Rabbi Goldberg, Can I Come Back Into the Tent?

by Corey Robin on November 25, 2013

Four days ago, Zbigniew Brzezinski tweeted this:

 


Yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic tweeted this in response:  

 

Seemed like a crazy read of what Brzezinski said, but it’s the sort of thing I’ve come to expect from Goldberg. I didn’t give it a second thought.

But Logan Bayroff at J Street did. J Street, in case you don’t know, is a liberal-ish Jewish group in the US that’s pushing for a peace settlement with the Palestinians. They call themselves “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.” Not my people, but what are you going to do?

Anyway, Bayroff went after Goldberg:

 

Goldberg got furious and this morning tweeted this:


 

And when he was asked what this rude J Street employee had done to piss him off, Goldberg explained:

 


Jeremy Ben-Ami is the head of J Street; Bayroff is his assistant.

Okay, now that we’ve introduced our cast of characters let me say this:

By what authority does Jeffrey Goldberg arrogate to himself the right to defend (with the implicit threat that he might not in the future) someone or some group’s “place in the Jewish tent”? Who elected him Pope to excommunicate or not some heretical Jew? Who made him Defender of the Faith?

(Let’s set aside that the reason he gives for wavering in his commitment to keep J Street in the fold is that one of its impertinent employees had the audacity to criticize him. For reasons that seem perfectly legitimate.)

Isn’t that sort of talk—I’ll defend (or won’t defend) your staying within the tent, but only if you’re well behaved—sort of, well, un-Jewish? I know there are more theologically minded Jews than myself who think they can dictate how one ought to be Jewish, who is or isn’t a Jew, but that’s the point: they ain’t Jeffrey Goldberg. He’s a self-described liberal Zionist, not an Orthodox Jew. But in his cosmos, Zionism is the religion, he’s the rebbe, and the rebbe gets to decide if you’re in or you’re out, if you’re kosher or treif.

Zionists like Goldberg like to style themselves as open, hip, and pluralist. They think what distinguishes them from the Black Hats is their embrace of secular modernity. But as you can see from this incident and the one I discuss below, Zionism has not only made these types intolerant and anti-pluralist; it has turned them into Popes and Inquisitors, enthralled with their imagined power to exile and excommunicate.

Under their watch, one of the most important questions that lies at the heart of the Jewish tradition—What does it mean to be a Jew?—gets taken off the table. Because we already know the answer: support for the State of Israel. If you do, you’re a Jew in good standing; if you don’t, you’re not.

That’s what nationalism—especially nationalism hitched to a state—does to people. It makes the Goldbergs of this world think they can give Jews a passport or take it away. Well, guess what, Rabbi Goldberg: you can’t. I don’t need you defending my right to be in the Jewish tent because that’s not within your, or any other Jew’s, power to decide.

I wish Ben-Ami had jumped in in response to Goldberg and said, “Fuck you, you don’t get to decide who’s a Jew or not.” Instead, he tweeted (never has that word seemed more appropriate) this:


 

Like I said, not my people. What can you really expect from a group that needs to surround their support for peace in the Middle East with bumper stickers affirming they’re pro-Israel and pro-America?

Anyway, as I said above, this isn’t the first time Goldberg has said something un-Jewish in the name of the Jews. About two years ago he made a similar move, and I wound up writing a lengthy blog about it. Here it is…

•  • • • •


As someone who identifies as Jewish—who periodically goes to shul, celebrates some if not all of the holidays, and tries at least some (ahem) of the time to get off the internets for shabbos—yet opposes Zionism, I thought I’d heard all the charges that have been and could be made against me and my tribe. But yesterday, Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic writer and one of the leading voices of liberal Zionism in this country, threw a new one into to the mix.

 

In my experience, those Jews who consciously set themselves apart from the Jewish majority in the disgust they display for Israel, or for the principles of their faith, are often narcissists, and therefore seem to suffer from an excess of self-regard, rather than self-loathing.


What caught my eye (really, my ear) was not the evident wrongness of the claim, starting with the lazy assumption that those who oppose the State of Israel are somehow setting “themselves apart from the Jewish majority.” It was that “excess of self-regard.” Whether Goldberg knows it or not, or was conscious of it when he used it, that charge has a pedigree in Jewish—or rather anti-Jewish—history.

To be sure, there is within Judaism an injunction, and more generally an ethos, not to separate oneself from the Jewish people. The Wicked Son at the Passover Seder asks, “What does this service [or ritual or story] mean to you?” His wickedness lies in that final hissing “to you”: he refuses to acknowledge that in addition to being an “I” he is also a “We.” Verses in the Pirkei Avot enjoin us not to hold ourselves apart from the community. There’s also a Halachic stipulation that for the sake of practicality and communal living, Jews must abide by legal rulings regarding everyday ritual and civil law. Despite the many differences and disagreements it generates, Judaism is not really a religion of individuals or individualism; it is the religion of a people. Am Yisrael: the people of Israel.

But, as far as I can see, there is little in the tradition that views the dissenter as somehow haughty or superior, narcissistic or self-regarding. And while friends more knowledgeable than I joke that one can always find evidentiary support in the Talmud for some claim or other, this particular one would probably require some digging. If it exists, it’s a subterranean position. And how could it not be? For every two Jews, goes the old saw, there are three opinions. If every unorthodox statement were treated as a symptom of overweening arrogance or pride, well, there’s not enough room in the universe—let alone the Talmud—to contain such a lexicon of self-regard.

In fact, the only document I can think of that even approximates such an accusation is Annie Hall. Think of those scenes where a young Alvie Singer presses his existential concerns (“The universe is expanding”) upon his parents only to be told by his mother, “What is that your business?” and, later, “You never could get along with anyone at school. You were always outta step with the world.” Or perhaps that scene in Hannah and her Sisters where Mickey (the Woody Allen character) tells his parents he’s thinking of converting to Catholicism because he’s afraid there’s no God or life after death, and his father replies, “How do you know?” and his mother, less indulgently, “Of course there’s a God, you idiot! You don’t believe in God?” Aside from these hints that the questioner of—or deserter from—the faith is somehow punching above his weight (and, of course, the characters here are speaking the language of parents rather than Judaism), it’s hard to find this specific rhetoric of accusation that I’m talking about, in which the dissenter is impeached as a presumptuous snob, in the Jewish tradition.

But if you’re not in the mood for digging deep, if you want quick and easy access to that rhetoric, simply put your hand into the garbage can of anti-Semitism. For it is there, in the rubbish of ancient and modern history, that you’ll find the accusation that the Jew who refuses to conform to the ways of the dominant culture—with the culture now understood, of course, to be non-Jewish—is smug and superior, that he assumes he knows better and believes he is better than the majority. Because how else are we to understand a minority insisting upon its own ways over and against the majority?

Robert Wistrich’s A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad is a veritable compendium of such accusations, from ancient pagans to Vichy officials to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union to the modern Arab world (making full allowances, as Wistrich does not, for the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism). Over and over, one hears the complaint from the anti-Semite that the Jew has set himself up not only in opposition to, but in judgment upon, the dominant culture. And that in doing so he has presumed himself to be better than that culture.

Of course, that accusation often preys upon the complicated—and by no means uncontroversial—notion of chosenness within the Jewish tradition. Bernard Lazare, the Jewish radical who wrote the first genuine history of anti-Semitism just before the Dreyfus Affair (and whose work had a tremendous influence upon Hannah Arendt), offered a version of this claim. In Wistrich’s lucid paraphrase:

Bernard Lazare was convinced that the “revolutionary spirit of Judaism” had been a major factor in anti-Semitism through the ages. Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Karl Marx were prime examples of Jewish iconoclasts of their time. The Jews, by creating an intensely demanding God of morality and justice whose stern monotheism brooked no toleration of alien deities, threatened the natural order. The prophetic vision of an abstract transcendent Godhead above nature, a deity without form or shape, who had nonetheless created the universe and would in the fullness of time redeem all mankind, was disconcerting, powerful, and mysterious to the pagan world. It was rendered especially irritating by the Jewish claim to be a “chosen people,” a “kingdom of priests,” and a ferment among the Gentiles. Anti-Semitism could best be seen as an instinctive response by the nations of the world to this provocation—to the uncanny challenge of an eternal people, whose refusal to assimilate defied all established historical patterns. Hatred of the Jews was often combined with fear, envy….


Though it seems quite wrong to me to locate the sources of anti-Semitism in anything Jews do or say—and that’s not really Lazare’s point, I don’t think—there can be no doubt, as Wistrich shows, that anti-Semites have consistently chosen to interpret the Jewish insistence on separateness and difference (leave aside the more difficult notion of chosenness) as a bid for superiority.

Conversely, and ironically, for writers like Tom Paine, it is precisely this insistence upon setting themselves apart that has been not only the glory of the Jewish people but the guarantor of whatever is democratic and egalitarian in their culture. In Common Sense, Paine takes up a lengthy disquisition on the question “of monarchy and hereditary succession.” There he makes a special point of noting that the Jews were originally without a king and were governed instead by “a kind of republic administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes.”

But the temptation to monarchy dies hard, Paine observes, even among the Jews.  And the reason it dies hard is that the desire to conform, to abandon one’s ways in the face of outside pressure, dies harder. So frequently does Paine recur to the lures and dangers of imitation and conformity—”Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom”; “We cannot but observe that their motives were bad, viz. that they might be like unto other nations, i.e. the Heathens, whereas their true glory laid in being as much unlike them as possible”—that we might say for Paine (at least in Common Sense; Age of Reason sounds a different note) it is the Jew’s refusal to conform that most guarantees his democratic and egalitarian credentials.

For Jeffrey Goldberg, it’s the reverse. It’s the Jew who sets himself apart from the dominant culture—Goldberg’s referring to mainstream Judaism, of course, rather than the culture as a whole, but the structure of the argument is the same—who is making a bid for superiority. And in this respect, Goldberg is aligning himself with neither Judaism nor democracy but their antitheses.

It’s ironic that what started this whole discussion, for Goldberg and excellent journalists like Spencer Ackerman, was the use of the controversial term “Israel-Firster” by critics of Israel and the ensuing debate over whether or not it’s anti-Semitic. I don’t have much of a dog in that fight: I’ve never used and would never use the term, not because it questions the patriotism of American Jews but because it partakes of the vocabulary of patriotism in the first place, a vocabulary I find suspect and noxious from beginning to end. Even so, I’m amazed that someone who is so quick to find anti-Semitism in the words of others is so careless about its presence in his own.

 

{ 288 comments }

1

js. 11.25.13 at 6:30 am

Great piece this, thanks. (Around the time that I started commenting here, ~4-ish years ago, I remember being told that there was an informal avoidance of Israel/Palestine issues around here. I can imagine 15 very good reasons for such a policy, but I’m also glad you’re helping kick it right out the window, so to speak.)

About the Goldberg missives: I would love to see someone actually defend/explain how JG got the “Jews run America” out of what ZB said. (Ok, maybe I wouldn’t; it wouldn’t be fun, would it?) But even more so, I was struck by the, “Ben-Ami’s assistant” bit—it sounds like the most awful kind of rank pulling.

2

Doctor Science 11.25.13 at 6:51 am

js:

The explanation, hardly a defense is: ZB said “Netanyahu’s efforts to dictate US policy”. JG re-wrote that in his head to mean, “Netanyahu dictates US policy! obviously this implies that Netanyahu, a Jew, dictates to Jews, who have such power that they determine US policy in general”.

Which is not what ZB said: he said only that Netanyahu *tries* to dictate US policy (implied, “in the Mideast”), and could easily have been referring to Israeli influence with certain conservative Christians, not only with American Jews. So JG’s ire involved several leaps of inference and (mis-)interpretation.

3

Mao Cheng Ji 11.25.13 at 8:49 am

“who periodically goes to shul, celebrates some if not all of the holidays”

Since you mentioned it, may I ask, respectfully: why? are you a believer? what does “my tribe” mean to you, exactly?

“Goldberg’s referring to mainstream Judaism, of course, rather than the culture as a whole”

I’m just guessing, but I really don’t believe he’s referring to either. I strongly suspect (despite the word “faith” in his quote) his tribe is based purely on genetics, just like the guy in your post who lists Karl Marx (fully assimilated German atheist, afaik) among “Jewish iconoclasts”.

4

Phil 11.25.13 at 9:37 am

Reminds me of Daniel Davies’s crack about Engage – that they think anti-semitism’s a real danger, and if it’s left unchecked it might lead to criticism of Israel.

5

William Burns 11.25.13 at 11:56 am

But Goldberg doesn’t seem to think J Street should be cast out of the Jewish community for insufficient Zionism; rather he thinks their real crime is insufficient respect for Jeffrey Goldberg.

6

peterv 11.25.13 at 12:46 pm

Am reminded of this meditation on Jewishness versus Irishness:

http://jezzascuriousblog.blogspot.co.uk/2005/10/when-i-was-irish.html

7

Corey Robin 11.25.13 at 2:04 pm

Mao: “What does ‘my tribe’ mean to you, exactly?”

Jews who are anti-Israel.

Mao: “I’m just guessing, but I really don’t believe he’s referring to either. I strongly suspect (despite the word “faith” in his quote) his tribe is based purely on genetics…”

No, in context, he’s clearly not. He’s referring to two entities: Jews who set themselves apart, and the “Jewish majority.” He identifies with the Jewish majority, that’s his tribe. If his were “based purely on genetics,” he’d have to include all of us, Zionist and anti-Zionist. But he thinks he can exclude those of us who aren’t Zionist.

You seem to be obsessed with the question of genetics as the objectionable problem here. I can see why you are insofar as Judaism tends to be based on matrilineal descent.

But the Goldbergs of this world don’t give a crap about that; they really are obsessed with ideological conformity, more than anything else.

That’s why they can contemplate excluding someone like me — who meets the genetic test and who is more observant than many pro-Israel Jews (and certainly more observant than many Jews in Israel) — from the Jewish tent.

For people like Goldberg, being Jewish is not based on genetics, it’s not based on faith or observance, it’s based on your stance toward Israel. He’d never dream of speaking of someone who is Jewish, pro-Israel, but completely unobservant and unaffiliated, as outside the Jewish tent. But step out of line on Israel — or on Jeffrey Goldberg, as William Burns observes above — and you’re out.

8

Mao Cheng Ji 11.25.13 at 2:24 pm

Is all your anger here directed at the phrase “Jewish tent”? And if he were to apologize and agree to rename it “Zionist tent” then everything would be alright? Doesn’t sound like big deal, frankly. I don’t really know, but perhaps observant-anti-Zionist-Jews are such a small minority that designating a special little corner for them in the tent seems like a waste of time.

9

Pub Editor 11.25.13 at 3:02 pm

I mostly agree with OP’s larger point. But:

‘By what authority does Jeffrey Goldberg arrogate to himself the right to defend (with the implicit threat that he might not in the future) someone or some group’s “place in the Jewish tent”? Who elected him Pope to excommunicate or not some heretical Jew? Who made him Defender of the Faith?’

In fairness, I didn’t read “defend” in that sense. It sounded more like Mr. Goldberg fancies himself as an advocate on behalf of J-Street before some third-party arbitrator — in context, presumably some amorphous community or Jewish public opinion. That is, he uses “defend” to mean that he is J-Street’s lawyer, not their judge. (And he is threatening to withdraw his representation. For stupid reasons.)

10

Corey Robin 11.25.13 at 3:04 pm

“Doesn’t sound like big deal, frankly.”

It is if you’re Jewish, and if you care about being Jewish. You know, that question you asked me about earlier about what and why I “believe.”

For whatever it’s worth, the reason people like me tend not to respond to questions like these (about what and why we “believe”) from people like you is that despite your professions of genuine curiosity — “respectfully” and all that — you’re not even remotely curious. Because you know that you already know the answers. So there’s no point in my responding.

Here’s a thought for you. Next time you write “I don’t really know,” why don’t you at least pretend that you really mean it?

11

mattski 11.25.13 at 3:10 pm

Is all your anger here directed at the phrase “Jewish tent”? And if he were to apologize and agree to rename it “Zionist tent” then everything would be alright?

Sounds like gibberish to me.

12

Corey Robin 11.25.13 at 3:12 pm

Pub Editor: Good point, and nicely put! I guess I’d say two things in response. First, that Jewish public opinion doesn’t have that kind of power, and that Goldberg thinks that it does, that he submits to the authority of that court, says more about him than it does about the reality of things. Second, throughout his career, he’s often blurred that role between — as you so nicely put it — advocate and arbitrator. In other words, whenever he represents himself as an ambassador or a messenger or just a reporter from the sidelines, he is invariably arrogating to himself the role of judge, jury, and executioner (I realize the metaphors are getting squishy here, bear with me). So in this case, he presents himself as the concerned advocate defending you before this imaginary judge when in fact he is the judge.

13

Vance Maverick 11.25.13 at 3:14 pm

Minor edit:

making full allowances, as Wistrich does not, for the distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism

Pretty sure you mean “as Goldberg does not”.

14

Corey Robin 11.25.13 at 3:20 pm

Vance: No, I meant Wistrich. Goldberg doesn’t either, but I was focusing on Wistrich’s text in this instance.

15

Pub Editor 11.25.13 at 3:28 pm

Corey Robin @ 12: well said.

16

Pub Editor 11.25.13 at 3:29 pm

And… now I just pictured Jeffrey Goldberg as Judge Dredd. Thanks.

17

Mao Cheng Ji 11.25.13 at 4:09 pm

“Sounds like gibberish to me.”

But why? This guy, Jeffrey Goldberg, he imagines a tent. All the defenders of Israel are in the tent and he is policing the tent (he is, after all, a former IDF prison guard). There is a minor squabble in the tent: J Street, a Zionist organization, is, of course, in the tent, but they are ‘attacking’ him, and so he’s threatening to throw them out of the tent. So far everything sounds fine, perfectly normal.

The problem: he calls his tent “Jewish tent” (instead of “Zionist tent”), because that allows him to accuse Brzezinski and others of antisemitism. That is wrong, I agree wholeheartedly. But is this really such a big deal? It’s not like the word is under copyright. Let him.

18

Neil Levy 11.25.13 at 4:14 pm

I must say I find the original, absolutely ludicrous and offensive tweet, much more problematic than the later one. In fact I think the later is innocuous. He’s implying that some people attack J-Street’s right to be called Jewish but he defends them. Nothing about his having the final say: he’s a participant in an argument. But the original tweet comes with an implicit message: I’m a dick and no one should ever take me seriously again.

19

William Timberman 11.25.13 at 4:18 pm

Pub Editor @ 16

And… now I just pictured Jeffrey Goldberg as Judge Dredd.

That would be Alan Dershowitz, surely. Goldberg’s job is to point and yell witch! Dershowitz is the guy with the woodpile and the torch.

20

Corey Robin 11.25.13 at 4:30 pm

Neil: “He’s implying that some people attack J-Street’s right to be called Jewish but he defends them. Nothing about his having the final say: he’s a participant in an argument.”

Two thoughts. First, he accepts the underlying premise of those attacks, namely, that some Jews can be excluded from the tent. If he were a mensch, he’d say to anyone attacking J Street’s presence in the “Jewish tent,” no, you don’t get to do that. Not b/c I can vouch for J Street’s bona fides but b/c *you don’t get to do that*.” Instead, he opts for the classic power broker stance: “Yeah, let ‘em in; they’re okay.”

Which leads to my second point. You’re right that there’s nothing explicitly in there about his having the final say, but let’s be honest: we’re not talking about any Jeff here. We’re talking about Jeffrey: one of the most important spokespersons — and traffic cops — of liberal Zionism and Zionist respectability today. This is a guy who knows how to throw his weight around. So when he says to someone, “Look, I’ve been vouching for you to the other mob bosses, but if you keep this shit up, I won’t,” the very fact that he can do that kind of vouching before the other mob bosses is a testament to his power. Perhaps not final, total power, but more than your average Joe. I mean Jeff.

That’s why that business about “your employee crossed me” is so significant (and so funny). This is one mob boss talking to a more junior boss (or a boss in training), telling him, if you want to stay in the tent, get your people in line.

21

LFC 11.25.13 at 4:31 pm

Further to Neil Levy:
While both of JG’s tweets are objectionable, the first one, ridiculously (and libelously) accusing ZB of suggesting that “Jews run America,” is the worst.

