jewish people live during a time of unprecedented Jewish creativity, freedom, privilege, and influence.

In my experience, the newest generations of liberal American Jews – particularly those coming of age in the the 21st century globalized world – don’t identify with Jewish tribalism the way their parents or grandparents did.  In fact, studies are increasingly showing that young Jewish Americans tend to view their Jewish identity through the values of a larger, more universal global reality.  They are driven less by an “us against the world” mentality than by the vision of the Jew as a global citizen.  They view ethnic diversity and interaction as normative – and feel far less stigma than their parents and grandparents over the prospect of marrying non-Jews.

As we begin a new millennium, it seems to me, two forces seem to be heading in opposite directions at an increasingly faster pace.  On the one hand, the barriers between peoples and nations are breaking down at an unprecedented pace – yet in other corners of the world we are witnessing a retreat into even greater sectarianism and nationalism.  Thus, given the ways in which we’ve defined our own history until now, I’d suggest this is a time of reckoning for Jews.  How will we view the outside world?  Will we circle the wagons and view the outside world with suspicion?  Or will we see our future as connected to the future of others and open our community up to this new global reality?

I know personally how hard it is for many of us to challenge our tribal Jewish legacy.  But as for me, I believe to my very core that whether we like it or not, our collective future will depend upon building more bridges, and not more walls, between peoples and nations.  I believe the most effective way for us to survive – the only way we will bequeath our traditions to the next generation –  is to affirm a Judaism that finds sacred meaning in our connection to kol yoshvei tevel – all who dwell on earth.

I also believe this because I know that while Judaism certainly contains tribal and parochial teachings, it also has also a strong tradition of religious humanism – mitzvot that demand we love all our neighbors as ourselves.  After all, one of the first – and most powerful – teachings in the Torah is that human beings are created B’tzelem Elohim – in the image of God.  From the outset we learn that all human beings are equally worthy of respect, dignity and love – and, I would add, equally worthy of one another’s allegiance and loyalty.  Moreover, a key rabbinic concept, Kavod HaBriyot, demands that we ensure all people are treated with honor and dignity.  In a famous verse from the classic rabbinic text Pirke Avot, Rabbi Ben Zoma teaches:

Who is honored?  The one who honors all human beings.

All are created in God’s image.  Honor comes to the one who honors all people.  To my mind, these are the strands of Judaism we must seek out and and affirm in no uncertain terms.  In this day and age, when the fates of all peoples are becoming so very deeply intertwined, I believe we must consider values such as B’tzelem Elohim and Kevod HaBriyot to be among the most sacred of our tradition.

Perhaps we can also take our cue from these values in order to affirm a new kind of tribalism.  To forge “tribal” connections with others not simply because they happen to be Jews, but because they share our values of justice and equity.  In other words, I believe our ultimate loyalties should lay with the powerless, the vulnerable, the marginalized – and all who fight on their behalf.  Whether they happen to be Jewish or not – why shouldn’t we consider these to be the members of our most cherished tribe?

Here’s a personal example.  As a rabbi, I do a great deal of work with clergy, both inside and outside the Jewish community.  And over the years I’ve come to notice that the most meaningful and important community work I do is not necessarily exclusively with other rabbis.  When it comes to the values I hold most sacred, values of social justice, human rights, community service, I find myself working and finding common cause with clergy of many different faiths.  Some may be Jewish, some not, but it in the end it doesn’t really matter.  These are the ones I consider to be my primary faith colleagues – my primary clergy community.

In one sense, then, perhaps our most sacred religious values actually compel us to look past the feelings of tribal loyalty.  Needless to say, if we are going to do this on a communal scale, it’s going to take a radical shift in consciousness.  We’re going to have to step out from behind the walls we’ve built and understand many of our real sisters and brothers have been there all along.  And we will have to recognize that in the end, their hopes, their dreams and their suffering are irrevocably connected to ours.

I have no illusions that it would be a simple matter for the Jewish community to heed such a call. Having only recently emerged from the ghetto, still living with a collective memory of antisemitism, still reeling from the trauma of the Holocaust, it is no small matter to go beyond our own fears and feel the pain of the other as our pain as well.

