Sunday, January 04, 2009

Readers Respond to "Israel's Hanukkah Massacre & Judaism's Culture of Death"

All of the reader responses to Israel's Hanukkah Massacre & Judaism's Culture of Death discussed below came to me by e-mail.

Here's the first one I got from a Muslim friend:
I'm emailing you from Arizona. Weather is perfect over here.

I don't know enough about Jewish law and Israel's history to know about this, but is it possible that Israel is to Jewish law what Saudi Arabia, for example, is to Islam? So Saudi Arabia gives a bad image of Islam by misinterpreting Sharia and prohibiting women from driving etc. There is no shortage of Muslims who misapply Sharia law i.e. Al-Qaeda types who take a verse from the Quran to mean that Muslims should kill "infidels" wherever they find them. And Taliban types who find in Islam a justification for prohibiting girls from attending school. Or Christians who find justification in the Bible for attacking abortion clinics or burning witches at the stake. You know what I mean. The examples are countless.

As the Neturei Karta would argue, Zionism and Judaism are polar opposites, so is it also possible that Israel misapplies halacha and that "authentic" Judaism is innocent from Zionism's crimes?
Here's the response I sent a couple of days ago:
It's about 25 degrees here--happy? ;-)

As to your question, to an important extent I think religion is as religion does and religion says. So, I don't think I can tell anyone what "authentic" Judaism is nor can the Saudi family tell us what "authentic" Islam is nor can the Neturei Karta tell us what "authentic" Judaism is. Ditto for Christianity. What I think we have to do is consider what is actually being done by the adherents of those religions. Thus, when I have written about Judaism I never insist that I am writing about "authentic" Judaism. I may quote someone else who makes that claim but it is up to the reader to evaluate such claims.

To get more concrete, let's look at Zionism and Judaism. As you have noted, Neturei Karta would argue they "are polar opposites" but the evidence suggests that the vast majority of adherents of Judaism disagree. The main bodies of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism have all explicitly endorsed Zionism in practice, if not in name, that is they all support Israel as a Jewish state in Palestine. The same is true of the smaller Reconstructionist and Secular Humanist movements. But it is not for me to say whether or not that represents "authentic" Judaism.

You ask, "is it ... possible that 'authentic' Judaism is innocent from Zionism's crimes." My short answer is yes but what is "authentic" Judaism? Who gets to decide? What are the consequences of absolving/obscuring Judaism as it is actually practiced here and now by most of its adherents because some small minority insists that Zionist Judaism or Judaic Zionism are not "authentic"? As Paul Eisen writes:
The present, too, is full of ambiguities. Zionism is not Judaism; Judaism is not Zionism has become an article of faith, endlessly repeated, as is the assertion that Zionism is a secular ideology opposed, for much of its history, by the bulk of religious Jews and even now still opposed by true Torah Jews such as Neturei Karta. But Zionism is now at the heart of Jewish life with religious Jews amongst the most virulent of Zionists and Neturei Karta, despite their impeccable anti-Zionism, their beautiful words and the enthusiasm with which they are welcomed at solidarity rallies, etc., may well be just Jews in fancy dress, a million miles from the reality of Jewish life."
I think Ludwig von Mises was on to something when he said "To defeat the aggressors is not enough to make peace durable. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war." And that is why it appears as an epigraph to my blog and why I as an, anti-Zionist, write about Judaism. In this, I am trying feebly to follow in some of the footsteps of Jews and former Jews like Benedict Spinoza, Moshe Menuhin, Israel Shahak, Norton Mezvinsky, Paul Eisen, Gilad Atzmon, and Israel Shamir.

I don't try to write for Jews in particular but I aim for others in the peace movement because I think the Zionism of so many Jews in the peace movement is connected to their Judaism even when they are not conventionally devout/observant. Zionism must be understood and challenged and I don't think that can be adequately done without understanding its Judaic roots. Any way I hope I respectfully and thoroughly answered your question.
A less friendly response appears next:
what crap! Trying to wrap an entire Jewish culture into one of death is NOT a way to comprehend today's issues. This old anti-antisemitism has no answers, only bullshit!
Here's how I responded:
No one is trying to "wrap an entire Jewish culture into one of death." The point is that there is a "culture of death" within Judaism and Jewish society. The phrase "culture of death" comes from an Israeli Jew, Professor Idith Zertal of Hebrew University, in her book Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood (Cambridge University Press, 2005). But you probably don't need to bother with such books because you already have all the answers, right? So answer me this: The timing of the current Israeli assault on Gaza was of the IDF's own choosing, if it has nothing to do with a Judaic "culture of death" then why did the IDF choose to start it during Hanukkah and why did they choose to give it a name associated with Hanukkah?

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