22

Neil Levy 11.25.13 at 4:40 pm

Corey: fair enough. I don’t have the grasp of the context which makes it plausible to attribute traffic cop status to him.

23

Thomas Mikaelsen 11.25.13 at 4:46 pm

As always, great stuff – both articles!

24

roy belmont 11.25.13 at 5:20 pm

It seems a very short hop from
anti-Semites have consistently chosen to interpret the Jewish insistence on separateness and difference (leave aside the more difficult notion of chosenness) as a bid for superiority
to accusing anyone who isn’t a self-defined Jew speaking to “the Jewish insistence on separateness and difference ” – i.e. in the public speech of the prominent and late Ovadia Yosef, he of the “goys are there to serve us”, and if that vile nonsense is public how likely is it that private discourse elsewhere is somewhat let’s say even more racist? – as de facto anti-Semites.
Corey Robin says to Mao Cheng Ji
people like me tend not to respond to questions like these (about what and why we “believe”) from people like you and gets a pass. Why? Coy versus coy?
Horseshit.
People like what? Aren’t we laboring to avoid aggregate condemnation? I thought we were. And I still think that effort’s all that stands between us and some psychotic fool’s use of atomic weapons against the world.
Corey Robin says “this isn’t the first time Goldberg has said something un-Jewish”, which seems to imply a distinguishing of Jewishness available to Corey Robin that isn’t available to the rest of us, and to an outsider sounds not a lot different than Goldberg’s fussy scampering around that amorphous tent of whatever-it-is with a clicking Jew-o-meter in his hand.

25

Corey Robin 11.25.13 at 5:54 pm

Roy: “Corey Robin says ‘this isn’t the first time Goldberg has said something un-Jewish’, which seems to imply a distinguishing of Jewishness available to Corey Robin that isn’t available to the rest of us, and to an outsider sounds not a lot different than Goldberg’s fussy scampering around that amorphous tent of whatever-it-is with a clicking Jew-o-meter in his hand.”

I thought about this issue long and hard before I wrote both posts. It’s a fair question. Here’s how I ultimately came down on it. I think there is a difference between saying someone is or isn’t a Jew — or or isn’t part of the Jewish people — and saying that a statement or belief is or isn’t Jewish. There are in fact certain beliefs that are outside the Jewish canon. That doesn’t mean that Jews can’t believe them — Jews for Jesus, after all — but it does mean that they aren’t part of the tenets of Judaism. While we know some Jews celebrate Christmas (invariably in some secular fashion, not as a religious holiday), it’s safe to say that Christmas is not a Jewish holiday.

I realize this is a tricky distinction — who gets to decide what is or isn’t a Jewish belief — and I don’t have the time, or frankly the scholarship and intellectual chops, to get into it too deeply here. But it’s the best I can do. And I didn’t want you to think that I wasn’t mindful of the issue you brought up when I wrote this post.

26

Corey Robin 11.25.13 at 5:59 pm

Roy: “Corey Robin says to Mao Cheng Ji people like me tend not to respond to questions like these (about what and why we ‘believe’) from people like you and gets a pass. Why?”

I’m fairly certain I answered that question in my comment. Look to the parts where I say “the reason…is” and “because”.

27

Pseudonymous McGee 11.25.13 at 6:40 pm

The following is not meant to apply to the reasons for really-existing anti-Semitism, or the aggregate beliefs of really-existing Jews.

It seems odd to ignore the question of chosen-ness in discussing anti-Semitism and anti-Semites’ reaction to a perceived “bid for superiority”. First, because chosen-ness is central to the religious foundation of Judaism; convenants and promised lands and smiting enemies and all that. But chosen-ness is a not-all-that-big challenge to a tolerant, secular society, and we shouldn’t need to shy away from it in denouncing anti-Semitism. I don’t doubt that many Jews do believe that being the chosen people of the one true God does confer superiority, at least in transcendent terms. And if I believed the scriptural account of Jewish history, it would be quite reasonable to infer superiority, or at the very least, manifest favour. The challenge (and it’s a pretty modest one) to tolerant, secular societies is to live peacefully with members who do believe, and even openly profess, that they are superior to the rest, provided they submit to the same earthly laws.

The response should not be “don’t believe the hateful rumours that adherents to X think they are better than us” (which collapses as soon as some adherent, representative or not, of X claims superiority, and is simply wrong in cases where the standard account of X unambiguously claims superiority), but rather “some adherents of X may well believe that they are essentially better than you, and that neither breaks your leg nor picks your pocket, so deal with it”.

28

Seth Gordon 11.25.13 at 6:51 pm

I think this is where Corey is coming from (Corey, correct me if I’m off-base):

Part of Jewish culture is a shared history of being excluded. Even if you as a Jewish individual are fully assimilated and accepted as a citizen of your country, Jews of previous generations (and, heck, contemporary Jews in some other countries) were excluded from the elite clubs and schools, from certain professions, from the right to own property, etc., etc. And every once in a while, the Gentile rulers would renounce or ignore whatever measure of tolerance they had previously granted to their Jewish neighbors, and those neighbors would find themselves excluded from the most basic protections of the civil law. This happened time and again, in country after country, in century after century.

Given that context, for one Jew to turn to another and insinuate “you’re not really one of us” is… well… fraught. It’s bad enough that I can’t trust the Gentiles to keep me in their club, but now I can’t even trust the fellows of my own tribe.

29

mattski 11.25.13 at 6:52 pm

@ 17

Based upon your remarks I would say you are behaving as a provocateur, hiding behind a facade of innocent curiosity. Your first question for Corey:

Since you mentioned it, may I ask, respectfully: why?

That is, why does he go to shul, why does he celebrate Jewish holidays. What the fuck does this have to do with the post?

You say that you “strongly suspect (despite the word “faith” in his quote) his tribe is based purely on genetics”. Really? Then why do you also say that ..Goldberg, he imagines a tent. All the defenders of Israel are in the tent..

So being a defender of Israel is a matter of genetics? Or, you have no idea what you are talking about?

But is this really such a big deal?

I guess that depends on your point of view, doesn’t it. But your purpose here seems to be to make sure everyone knows you don’t care much about the issues under discussion.

30

Seth Gordon 11.25.13 at 6:54 pm

…ok, I don’t know if the above comment has anything to to with Corey’s reaction to Goldberg’s I-cast-the-out-of-the-tent tweet, but at least it explains my immediate “ick” reaction.

31

Mao Cheng Ji 11.25.13 at 7:16 pm

Um, Roy (and mattski), actually, he did answer (albeit with defensiveness and hostility, for some reason). He believes. It’s fine. I really was curious. Having grown up in a completely atheist environment, I always assume that someone like Corey could not be a believer (except for a short fad perhaps, I’ve seen those). I guess that’s just one of my (many) shortcomings.

“That is, why does he go to shul, why does he celebrate Jewish holidays. What the fuck does this have to do with the post?”

He put it in the post, and it seems important to the post. If he is doing it, for example, to appease his parents – that’s one thing, and if he’s a believer it’s a completely different thing.

“So being a defender of Israel is a matter of genetics? Or, you have no idea what you are talking about?”

Yeah, I believe I do. I perceive Jeffrey Goldberg as a secular Zionist (I could be wrong, of course), so when I saw “Goldberg’s referring to mainstream Judaism, of course, rather than the culture” in the post I felt it was wrong: he’s referring to the genetic ancestry and nothing else. That’s what the word “Jewish” means to a secular Zionist. See also the link in comment 6; it’s well written.
…anything else I should explain?

32

mattski 11.25.13 at 7:26 pm

Having grown up in a completely atheist environment, I always assume that someone like Corey could not be a believer

Remarkably, Corey Robin, having grown up in a completely Jewish environment, does not appear to make assumptions about what you do or do not believe.

33

adam.smith 11.25.13 at 7:26 pm

I seem to recall someone discussing a Wieseltier/Goldberg disagreement in the context of both regarding themselves as the ultimate arbiters of acceptable Jewish-ness in the US (isn’t there even a nice Yiddish word for that?) . So yeah, Corey’s reading of the 2nd Goldberg tweet most certainly makes sense in context.

34

Bloix 11.25.13 at 7:34 pm

The context here is that among supporters of Israel, views of Brzezinski have long ranged from mistrust to hatred. (As a J Street-style supporter of Israel myself, I’m no fan.) Goldberg attacked Brzezinski reflexively – it’s routine to impute the most hostile of motives to him whenever he says anything about Israel – and then, out of nowhere, Bayroff defended him. That’s what set Goldberg off. Look at his tweet: “@JeremyBenAmi’s assistant attacking me for criticizing Brzezinski!” It’s like, I was just criticizing Brzezinski, it’s self-evident that anyone who attacks me for doing that is beyond the pale. (Pun intended.)

35

Mao Cheng Ji 11.25.13 at 7:36 pm

“Remarkably, Corey Robin, having grown up in a completely Jewish environment, does not appear to make assumptions about what you do or do not believe.”

He sure did in this case though. He immediately assumed an ominous ulterior motive. Where my assumption is merely a case of something like naive skepticism. Not that I blame him. We are what we are.

36

Jonny Butter 11.25.13 at 7:40 pm

He believes. It’s fine. I really was curious. Having grown up in a completely atheist environment, I always assume that someone like Corey could not be a believer

Could not be a believer in what, precisely?

I think that Judaism is the superior of the three monotheisms precisely because it’s not at all hard to fathom such a thing as a thoroughly Jewish atheist. I don’t know what Corey’s religion is or isn’t, but I would cite – since we have a bunch of philosophers around here – one of my favorite contemporary philosophers: the late Peter Lipton, who called himself a ‘religious atheist’. Unlike its more doctrinal offshoots, Judaism doesn’t necessarily insist on being taken literally. Also, you can argue with god, which is terrific. Try doing that with the others!

37

Corey Robin 11.25.13 at 7:47 pm

Mattski at 32: Exactly.

Mao: I’d say naive skepticism is precisely the assumption I intuited on your part. With an emphasis on the naive. The fact that you’ve since gone on to say that I am a believer — without me ever having said a damn thing about what I do or don’t believe of the Jewish faith — only confirms my initial impression of you (not just on this issue but several others): you assume you know more than you do.

38

roy belmont 11.25.13 at 7:48 pm

Corey Robin-
Well yes, but that’s what I meant about coy v. coy.
The strength of the behind-the-scenes pathologies in play around this question, whatever this question really is, is hideously powerful and ungoverned by the sunlight of open dialogue. So, good to take on some of it. Yes.
Only who among us can get all of it shouldered up and moving? Nobody I know or have read or even heard about. Publicly.
Maybe atomized distribution, being all we have, will have to do.
Questions of Jewish identity determinants are central to rebutting accusations of Jewish conspiracies and covert manipulatings, or identifying them as actual occurrences..
So what is that, to be a Jew?
It seems to shift around depending on the term’s use and user.
Genetic here, religious there, a choice sometimes, an inheritance other times.
A huge mistake that got made, a failure, as the internet opened up to limitless dialogue, the dicier parts of that question, however open-mindedly asked, were barraged with nasty vitriol and neurotic self-defense by incompetent and irrational, but evidently organized, chauvinists. I saw that repeatedly back in the Oughts. Chauvinists of something. Not the problem there, though, just the noise preventing the problem being heard and addressed.
What it did, that suppression of dialogue, is drove the discussion entirely underground, into festering polarities that are almost impossible to rectify now, except through individual work, and that can be pretty dangerous. The big canvas discussion never happened.
This is still how it is.
The idea that speaking the idea that “Jews run the country” is prima facie evidence of anti-Semitic ignorance and bigotry, with no discussion possible that maybe just maybe, some Jews anyway are having such an inordinate influence on US foreign and domestic policy that the statement could be more true than false going in.
But we all know already that’s not true, so we don’t need to discuss anything, so shut up evil hater bigot.
It’s not racist to point out the demographically anomalous numbers of young black men in US prisons.
It is, to some, to point out the anomalous numbers of blacks in the NBA. That disconnect is to me just cowardice and intentional self-blinding.
Things we already have with us, in surfeit.

39

Mao Cheng Ji 11.25.13 at 8:08 pm

Fine. This particular segment of the world is modeled in our heads so incompatible to each other that a conversation is impossible. But at least we can all agree that Jeffrey Goldberg is one nasty motherfucker. That’s better than usual, and so: good post.

40

Bloix 11.25.13 at 8:19 pm

PS- a year ago, Brzezinski said that the US does not need to “follow like a stupid mule” what the Israelis do in regard to Iran. Not particularly diplomatic language. He also implied, fairly strongly, that although Iran should not be permitted to have “a significant military nuclear capability,” it would be okay if they just had “one or two bombs.” http://www.niacouncil.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8713

41

adam.smith 11.25.13 at 8:29 pm

agree with Bloix – Brzezinski has a long history of very odd things to say about Israel and it’s somewhat hard to not come away with the sense that he is, at a minimum, prone to employ anti-semitic tropes (“The Israelis have a lot of influence with Congress, and in some cases they are able to buy influence” ), so Goldberg’s first comment, while ludicrous by itself, may be somewhat understandable in context. That’s why the “tent” comment is more telling.

42

Collin Street 11.25.13 at 8:37 pm

This particular segment of the world is modeled in our heads so incompatible to each other that a conversation is impossible.

Right, exactly. But what you need to understand is that that’s your personal failing, noone else’s: we can’t have this conversation with you, even though it’s perfectly possible to have it with other people.

[I used to have your problem -- it's a common one for clever people who usually deal with people less clever than themselves, they aren't used to being wrong and have difficulty recognising it -- but I got better. Am getting better, probably best to say.]

43

mattski 11.25.13 at 8:39 pm

roy

The idea that speaking the idea that “Jews run the country” is prima facie evidence of anti-Semitic ignorance and bigotry, with no discussion possible

Jews go to kollege and get good jobs. Inordinate!

Jonny

I think that Judaism is the superior of the three monotheisms

Oh, NOW you did it!

44

LFC 11.25.13 at 8:47 pm

Goldberg attacked Brzezinski reflexively – it’s routine to impute the most hostile of motives to him whenever he says anything about Israel

Goldberg grossly mischaracterized Brzezinski’s tweeted remark; “context” can’t excuse this, imo.

45

LFC 11.25.13 at 8:56 pm

Bloix @40

So Brzezinski said it might be ok if Iran had one or two nuclear bombs. Standing alone, this remark is like, so what? The late Kenneth Waltz said it would be ok if Iran went nuclear, indeed he said it wd contribute to stability in the region. People disagreed w Waltz but no one called him antisemitic, b/c he wasn’t. If you’re going to make a case for Brzezinski’s ‘weird’ or ‘odd’ or whatever remarks, have to do better than this, I think.

Israel has some 200 nuclear weapons. There probably are good reasons for not wanting Iran to go nuclear, but the notion that a nuclear Iran wd represent an existential threat to Israel is ludicrous on its face. Even if one assumes that Iran’s leaders are insane, an assumption for which there exists no evidence of which I’m aware.

46

Bloix 11.25.13 at 9:01 pm

#44 – not excusing, explaining. Also, see #40. Brzezinski gets no benefit of the doubt from Israel supporters and is widely suspected of being an anti-Semite. (The fact that he’s a Pole doesn’t help at all – there’s a lot of history here – the default position among Jews is that Polish = anti-Semitic.) When Bayroff jumped to Brzezinski’s defense, accusing Goldberg of falsely accusing Brzezinski of anti-Semitism, Goldberg lost it.

47

Bloix 11.25.13 at 9:16 pm

LFC #45 – as Brzezinski surely knows, a bomb allows a regime to do all sorts of things it couldn’t do otherwise. Iran doesn’t want a nuke because it wants to use it against anyone – just as Israel doesn’t maintain its nuclear arsenal because it wants to use it against anyone. Even a single bomb gives a country much more latitude in the use (or threat of use) of conventional military force. Iran wants a nuke because it wants to be the regional power in the Middle East. The US goal is not to keep Iran from blowing people up – it’s to prevent Iran from becoming the dominant power in the Muslim world. Surely Brzezinski understands that. Assuming he does, his talk to the National Iranian American Council implied that he’s okay with the idea of and Iran that would be the regional superpower, but not with an Iran that could attack the US. Maybe he didn’t mean that, but it’s hard to understand what he said any other way.

Anyway, my point, such as it was, is that Goldberg’s hysteria against Beyroff has to be understood in the context of the role of Brzezinski in the debate. It’s a given to someone like Goldberg that Brzezinski is the enemy – that’s why he freaked out when Beyroff attacked him for attacking Brzezinski.

48

Jonny Butter 11.25.13 at 9:24 pm

Jonny

I think that Judaism is the superior of the three monotheisms

Oh, NOW you did it!

Just feeling frisky today.

49

mojrim 11.25.13 at 9:40 pm

No surprises here, it’s the standard response whenever anyone criticizes Israeli policy. Americans seem to get very sentimental about alliances and enmities, forgetting that states by definition have no friends.

My question to Bliox @ 47: What’s wrong with Iran becoming the regional power? It’s not like the Saud have done such great work for us…

50

Matt 11.25.13 at 9:43 pm

Iran doesn’t want a nuke because it wants to use it against anyone – just as Israel doesn’t maintain its nuclear arsenal because it wants to use it against anyone. Even a single bomb gives a country much more latitude in the use (or threat of use) of conventional military force. Iran wants a nuke because it wants to be the regional power in the Middle East. The US goal is not to keep Iran from blowing people up – it’s to prevent Iran from becoming the dominant power in the Muslim world.

I thought that the rational Iranian motivation for nukes — and the thing that neither Israel nor the USA want — was deterring nations with much larger and/or more sophisticated conventional military forces from bombing them or serving as sponsors of a civil war. Within living memory the USA backed a coup against an elected prime minister in Iran. In the last decade the USA invaded and occupied two nations bordering Iran and still runs an undeclared war in a third neighbor. It’s aided rebels against the central government in the Syrian civil war. Many hawkish US pundits and politicians speak as if it’s their right to decide whether the Iranian leadership lives or dies. After a while Iranian leaders might get the impression that the USA will use violence overseas unless deterred.

51

Hal 11.25.13 at 9:49 pm

“Jews who are anti-Israel”.

Well, at least that makes the “tribe” clear. I thought of adding a full comment about this (beyond these few stunted words), but while I’m leftwing by most standards, and no fan of Netanyahu, I’m (an Irish-Canadian non-Jew who is) “pro”-Israel and have harboured a longstanding dislike of Brzezinski. So I’ll just leave it at thanking Bloix and Adam.Smith for making part of my point. And, further to Mao Cheng Ji’s comments (and Roy Belmont’s?), Corey, it seems that being anti-Israel doesn’t guarantee space in other tents either.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article33264.htm

http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/gilad-atzmon-tribal-marxism-for-dummies.html

Finally, re. LFC @45, regardless of one’s positions on the various Middle East conflicts (Israel/Palestine, the Syrian civil war, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia, Shia vs. Sunni, most recently Egypt vs. Turkey, etc.) it is highly disingenuous to suggest that a nuclear-armed Iran would lead to a more peaceful Middle East. A simple glance at the map shows why the so-called “mutually assured destruction” scenario could not work between Israel and Iran. Iran is over 60 times the size of Israel (it is roughly the area of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany combined) and 10 times as populous. Israel cannot (and hasn’t threatened to) annihilate Iran, but two or three bombs would – in the words of the familiar Iranian slogan – “wipe Israel off the map”. And the idea that Saudi Arabia would remain quiescent while a nuclear Iran eyed the gulf states (some of whom have large Shia populations), is delusional.

52

geo 11.25.13 at 9:59 pm

Mao @34: We are what we are.

What! Are you a disciple of Ayn Rand or something?

53

js. 11.25.13 at 10:07 pm

re. LFC @45, regardless of one’s positions on the various Middle East conflicts (Israel/Palestine, the Syrian civil war, Iran vs. Saudi Arabia, Shia vs. Sunni, most recently Egypt vs. Turkey, etc.) it is highly disingenuous to suggest that a nuclear-armed Iran would lead to a more peaceful Middle East.