To do this, I believe, we’ll have to construct a distinctly 21st century Torah – one that reflects a world in which the Jewish community has become inter-dependent with other peoples in profound and unprecedented ways.  One that lets go of old tribal assumptions and widens the boundaries of our tent in new and creative ways.

Perhaps we can start here: with a reconsideration of the value Ahavat Yisrael – Love of the Jewish People.  What do we really mean when we use this term?  Certainly it might mean an abstract sense of connection and kinship with other Jews throughout history and around the world.  And it’s true – we do feel a special connection to Jews we meet in unlikely places throughout the world.  It is also quite powerful to know that the words we pray and study are the same words have Jews prayed and studied for centuries.  But beyond this, what do we mean by Ahavat Yisrael?  What does it mean to love a culturally constructed (or reconstructed) community that includes people with whom we may or may not share some basic, fundamental values?

In truth, the definition of who is a Jew has always been disputed – and what we call “the Jewish community” is more diverse and dynamic today than ever before.  It is also being increasingly enriched by the participation of many non-Jews who are marrying into the community.  So what do we mean when we talk about “Love of the Jewish People” when the very truth of our “peoplehood” is so complex and ever–changing?

I’d like to suggest that a deeper understanding of this value shouldn’t stop at love for just fellow Jews.  After all, while the word “Yisrael” does refer to the Jewish People, it also literally means “Wrestles With God.”  Seen thus, we might render “Ahavat Yisrael” as “Love for All Who Struggle.”  To love all who fight, as we have, for freedom and justice and tolerance in the world.  To stand in solidarity with those who struggle against tyranny and are beaten, imprisoned, tortured or killed for doing so.  To throw our allegiance to those who wrestle deeply for meaning in their lives; who seek to tear down the limits of religious dogma or ideological coercion.  These are the members of our tribe – perhaps our most sacred tribe.  And whenever we reach out to them and celebrate our inherent connection with one another here, around the world, or throughout history – that is truly when we fulfill the mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael.

I realize that this new understanding might seem like radical change to many.  But in truth, the Jewish world is changing, as it has from time immemorial.  The only question before us is: will we have the courage to recognize these changes – and to see in them as a precious opportunity rather than as a threat to be fought at all costs.

This is indeed the point that Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, drove home repeatedly: Judaism is not merely a static religion, nor is it simply a territorial nation-state, rather it is an evolving religious civilization.

Kaplan wrote his final book during the massive world upheavals of the late 1960s.  He entitled it “The Religion of Ethical Nationhood” – which he believed could be Judaism’s “contribution to world peace.”  Kaplan believed that the Jewish people has historically provided a unique model for peoplehood – a dynamic polity that allows for ethnic, geographic and intellectual diversity.  And it’s purpose was not survival for survival’s sake, but rather to promote moral and ethical behavior on a collective scale.  Kaplan fervently believed that this approach explained the secret of Jewish survival.  In his final writings, he promoted Ethical Nationhood as the secret of world survival as well.

The world has changed considerably since Kaplan wrote those words; sometimes it seems as if it’s changing faster every day.  So how shall we respond?  Will we hold on to old paradigms, build physical or intellectual garrison states, higher and higher walls?  Or will we do what we’ve always done: welcome this change with open arms, and view our ever-evolving world as an opportunity – not a threat to our existence?

And if when we do encounter those who would do the Jewish people harm, as we invariably will, how will we respond then?  Will we repeat yet again that we Jews are alone in a harsh and uncaring world – or will we find common cause with all who are harmed and oppressed and find strength in our solidarity?

These are the questions I’m asking myself this Rosh Hashanah.  May we all find the courage to discuss them together.  May the answers we discover bring us joy, meaning and life this year and for many, many years to come.

Amen.


5 Comments on “Judaism Without Tribalism: A Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5773”

  1. Clif Brown says:

    A very thoughtful sermon.

    What springs to my mind is that no one of us is anything beyond our physical selves until we are told who we are by our parents and the information about this great ancestor or that one starts being poured into the head. Slowly one becomes one of the people, whatever that people may be. Richard Dawkins makes a good case against calling kids “Christian children” for example, because young children are in no position to be any such thing apart from what they have been told they are.