Why is it disingenuous? I mean, maybe it’s wrong—and even if it’s wrong maybe it’s only wrong insofar as a nuclear-armed Iran would leave the greater Middle East neither more nor less “peaceful”. I’m not taking any stand here or making predictions, but I’m seeing no reason at all why Waltz’s position should be considered anything less than sincerely held.

And as others have pointed out, it’s surely only fair to see Iran as a rational actor pursuing regional power status for all the sorts of reasons that states pursue such status. One thing about rational actors though is that they prefer not to get unnecessarily annihilated.

54

Mao Cheng Ji 11.25.13 at 10:08 pm

Damn. Having a conversation with a super-erudite in the vicinity is also impossible. Another personal failing.

55

Ronan(rf) 11.25.13 at 10:41 pm

Bloix and adam.smith

I don’t see how the ‘context’ you’ve offered could in any way be construed as anti Semitism?

56

Ronan(rf) 11.25.13 at 10:48 pm

“Iran wants a nuke because it wants to be the regional power in the Middle East. The US goal is not to keep Iran from blowing people up – it’s to prevent Iran from becoming the dominant power in the Muslim world”

There ‘s a good bit of evidence that nuclear weapons are strategically little better than useless and a waste of money, so there are much more cost effective (and cheaper) ways of exerting power regionally.
Afaict fear of regime change was one of the main factors driving Irans nuclear program

57

Bloix 11.25.13 at 10:56 pm

“it’s surely only fair to see Iran as a rational actor pursuing regional power status for all the sorts of reasons that states pursue such status.”

Well, not quite. The current Iranian regime is a revolutionary regime which believes in the export of revolution to neighboring states in furtherance of the ultimate goal of a one-world theocratic Islamic government. This is not how most states think about themselves. You can persuasively argue that Iran has put this agenda on hold but I don’t think you can fairly say that it’s given it up.

58

LFC 11.25.13 at 11:07 pm

Ronan:
Bloix and adam.smith: I don’t see how the ‘context’ you’ve offered could in any way be construed as anti Semitism?

Yes, I really don’t see that either. This gets back to one of the OP’s points, namely that anti-Zionism does not equal antisemitism. (Nor, I wd add, does expressing a view about the influence of AIPAC on US policy equal antisemitism.)

59

Bloix 11.25.13 at 11:08 pm

#55 – I’m not arguing that Brzezinski is an anti-Semite. I’m pointing out that he’s widely viewed as an anti-Semite, which is the context for Goldberg’s intemperate tweets.

60

adam.smith 11.25.13 at 11:12 pm

@ LFC/Ronan – “The Israelis have a lot of influence with Congress, and in some cases they are able to buy influence”
As you know, foreign nationals are banned by law to fund lobbying or make campaign contributions in the US. So when B. writes “Israelis” he actually means “American Jews” – a nice exposition of the classical dual loyalty accusation, part of the anti-semitic repertory since the 1st century.

61

Daragh McDowell 11.25.13 at 11:21 pm

I had a brief Twitter exchange with Goldberg a couple of years back. He had highlighted a Kevin Myers article claiming that the Irish (particularly Irish progressives) were prejudiced against Jewish people because of Dublin’s (historically understandable) opposition to Israeli policy in the occupied territories. Goldberg tweeted this approvingly and claimed that the Irish were generally anti-semitic. I sent him some of Myers more colourful pieces, such as the ones were he claims its wrong to feed starving Somalis because they will only grow up to be terrorists. Goldberg, to his credit, was somewhat embarrassed by parroting the opinions of a man who makes Pat Buchanan look like a beacon of tolerance. When I asked him if we would, accordingly, withdraw his slander of the Irish people he said no ‘because it’s true.’

So yeah – Goldberg is the kind of guy who quotes racists to make massive generalisations about entire groups of people. In other words, I don’t think he’s the kind of person who should really be accusing people of ethnic hatred.

62

Bloix 11.25.13 at 11:23 pm

#56 – of course “fear of regime change” – ie invasion – drove the program. There wasn’t much US interest in invading Iran as Saddam was in power, because he neutralized Iran’s regional goals, but once he was gone there was nothing much in Iran’s way, so invasion became thinkable. Getting a nuke is a rational response to fear of US invasion.

There are two things a weaker country can do if it fears invasion by a stronger one: it can conform its behavior to what the stronger country wants (here, give up the goal of exporting revolution) or it can take steps to deter the invasion militarily. Iran has up to now been committed to the second route. A nuke is a heck of a deterrent, and a country with a nuke can do all sorts of things without fear of invasion that a country without a nuke can’t do. Iran has up to now wanted to be able to do those sorts of things. It wants to support Hizbollah in its war with Israel and its domination of Lebanon; it wants to support Assad in the Syrian civil war; it wants to make Iraq into a client state; etc. A nuke- even one bomb – would help with all of them.

63

Ronan(rf) 11.25.13 at 11:23 pm

“Iranian regime is a revolutionary regime which believes in the export of revolution to neighboring states in furtherance of the ultimate goal of a one-world theocratic Islamic government. This is not how most states think about themselves. You can persuasively argue that Iran has put this agenda on hold but I don’t think you can fairly say that it’s given it up.”

I don’t think this can reasonably be said to be the case for the past 25 years, at least, if ever (in these hyperbolic terms)

64

Ronan(rf) 11.25.13 at 11:28 pm

Bloix – Iran trying to exert influence through supporting proxies in the region (militarily, politically) is the norm in the region, it’s not unusual. How much more leeway a nuke would give them is debatable, but I don’t see why it should be assumed to make any significant difference.

65

adam.smith 11.25.13 at 11:28 pm

it can conform its behavior to what the stronger country wants (here, give up the goal of exporting revolution)

and since the US hasn’t invaded – let alone instigated coups in – any countries on dubious premises over the last 50 years… oh wait…

66

LFC 11.25.13 at 11:35 pm

@Bloix:
Getting this out of the way first, I understood the pt you were making about why Goldberg freaked out at someone for attacking him for attacking Brzezinski. Goldberg thinks Brzezinski is the enemy blah blah blah.

Now, on this:
a bomb allows a regime to do all sorts of things it couldn’t do otherwise…. Even a single bomb gives a country much more latitude in the use (or threat of use) of conventional military force.

You present these statements as if they are self-evident truths. They’re not. They’re debatable statements.

I wasted a certain chunk of my life getting a (worthless, from a practical standpoint) degree in int’l relations. I’ve read Schelling, well, at least enough to know about “the threat that leaves something to chance.” So I don’t think I need a lecture from you about the supposed advantages of having nuclear weapons. On balance, it wd be better I suppose if Iran didn’t have them — for one thing, it might fuel a regional arms race (eg w Saudi Arabia) and the more nukes in a region the greater the chance of accidents or inadvertent escalation — but I don’t understand the intense hysteria that seems to surround this issue. But I have no influence on anything or anyone (perhaps fortunately) so what I do or don’t understand has no bearing on what happens in the world (certainly not on this issue).

And to Hal, above: I didn’t say a nuclear Iran wd make for a more peaceful Middle East. I said that Waltz said that.

67

js. 11.25.13 at 11:41 pm

The current Iranian regime is a revolutionary regime which believes in the export of revolution to neighboring states in furtherance of the ultimate goal of a one-world theocratic Islamic government.

A. What Ronan said. And while it’s of course true that Iran (partially) funds and supports Hizbullah, etc., it could just as easily be argued that what’s really driving this is geo-political ambition (of the standard rational actor type)—whereas you want to read the geopolitical ambition as subservient to the official ideology, but the causal explanation going the other way is just as plausible, if not more.

B. The thing is tho, even if I grant you what you say @57, my earlier point still stands, viz., even if Iran is at bottom revolutionary-ideological in the way you want to suggest, it still stands to reason that it wouldn’t risk annihilation (‘revolutionary’ doesn’t imply ‘suicidal’, after all).

68

LFC 11.25.13 at 11:46 pm

Iran is already supporting Hezbollah, supporting Assad, and throwing its influence around in Iraq.

Having a nuke would give Iran a deterrent vs US invasion, that’s true. (But after the US’s experience in Iraq 2003-2012, I wdn’t say a US invasion is something Iran has to worry about intensely.)

There was a moment, iirc, not too long after the ’03 Iraq invasion when Iran was willing to negotiate seriously w the US b/c Iran did fear invasion, but the GWBush admin missed the opportunity. That might have nipped the whole nuclear thing in the bud.

69

novakant 11.25.13 at 11:48 pm

Revolution, Religion, blahblah, you don’t know a thing. The Iranian regime is first and foremost interested in money and self-preservation – do you know how rich Khameini is? You’d be surprised.

70

Matt 11.26.13 at 12:23 am

Having a nuke would give Iran a deterrent vs US invasion, that’s true. (But after the US’s experience in Iraq 2003-2012, I wdn’t say a US invasion is something Iran has to worry about intensely.)

Ground invasion isn’t the only danger. There’s still the possibility of attack by bombers, drones, long range missiles, or externally armed/funded opposition groups. We’ve seen all of these options exercised by the US and/or Israel in the recent past. In fact these are far more common than the boots on the ground approach.

71

El Cid 11.26.13 at 12:57 am

Not “support for the State of Israel,” but support for a particular militarist & expansionary state policy and view of citizen-state relations.

72

mathmos 11.26.13 at 1:16 am

Much prickliness was had about the Jewish question, from a great many angles, in varying shades of indignation. At some point, Matt @ 50 invited the attendees to stare at the concurrent horror of stacked charred bodies. To no avail.

73

hix 11.26.13 at 2:01 am

The entire holochaust taboo exploitation game is pretty disgusting. Who would want to “deny Israel the right to exist” it sounds so like holocohaust II. But its not – the way ” “supporting Isreals right to exist” is defined today, that means supporting a particular evil model of Israel, an apartheit staate. Besides, even an outright denial of the existance right in the more narrow sense, is no more reactionary than boycotting or at least hating German companies today (which seems to be a very much socially accepted behaviour as ive learned from a blog post a couple of weaks ago) and not at all equivalent with nuking ethical jews who immigrated there. Hows that even supposed to work? Nuke Israel without killing a couple of million muslim in the process? And how are 200 nukes not sufficient to kill 95% of Irans population in return? Or is that supposed to make any difference if “only 95% are dead as opposed to 98%. And no worries, theres always France to add some nukes.

74

derrida derider 11.26.13 at 2:42 am

“Iran wants a nuke because it wants to be the regional power in the Middle East.” – Bloix @47

Err, no. Iran wants a nuke so it remains ANY sort of power – that is, it doesn’t suffer the fate of its two neighbours. Kerry seems to finally understand what Netenyahu does not (or at least pretends not to) – that you won’t stop the Iranians getting a bomb by threatening them because that only makes them more desperate to get one.

As for the “criticise Netenyahu=antisemitic” rubbish, people pushing that stuff instantly discredit themselves. To then “explain” it by noting Brzezinski is Polish just makes them discredited racists.

75

Hektor Bim 11.26.13 at 2:43 am

Getting back to the original post. When we talk about tribes, what are we talking about here?

Jews who are pro-Israel: I assume AIPAC, Dershowitz, Goldberg, J-Street (sometimes?)

Jews who are ehh Israel: young 20-somethings according to Corey, others

Jews who are anti-Israel: I’m not sure I understand this one. It can’t be anti-Likud policies, because that’s J-street. If we include Tony Judt, we get people who are anti-Zionist. Is the range of this tribe people who want a secular Israel, like Bernard Avishai, or is it just one-staters who want a unified Palestine where they assume Jews will be a minority? What are the limits of this tribe?

76

derrida derider 11.26.13 at 2:48 am

“.. two or three bombs would – in the words of the familiar Iranian slogan – “wipe Israel off the map”. ” – Hal @51

Ahh, this brings back memories of the runup to Iraq; the same wiful distortion to aid wilful ignorance. The quoted words, far from being a “familiar Iranian slogan”, were never even said by Ahmanedjad (he did say “Israel will disappear from the pages of history” – not the same thing at all) and are no part of any Iranian slogan, familiar or otherwise.

77

roy belmont 11.26.13 at 3:00 am

Bloix 9:01 pm 46

Katyn. Beria.

78

Bloix 11.26.13 at 4:11 am

#77- “Beria … was a member of the Mingrelian ethnic group and grew up in a Georgian Orthodox family. Beria’s mother, Marta Ivanovna (1868–1955), was a deeply religious, church-going woman … ; she was previously married and widowed before marrying Beria’s father, Pavel Khukhaevich Beria (1872–1922), a landowner from Abkhazia.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lavrentiy_Beria

and see http://www.amazon.com/Beria-Amy-Knight/dp/0691010935

Now you can go fuck yourself, you disgusting anti-Semitic piece of shit.

79

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 5:01 am

Johnny,

In what possible universe is ‘it doesn’t demand to be taken literally’ the test of a good religion? religions don’t exist to make agnostics feel good about themselves.

Since we have apparently decided to opine on the relative merits of different religions, I’ll just put out there that I take a rather dim view of Judaism, particularly their denial of the Trinity, and I am not a fan.

80

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 5:01 am

The Old Testament includes lots of nasty bits as well.

81

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 5:05 am

Bloix @ 37,

More typical republican billsh*t. The Iranians want to export Islamism. you want to export capitalist ‘democracy’. what’s the difference?

82

John Holbo 11.26.13 at 5:14 am

“In what possible universe is ‘it doesn’t demand to be taken literally’ the test of a good religion?”

Any possible universe in which no religion is literally true?

83

Hal 11.26.13 at 5:17 am

Bloix @78,

“Unfortunately, when searching the web for Jewish material, one often runs into cleverly disguised Neo-Nazi sites, who conveniently claim every conceivable sociopath was a Jew. One of their favorite targets is Stalin’s sidekick Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the NKVD (later known as KGB), and a complete psychopath. Don’t believe those websites; Beria’s only connection to Jews is the number he killed…”

http://www.jewornotjew.com/profile.jsp?ID=46

Including…

It is estimated that about 8% of Katyn massacre victims were Polish Jews.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katyn_massacre

84

jaded 11.26.13 at 5:55 am

I don’t see Bresinski’s tweet as anti-semitic. It’s just anti-Netanyahu. I’m Jewish, though I was brought up in Secular Judaism. I believe in Israel. I don’t believe in the way Israel treats others. Bresinski didn’t say Jews run the world. What he said is that up until now, the US caved into Netanyahu’s whims. And I don’t think it’s because of Jews. I think it’s because of the Zionist Dominionist Christians trying to bring on the end of days. I tell the members of my family that vote Republican because of the neo-cons that they love Israel. Not Jews.

85

Omega Centauri 11.26.13 at 6:00 am

Do you really think Goldberg’s tweet was an emotional outburst. I suspect that people who have made promotion of the Zionist cause their raison de etre*, are willing to make sacrifices for the cause. Intimating that people (Jewish or not), who disagree with said cause are anti-semites is a tactic. It makes a lot of would be critics decide not to risk their reputations by criticizing. And to the degree that it marginalizes uncowed critics, it is also useful. The fact that it is mean nasty and unfair takes second place to the service of the cause for the true believer.

* Or any other cause that is of transcendental importance to the individual.

86

roy belmont 11.26.13 at 6:47 am

Bloix 78-
Lavrentiy Beria – Jew or Not Jew: Choosing the Chosen People
March 29, 1899 – December 23, 1953. So close to our first triple-Gibson. So close. Unfortunately, when searching the web for Jewish material, one often runs into cleverly disguised Neo-Nazi sites, who conveniently claim every conceivable sociopath was a Jew.
jewornotjew.com/profile.jsp?ID=46 More from jewornotjew.com

Lavrentiy Beria – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria (29 March 1899 – 23 December 1953) was a Soviet politician, Marshal of the Soviet Union and state security administrator, chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus (NKVD) under Joseph Stalin during World War II, and Deputy Premier in the postwar years …
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Happy Jewish Disinformation about Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria
Happy Jewish Disinformation about Lavrenty Pavlovich Beria By:

This is easy. Almost too easy. Almost like, no it couldn’t be… a set-up. You think?
No.
That would be, too, you know, deceitful or something.
Who would do that?
Why?
It must be like, you know, one of those, umm, tests, you know, are you interested in this? This? Little pictures of…. Aaand here you go.
Like those cartoon battering rams, where the guy inside opens the door right at the moment when the ram hits and bip bip bip bip right on through and out the other side.
Beria wasn’t a Jew therefore there have never been any Jewish villains, ever, especially now.

87

Mao Cheng Ji 11.26.13 at 8:49 am

BTW, to reply to Jonny Butter’s “religious atheist”, and “not taken literally”.

I have no concept of one religion being better or worse than another, but I believe Jonny’s perception of Judaism is completely off. It is, in fact, must be taken literally, every letter. True, you can (and do) argue endlessly about the interpretation, but you can’t ignore it, or dismiss it as an allegory. As an exercise, I suggest Jonny to go visit a service in a synagogue (real one, not a yuppy social club), and then report back to us whether what he observed there looked anything like what a ‘religious atheist’ might do.

88

JonW 11.26.13 at 12:12 pm

Sigh. I feel as if I’m feeding the troll here but . . . I feel confident that I’ve been to shul many more times than Mao Cheng Ji @87 (yes, including ones that MCJ would consider “real,” and I’m so glad that we have MCJ to validate for us which synagogues are “real” and which are not — Goldberg is not the only arbiter of Jewishness here) and I can assure you that Jewish atheism is very much a Thing.

89

Jonny Butter 11.26.13 at 1:09 pm

[Judaism] is, in fact, must be taken literally, every letter. True, you can (and do) argue endlessly about the interpretation, but you can’t ignore it, or dismiss it as an allegory.

Understanding something as allegory is ‘dismissing’ it? I did not know that. Is this like calling lies ‘myths’?

Looks like we have come full circle here, except that it’s Mao, not Goldberg, who decides.

90

Steve LaBonne 11.26.13 at 1:21 pm

real one, not a yuppy social club

No true Jewish Scotsman, eh?

91

mattski 11.26.13 at 2:08 pm

@ 87

[Judaism] is, in fact, must be taken literally, every letter.

Why, you just blew my mind, Sir.

92

Mao Cheng Ji 11.26.13 at 2:10 pm

Whoa. Either you’re religious or not. Yuppies who visit those clubs are not. They are atheists or some vague universalists (in my experience, at least).

“Understanding something as allegory is ‘dismissing’ it?”

Yes, it is. If the book says something like ‘don’t boil a goat in its mother’s milk’ one could easily dismiss it as an allegory. In Judaism you have to build the second kitchen. This is how literal it is.

93

MPAVictoria 11.26.13 at 2:40 pm

I think we should all be grateful that we have such a notable Judaic scholar as Mao freaken Chen Ji here to explain to us who exactly is a real Jew.

Take it away Mao.

94

bianca steele 11.26.13 at 2:50 pm

Because only people raised in the strictest forms of the religion ever assume others aren’t “really” whatever? Not been my experience, in fact the opposite. (Maybe they took my mention that for example the Lord’s Prayer isn’t a Jewish ritual to be proof that I didn’t have any kind of real Jewish upbringing. Not sure whether it was after that that they started telling me about the wonderful books they read about girls who were estranged from Judaism because they didn’t understand there were better more compassionate versions of religion than Orthodoxy.)

95

bianca steele 11.26.13 at 2:52 pm

To be clear, I wasn’t a girl but nearing forty at that point, and had known the person in question long enough for them to know my background and my family’s if they’d had any curiosity.

96

Phil 11.26.13 at 2:53 pm

I thought the entire point of interpreting those dietary laws was not to take them literally. Otherwise you could be all, “book says not to boil a kid in the milk of its mother, but I’ve checked and this milk definitely came from a different goat – or several different goats, realistically – so milk-poached kid is back on the menu!”.

97

Jonny Butter 11.26.13 at 3:06 pm

#91
Yes [Understanding something as allegory is ‘dismissing’ it]

I would say that understanding something as allegory can be and frequently is quite the opposite of dismissing it – elevating it, rather. Literalism can be a form of telescoping, the perfect way to *avoid* the overall duty at hand. Letter of the law and all that. I’d also say that not observing ancient dietary laws doesn’t mean you think they are ‘allegorical’ exactly.

98

Mao Cheng Ji 11.26.13 at 3:11 pm

“not to take them literally”

Everything is taken literally, and with the strictest interpretation possible, in order to avoid making a mistake.