    It’s only recently that individuals have felt more free to break free what what they have been told they are. It isn’t easy to do! In the past it was expected that what your parents were – you are. I once considered myself a Methodist, not having the least idea what Methodism was about. It spilled from my mouth automatically.

    My dad would make it clear that we were not Catholic! Perish the thought! But we were also not Presbyterian or Congregational. I never could tell any difference among my childhood friends.

    Each and every one of us, given the ability to trace our genome, could trace back our ancestry just as far as any other one of us. No people anywhere simply came out of thin air and we all have the same very ancient ancestors from the dawn of time. The tribal stuff breaks down quickly as you go back in time, particularly since much of it is, as you imply, fable.

    I might have German ancestry, maybe English. Should I start to investigate my family tree? Could I be related to Bismarck? Frederick the Great? Suppose I found out my relatives came over on the Mayflower from England?

    Of what use is this information beyond swelling the head? Whatever good things are on offer from any religion our nation – those thoughts are available to anyone to integrate into their thinking on merit, regardless of whether the individual defines him/herself as being of that religion or region.

    Take the good wherever it may be found. Avoid taking on the whole nine yards that comes with any group. Each one of us is unique and we all have the ability to think for ourselves. We accept too readily what we have been served with from youth. Question everything, but most of all question what the real difference is between each of us. It isn’t even a tiny fraction of what we blow our differences up to be.

  2. Apollonios@aol.com says:

    Dear Rabbi Brant, Thank you for this inspiring sermon. I am not Jewish, but I work for a peaceful and just solution in Israel/Palestine. In that work, I find the words of people like you and Rabbi Michael Lerner a source of strength and optimism. When I read them, I experience the power of the true Jewish tradition, which is truly a light to the nations. BTW, have you read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind? It discusses the scientific data behind our human “groupishness” as he calls it. It also teaches listening to the “other.” A wonderful book. Mary Wilson Orford, NH

  3. i_like_ike52 says:

    Your apparent guilt feelings about idenfying with the American athletes at the Olympics are not warranted. It is natural and good for people to identify more closely with people who have the same language, culture and values than those who don’t. This is not merely sentiment, it comes down to signficant consequences. For example, after the United States entered the Second World War, ALL Americans came together to fight the war to the point of being willing to sacrifice their lives for their fellow Americans, and by extension, to be willing to fight for those who were sharing their values or were victims of Nazism and Fascism. A vague feeling of “universal brotherhood” was not the motive, it was outrage over the fact that US territory was attacked and fellow Americans were killed. While the US and the other Allies were fighting the war, countries like Egypt and Argentina where pro-Nazi and anti-American and anti-British feeling was strong stayed out. Thus, Americans WERE more strongly bonded to each other than they were to their “universalist” feelings towards Argentinians or Egyptians and were wiling to make major sacrifices for this.

    Judaism has both universalist and particularist tendencies. A Jew is more closely bonded to another Jew than to someone else, just as someone is more closely bonded to members of his or her own famiy than they are to someone who is not a member of their family This just as true of Muslims or Russians or Christians or Chinese. At the same time, Judaism demands that ALL people be treated with dignity. As I said above, this is natural and good. The Torah teaches that the first attempt to create a “single world government” was the Tower of Bavel….”a place of few words’” where a totalitarian state made sure everyone was a “good universalist”. A modern attempt at World Government would lead either to totalitarianism or anarchy.
    There is no need to feel guilty about national or group pride. Today, in spite of the popularity of anti-nationalist “universalism” in certain circles which are a minority of the population, we see INCREASING group and national identity, rejecting universalism, because in this era of rapidly changing values and technology (“future shock”), falling back on relationships with people who are close to you and can relate to what you are thinking is the most natural thing.