“I think we should all be grateful that we have such a notable Judaic scholar as Mao freaken Chen Ji here to explain to us who exactly is a real Jew.”

Sure, why not. It’s a slow day.

So, Hayim from Brooklyn goes to Shanghai on business. It’s the High Holidays season, and he’s away from the family and community. In freaken China, of all places. He walks the streets feeling extremely sad. Suddenly he sees a synagogue, and a crowd of Chinese people coming in. He follows. Everything inside looks exactly like in a normal synagogue. The Chinese start praying and he’s praying with them. What a relief, what a joy! After the service he approaches the rabbi, a Chinese man, and trying to express his overwhelming gratitude: “So far away from home! I don’t know what I would’ve done without you! I’m so grateful!” The Chinese man nods: “No problem at all, this is what I’m here for.” A pause. And then the Chinese says: “By the way, are you a Jew? You don’t look like a Jew…”

99

mattski 11.26.13 at 3:25 pm

I would say that understanding something as allegory can be and frequently is quite the opposite of dismissing it – elevating it, rather.

Yes, especially in the case of religion, where the purpose of the teaching is to cultivate better, more compassionate behavior. We don’t go to religion to learn scientific facts, we go to learn kinder, less selfish ways.

100

MPAVictoria 11.26.13 at 3:26 pm

101

bianca steele 11.26.13 at 3:35 pm

And, to be even clearer, the context was not a twelve-step meeting, but–if you care, which I’m sure you don’t–an interfaith ceremony at a Holocaust site in Israel, maybe a gravesite or a memorial, that was led by members of the Christian church, I don’t remember the exact ritual. I didn’t mind family friends praying rosaries at a funeral–I got the idea the rabbi didn’t feel the same as me–but there was the whole nuns at Auschwitz thing, and I was really very nonplussed to find her response was actually that the ritual or prayer (I forget exactly what) was a Jewish tradition, and I must have forgotten.

Just to clarify that I’m not saying Jews shouldn’t go to AA if the members say the Lord’s Prayer.

102

Trader Joe 11.26.13 at 3:43 pm

@100 MPAV
Jesus himself was all set to retire the award for “most Jewish” dying as the King of the Jews and then three days later he blew it…no wonder Thomas wanted to see his palms.

Nice article. I’ve seen this menorah measuring in action and it can be quite comical really.

103

notsneaky 11.26.13 at 3:44 pm

So Brzezinski said it might be ok if Iran had one or two nuclear bombs.

Except he didn’t say that. Bloix is MSU.

104

notsneaky 11.26.13 at 3:59 pm

Having said that, Bloix is more or less right in 78.

105

roger gathman 11.26.13 at 4:11 pm

Since the discussion has moved to why Iran would want a nuke, here’s a suggestion that moves away from the Iran-Israel divide: perhaps they want one more because the Saudis have a proxy nuke in Pakistan. The Saudis, after all, paid for a program to get the Pakistanis an atom bomb, and that program was and is much more threatening to the US than anything Iran has done. In fact, Saudi foreign policy, which is much more activist than Iranian foreign policy, has been a huge disaster to the US for a long time (cough 9/11 cough). The smart thing, from the perspective of US interest, is to normalize Iran’s entry in the world system in order to create a competitor to the Saudis.

106

Jerry Vinokurov 11.26.13 at 4:27 pm

I think we should all be grateful that we have such a notable Judaic scholar as Mao freaken Chen Ji here to explain to us who exactly is a real Jew.

Nothing I love more in these threads than having someone tell me whether or not I’m being a Jew correctly. Newsflash: Goldberg doesn’t get to do it, and neither does anyone else in this thread.

107

Steve LaBonne 11.26.13 at 4:43 pm

As a Unitarian Universalist (of non-theistic persuasion) I was especially amused by the “vague universalist” bit. Nobody gets to decide who else is being “religious” correctly, either.

108

Mao Cheng Ji 11.26.13 at 5:03 pm

“I would say that understanding something as allegory can be and frequently is quite the opposite of dismissing it”

Yes, sure. But you dismiss the literal meaning. For example, there is a slave, in the gospels, who “hid the talent in the ground”, and was then punished by his master. We understand it as a parable. Catholic church does not interpret it as a generic ban on digging, just in case, to save you from accidentally burying your talent.

But that is exactly how Judaism would interpret it. Not just literally, but zealously literally. The book forbids idolatry, so you shouldn’t make any statures of anybody, just in case. Hey, it’s an old religion, the bicameral mind and all that.

109

Mao Cheng Ji 11.26.13 at 5:10 pm

Steve LaBonne, that is not the issue, although I’m glad that I amused you.

110

MPAVictoria 11.26.13 at 5:10 pm

“But that is exactly how Judaism would interpret it. Not just literally, but zealously literally”
According to who? You?

111

Mao Cheng Ji 11.26.13 at 5:19 pm

Yes, of course, according to me. What, does it sound like I represent some organization or something? No, it’s just me, and I’m just having a conversation here. You are welcome to participate, but you’re not required.

112

LFC 11.26.13 at 5:20 pm

Since I mentioned Waltz upthread, I might mention that there is an exchange between him and Colin Kahl (referring to Waltz’s earlier article on Iran) in Foreign Affairs, Sept/Oct 2012. (No time to comment on it, unfortunately.)

Re R.Gathman @105: I don’t agree w/ some of this, but the thread has already gyrated around enough.

113

Jerry Vinokurov 11.26.13 at 5:21 pm

But that is exactly how Judaism would interpret it. Not just literally, but zealously literally. The book forbids idolatry, so you shouldn’t make any statures of anybody, just in case. Hey, it’s an old religion, the bicameral mind and all that.

No, it fucking would not, you fucking ignoramus. Holy shit, what is it with people zealously telling others how they’re supposed to practice their whatever? It would be so fucking unacceptable in every other context, but for some reason there are people who have absolutely no qualms deciding who is the real Jew and who is not.

“old religion, bicameral mind,” are you high? Just shut the fuck up and stop embarrassing yourself.

114

godoggo 11.26.13 at 5:22 pm

Mao, you do realize that parroting idiotic crap that you read on neo-Nazi websites only helps people like Goldberg, don’t you?

115

godoggo 11.26.13 at 5:23 pm

Actually, strike that. It doesn’t matter. Carry on.

116

roy belmont 11.26.13 at 5:25 pm

Bloix-
Still here motherfuck.
I slept on this, thought about it, and though I’m a little confused about some things, having reread my comments upthread, except for the Beria one, I’ll stand by them. Especially this:
What it did, that suppression of dialogue, is drove the discussion entirely underground, into festering polarities that are almost impossible to rectify now, except through individual work, and that can be pretty dangerous. The big canvas discussion never happened.
This is still how it is.
The idea that speaking the idea that “Jews run the country” is prima facie evidence of anti-Semitic ignorance and bigotry, with no discussion possible that maybe just maybe, some Jews anyway are having such an inordinate influence on US foreign and domestic policy that the statement could be more true than false going in.
But we all know already that’s not true, so we don’t need to discuss anything, so shut up evil hater bigot

You would seem to be illustrating that perfectly.
I’m not worried about being a bigot, though indeed I am a little worried about being accused of being one, and feel no need to defend myself against accusations in that regard. But then what bigot does?
So I pondered, and ponder still. There’s no general category of humans that I hate, or despise, or think about in anything like monolithic terms. Not Indonesians, not Lithuanians, not Jews.
You can see I hope, how being snarled at for being anti-Semitic, when you aren’t, might create a sympathy for others similarly snarled at, a sympathy for that reaction? And then the polarity dynamic electrifies and there we go. That shouldn’t be too hard to get, unless you don’t want to see it.
There’s some hinky stuff around that Katyn event, Beria or no Beria, but that isn’t the point, and you knew that when you bared your teeth.
The point was that Polish anti-Semitism might have some real-world causes – not justifications, causes.
But that leads to the outer dark.
Your side of the polarity is the dominant one, so it makes sense for you to suppress discussion with vitriol and threat, but I’m not on the other side of that polarity, however much you wish I was, and I won’t be, no matter how hard you shove me.

117

Mao Cheng Ji 11.26.13 at 5:29 pm

This has nothing to do with any websites. Christianity is much worse, in a sense. It makes you a sinner just for lusting (something you can’t control), no matter whether you act on it or not.

118

Corey Robin 11.26.13 at 5:37 pm

Mao, seriously, stop. You’re making pronouncements about a religion and a people that you don’t know the first thing about. Though it’s clear that you can’t see this, it really is offensive, particularly to those of who belong to that religion and people. If you keep it up, I’ll ban you from this thread.

119

Jerry Vinokurov 11.26.13 at 5:38 pm

The point was that Polish anti-Semitism might have some real-world causes – not justifications, causes.

Lavreniy Beria was such a devious trickster that he traveled back in time to poison Poland with the Black Plague.

Your Crooked Timber comment thread. I don’t even.

120

MPAVictoria 11.26.13 at 5:40 pm

“Yes, of course, according to me. What, does it sound like I represent some organization or something? No, it’s just me, and I’m just having a conversation here. You are welcome to participate, but you’re not required.”

So according to some moron on the Internet Jews HAVE to believe what he says otherwise they aren’t real Jews.

What a wonderful conversation….

121

Corey Robin 11.26.13 at 5:42 pm

Everyone, I’ve told Mao to knock it off or he’ll be banned. Let’s just leave it alone and move on to our regularly scheduled programming.

122

godoggo 11.26.13 at 6:16 pm

Anyways, regarding the conversation between MPAVictoria and whoever it was, I’ve been a bit curious about the “causes” of antisemitism, because it’s such a weird thing. My understanding is that it went something like this: a major preoccupation of the Church during the 1st millennium was stamping out heretical forms of Christianity, such as Gnosticism and the like, which tended to exist along a spectrum between Judaism and orthodox/catholic Christianity (it’s been a while since I read about this in regards to the eastern Church, but the pattern as I recall was essentially the same). The friendly relationships that persisted between Jews and Christians was seen as a problem because of the fear that Jews might pollute the belief systems of their Christian friends and associates, aside from the threat of conversion or intermarriage. Therefore, over the centuries, the canonical laws regarding the lives of the Jews and their interactions with Christians became increasingly severe, culminating in the formation of ghettos and special clothing for Jews. At the same time you see increasingly fierce denunciations of Jews by the Church. This tended to be worse the farther you were from Rome, since the fear of heracy was greater in more distant locations. And so with an uneducated, superstitious populace that was both physically separated from Jews and fed on anti-Jewish propaganda from their pastors, you inevitably beliefs like the poisoning of the wells arising.

123

godoggo 11.26.13 at 6:17 pm

Oops, I meant Jerry Vinokurov and whoever it was.

124

Jerry Vinokurov 11.26.13 at 6:27 pm

godoggo, my point was much simpler than that. Whatever the causes of Polish anti-Semitism are (or its superclass, Christian anti-Semitism), it surely didn’t begin with Katyn Forest. Rather longstanding anti-Semitic attitudes in Poland sent lots of similarly-inclined people searching for a Jewish connection, in this case landing on Beria.

125

godoggo 11.26.13 at 6:40 pm

Incidentally, back in the day a big topic in the comments over at Yglesias’s blog was exchanging stories of being banned from CT. Good fun, although personally I had nothing to contribute. I guess not everyone has my political skillz.

126

Ronan(rf) 11.26.13 at 6:41 pm

I’m really not understanding (some of) the pushback Mao’s getting here, mostly because I was having the same problem understanding what exactely was being said throughout this thread (and past posts on this topic) – and going by some of the comments here and on past threads it seems so were a lot of other people.

What does it mean to be an ‘observant’ Jew but not a ‘believer’? Is this the equivalent of following some of the rituals and traditions of Catholicism without being Catholic? If so then fine, but why are people getting so defensive about a request to clarrify?
I understand that the Jewish identity is more complex than that, and it’s not a perfect comparison, but it cant be assumed that a general audience is going to immediately understand the context of a semi autobiographical post about internal divisions within a religious/ethnic/political group.

For example, this sentence, I really dont understand:

“As someone who identifies as Jewish—who periodically goes to shul, celebrates some if not all of the holidays, and tries at least some (ahem) of the time to get off the internets for shabbos—yet opposes Zionism, I thought I’d heard all the charges that have been and could be made against me and my tribe.”

What does identifying as Jewish mean, in this context? And what does *opposing* Zionism mean? I also wouldnt have known (before the clarifiation) what *my tribe* was meant to mean. (Afaict it means Jews opposed to Zionism?)

This, to me, was equally as confusing:

” who is more observant than many pro-Israel Jews (and certainly more observant than many Jews in Israel) — from the Jewish tent. “

Is this religiously observant? Or observant towards the traditions of being a non religious Jew? And what’s the distinction between the two?
Also, why does it matter that someone is ‘certainly more observant than many Jews in Israel’, when what we’re talking about is (in large part now) a national identity? This seems to be doing the same thing as Goldberg was – saying I’m more observant (ie more Jewish) and so somehow have more moral authority to speak out against Zionism etc than you.

I really don’t understand a lot of this, conceptually, which is undoubtedly my own fault, but I can see where Mao is coming from

127

bianca steele 11.26.13 at 6:44 pm

I’m going to second Ronan on this one, to a large degree (bicameral mind? are you sure you understand what that’s supposed to be?), in part because I’m hoping to find out whether the source MPAVictoria’s judging other commenters by is a CD-ROM of the Cambridge Companion to Judaism, or whether it’s something a little more down to earth.

128

godoggo 11.26.13 at 6:44 pm

…just teasing.

129

godoggo 11.26.13 at 6:57 pm

Ronan(rf): my ancestors were from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Rumania, Poland and Lithuania. They all lived among Jews in their home countries and spoke Yiddish. When they came to America, most of them moved to Jewish neighborhoods for the same reason Mexicans tend to move to Mexican neighborhoods: because they shared a language and culture. They did not move to, say, gentile Polish neighborhoods, because the occupants would have been hostile. I have always been an atheist, just like my parents, although they still go to shul periodically, whereas I stopped not long after my Bar Mitzvah. And I’m anti-Zionist, like them. But culturally I’m an American of Jewish descent, i.e. a Jewish American.

130

SoU 11.26.13 at 7:01 pm

i think there is, and has been, a steadily increasing tension between the religious aspect of Jewishness – which has a long history in customs and traditions etc – and the dominant form of Jewishness in America today (which, as a friend of mine likes to say, refers to an ethno-cultural group). I mean, there is a line of thought that stresses mother’s diet, keeping kosher, etc, when approaching this – which is completely at odds with the way a lot of Jewish people self-identify, or would even exclude people who are ostensibly Jewish in all the other ways.

And so you get the religious/traditionalist definition of the identity, which just doesn’t square with most people’s notion of Jewishness. So its out. In its place, as noted above ,there is the secular interpretation which is either a) genetic, or b) Zionist nationalism. Now, given Israel as it is, the second option here is somewhat of a genetic phenomenon itself, so maybe they really need to be collapsed. (even the religious interpretation is caught up with heredity. so really all of them are variants on Jewishness as some sort of ethnic/macro-ethnic category).

What i am wondering, of course, is if anyone here as an articulation of Jewish identity that is neither religious nor genetic, (nor premised on Zionist nationalism). Can it be something that one participates in, like a culture? That doesn;t sound like a radical proposition, but if you really think about it, we don’t treat Jewishness this way today. If one were to list out a number of ‘typical Jewish practices’ methinks that you would have to tred carefully while doing so. But why is this? because we think of Jews in a racial sense even while we are trying to talk about Jewishness as a culture. So if i go on, for example, about American Jews and comedy and New York comedy clubs and social position yielding insight, etc etc, at some point ill crash into some sort of essentialism and what i am saying comes across as flat and anti-Semitic. but that is because i am quietly talking about two separate identities – not just one – when i use the word Jewish. There is the cultural, and there is the ethnic, and somehow i just don’t see the cultural eclipsing the ethnic as the content of the identity. I still have yet to hear of anyone ‘becoming Jewish.’

A good friend of mine went to undergrad at Brandeis (definitely ‘in the tent’). At school with him were obviously a lot of Jews, of various dispositions and beliefs about that fact. There were also a larger than average number of Asian Americans there. Some of the latter students would participate a lot in campus life, which had a strong overlap with Jewish life. And it got me wondering – is there a number of times that an Asian American can observe shabbat and come ‘into the tent’? This question is silly if the second term is conceived of on the same register as the first – they are then exclusive (barring obvious exceptions). But if there is a non-ethnic definition of Jewishness, it should be possible. But is it at the present thinkable? What would that mean?

131

Corey Robin 11.26.13 at 7:07 pm

Ronan: I can’t answer for all Jews, but here’s what I mean when I say I identify as Jewish. It means I not only say I’m Jewish, but that I practice certain religious rituals and observe certain norms that Jews are supposed to observe. Not all, by any means, and certainly not with the consistency I’m supposed to show, but I do my best. There are other ways of identifying as Jewish: some people say they’re atheists and non-observers but they are culturally Jewish. The latter can mean a great many different things, so I won’t spell them all out here.

As for whether observant equals believer: the reason I don’t want to get into that is that in my experience many people come to that discussion with a lot of baggage about the relationship between ritual and belief, baggage that I think has its roots in Christianity (I’m not certain so I won’t make too much of that). So when you say does it mean you’re a Catholic who honors the rituals and traditions without being a Catholic, there are already too many assumptions baked into the question. Jews are always Jews (whether they like it or not; historically society has made that decision for them, even when they’ve tried to choose otherwise). It’s difficult for most Jews, absent a conscious decision to convert to a different religion, not to be a Jew. I gather it’s not the same for Christians and Catholics. Likewise with observation v. belief: the relationship between ritual and belief in Judaism is very different from that — insofar as I understand it — of Christianity.

Anyway, all of this is is to say: I don’t like getting into these discussion, especially on the internet, because people bring so much baggage to the table, whereby they assume x implies y implies z. In Mao’s case, you can see this in an especially vivid way: he’s not merely confused and uninformed, but he starts making claims about what Jews have to believe, and drawing conclusions about me, without even bothering to hear the evidence. He’s just a more extreme example of what I often find.

There’s probably one more element to my reluctance to get into this. Jews are a diverse lot; none of us can speak for all of us. It’s an obvious point but I find non-Jews, especially those who don’t have much experience with Jews, tend to forget it. I sometimes feel I am being conscripted into the role of a native informant, as I’m being asked to give the gentile the secret of my people. I don’t know how much experience you have of Jews, or of other minority groups, but in my experience people don’t like being put in the position of having to represent the race, as it were. So when you ask the questions you ask, it doesn’t feel like you’re asking me what I think or what I believe; it feels like you’re asking what the Jew thinks or believes. (I’m not saying you are doing that; just saying how it feels to me.) And it’s an uncomfortable position. Not only b/c I can only speak for myself, but also because the very question seems to assume a kind of homogeneity that has always marked the figure of the Eternal Jew.

So I apologize, but I am going to duck some of your questions. It’s just too much of a hornet’s nest to get into. But I hope I’ve answered your question about what identifying as Jewish means — for me. I was simply trying to explain in those passages what being Jewish means for me, so as to situate my positions on Zionism. I wasn’t trying to claim any moral authority; as I’ve argued in previous posts, I’ve simply come to a position on what being Jewish means to me that doesn’t include Zionism.

The reason why it matters, by the way, that I, who am anti-Zionist, might be more observant than other Jews who are pro-Zionist is only to point out the irony of Jeffrey Goldberg wishing to excommunicate Jews who actually practice some version of the religion while welcoming those who completely reject the religion while embracing its nationalism. That he does that in the name of Judaism — and not Zionism — is worth noting and pointing out.

By the way, opposing Zionism — for me; I have no idea what it means for others — means that I don’t think the State of Israel should have been created as a Jewish state, that a terrible wrong was done to the Palestinians in the construction of that Jewish state, and that I’d like to see the current State of Israel reconstituted as a bi-national democratic state. That the final piece of that platform — the reconstitution of the STate of Israel — may be especially difficult, if not perilous and impossible, is a separate matter from my normative position. I’m simply telling you what it means to me as a normative position. The practical politics are a different question.

132

godoggo 11.26.13 at 7:09 pm

It’s not genetic. I may or may not have ancestors from Israel, but I’m sure not pure. My dad even has blue eyes. And fuck Israel.

133

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 7:14 pm

Re: during the 1st millennium was stamping out heretical forms of Christianity, such as Gnosticism and the like, which tended to exist along a spectrum between Judaism and orthodox/catholic Christianity

No, this is wrong. Most Christian heresies, especially the ones that are sometimes loosely called ‘gnostic’ or semi-gnostic, took a much more negative view of Judaism and the Old Testament than orthodox/Catholic Christianity did. There were a few that promoted sort of a hybrid of Judaism and Christianity, but I don’t think they were especially influential or long lived.

Which is not to say that the Christian heretics, had they won, would have been any *worse* for the Jews in a political sense, just that they disagreed with Judaism at a much more basic level than Catholicism did. (Quite a lot of early Christian heretics didn’t believe that the Old Testament was in any way inspired, or believed that the Jewish deity was some kind of evil or at least, lesser god.)

134

Corey Robin 11.26.13 at 7:16 pm

Sorry, one other thing about non-Jews telling Jews who they are, what they believe, etc. If you haven’t acquainted yourself with the term mansplaining, you might want to. To this Jew, when I hear that kind of talk — you’re a race, you’re a gene, you’re a this, you’re a that — I feel a bit like what I imagine some women feel like when men start talking at them about things they (men) know nothing about or at least know far less about than the women they’re talking to at the moment. Not a perfect analogy, but I hope you get the point.

135

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 7:17 pm

Re: Yes, especially in the case of religion, where the purpose of the teaching is to cultivate better, more compassionate behavior. We don’t go to religion to learn scientific facts, we go to learn kinder, less selfish ways.

That may well be the case for Judaism, but it isn’t the case for Christianity. Christianity is in large part about teaching us kinder, less selfish ways, but it’s also in at least equally large part about making definite truth claims. Not scientific claims, for the most part, but historical ones. If some bright boy discovered the bones of Jesus of Nazareth in a grave outside Jerusalem, Christianity would be definitely proven false.

136

LFC 11.26.13 at 7:18 pm

Ronan,
On why Mao got ‘pushback,’ I think it’s pretty clear: Mao made dogmatic pronouncements from a standpoint of ignorance, which is an infuriating combination.

For instance, Mao’s comment @108 says, in effect, that there are parables in the Gospels but no parables in the Hebrew Bible; unlike Christianity, he implies, Judaism does not have parables (or metaphors, for that matter). I don’t think one has to know a whole lot about the Bible or about religion(s) to realize that this is extremely dubious if not outright nonsense. I don’t remember a lot from my Jewish education (such as it was), but I’d be surprised if there weren’t at least a few parables or allegories in the Old Testament.

137

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 7:19 pm

Corey Robin,

I think the ‘mansplaining’ term is rather silly, myself. A man who has studied the literature on gender differences, and knows something about evolution, is going to know more about the essential nature of women, than a woman who hasn’t. Very often in debating about gender differences, I find that my interlocutors, though they may be women themselves, are remarkably ignorant about what women are generally like.

138

adam.smith 11.26.13 at 7:25 pm

It’s not a perfect analogy, but I think of Jewishness pretty much like any other ethnic identity. Ethnicities often involve customs and traditions you may observe – whether you celebrate a Quinceañera as a Mexican-American or dress up your kids as Tomte for Christmas as a Swedish-American.
Sure, this gets complicated by the fact that there is also a religious Jewish identity and – as with many ethnicities – the two aren’t clearly separated.
And yes, there is also the – in the view of many US Jews terribly misguided – attempt to describe Judaism in stricter racial terms, as espoused by many of the leading Israeli orthodox rabbis: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4452898,00.html

But I don’t think either of these are particularly exceptional for ethnic groups. Perhaps the biggest difference to other ethnic groups is that Jews in the US did not emigrate from a Jewish homeland. And the conflict about the role of Zionism in Jewish identity is tied up with that. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an “anti-Mexican Mexican American”. But while a pretty small minority, anti-Israel Jewish-Americans quite obviously exist.

139

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 7:27 pm

Re: You’ll be hard-pressed to find an “anti-Mexican Mexican American”.

It’s certainly possible to find Pakistani-Americans who think the existence of the State of Pakistan was a bad idea.

140

Ronan(rf) 11.26.13 at 7:27 pm

Thanks Corey and godoggo

Just on this:

” I don’t know how much experience you have of Jews, or of other minority groups, but in my experience people don’t like being put in the position of having to represent the race, as it were. So when you ask the questions you ask, it doesn’t feel like you’re asking me what I think or what I believe; it feels like you’re asking what the Jew thinks or believes”

That’s probably a problem with my wording, so I’m sorry if it came across that way. I meant the opposite, what *you specifically* meant by these terms, not what the Jewish people in general felt (as I dont believe someone can generalise, in any meaningful way – which is something I personally dont understand about a lot of left politics, the tendency of people to generalise from their own experiences to a group of people as a whole. But that’s not really relevant here)
Thanks for the clarification though

141

notsneaky 11.26.13 at 7:28 pm

The point was that Polish anti-Semitism might have some real-world causes – not justifications, causes.

That may be the point you’re trying to make but it’s a really really stupid and obnoxious point.

Jerry @124

Don’t put this on the Poles. Only some extremist crazies (who are present in some number everywhere) in Poland would believe Beria was Jewish as roy is arguing above. Even the right wingers, if this sort of issue comes up, blame Soviets and point out that to the extent Jews had anything to do with Katyn it was as victims (as pointed out above).

142

Ronan(rf) 11.26.13 at 7:31 pm

LFC

I can understand the pushback as the thread went on, it’s just the first few questions were (more or less ) ones I was thinking as well

143

mattski 11.26.13 at 7:31 pm

Ronan,

What does identifying as Jewish mean, in this context? And what does *opposing* Zionism mean?

My perspective is shaped by being raised by parents, one from a Jewish lineage and the other Catholic, both of whom soundly rejected their religious traditions. But I have a lot of Jewish relatives and friends. So, how to understand? It is more of a community, or a tribe, and less a question of what you believe. Indeed, the whole belief fetish seems to me mostly a Christian thing. And Christianity is dominant in the US. So it is difficult for many people to understand that most Jewish people don’t worry too much about “religious” belief. In my experience, most Jewish people don’t think or talk about an afterlife. But Judaism puts a lot of emphasis on tradition and remembrance of the past. Fortunately for the world, Jewish culture also emphasizes free thought, tolerance and a vigorous debate & search for truth and decency.

It isn’t uncommon for me to be irked at times by the insularity and “we are different” attitude of some of my Jewish friends. So, I relate to stand-offish attitudes to Judaism to some extent. But as we can see here such attitudes all too easily slide into ugly territory.

144

mattski 11.26.13 at 7:36 pm

Hector,

Christianity is in large part about teaching us kinder, less selfish ways, but it’s also in at least equally large part about making definite truth claims.

Yes. And in my view the truth claims represent the weakest and most counterproductive aspects of Christianity.

145

SoU 11.26.13 at 7:36 pm

@ 131 –

I understand the reluctance to speak too surely on these matters, and how easy it can be to fall into that trap where your interlocutor esteems you as some sort of full representative of your group.

Still – i think that if you are truly serious about anti-Zionism as a political project, that at some point you are going to want an operative notion of Jewishness to deploy against those like J Goldberg who are playing the exclusion game. That is to say, some articulation of how your opposition to the practices of Israel is grounded in Jewish principles. Not to play the game of ‘who’s more Jewish?’ with Goldberg and co, but instead as a counter-narrative to combat this sort of rhetoric. Your apprehension is understandable, but i think there are some benefits to articulating something of the sort. As you know, there are plenty of people in every identity group who jump at the chance to play power broker and decide who’s in and who’s out. Its just, some of those groups have stronger counter-narratives than others, and i think that matters a lot for people inside the group, trying to determine their place within it, as well as for people on the outside trying to work with the identity group in question. When the counter-narrative is underdeveloped, one particular definition of the group can appear, both inside and especially on the outside, as hegemonic.

146

MattF 11.26.13 at 7:37 pm

About your original point– Zionism as nationalism. Not just that, it’s pretty much a paradigm case of 19th century nationalism– particularly with inventing a new language, glorifying and sentimentalizing military power, and casting out non-believers as unworthy, etc. In any event, count me as among those don’t get why 19th century nationalism is good for the Jews or, for that matter, good for anyone.

147

mattski 11.26.13 at 7:42 pm

Whoops. Just saw this:

A man who has studied the literature on gender differences, and knows something about evolution, is going to know more about the essential nature of women, than a woman who hasn’t.

Yikes-a-doodle!

148

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 7:52 pm

Matt Ski,

Well, clearly we differ. I don’t have a great deal of time for a religious view that brackets or de-emphasizes the miraculous. Your tastes may differ, but the demographic numbers would suggest that religions which de-emphasize the supernatural show rapidly declining membership.

149

bianca steele 11.26.13 at 7:55 pm

I am also a little confused as to why people thought Mao’s reference to “yuppie clubs” was something a Jewish person would not say or hear. I can see why a Jew who didn’t appreciate their synagogue being referred to that way would ask Mao not to repeat the charge. I can see why a Jewish person might consider very conservative Orthodoxy “ignorance.” I don’t quite see why a non-Jew would assume the statement came from a position of ignorance about Judaism.

For that matter, I don’t see why a person who didn’t grow up in a cave would assume only Jews are insular or don’t like to associate with outsiders, either.

150

Anderson 11.26.13 at 8:20 pm

“Very often in debating about gender differences, I find that my interlocutors, though they may be women themselves, are remarkably ignorant about what women are generally like.”

I nominate this for the Greatest Hector_St_ Clare Comment Ever.

151

Niall McAuley 11.26.13 at 8:20 pm

mattski writes: Yikes-a-doodle!

Hector seldom manages to go for a whole comment thread without trying to start a game of Evo-psycho Bingo

152

MPAVictoria 11.26.13 at 8:24 pm

” in part because I’m hoping to find out whether the source MPAVictoria’s judging other commenters by is a CD-ROM of the Cambridge Companion to Judaism, or whether it’s something a little more down to earth.”

What with the who now bianca? I am not “judging” anyone. I am merely being incredulous that Mao has any authority to define who is and who is not a real Jew.

153

MPAVictoria 11.26.13 at 8:28 pm

“I think the ‘mansplaining’ term is rather silly, myself. A man who has studied the literature on gender differences, and knows something about evolution, is going to know more about the essential nature of women, than a woman who hasn’t. Very often in debating about gender differences, I find that my interlocutors, though they may be women themselves, are remarkably ignorant about what women are generally like.”

This comment has reached MAXIMUM Hector. No more Hector can be added as it has all the Hector.

154

adam.smith 11.26.13 at 9:11 pm

@MPA 152 – I assumed bianca @127 was a typo and meant to say Mao, not MPA – it makes a lot more sense in context.

155

godoggo 11.26.13 at 9:24 pm

Hector, that’s what I get for trying to summarize things vaguely recalled from a long time ago. Also why mostly stick to jokes, because I do not want this sort of thing to turn into a project for me. I wish I had convenient access to James Parkes’ little book A History Of the Jewish People, since as I recall it gives a nice concise explanation of his theory. However, his book Conflict Of The Church And The Synagogue is available online, and this quote seems relevant:

pp. 300-301
The possible influence of the Jews in the formation of heretical doctrine has already been referred to at various times. There are few problems of the period more difficult to solve than that of the extent of Jewish influence over their Christian contemporaries. But nowhere is the accusation more continuously and consistently flung from side to side than in the great Christological controversies of the fith and sixth centuries, between the Nestorians, the Monopysites and the Chalcedonians. The Nestorians [theological gibberish]. This was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and again at Chalcedon in 451…. This controversy raged for over a century, accompanied by appalling bloodshed, and ended in a schism still unhealed within the eastern Church.

It is evident that there is nothing ‘Jewish about the Monophysites [theological gibberish], but both of the other two were called ‘Jewish’ by their opponents. Thus in the controversy between Nestorians and Chalcedonians, the Nestorians are constantly called ‘Jews’. The emperor Anastasius, in opening a council to discuss the theology of Maedonius the Nestorian Patriarch of Constantinople some seventy years later, begins his address with the words: ‘Have you not seen what this Jew who is amongst us did’ Two hundred years later, at the Council in Trullo, a reference is made to those who follow the doctrine of Nestorius, separating the natures of Christ and ‘reviving Jewish impiety’. There is thus a consistent tradition that Nestorianism owed something to Jewish influence, and we can trace the working of this tradition in the belief which grew up that Nestorius [theological gibberish], an erroneous idea, for Nestorianism was [theological gibberish]. But Gregory the Great in a letter to the emperor Maurice simply accuses Nestorius of ‘Judaica perfidia’, and other references [theological gibberish].

[etc.]

I pray to the void above that my tags work…

156

godoggo 11.26.13 at 9:29 pm

Bad proofreading; that ampersand should have read, well, you know.

157

bianca steele 11.26.13 at 9:39 pm

If neither MPAVictoria nor adam.smith have witnessed the spectacle of the non-Jewish and sometimes loudly Christian person telling Jewish people which denominations and interpretations of Judaism are real and which are figments of their imagination, they’re luckier than I am. If they’re Jewish and want the benefit of the doubt on whether they’re “mansplaining” I don’t understand why they don’t give that benefit to Mao regardless of other misunderstandings they may have had: it’s surely not a good precedent to give people the idea they can read Jews out of “the tent”.

158

godoggo 11.26.13 at 9:44 pm

I say let him say whatever the hell he wants.

159

MPAVictoria 11.26.13 at 9:44 pm

“If neither MPAVictoria nor adam.smith have witnessed the spectacle of the non-Jewish and sometimes loudly Christian person telling Jewish people which denominations and interpretations of Judaism are real and which are figments of their imagination, they’re luckier than I am. If they’re Jewish and want the benefit of the doubt on whether they’re “mansplaining” I don’t understand why they don’t give that benefit to Mao regardless of other misunderstandings they may have had: it’s surely not a good precedent to give people the idea they can read Jews out of “the tent”.”

Bianca I am pretty sure you are confusing my posts with Mao’s. If you go back and read my comments you will see I am making he exact argument you are.

160

bianca steele 11.26.13 at 9:55 pm

No, you’re not. You’re an apparent non-Jew who’s identifying someone who’s stated an entirely standard belief in an entirely standard variety of Judaism, and telling him he has no right to have that belief. That’s no different from saying Orthodox Judaism doesn’t have a right to exist. Again, if you haven’t experienced the non-Jew loudly announcing that it’s unacceptable to say “Jews don’t use the Internet on Saturday,” or “Jews don’t think of the Gospels as Biblical,” (those are normative statements, obviously, referring to religious Judaism) you’re fairly lucky. I don’t see the difference. You’re saying that Jews who don’t identify specifically Jewish beliefs are OK, but Jews who identify specifically Jewish beliefs are not OK. That sounds to me like a Christian saying Jews are OK as long as they’ll work on Saturdays and don’t mind a little Jesus at school.

Can you identify one place where Mao said, not only, “Jews who are vague universalists aren’t following true Judaism,” but actually said, “Jews who are vague universalists think they’re Jewish but aren’t”? (As if “vague universalist” were so obviously the worst insult he can imagine?)

161

Mao Cheng Ji 11.26.13 at 10:02 pm

MPAV, I wish I understood what made you so upset; then, perhaps, I could find a better way to apologize. If you know a form of Judaism – the religion that has survived 2K years of persecution – that is as flexible as Jonny Butter 36 believes it to be, then why don’t you just tell me what it is? That is how people communicate. Wouldn’t it be a lot simpler? Instead of telling me what I’m telling you and calling me names. Or is this about something else altogether? Anyway, I do apologize, but I really have no idea what for.

162

MPAVictoria 11.26.13 at 10:11 pm

Bianca you obviously have not read my comments or you are interpreting them in a way that no one else on this thread has. Maybe the problem is not with what I wrote but with your interpretation?

Mao wrote this “As an exercise, I suggest Jonny to go visit a service in a synagogue (real one, not a yuppy social club)” not me. Mao also wrote this “Judaism] is, in fact, must be taken literally, every letter.” not me.

All of my comments directed at Mao point out that he has no authority to say who is a real Jew. In fact if you look at the link I posted you would see that my point is that no one does.

163

MPAVictoria 11.26.13 at 10:14 pm

Mao please see 118.

164

Corey Robin 11.26.13 at 10:30 pm

Here is what Jonny Butter wrote at 36 that set Mao off on a tear as the authority on all things Jewish: “Judaism doesn’t necessarily insist on being taken literally. Also, you can argue with god, which is terrific.” To which Mao replies: ” If you know a form of Judaism – the religion that has survived 2K years of persecution – that is as flexible as Jonny Butter 36 believes it to be, then why don’t you just tell me what it is?”

Let’s start with the second half of what Jonny said: arguing with God. This is a very old tradition in Judaism. Abraham argues with God, repeatedly, and in fact, there is a tradition of interpretation that holds that Abraham’s great failure — the moment where he really fucked up — was when God told him to kill Isaac and he simply obeyed. Where Kierkegaard thought that obedience was a wondrous sign of Abraham’s faith, there are many strains in Judaism that hold it was a massive failure. So much so that Abraham and God never speak directly to each other again after that, and Sarah (Isaac’s mother) seems to disappear from the text into her own grief. Of course, on that same score, there are the four children at Passover: the wise child, the wicked child, the simple child, and the child who doesn’t know how to ask questions at all. The first and the last are bookends of the Jewish experience: the child that asks questions v. the child that doesn’t know how to ask questions. We could go on and on.

As for the literalism issue, I really don’t know where to start. I’m not sure what literalism means to Mao, but the fact is that most of the various movements within Judaism — Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Modern Orthodox — are the opposite of biblical literalism. Not only does the religion as a whole have a great variety of texts that it draws upon — the Torah (five books of Moses), the Prophets, Psalms, Proverbs, etc , all the things we call the Hebrew Bible; also the Talmud, which is an ongoing text of commentary and interpretation (hardly any of it literalist), and modern writings that many different synagogues incorporate into their services — but the entire premise of that variety of texts is that a literalist interpretation of any one of these texts is impossible.

You also have all the various Chasidic movements within Judaism, which have their own eschatology that has very little to do with any of the other movements.

So when Mao says Judaism “must be taken literally, every letter” — unless he has some funky interpretation of what he means by literally — he’s just wrong. The religion has in fact survived for thousands of years in part by adapting to all sorts of changes (Modern Orthodoxy, for example, has had to deal with the whole question of gender equality; some have done it more successfully than others, but the fact is that it has had to deal with it, not from a literalist perspective but from some other vantage).

165

SoU 11.26.13 at 10:38 pm

its pretty clear as i read it that the ‘yuppy social club’ line was meant in jest, and you’re all overreacting a bit. Mao may be right or wrong in his conception of what it means to be a Jew, but i find it really hard to interpret his comments as attempting to exclude certain individuals from that category, or asserting what a Jew must believe. if anything, they seemed to be a crass simplification of the issue, combined with a provocation (remember the author after all!). i just don;t see anything pernicious in his comments. maybe ignorant, but then, the remedy for that is open dialogue/communication, not a bunch of angry comments and denunciations.

166

Mao Cheng Ji 11.26.13 at 10:51 pm

To me, being a Jew is a simple matter of self-identification; absolutely, positively, 100%, no ifs or buts.

Corey, thank you. I hereby take back my objection to Jonny Butter, 36. Please consider the matter closed.

167

js. 11.26.13 at 11:05 pm

As for the literalism issue, I really don’t know where to start.

Your explanation is well to the point, but I think it might be a lot simpler than that: I don’t think Mao understands what “literal” means (as Phil helpfully illustrated @96).

More generally, this thread and particularly CR’s comments, have been rather helpful. I suppose I’d gathered most of this already in one way or another—but still, “observant but not religious” is not at all an obvious category for me (whereas ‘religious but not observant’ makes total sense!) Obviously, this is almost entirely a matter of background and familiarity (and my background is not Christian). Still, while I can perfectly well understand the practices in question, it’s hard to fully get the lived experience* and the importance of the identification from the outside.