    That is why, for instance, in Israel, the people who will ultimately reach a modus-vivendi with the Arabs will NOT be the Israeli secular Left (i.e. those who arrogate to themselves the label of “The Peace Camp”) but rather religious and the political Right, because their values and lifestyle are much more in synch with the Islamic movement sweeping the neighboring Arab states. The Arabs/Muslims are very suspicious of the “universalist” secular, consumerist values the Israeli Left espouses….they are very traditionalist, supporting respect for elders and religious piety,while opposing sexual permissiveness and the breakdown of the familly so prevalent in the secuarl West .

  4. Roger Price says:

    There are a number of problems with what you have said, but let’s get to the core issues. You seek “ to affirm a new kind of tribalism,” and immodestly suggest that we need courage to take this “precious opportunity.” What is that tribalism? It is “ultimate loyal(ty)” to “the powerless, the vulnerable, the marginalized – and all who fight on their behalf.” To achieve that new tribalism, you urge that we reconsider and revise our understanding of Ahavat Yisrael, and favor those who “seek to tear down the limits of religious dogma or ideological coercion” for they are “our most sacred tribe.” And you seek to do all of this with reference to, and therefore with the implicit blessing of, Mordecai Kaplan.

    Your argument is not just flimsy and flawed, it is also misplaced. There is no need to diminish Jewish Peoplehood in order to build coalitions with or provide assistance to those in need. Worse, your argument is dangerous. And it is that danger which prompts this comment.

    To answer directly the question you posed — “(W)hy shouldn’t we consider these to be the members of our most cherished tribe?” – anyone who is objective need not look far. The powerless, vulnerable and marginalized may well deserve our care and support, but we do not necessarily share with them three thousand years of history, some mythic but some quite real. Nor do we necessarily share customs, literature, values or religious orientations and language. We may or may not have shared political interests with the oppressed, they may or may not be our political allies, but they surely are not members of our “most cherished tribe.”

    Nor do we necessarily share a common destiny with those folks. Contrary to your implicit claim, anti-Semitism is more than a “collective memory.” It is very real in a wide range of locales around the world, from the theocrats in Iran to the dictator Chavez in Venezuela, to say nothing of politicians and educators in Arab states and some in Europe and skinheads closer to home. Judaism will not thrive, by merely being anti-anti-Semitism, but you ignore it at great peril. You would have to have the sensitivity of a Republican at a LGBT meeting in a racially diverse neighborhood not to recognize the very real nature of the hatred and that it is directed not at those who are powerless, vulnerable and marginalized, but at Jews for being Jews. And that hatred may soon be backed by a nuclear warhead.

    Let’s be clear: what you have asserted is not a call for courage, but a cry for capitulation. And to invoke the name of Mordecai Kaplan and his book on ethical nationhood is truly perverse — more than perverse, actually, because you were deliberately disingenuous in your references to Kaplan and his writings. You said that Kaplan “drove home repeatedly” that Judaism was an “evolving religious civilization.” Not quite. What he said, repeatedly, was that Judaism was the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish People. If Kaplan stood for anything, he stood for Jewish Peoplehood. Apparently, you do not. And you cannot possibly have read The Religion of Ethical Nationhood and concluded anything other than what Kaplan was striving for was ethical organic Jewish communities, in the Diaspora as well as in Israel. You do not seem primarily concerned with Jewish communities. Indeed, your commitment seems to lie elsewhere, almost anywhere else.

    Like the Republicans who are born on third base, and think that they have hit a triple, you appear to believe that you possess values and insights and have divined truth all on your own. A more humble view might recognize the intrinsically Jewish origins of those values and insights and truths and appreciate that they were developed over time, tested over time, refined over time by the Jewish People in a variety of circumstances. And a more humble view might well recognize that without the Jewish People continuing to exist and continuing to nurture those values and insights and truths and apply them to ever new circumstances, the very ideals you purport to cherish may well not survive. Do you think that the United Nations Human Rights Commission or some amorphous secularism is going to preserve and protect them? To the contrary, a robust, confident Jewish community is a much better vehicle for reaching your goals.