So I guess by of saying, while Mao was being obviously trollish (surprise!), there is something there that it can be bit hard to get your head around. And I say this as awesome who knows plenty of atheist Jews well, has had Seder/celebrated hanukkah at the houses of several such, etc.

*Just to note that I don’t mean ‘lived experience’ in any radically subjective sense; more the way one can talk about the ‘lived experience of a community’.

168

js. 11.26.13 at 11:10 pm

Yikes! I say this as _someone_ who knows plenty of atheist Jews, etc.

169

Ronan(rf) 11.26.13 at 11:15 pm

To me, being awesome is a simple matter of self-identification; absolutely, positively, 100%, no ifs or buts. ; )

170

adam.smith 11.26.13 at 11:25 pm

@bianca – I’m the non-Jewish part of a Jewish interfaith couple and so my wife and I do get a fair bit of commentary on how our marriage, family, household etc. isn’t properly Jewish – usually not directly, because we tend to not hang out with fundamentalist assholes, but the resentment towards interfaith couples coming especially from orthodox Jews (and a sizeable faction of conservative ones) is hard to miss. And surprisingly I’m not taking all to kindly to people attacking my family, directly or indirectly. (And we’re lucky, I guess. If genders were reversed this would be even worse).

So yes, I would be a non-Jew “loudly declaring that it’s unacceptable to say ‘Jews don’t use the Internet on Saturday,'” because by the simple syllogism
My wife is Jewish
My wife uses the internet on Saturday
that statement is offensive and I think the people who make it are either ignorant non-Jews or intolerant fundamentalist Jews. And I really don’t see why I shouldn’t find pronouncements by the latter group to be unacceptable. I’m pretty sure plenty of Christians would take umbrage to “Christians believe in the virgin birth” and any non-Christian would be well within her right to point that out to an intolerant, fundamentalist Catholic making such a statement.

171

Corey Robin 11.26.13 at 11:27 pm

js.: “there is something there that it can be bit hard to get your head around.”

Tell me about it. I’ve been spending nearly 40 years trying to get my head around it.

172

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 11:46 pm

Re: I’m pretty sure plenty of Christians would take umbrage to “Christians believe in the virgin birth”

What the F***?

Christians do, in the overwhelming majority, believe in the virgin birth. All major Christian bodies around nowadays officially teach it, it’s documented in the Gospels (twice), and as far as I know, most of the early Christian heresies believed it too. It’s maybe not as core of a belief as “Jesus of Nazareth died for your sins, believe on him”, but it’s pretty close. What would possibly be wrong with saying ‘Christians believe in the virgin birth?’

Even if it wasn’t core doctrine, it would still be true as a sociological matter that the vast majority of Christians believe in it.

173

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 11:48 pm

Re: and I think the people who make it are either ignorant non-Jews or intolerant fundamentalist Jews.

Sorry, man, members of any religion have the right to police their boundaries as they see fit. If you object to hearing Orthodox Jews criticize your wife’s Judaism, you’re free to put on your headphones and tune them out. I don’t care one way or the other, since it’s not my religion.

174

Hector_St_Clare 11.26.13 at 11:50 pm

Re: This comment has reached MAXIMUM Hector. No more Hector can be added as it has all the Hector.

What? I don’t see what I said that was so amusing.

MPA Victoria, I assume you’re a woman, given your name. If I was to make the argue that “Women are not as interested as men in leadership or social dominance, this is proven by facts”, and you responded “That’s not true, I’m a woman and I want to be president of the United States”, you would clearly be wrong, and I would demonstrate that you were wrong by using evidence from biology. This is a fairly clear cut example of how facts are better than identity politics.

175

adam.smith 11.27.13 at 12:11 am

1998: A poll of 7,441 Protestant clergy in the U.S. showed a wide variation in belief. The following ministers did not believe in the virgin birth:

American Lutherans- 19%
American Baptists- 34%
Episcopalians- 44%
Presbyterians- 49%
Methodists- 60%

Note that these are clergy.

176

Hector_St_Clare 11.27.13 at 12:14 am

Adam Smith,

Then they’re being bad Christians, what about it?

The creedal statements of Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Methodists all include the virgin birth (I’m not sure about American Baptists or Presbyterians, but I assume so).

You may be confusing the doctrine with the related claim that St. Mary was *perpetually* virgin. Catholics and Eastern/Oriental Orthodox believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary as infallible doctrine, but many Protestants don’t; Anglicans are divided on the matter (I believe in it, for what it’s worth).

177

adam.smith 11.27.13 at 12:28 am

While I’m an atheist I was raised as a good German Lutheran, properly with years of religious classes and catechism and you’re just wrong. So while I can’t speak for anything but much beyond that, this, from the ELCA is what ~30 million of German protestants learn, too:

The ELCA, however, tolerates the view that Jesus was not born of a virgin, but that later Christians ascribed His birth to a virgin in order to honor His name. The real facts in the story are that Joseph may have been His father, or perhaps a Roman soldier was His father. The ELCA textbook says about the virgin birth: “It is important not to get bogged down in biology, but to read it as a symbol witnessing the truth of the kerygma.

And my point is not that you can’t disagree – presumably you’re Catholic or whatever you are for a reason – but hat claiming that people who hold such believes aren’t Christian is intolerant fundamentalism. I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist – there are, after all, many Evangelicals who don’t believe Catholics are real Christians, either, so there’s plenty of intolerant fundamentalism to go around. Same with Orthodox Jews – they get to define the parameters of their version of Judaism all they want. What I find offensive is their attempt to dictate that to other Jews (which, considering that e.g. the Kotel/Wailing Wall is governed by orthodox Rabbis is kind of a big deal).

178

Mao Cheng Ji 11.27.13 at 12:30 am

js. 167 “I don’t think Mao understands what “literal” means”

Sadly, I have to admit that you’re quite correct. And not only I don’t understand what “literal” means, but right now I’m literally (?) peeing on the floor, because I don’t understand how to use the toilet either. How do you, smart folks, manage to learn all this super-hard stuff?

179

MPAVictoria 11.27.13 at 12:36 am

” I don’t see what I said that was so amusing.”

Which is what makes your comment so typically Hector. You are saying that you know more about women than actual women you are talking to and you don’t see how ridiculous you sound.

180

godoggo 11.27.13 at 12:47 am

I was once walking down the 3rd St. Promenade one day and by the time the 4th or 5th Chabadnik stopped me and asked, “Are you Jewish?” I finally just said “NO!” and he said, “HA! Good one!”

Self-identification my eye.

181

Hector_St_Clare 11.27.13 at 12:53 am

Adam Smith,

The ELCA uses the Apostle’s and Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creeds, which make reference to the virgin birth.

I’ll take your point that ‘bad Christian’ is probably not territory where I should go, so I’ll retract that. I was wrong to use that terminology. Having said that, most denominations hold the virgin birth as normative teaching.

182

Hector_St_Clare 11.27.13 at 12:54 am

MPA Victoria,

Don’t you see how anti-intellectual your position is? You’re arguing that truth depends on identity politics rather than evidence.

183

Ronan(rf) 11.27.13 at 1:00 am

Hector, not trying to be a smart ass, but how is believing in the virgin birth not an anti intellectual position?

184

MPAVictoria 11.27.13 at 1:09 am

“Don’t you see how anti-intellectual your position is? You’re arguing that truth depends on identity politics rather than evidence.”

What is my favourite colour Hector?

185

bianca steele 11.27.13 at 1:20 am

adam:
First, I don’t see how that’s a defense of MPAVictoria, unless you’re suggesting that he’s so pissed off at his in-laws that he trolls online Jews he knows nothing about except that they remind him of the people who annoy him, kind of the way a men’s rights activist trolls women online to get back at his ex-wife. I doubt he gave you the right to speak for him.

I really don’t see how the fact that fundamentalists are annoying gets generalized into the idea that statements about a religion are automatically illegitimate or offensive to people who practice a different version of the religion (or use the same word that means “adherents of this religion” to mean something else, as SoU described).

186

MPAVictoria 11.27.13 at 1:29 am

Bianca your interpretation of my comments is insane. Who is this Jewish person I am supposed to be trolling?

Do you really want to associate yourself with Mao’s comments? Let me remind you
Mao wrote this “As an exercise, I suggest Jonny to go visit a service in a synagogue (real one, not a yuppy social club)” Mao also wrote this “Judaism] is, in fact, must be taken literally, every letter.”

187

Ed Herdman 11.27.13 at 1:37 am

I don’t think this is even an issue of nationalism. It’s plain ol’ partisan wet-noodle-sounding schmuckery. (Can I use that word? I’m still not exactly sure what it means.)

188

bianca steele 11.27.13 at 1:38 am

See godoggo @ 158.

189

MPAVictoria 11.27.13 at 1:40 am

“See godoggo @ 158.”

Never said he couldn’t. I just said that he has no right to tell a Jew what he/she should believe. I am astonished that you disagree with me on that.

190

mattski 11.27.13 at 1:40 am

Hector,

Don’t you see how anti-intellectual your position is? You’re arguing that truth depends on identity politics rather than evidence.

The is the SECOND time on this thread that my mind has been blown. Holy Frack-a-doodle.

And I second MPAVictoria concerning bianca steels’s comments. They make no sense whatsoever to me.

191

mattski 11.27.13 at 1:48 am

bianca @ 188,

I say let him say whatever the hell he wants.

Precisely. Just as those who choose to respond to “him” probably prefer to be allowed to say whatever the hell they want.

192

js. 11.27.13 at 1:50 am

The is the SECOND time on this thread that my mind has been blown. Holy Frack-a-doodle.

Wait ’til he starts talking about Smith College English grads drinking manhattans with the Georgetown set at Upper West Side cocktail parties. That’s when it gets really fun.

(Tho that does sound to be a bit of an insufferable party, doesn’t it?)

193

sc 11.27.13 at 5:12 am

don’t forget “Santa Monica salons”.

i admit i don’t understand the point of Hector. he appears at blogs almost as regularly as J Otto Pohl (say it three times in a mirror and watch what happens), but only to priggishly state exactly what he believes, over and over again. at least JOP can provide interesting knowledge and obscure humor every once in a while…

194

Hector_St_Clare 11.27.13 at 7:56 am

MPA Victoria,

Just what evidence do you have that you are in any whay representative of women as a whole?

You don’t, which is why we need biological anthropologists and evolutionary biologists to weigh in on what women as a whole (not you in particular) are like.

195

Niall McAuley 11.27.13 at 8:49 am

Actually, for a proper understanding, we need biological anthropologists and evolutionary biologists to tell us what women as a whole were like on the savannah 60,000 years ago, particularly the savannah cocktail party circuit.

Not the Rain Forest cocktail party circuit, mind you, that was kind of a weird anomaly, what with the folks who still had tails and all.

196

Mao Cheng Ji 11.27.13 at 9:15 am

Why is what Hector said about the possibility of a man having a better understanding of female-specific issues so controversial? I don’t know about biological anthropologists, but what about just a psychologist, gynecologist, sociologist? Are we talking about the feminine mystique that the men can never grasp?

Incidentally, as this relates to religion, wasn’t there a post a while ago where some fox-news talking head was denounced (deservingly) for insisting that a Muslim shouldn’t be publishing a book (or talking publicly, I suppose) about Jesus Christ? I took that denunciation as a declaration of a general principle; was it instead a specific case that sets no precedent?

197

MPAVictoria 11.27.13 at 11:31 am

“Why is what Hector said about the possibility of a man having a better understanding of female-specific issues so controversial? I don’t know about biological anthropologists, but what about just a psychologist, gynecologist, sociologist? Are we talking about the feminine mystique that the men can never grasp?”

Why am I not surprised. Apparently Mao (and Bianca?) can tell you how to be Jewish and Hector can tell you how to be a woman. How lucky we all are.

198

Mao Cheng Ji 11.27.13 at 12:59 pm

Anyone can tell you anything they want. And you can respond and explain why you disagree. It’s not just luck, it used to be a big idea, back in the 18th century. These days, it’s just a Wednesday.

199

MPAVictoria 11.27.13 at 1:17 pm

“Anyone can tell you anything they want. And you can respond and explain why you disagree. It’s not just luck, it used to be a big idea, back in the 18th century. These days, it’s just a Wednesday.”

Of course! You just shouldn’t expect them to take you seriously.

200

mattski 11.27.13 at 1:33 pm

Why is what Hector said about the possibility of a man having a better understanding of female-specific issues so controversial?

I don’t know very many men who experience menstruation. Or who experience female hormones in their bloodstream. Or whose brains developed in utero in a way that mens have not.

Jesus-fucking-Christ.

201

Mao Cheng Ji 11.27.13 at 1:44 pm

@200, Dr. David Geary from your link sounds like he knows something about they way females’ brains develop, without actually experiencing it. Do you think it’s possible? Or should he be ordered to cease and desist?

202

bianca steele 11.27.13 at 2:35 pm

You don’t, which is why we need biological anthropologists and evolutionary biologists to weigh in on what women as a whole (not you in particular) are like.

Indeed, I thought that was the whole idea behind the number of women using gender-neutral pseuds, that the women who did that agreed with this.

203

MPAVictoria 11.27.13 at 2:47 pm

“Indeed, I thought that was the whole idea behind the number of women using gender-neutral pseuds, that the women who did that agreed with this.”

Care to expand on this one bianca? Are you agreeing with Hector?

204

bianca steele 11.27.13 at 3:11 pm

No, I apologize for being unclear, it was a dig at women who use gender-neutral or obviously male pseudonyms so they won’t disturb the discussion, which by default is male. You can take it also as a dig at people who respond to being told only experts have opinions by never expressing an opinion and making sure their fellow non-experts don’t express opinions either.

205

MPAVictoria 11.27.13 at 3:34 pm

“No, I apologize for being unclear, it was a dig at women who use gender-neutral or obviously male pseudonyms so they won’t disturb the discussion, which by default is male. You can take it also as a dig at people who respond to being told only experts have opinions by never expressing an opinion and making sure their fellow non-experts don’t express opinions either.”

Thank you for clarifying.

206

mattski 11.27.13 at 3:35 pm

Mao: Dr. David Geary from your link sounds like he knows something about they way females’ brains develop, without actually experiencing it.

Let’s do a thought experiment, OK? Let’s say that the ability to compose music (and hear it in one’s mind as part of the composition process) is something only women are capable of. Do you think that a male researcher who is able to observe the differences in brain imagery manifested by this process can make a claim to “understanding” what it is like to write music?

Now, go back and look at what Hector wrote:

A man who has studied the literature on gender differences, and knows something about evolution, is going to know more about the essential nature of women, than a woman who hasn’t.

Also, too, can a man who has never had menstrual cramps understand what it means to have menstrual cramps? Can a man who experiences lust as a raging hard-on understand how a female experiences lust?

207

Mao Cheng Ji 11.27.13 at 3:45 pm

“Also, too, can a man who has never had menstrual cramps understand what it means to have menstrual cramps? Can a man who experiences lust as a raging hard-on understand how a female experiences lust?”

Yes. A male gynecologist better understands what it means to have menstrual cramps than a vast majority of women. A man who’s had sex with several different women better understands how a female (in general) experiences lust than a woman who never had sex with another woman. We have intellect, this is how we know things.

208

Hector_St_Clare 11.27.13 at 3:46 pm

Matt Ski,

A male scholar can know more intellectually about the nature of women, but he cannot know it experientially. Like Nagel said, I can’t know what it is like to be a bat. Only a woman can know that. I gladly concede that. (Of course, being a Jew, unlike being a woman, is in part a chosen affiliation rather than a biological one).

Of course, by the same token, MPA Victoria can’t know what it is like to be like any other woman other than herself.

209

godoggo 11.27.13 at 3:55 pm

mattski: you have inspired me to do a google image search for “jesus fucking christ.” And yes, you do find what you expect to find.

210

Mao Cheng Ji 11.27.13 at 4:10 pm

“A male scholar can know more intellectually about the nature of women, but he cannot know it experientially.”

Actually, come to think of it, the experience alone doesn’t do anything. If you had your cramps or a hard-on while you are asleep, you’ve had the experience, but you still know nothing about it. What you need to do is consciously observe the symptoms. When you observe them on yourself, that may or may not give you advantage. It may not, because it may be hard to remain focused and impartial when something is happening to your own body. You might become scared, for example (or overexcited), and that might screw up your observations: the guy without the cramps will get a more accurate idea.

211

Substance McGravitas 11.27.13 at 5:15 pm

Like Nagel said, I can’t know what it is like to be a bat. Only a woman can know that.

There is no maximum Hector.

212

mattski 11.27.13 at 5:55 pm

godoggo,

I had better straighten up. Thank you!

Hector & Mao, I see you rather shied away from the thought experiment I proposed. Would you also argue that a researcher who studies the molecular composition of foodstuffs, but alas, has no taste buds, knows more about the art of cooking and dining than a competent chef?

And Hector, you seem like a swell guy. But do you not see a teeny-weeny problem with invoking BOTH the “miraculous” and standards of evidence?

Or perhaps I should pose it this way: If you cannot laugh, is it possible that you understand what humor is?

213

Niall McAuley 11.27.13 at 6:08 pm

If Hector can post that stuff and keep a straight face…

214

Hector_St_Clare 11.27.13 at 6:20 pm

Substance, I’m referring to the famous bat paper. You folks are philosophers.

215

js. 11.27.13 at 6:34 pm

Hector,

You’re really quite funny.

216

Harold 11.27.13 at 7:17 pm

“From each …”, etc: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/From_each_according_to_his_ability,_to_each_according_to_his_need

One might say that Christianity is the grandmother of the Enlightenment and that Judaism (along with Plato and the Roman Stoics) were the grandmother of Christianity, and that Zoroastrianism is the grandmother of Judaism (along with ancient Egypt and Ur), and not be reactionary.

217

Harold 11.27.13 at 7:18 pm

Oops, that belongs on the Marx & Francis thread, sorry. Trying to do too many things.

218

Mao Cheng Ji 11.27.13 at 7:23 pm

“the art of cooking”

Here, an oldie but goodie, Malcolm Gladwell, http://gladwell.com/the-ketchup-conundrum/

…When Moskowitz charted the results, he saw that everyone had a slightly different definition of what a perfect spaghetti sauce tasted like. If you sifted carefully through the data, though, you could find patterns, and Moskowitz learned that most people’s preferences fell into one of three broad groups: plain, spicy, and extra-chunky, and of those three the last was the most important. Why? Because at the time there was no extra-chunky spaghetti sauce in the supermarket. Over the next decade, that new category proved to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Prego.

You don’t need no taste buds.

219

LFC 11.27.13 at 7:23 pm

@214
“You folks are philosophers”

Some of “us” are, some aren’t. You make too many assumptions about everything. (And no I won’t get more specific.)

220

mattski 11.27.13 at 7:41 pm

You don’t need no taste buds.

Well, it seems clear that you don’t feel such a deficit would inhibit your understanding of food. So naturally you would consider yourself an expert on sex if your experience of such was limited to hearing other peoples accounts of their exploits.

Which, I think many here would agree, is pretty sad.

221

Corey Robin 11.27.13 at 8:10 pm

Whether experts can know the experiences of their subjects better than the subjects themselves, the fact of the matter is — to bring this all back to where it began — no one here who has been pronouncing on what Jews are or think — to those of us who are Jewish — is an expert on Judaism. Additionally, virtually all of the pronouncements that were made to and about us were wrong. Hence, mansplaining. Or Jewsplaining.

222

Ronan(rf) 11.27.13 at 8:17 pm

Surely goysplaining !?

223

Mao Cheng Ji 11.27.13 at 8:52 pm

“So naturally you would consider yourself an expert on sex if your experience of such was limited to hearing other peoples accounts of their exploits.”

I would consider myself an expert on sex if that was my area of expertise. Like Alfred Kinsey, for example. Yes, he interviewed people; many, many people. What of it?

This page here, however, is a blog comment thread. Experts normally don’t come here, it’s a place for opinionated people, to kill time. They make pronouncements, opinions differ, sometimes (albeit not too often) change. It’s all good, as it should be.

224

JanieM 11.27.13 at 9:01 pm

I can’t know what it is like to be a bat. Only a woman can know that.

I can’t know what it is like to be a man. Only a woman can know that.

***

Oh, wait…..

225

MPAVictoria 11.27.13 at 9:07 pm

“Surely goysplaining !?”
Perfect!

226

godoggo 11.27.13 at 9:10 pm

Based on the movie, I’d say Kinsey’s expertise was questionable, although he did have a hell of a lot of sex.

227

Hector_St_Clare 11.27.13 at 9:41 pm

Kinsey’s statistical methodology was outrageously bad, for what it’s worth.

228

godoggo 11.27.13 at 9:48 pm

Yeah, that’s what they said in the movie.

229

Anderson 11.27.13 at 10:38 pm

‘Some of “us” are, some aren’t.’

Oh come now, LFC. Very often in debating about gender differences, Hector finds that his interlocutors, though they may think themselves nonphilosophers, are remarkably ignorant about whether they are in fact philosophers or not.

You really should defer to his expertise instead of making myopic assertions based on special pleading.

230

mattski 11.27.13 at 11:10 pm

Corey @ 221,

Yup. Sorry for all the squirrel chasing…

231

roy belmont 11.28.13 at 2:21 am

“…for better or worse I’m not a pacifist, but I am always struggling with how to avoid becoming a monster while fighting the monstrous, and we are of course involved by our merely existing in these times/places in various and often overlapping asymmetrical conflicts, so how to make do with what is at hand is always a pressing concern and we welcome any and all prototypes of effective assemblages of resistance…”

Gene Sharp

now back to the stormfront forums

232

UserGoogol 11.28.13 at 4:21 am

Corey Robin: I suppose it gets back to the issue of what exactly religion is, which seems to be underlying Mao’s issues. If religion is a well defined collection of beliefs that have been recorded in some straightforward and reliable manner, then it’s easy enough for an outsider to just look up these beliefs and gain a fairly deep understanding of that set: actually adhering to the beliefs isn’t really necessary for understanding them. If religion is more about things like ritual and community and whatever, (or even if merely the beliefs are more contextual and ambiguous and not amenable to precise specification) then actually being a member of that religion inherently gives you a somewhat intimate perspective that is hard to replicate from third-party observation.

233

godoggo 11.28.13 at 4:37 am

Personally, I think that the Management here is a bit overly ban-happy as a rule, and it certainly isn’t restricted to talk of The Jews. There are plenty of Jews on the internet who are happy to speak candidly about AIPAC or the nutty beliefs of some ultra-orthodox Jews. But there are people who have given themselves over to grand conspiracy thinking on this topic, and one learns to recognize them after a while (though one can also be mistaken), and, since it’s a pretty creepy mindset, one learns to skulk away.

234

godoggo 11.28.13 at 4:38 am

testing (previous comment in moderation)

235

Roland Nikles 11.28.13 at 5:18 am

Wow, what a lot of words from a short tweet exchange. I think we’ve all learned to avoid email rage at work by now, it’s amazing folks like Goldberg are still engaging in it on Twitter.

Not sure what files are being triggered here, but by my reading, Mao Cheng Ji does not strike me in the least bit trollish or inappropriate.

On Jewishness…. I agree that the notion that “being Jewish” requires a pro-Zionist stance, or any particular stance vis a vis Israel, seems clearly off-base. Judaism did just fine with Israel as a metaphorical aspiration of “next year in Jerusalem” for nearly 2000 years. It seems to me turning the metaphorical “next year in Jerusalem” into an actual state has presented problems for Judaism. It’s a problem, but not the essence of Judaism.

On “literalism….” I’m an atheist, but interested in the ideas of others. Trying to understand what a religious conception of Judaism might be, it’s hard to imagine it separately from “some form of the Torah was transmitted by God to Moses, who passed it down to others who eventually wrote it down.” If that idea isn’t taken literally, then I’m not following what’s meant by Judaism being a religion. I think that’s what MCJ was getting at. The same thing comes up with the virgin birth for Christians. If Jesus is not the “son of God” in a literal sense, part of the Trinity in a literal sense, I’m not sure what we’re taking about.

236

js. 11.28.13 at 5:43 am

Personally, I think that the Management here is a bit overly ban-happy as a rule

I’m curious who/what you’re responding to here—I think I can make out the rest of the comment. But really, this is just an excuse to say: I would never have thought to google image search ‘jesus-fucking-christ’. But it was awesome!

237

godoggo 11.28.13 at 5:48 am

various things Roy Belmont has said

238

js. 11.28.13 at 6:56 am

Thought as much. But he hasn’t gotten banned, or even threatened to be, no?

239

js. 11.28.13 at 7:06 am

And now because I feel semi-obligated to say something not-meta:

The kind of argument that mattski et al are pushing against Mao/Hector is maybe not the way to go. It’s not about the validity of subjective experience as against expert knowledge—obviously, if it were genuinely expert knowledge it would win out. Practically by definition.

The point is rather that (leaving aside the ridic-ness of ev-psych), being a member of a systematically oppressed group can, can, give you insight into your condition and that of others who fall under that group identification—a kind of insight that is much harder to come by if you are part of the oppressor group, structurally speaking. That is why it behooves men to listen to women about their lived experiences. And of course men, if they listen, can come to gain the same insights.

So yeah: it’s identity politics, within reason.

240

Hector_St_Clare 11.28.13 at 7:17 am

JS,

See, I think MattSki actually had a legitimate argument (about the female brain being different than the male brain, and about subjective experience being superior to observation, in some ways). Those are valid arguments, and I concede their force.

Your argument about systematically oppressed groups, however, strikes me as just more politically correct nonsense. And I don’t concede that either women or Jews are oppressed groups, so your argument fails right out the door.

241

Mao Cheng Ji 11.28.13 at 8:01 am

@232, it’s not exactly a dichotomy (inside/outside), it’s a continuum. We live our lives, we meet people, hear their stories, read books. No one is completely outside. Like that guy upthread (adam.smith was it?) who is technically outside but his wife is inside, and so he feels (rightly) that he’s close enough.

Aside from that, there’s also the forest/trees metaphor: being inside you’ll know fine details, but for generalizations outside is a much better place.

242

Mao Cheng Ji 11.28.13 at 8:11 am

@238, you’re not a part of the oppressor group, or at least you don’t have to be. Your definition of ‘oppression’ is based purely on statistics (there are no laws or official practices in the modern industrial world that discriminate against women), and it immediately falls apart when you move to the level of individuals. Some men oppress some women and some women oppress some men, but it certainly isn’t true that every man oppresses women just by virtue of being a man.

243

MPAVictoria 11.28.13 at 11:09 am

“And I don’t concede that either women or Jews are oppressed groups, so your argument fails right out the door.”

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Discrimination/Pages/discrimination_women.aspx
“Women form the majority of the world’s poorest people and the number of women living in rural poverty has increased by 50% since 1975. Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours and produce half of the world’s food, yet they earn only 10% of the world’s income and own less than 1% of the world’s property”

Also prejudice against Jews has been displayed on this very thread!

244

MPAVictoria 11.28.13 at 11:13 am

Usergoogol
You mistake is thinking Mao knows anything at all about Jews/Judaism. It is not that you have to be Jewish to know something about the religion, it is that Mao specifically knows nothing at all but wants to be an “Internet Expert” on the matter.

245

MPAVictoria 11.28.13 at 11:18 am

“Your definition of ‘oppression’ is based purely on statistics (there are no laws or official practices in the modern industrial world that discriminate against women)”

This is utter stupidity. Since when are statistics not an acceptable measure? And just because there are laws against something that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. There are laws against tons of things that happen all the time! Murder, rape, domestic abuse, workplace harassment, speeding, graffiti, assault and so on. Our society is set up to discriminate against women and really anyone else who isn’t a white male.

246

Ronan(rf) 11.28.13 at 11:29 am

“Also prejudice against Jews has been displayed on this very thread!”

But there can be prejudice against a group without them being systematically oppressed, or oppression against certain groups in specific contexts (normally with poverty or geography involved) that cant be generalised to the group as a whole.
So I’m half with Mao that the definition of oppression has become defined down,* a little*.

247

Mao Cheng Ji 11.28.13 at 12:37 pm

“So I’m half with Mao that the definition of oppression has become defined down,* a little*.”

My main objection was to “you are part of the oppressor group” in 238.

The statistics show that more women, on average, are oppressed than men. But that is all it shows. I believe the average 12-year-old should be able to understand that this doesn’t make men “the oppressor group”.

248

Mao Cheng Ji 11.28.13 at 12:50 pm

…nor does it make women “the oppressed group”, incidentally. Because there’s still a fair amount of oppressors in that group, and classifying them as ‘oppressed’ on account of belonging to a statistical category defies commons sense…

249

SoU 11.28.13 at 2:56 pm

stating that group A (say women) are oppressed does not necessarily entail that group not-A (say men) are oppressors. There is always the possibility that members of the same group are doing a some of the oppression, (a small example is the new wave of evidence that women engage in ‘slut-shaming’ much more than men). or there is a possibility that members of group B oppress both group A and group B, just in differing ways – like the Southern planting aristocracy, which oppressed blacks as well as whites, just in very different ways. There are cases of, say, Jews oppressing other Jews (there is a debate about this regarding inequality and background going on in Israel), and i can think of many other religions where the laity are oppressed by the clergy, sometimes to an extreme degree. Most forms of oppression that endure today mix elements of the old style (A vs B) with the new style (B vs b, alongside A vs b and A vs a).

that being said, whether or not you agree that women and/or Jews are ‘oppressed groups’ (which seems to raise a huge semantic debate), it is ridiculous to argue that people from these groups do not face oppression in the modern world on account of their identity.

250

Mao Cheng Ji 11.28.13 at 3:15 pm

Like I said, I objected to “you are part of the oppressor group” in 238.

As far as people facing oppression on account of their identity – sure. But I think that’s universal. Everyone is facing oppression. In the modern world people will try to take advantage of anything and everything; being elderly or poor are far greater disadvantages than being a woman.

251

SoU 11.28.13 at 3:16 pm

and yet women are more likely to be both! (for vastly different reasons, obv)

252

MPAVictoria 11.28.13 at 3:52 pm

“Everyone is facing oppression.”

Everybody?

253

Hector_St_Clare 11.28.13 at 4:14 pm

The only oppression I see involving Jews, is the way the apartheid state of Israel treats Palestinians. In America, Jews enjoy a wildly disproportionate share of money, cultural power, and educational achievement.

MPA Victoria’s remarks about women are also wrong, unsurprisingly, but showing why would take a little more time, because it’s not as dumb on its face. The idea that Jews in America are an oppressed group, as opposed to an oppressor group, is so absurd it can be dismissed more summarily.

254

MPAVictoria 11.28.13 at 4:33 pm

“MPA Victoria’s remarks about women are also wrong, unsurprisingly, but showing why would take a little more time, because it’s not as dumb on its face. “

Apparently the UN disagrees with you….
Must be those damn politically correct leftists right Hector?

255

mattski 11.28.13 at 4:42 pm

js @ 238

I don’t think ‘oppressed groups’ is germane to the discussion. (Not to mention, “oppression” is a sketchy word to be using in this context if you ask me.) Certainly, there is prejudice against Jews in America. But Jews in America are NOT an oppressed group! You wouldn’t have roy belmont making such foul-smelling remarks about “inordinate influence” if they were.

Mao started this party by telling Jews how they had to understand and practice their religion. Hey Mao, did you apologize for that btw?

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

256

Hector_St_Clare 11.28.13 at 4:47 pm

I don’t see what’s wrong with ‘inordinate influence’. Indians and East Asians have inordinate influence as well, though not so much as Jews.

257

SoU 11.28.13 at 4:57 pm

Hector, America isn’t just NYC. There are a number of locales in America where, for sure, being a Jew isn’t a big deal, or even makes you an insider. But there are also a number of locales where it is precisely the reverse. Dismissing this is dismissing the very real legacy of virulent anti-semitism in America, and ignores how some of the institutions/practices that emerged from that sentiment persist even into today.

And all that is not even to broach the question of the rest of the world.

258

Mao Cheng Ji 11.28.13 at 5:07 pm

“and yet women are more likely to be both”

Yes, but why would you want to extract this one component (the ‘female component’) and campaign specifically against it, when there are so many components and different shades? Why not campaign against oppression in general? Is it wrong to oppress people, or is it only wrong to oppress them on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or disability?

259

SoU 11.28.13 at 5:19 pm

@257
Because by focusing on an actual form of oppression, you can locate specific institutions and/or practices which entrench it, and work to break those down, potentially creating real change in the conditions that people face in their lived experience. I do not see how railing against oppression in general (what is ‘oppression in general’, anyways?) can bring real change for people in a similar way, and certainly not at the same level of efficiency of effort.

I mean – think about it. If you are fighting oppression of A by B – you have to overcome the opposition of group B in order to triumph. If you are fighting all oppression everywhere, you have to overcome the entire edifice of entrenched power in all its manifestations. So you are threatening the dominant classes and groups all at once, giving them great incentive to coordinate and combine to beat your project back.

Regarding your last sentence – that is a total strawman that no-one here has even hinted at.

260

Mao Cheng Ji 11.28.13 at 6:01 pm

“you have to overcome the entire edifice of entrenched power in all its manifestations”

Very true. But your approach is even more problematic, imo. It tends to pit one group against another: the men against women, the whites against blacks, etc. Each group is encouraged to fight for its own interests against other groups, in a (presumably) zero-sum-gain environment (more women succeed = more men fail).

It seems to be demanding meritocracy, instead of equality. The power structure, the total oppression will remain essentially the same, only more evenly distributed among the categories; deserving women will become senators and CEOs, replacing the undeserving men who will take their place, with some sinking into poverty. The stats will look great.

Not a very inspiring framework.

261

SoU 11.28.13 at 6:04 pm

@ 259
But that is the virtue of understanding how most oppression does not fall into A vs B, but is instead inter as well as intra group, and cross cuts in many ways. People and groups are already being pitted against each other. The key is drawing the right lines of battle, so to speak.
I agree that a simplistic binary approach will result in ‘ok well now we have women CEOs’ and that is far from ideal. But i do not agree that that is the framework that we are using.

262

Hal 11.28.13 at 7:29 pm

SoU @256 et al.

Ok, a bit of “goysplaining”…

Being an atheist ex-Catholic, I have no dog in this fight, but it seems clear to me that where “atheist Catholic” is an oxymoron, “atheist Jew” is not. Partly that has to do with the fact that Jews are one of the few groups (Sikhs are another) where religion and ethnicity overlap. Unlike most other religions, Judaism doesn’t proselytize and generally discourages conversion, though, after the Holocaust exterminated about 1/3 of the world’s Jews and the rising rate of Jewish intermarriage in recent decades, there has been an effort to change that attitude.

As for how Jews practice their religion (or not), that is of no concern to me, mainly because (with so few adherents) Judaism has no (negative) impact on my daily life. Unlike Christianity or, increasingly, Islam, which have observable effect around the world.

But, not even 70 years after the Holocaust, antisemitism seems to be making a comeback. Suddenly, it’s cherchez le juif once again. In Europe, the traditional home of this prejudice, a curious alliance between the far right and Islamists (and pooh-poohed by liberals) by has caused the numbers of antisemitic incidents to swell worryingly and threatens to do in some countries what the Nazis failed: make them Judenrein. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303460004579189560470198236

As for the Middle East (which I have witnessed firsthand) and by extension the Muslim world, the virulence of everyday antisemitism (sans Jews !), mainly in the form of conspiracies of Jewish power and perfidy (a cross between “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and “the sons of apes and pigs”) is frightening. Contrary to what some westerners might imagine, this did not suddenly emerge in 1948 [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farhud ] but had existed – perhaps in a less obvious and less eliminationist guise than European antisemitism – for centuries. Which is precisely why I think that Israel is not only welcome (sorry, Corey) but necessary, the only place in the world where Jews are not simply “tolerated” and need not rely on the fickle mercy of their hosts. As for the size of Jewish “tents” in the US and who gains admittance, the issue is too esoteric for me, a Talmudic variation on the terpsichorean talents of angels on pinheads.

And with that… Happy Thanksgiving (even we Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving a month and a half ago).

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Ronan(rf) 11.28.13 at 7:47 pm

“As for the Middle East (which I have witnessed firsthand) and by extension the Muslim world, the virulence of everyday antisemitism (sans Jews !), mainly in the form of conspiracies of Jewish power and perfidy (a cross between “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and “the sons of apes and pigs”) is frightening.”

Yeah, but let’s complicate this a bit though. Yes it predated 48 and 67 (but as you say was never as bad as in Europe) but a lot of it *is* now tied to the political situation in Israel/Palestine. That doesn’t make it right, but that’s what happens (in general) during violent conflict.
I found a good bit of anti semitism in Arab countries, but also anti black racism, prejudice based on ethnicity, religion etc (look at the way Palestinians are viewed in parts of Lebanon) basically all the forms of prejudice that exist in all societies, so I dont know if anti semitism is *naturally* more virulent in Arab countries. (Though it is perhaps, at the minute, considering the politics involved)
Israel itself has a good deal of openly anti Arab sentiment (and racism directed at Ethiopian Jews and African immigrants, divisions among European and Middle Eastern Jews, so on and so forth)

* ps there cant really be a ‘by extension the Muslim world’ here..I’m sure there is some form of anti Semitism in other Muslim countries, but to varying degrees. I’m sure countries with no Jews have minimal anti Semitism

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SoU 11.28.13 at 8:33 pm

@261
Don’t you worry that Israel may be a factor in this resurgence. The WSJ article you link to suggests that much. Whether Israel’s behavior is a) making the Jewish people , who they claim to represent, subject to new scrutinies & criticisms, or b) giving cover to the critiques of just plain racists – i think there is a good argument to be made that Israel’s conduct on the world stage has a part to play in the resurgence. This is not to justify that resurgence, but to place it in context, and to counter the claim that somehow rising anti-semitism lends greater necessity to Israel’s existence.

@262 is also keen to note that for a lot of non-European societies, anti-semitism was part of the general xenophobia until the Zionist project made the Jews an especially useful target for mudslinging.

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roy belmont 11.28.13 at 9:40 pm

Also prejudice against Jews has been displayed on this very thread!
Out of 263 comments, I believe, though something else may have slipped past me, that I am the sole holder of the “Kick me!” sign in that particular context.
Only there isn’t anything in any of what I wrote here that fulfills the requirements necessary for it to be accurate. There’s an assumption or two, based on a gotcha! that isn’t far enough away from outright bigotry to be absurd, but it is an inaccurate – and damaging to me! – assumption about my personal attitudes.
My main point, which has only been rebutted by the masterful and erudite ” really really stupid and obnoxious”, and was completely ignored by Mr. Gofuckyourself, is that the toxicities of prejudice are metastasizing, right now, amongst people who feel they have no above-ground cultural voice or advocacy, because the painful and ugly bits aren’t being held to the light of open discussion, and that those prejudices may have some causative – not justificational! – origin in something other than pure mental illness.
This lack of open discussion was violently demonstrated in microcosm here, violent as far as internet speech in moderated academic blogs goes anyway.
But the point remains, and I’m still saying it.
Without open dialogue we have only a contest for domination, to be the oppressor, after which the winner’s prejudices can become standard values and virtues, and go unquestioned.
Historically that seems to have not worked too well. It isn’t working here either.
It should be okay to be wrong, long enough to be corrected.
That’s the essence of democracy and free speech and all that stuff. It is, afaict, the very reason free speech was enshrined in the founding documents of the US.
Sticking to wrong ideas after correction is another matter.

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Hal 11.28.13 at 10:24 pm

SoU @263,

Yes, the existence of Israel is undoubtedly a factor in some some of this antisemitism, certainly in Arab countries, where it is especially galling that such a small nation has become so strong and technologically advanced whereas their countries, so much larger and more populous, remain weak and regressive. But for most of it (certainly among the European far right) Israel is just a convenient cover, and for some leftwingers of the socialism-of-fools variety, anti-“zionism” is an easy way of expressing antisemitism in polite company. What I am saying, in other words, is that in many instances Israel may be “causing” antisemitism in the same way a short skirt “causes” rape.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.29.13 at 8:20 am

Personally, I find it amazing how clearly, all things considered, most middle-easterners see the line between the resistance to Zionist colonialism and ethnic animosity. A Jewish guy died a few months ago, he was one of the top functionaries at the PLO and a close adviser to Arafat. I don’t doubt that in the minds of some simple people this line may have been blurred, thanks to the Zionist attempts to define what the word ‘Jewish’ means. Which is actually the point of this post. They certainly have managed to fool Hal @265.