    I appreciate challenges to the status quo, as well as the impulse toward shared, even universal, values. I have written, for instance, that Jewish theology is in dire need of new metaphors befitting a God not just of a tribe, or even of this planet, but of the cosmos. So, I have no quibble in principle with your advancement of what you call “radical” positions. But one can be at the cutting edge without severing the heart. My amazement, and my sadness, stems from your expressed inclination to be tied emotionally more strongly with the powerless, vulnerable and marginalized, whoever and wherever they are, than with the Jewish People, and your inability to find or unwillingness to recognize enough of value in the entire Jewish civilization to allow you to commit, in good conscious, first and foremost to a positive, vigorous Judaism for the Jewish people in America and abroad who will continue to need defenders and promoters in the future.

    Roger Price
    http://www.judaismandscience.com

    • Roger,

      In my sermon I suggested a reconsideration of Jewish tribalism – not Jewish peoplehood. I addressed the problems with a specific kind of tribal mentality that promotes loyalty to other Jews with whom we may not share some basic, fundamental values. I don’t believe it “diminishes peoplehood” to suggest this – or to assert that we may have at least as much – or more – in common with all people who share our values of equality, democracy, egalitarianism and social justice.

      I challenge you to find one instance in my sermon where I explicitly renounce the importance of Jewish peoplehood. In fact, I do not. Like you (and Kaplan) I certainly appreciate the centrality of peoplehood to Jewish identity. I addressed this issue at some length in my Yom Kippur sermon, which you may or may not have read. In case you haven’t, this is what I had to say about that:

      Throughout Jewish history, we’ve referred to ourselves as Am Yisrael – the “People of Israel.” Judaism certainly has religious values and practices, but Jewish religion has always gone hand in hand with peoplehood. No matter where we’ve lived, no matter what we’ve believed – or even if we’ve believed at all – Jews everywhere have always maintained an underlying sense of belonging to one another.

      You also put your own well-chosen words in my mouth when you accuse me of “ignoring anti-semitism.” I did no such thing. Let me quote my actual words on that subject:

      And if when we do encounter those who would do the Jewish people harm, as we invariably will, how will we respond then? Will we repeat yet again that we Jews are alone in a harsh and uncaring world – or will we find common cause with all who are harmed and oppressed and find strength in our solidarity?

      These are not the words of someone who advocates “ignoring anti-semitism.” I make it clear that prejudice against Jews is and will continue to be a very real threat to us. The real problem you have with me is not that I am to cavalier toward anti-semitism, but that you simply disagree with me on how best to respond to it.

      I’m not sure what you mean when you say Jews “don’t have a common destiny” with other oppressed peoples. Are you suggesting that anti-semitism is somehow more pernicious or dangerous than any other form of prejudice? It seems to me that persecution is persecution. Of course, as I wrote, anti-semitism is a very real problem even today. But I cannot say that it is any more of a problem than any other form of prejudice in the world.

      At the end of the day, I don’t think the “destiny” of Jews who are targeted for being Jewish is any different from LGBTQ people killed by gay bashers or Congolese women who are raped and murdered by death squads. That is why I suggested that the best response to anti-Jewish hatred is for Jews to make common cause with all who are targeted with intolerance. You are free to disagree with my opinion if you like, but please don’t misrepresent me by claiming that by promoting such a view I am somehow “ignoring anti-semitism.”

      As a liberal Jew, I’m sure you know that the incendiary words you level at me (“dangerous,” “perverse,” “misplaced,” “capitulation”) are precisely the kinds of words that many Jews in our community would use to describe you and your views. I suggest you think very carefully before you use this kind of rhetoric against a fellow Reconstructionist. At the very least I hope you would consider the implications of promoting love and loyalty toward Jews who believe you are “immodestly” reconstructing Judaism all out of proportion. While you’re at it, you might also consider that there are many non-Jews – who do indeed share some fairly critical core values with you – who are worthy of your love and loyalty as well.

      Roger, like you I “recognize value in the entire Jewish civilization” and I am committed, “to a positive, vigorous Judaism for the Jewish people in America and abroad.” Clearly we disagree on what that civilization should look like in the 21st century – but I don’t think it’s fair to accuse someone of “immodesty” or lack of “humility” simply because you disagree with his opinions. And it’s disingenuous in the extreme for someone to construct an argument by misrepresenting the position of another.


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