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Ed Herdman 11.29.13 at 11:23 am

@ mattski’s thought experiment:

Ah, I know where that one comes from. But I haven’t read the standard literature on it, so I don’t know what to think. ;)

One thing I see of value from the sooty comment trainwreck a ways above is the idea that religion is probably, at a minimum, a matter of professing something. I quickly part ways with the rest of the assertions from Mao Cheng Ji; it’s certainly alright to see some things as literal and others as allegorical, just we read some comments as being serious and others as being facetious (this is a life skill I’m sure all of us have in at least some quantity). In fact sometimes the sources of inspiration for an allegory or a facetious comment can be exactly the same.

Oh, I still can’t duck the thought experiment about whether the blind man who can’t see understands color? Well, this will be awkward to split out cleanly in terms of “experience” if we have to invoke some of the more exotic aspects of religion. (I have a hunch that Thomas Nagel, who knows about reductionists, will be able to help me here.)

Clearly a blind man actually can have knowledge of color, and the chef without taste in his mouth can have knowledge of foods. If their information just happens to come through a different source (i.e., artificial sense organs which also reencode the data so that it is not perceived by the brain as color or taste, but rather as a sound, like the person with synesthesia, or the person who ‘dances about architecture’ – or writes any popular criticism for others) we can still say that all that has happened is that the actual experience has been filtered and must be appreciated in a different way “than usual.” Of course, with the great malleability of the mind, it may be possible to have the brain reinterpret those senses as the right thing…I really do need to read the bat paper.

I don’t think the difficulty lies there – chains of perception seem similar from person to person but they may be actually unique (indeed, to at least a slight degree they are actually unique for all people, even if just in terms of how long it takes for a signal to travel from your foot to your brain and then to be perceived).

I won’t try to torture it, but it’s not clear what kind of difference there can be from person to person in this area. You receive far less information from another person’s eyes than they do, but there is no “immediate perception” in either case without the assistance of physical intermediaries.

Religion is likely different (and also any other topic whose foundational sources of truth, even topics considered scientific) if what we are talking about “encoding” for the blind man or the man with no taste is something which simply does not encode cleanly.

Of course a person’s biases clearly explain how one person may not be successful in having the same subjective experience as another. Two normal children both seem able to have success in learning about color and taste, even with different physical capabilities and capacities (perhaps with physical augmentation); an older person with a bias may just selectively and continually reject drawing some conclusions that the “naive” (or not!) youngsters might instead make.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.29.13 at 2:11 pm

“I quickly part ways with the rest of the assertions from Mao Cheng Ji; it’s certainly alright to see some things as literal and others as allegorical”

Did I really give the impression that I don’t believe it’s alright to see some things as literal and others as allegorical? I was merely suggesting that the line “Unlike its more doctrinal offshoots, Judaism doesn’t necessarily insist on being taken literally” in 36 is contrary to reality. Regardless of its merits, “it’s certainly alright to see some things as literal and others as allegorical” doesn’t sound like an objection.

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Hector_St_Clare 11.30.13 at 4:50 pm

SoU,

Nonsense. I don’t live in New York, and I wouldn’t if you payed me, I find the whole cultural milieu there to be revolting. That having been said, you’re simply wrong. In the United States as a whole, Jews are a wildly privileged group, who enjoy massive overrepresentation in academia, politics, the media and the culture, and among the highest income levels. Jews are by any rational metric much more of an ‘oppressor group’, rather than an ‘oppressed group’, than Christians are.

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SoU 11.30.13 at 5:57 pm

Hector, you really, really are off the mark there. Regardless of what we conclude re: Jews in America having privilege/facing prejudice, your last statement re: Jews v. Christians as an ‘oppressor group’ is shockingly untrue.

Aside from the whole ties to Israeli politics thing, which oppresses very very few Americans ( i can only think of certain Palestinian and Jordanian ex-pats, who are quite legitimately oppressed by this relation re: visitation and family stuff and property transfers and implied accusations of terrorist sympathies, but hardly make up Americans in general) – Jews just don’t organize politically in America as a cohesive group in the same way that Christians do, and even when they do, it is readily overshadowed by the incredible hubris of christian political groups.

And what have those organized Christian political groups done in America? Lets see – militate against the right to choice, against birth control and the individual privacy of citizens. They actively work against the rights of non-christian students by trying to religify the school environment (public schools no less!). they have, historically, worked in tandem with a number of red baiting types to actively suppress the political opinions of lefties. I could go on and on and on and ON AND ON.

Like SERIOUSLY Hector, have you ever read any history book on America, like ever? The Christian sects that have held political power here have been oppressing people SINCE DAY 1! Like, does the name Cotton Mather ring a bell? Salem witch trials? Puritanism? Prohibition? Sex (dis)education? GLBT conversion sessions? School prayer and blue laws and putting ‘under god’ in the pledge of allegiance as part of the Cold War and sending thousands of Americans to die/bodily harm in wars Iraq. Not to mention the whole conduit of christian charities and their tax exempt status and their broader place in the conservative ideology militating against welfare states to be replaced by private charities which is all just a round about political strategy to slash social programs and replace them with tax havens and retool social support to only flow to groups who look and think like those who already have power and $$s.

oppression isn’t a matter of income level. its about a group acting in a concerted way to systematically dis-empower others. that is the MO of political christianity in the US. give me an example of Jews doing anything remotely comparable to the bullshit pulled by ‘moral majority’ or ‘focus on the family’ or ‘city on a hill’ types.

Christians as an oppressed group in America, and Jews as the oppressors? GTFO. i know you like to walk the troll line a lot, but seriously, this is idiocy of another order.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.30.13 at 6:32 pm

See, he applies the same logic you (plural) use all the time. The average income, the rate of representation in the upper strata, etc. But this time you feel that this concept is ridiculously misguided. Go figure.

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SoU 11.30.13 at 9:10 pm

Mao – that is because the grouping that he is highlighting has little relation to the mechanisms of exploitation that exist today. meaning – the dynamics which generate in-group solidarity among those in question do not implicate or intersect with dynamics of economic exploitation. i challenge you to walk through a causal story proving otherwise. it is a lot easier to sit back and insinuate things but that’s crap intellectually and you know it.

if i were to go on and on about people with blue eyes oppressing people with brown eyes, i could easily trot out some statistics to support the case, at least at the schematic level that you are working on above. because it turns out that a lot of the old WASP types here in America have blue eyes, and a lot of the immigrant communities have brown eyes. that doesn’t meant that blue vs brown eyes is a useful way of thinking of the social groups in question, or that ‘blue eyed people are oppressors’ does a good job of capturing some aspect of our social life. it doesn’t , and neither does the category of Jews in American political life. what do i gain, in terms of insight to the political-economic situation today, by grouping Noam Chomsky and Sheldon Adelson together?

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SoU 11.30.13 at 9:12 pm

^ granted – the situation re: support for Israel and its policies is an exception to the above. but that is kinda the point of the thread.

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Ed Herdman 11.30.13 at 9:41 pm

@ Mao Cheng Ji:

What my comment about literal vs. allegorical implies is that “real, practicing religious Jews” feel that it’s alright, obviously, given what’s been said in this thread. So there’s the objection – your contentions earlier don’t square with what seems to be a fairly uncontroversial set of claims by Jewish people that they don’t insist that everything in the Jewish religious sources is meant to be taken literally.

I recall an interesting passage by the economist Bob Murphy on his own blog where he constructs a reading of Jesus’ statement that “render onto Caesar what is Caesar’s” is not only not literal (note that in the original passage Jesus is portrayed leading his questioner to a conclusion with somewhat vague nudges, instead of saying “this is exactly what you must do”), but that the proper reading actually denies one of the outcomes of the standard outcome – arguing that the fruits of the Jews’ labors do not actually belong to Caesar, Murphy denies the standard interpretation that one should pay taxes.

Of course it is easier to make a claim like this in a historical setting where one might imagine, probably falsely, that Roman civilization had no role assisting members of the Empire in their economic lives – and of course for Murphy this is an intermediate conclusion; if I remember right he wants to generalize this to state that modern governments cannot claim taxes either.

The above demonstrates a downside to religions leaving matters vague and open to interpretation, but we don’t get to go back to the time the standard texts were being codified to present this as an objection.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.30.13 at 9:45 pm

“the grouping that he is highlighting has little relation to the mechanisms of exploitation that exist today”

I couldn’t agree more. The mechanism is hierarchy of power, not the eye color, shoe size, race, religion, or gender.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.30.13 at 10:08 pm

“uncontroversial set of claims by Jewish people that they don’t insist that everything in the Jewish religious sources is meant to be taken literally”

But I’ve never mentioned any Jewish people in the discussion of Judaism above. Most Jewish people don’t practice Judaism, and some not-Jewish do. I knew one in college, he identified himself as a Karaim, not Jew.

I don’t really want to resurrect that discussion now (since it’s proved to be too controversial for this place, for some reason), but Christianity is exactly the one offshoot of Judaism that emerged (imo) as an attempt to move away from the literal formalistic interpretations. Woes of the pharisees and all that.

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Manta 11.30.13 at 10:23 pm

“Of course it is easier to make a claim like this in a historical setting where one might imagine, probably falsely, that Roman civilization had no role assisting members of the Empire in their economic live”

Obligatory reference

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Ed Herdman 11.30.13 at 10:44 pm

I know, I don’t want to try to force you back into that either – but I didn’t see a way to get at the point without referencing it. Instead I’ll say the core of this disagreement seems to be to what degree religions demand adherence to strict interpretation of dogma – this will change depending on who you ask. Certainly many religious people feel that they are fine, and other members of their group also, without being fundamentalist or adhering to strict literalism.

It is simply an impoverished view that strict formalism provoked the offshoot of Christianity, just as it would also be an impoverished view that strict formalism provoked the split of Protestantism from Catholicism. Luther and Jesus are both presented to us as reformers and often the issues at stake do not fit into the rubric of “fundamentalism: yes or no?” Rather, there were a variety of issues – which may include attention to formalism but also many other issues. We could try to reduce concerns about corruption or freedom of individual action to “issues about formalism” but that doesn’t encompass enough.

Just as importantly, the “formalism: yes or no?” debates still rage in all these groups, both those pre- and post-split, so calling the issue “formalism” does not capture all the essentially schismatic qualities, and it is also not a narrow enough definition because formalism remains at issue within post-schism religious communities!

The approach is like saying “birds: The things in the sky.” Well, there are many things in the sky, and there are also birds that don’t fly.

A couple comments for SoU:

- Complicating the “Israel lobby” picture is that many of the strong proponents of a pro-Israel policy are not Jewish, but Christian. Others probably participate for reasons of power politics. I think everybody knows this, but it reinforces what you’ve said above.

- On the other hand, I’m not sure the contention that Jews don’t organize politically as a group will be borne out by evidence. I’ve looked in basic ways at some of the 2008 National Election Survey data on Jewish religious peoples’ feelings versus those of other groups, particularly Catholic Christians, and I can say I already expect that Jews have a great deal of enthusiasm for the political process that I don’t see in the undifferentiated mass of Catholic voters (for example).

I can’t say anything conclusively but my hunch is that the random Jewish voter is more likely to be tied in to the system, whereas what drives Christian policy successes are the efforts of slightly less representative members of those communities.

It is important here to note that I found Jewish voters tended to be more enthusiastic about the candidacy of Barack Obama, and to have more positive feelings towards the poor, which I take to be a likely sign that they support more progressive causes (I didn’t control for black poor voters in the case of Obama’s feeling thermometer, but I did roughly in the case of feelings for the poor).

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Ronan(rf) 11.30.13 at 11:31 pm

Ed Herdman

afaicr when reading up on this a little bit back in the day:

(1) the average Jewish voter doesn’t vote on Israel. It doesn’t figure in any meaningful way (under 10% as an important issue) in polling.

(2) Here are voting patterns compared to other religious groups

(3) US public opinion (in general) has been favourable towards Israel for the past number of decades (look at – Value Judgment: Why Do Americans Support Israel? by Michael Koplow if you can)

and religious belief (more so than ethnic markers) is a better way to explain partisan support for Israel (Religious Beliefs, Elite Polarization, and Public Opinion on Foreign Policy: The Partisan Gap in American Public Opinion Toward Israel by Amnon Cavari

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Ronan(rf) 11.30.13 at 11:34 pm

..cont

on “(2) Here are voting patterns compared to other religious groups ” the filter wouldnt allow me post the link

(4) on the 2012 (and general) support for Democrats among Jews

http://www.gvpt.umd.edu/uslaner/uslanerjewishvote2012.pdf

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Ed Herdman 11.30.13 at 11:56 pm

Hi Ronan(rf) – I don’t have a problem with any of that information, and I have been aware of pretty much all of it, though those are nice sources!

I am emphatically not saying that American Jewish voters view the topic of Israel, let alone the Israel Lobby (as defined by Mearsheimer and Walt), as a salient issue in voting.

Just for clarification, here’s the comment from SoU that I’m referring to above:
“Jews just don’t organize politically in America as a cohesive group in the same way that Christians do, and even when they do, it is readily overshadowed by the incredible hubris of christian political groups.”
The second contention seems true – but the first is false.

From the opening of the PDF for your (2), “American Jews are strongly linked to the Democratic Party. Since 1928, at least 60 percent of American Jews have voted for the Democratic candidate for President in every election since 1980.” They also note the preference of many American Jews for a two-state solution (which is not merely an American preference – many Israeli Jews do not prefer the policy outcomes generally promoted by the American Israel Lobby).

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Ronan(rf) 12.01.13 at 12:12 am

Ah got you.

I don’t know enough about US politics, so a question on:

“Jews just don’t organize politically in America as a cohesive group in the same way that Christians do”

Why do you think this isn’t the case? (genuine question, not a gotcha etc) As you say the Israel lobby is a diverse group and shouldn’t be considered ‘Jewish’, so is it just the fact that the ‘Jewish vote’ has historically gone Dem that makes you think that the Jewish vote organises politically in the same way as Christians *?

But isnt that just the norm for comparable demographic groups (minority groups concentrated in urban areas)?

*is this true or is it just specific Churches ie Evangelical .. does the Catholic vote organise like this?

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Ronan(rf) 12.01.13 at 12:17 am

or,more clearly, could you expand on:

“I can’t say anything conclusively but my hunch is that the random Jewish voter is more likely to be tied in to the system, whereas what drives Christian policy successes are the efforts of slightly less representative members of those communities.”

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Ed Herdman 12.01.13 at 1:02 am

Detailed post incoming, buckle down! I apologize if large swaths of this are uninteresting but some of it should be helpful to give the larger context of American political studies and trends, in a way that trying only to answer your questions directly might not be.

It seems to me that data about enthusiasm for candidates (which is measured in the National Election Survey) is a close proxy for enthusiasm for elections (and that is certainly highly associated with high turnout), and enthusiasm for elections would seem to be a close proxy for finding people who organize. This is just a starting point – it isn’t precise, and it is open to being refuted (along with my other statements) by data, but it’s good to start with a hypothesis.

It’s not just that the American Jewish vote goes Dem (just 60% according to the paper you link at (2) – note this is enough for an election, but not enough to determine universal agreement amongst American Jews); there is ample evidence that any group with a partisan tendency overall tends to be interested in politics.

We have a counterexample: People who don’t vote, and are not interested in political organization, tend to be independents – they don’t know about issues and they don’t become partisans. If you ask them about a political issue or a person in politics, they may well not have even heard about what or who you are referring to, even if that person has been plastered all over the news!

Partisans provide the majority of votes for elections, are highly organized, and highly reliable to vote according to their partisan affiliation – Democrat or Republican. That accounts for the large percentage of votes, but due to our system of voting, it doesn’t explain what shifts votes among groups that aren’t strong partisans. Those are independent voters, and here is one of the key tensions in American voting trends: At the same time partisans remain in opposition to one another at the ballot box, the outcome is often decided by less partisan and less informed independents voters shielded from most election coverage by a veil of relative disinterest.

This doesn’t oppose what I wrote before. Election campaigns have trouble targeting these independent voters, because these independent voters are hard to reach (either by choice or accident). We have people deciding elections in the U.S. who are the least informed about the issues and candidates, but this doesn’t make them a majority. What influences these independent voters are “short term forces,” i.e., October Surprises and other events that pierce the veil of ignorance and apathy (it is a regrettable reality that the media tends to try to cleanly split these independents along demographic lines, creating nice-sounding but not really true storylines about “soccer moms” or whatever the pencil-in-ear brigade comes up with).

You ask a bunch of interesting questions and the short answer is that so far I have a plausible hypothesis – but I haven’t checked it against the data. As the paper you linked for (2) suggests in its title, and as you mention, urban areas provide one area where there can be spurious or confounding relationships when you fail to control for the right variables. That is definitely something interesting to look at.

At the same time, it is still useful to talk about the undifferentiated bloc of American Jewish voters as it is to talk about Democratic or Republican voters – when you are talking about general election trends it doesn’t follow that you need a story about the causal stories of members within the group, for example within factions inside that larger umbrella of “Democrat” or “American Jew.” This is just due to the level of analysis being looked at here.

So yeah – big question here – is it right to use the same assumption about Jewish voters as we use for any large undifferentiated group, or should we instead be splitting that group more finely? I’m not opposed to it – but 60% voting Democratic signifies that there may be significant dissents within that group, although 60% is a strong partisan tendency.

About the Catholic and Protestant Churches – I believe I’ve found evidence (even after controlling for a variety of variables) that many strong Catholics hold views on the poor at variance with the social justice tradition of their Church (as an organization whose official views are defined by the Magisterium).

Protestants are a familiar example – overall, American Protestants have a very small but significant tendency to feel better about the poor than all other groups lumped together. Of course, many Protestants are poor, or African-Americans, or both, but even after you control for these things, Protestants still seem to have positive feelings about the poor, beyond that of the Catholics.

I can’t go much farther than that – that study of mine was a bit of a fishing expedition and the next thing I looked at was controlling for people who went to religious services every week – this still doesn’t seem to create any discernible feeling on the part of Catholics towards the poor (technically, the feelings didn’t pass a 90% significance level, let alone the 95% level we prefer).

Unfortunately the data doesn’t go finely enough into differences within these religions – i.e. between Evangelical Protestants and others. I will say, though, that we shouldn’t be surprised if some of the standard stories about these groups also will prove false once we control for some variables – even if they appear backed up in the data to begin with. For example, if we could control for people who are in close proximity to the poor, you probably would see some more positive feelings towards the poor amongst Evangelicals.

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Ed Herdman 12.01.13 at 1:05 am

Oh, and I agree that “tied into the system” is vague. What I mean is that when your large undifferentiated community votes with the Democrats 60% of the time, that again implies a partisan leaning. On the other hand Protestants and Catholics don’t show such strong partisan leanings (even as we know that Republicans tend to be white, male, older, and Protestant) and it is likely that a lot of that support comes from a smaller subgroup.

It is important to note the disparity between what the NES data tells us – “what did voters think before and after the election?” and what we want to find out – “who pulls the levers of power?”

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Ronan(rf) 12.01.13 at 1:17 am

Thanks Ed

Just to clarify, when I said at 283 .. “or,*more clearly*, could you expand on:” .. I didn’t mean to imply that your sentence wasn’t clear, rather that my 283 read back muddled to me, so I thought the best way to get what I was thinking across was just to ask you to expand on that thought

(which you’ve more than done, so thanks!)

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SoU 12.01.13 at 9:36 pm

Ed – while we can quibble about details/definitions, you’re probably right to call that part of my post into question. i was being a bit hyperbolic in reaction to some pretty wild claims above.
What i meant to capture was how jewish voters – even if they have very coherent voting paterns, etc, as a group – do not organize politically in the same way. i hear plenty of anecdotes from catholic and christian friends of exhortations from their minister to vote this way and that on every little issue (this is esp. prominent in certain areas of the american south). I rarely, if ever, hear similar anecdotes from my jewish friends regarding their rabbi(s). i mean, the obvious rejoinder is ‘they are already voting cohesively, that work has been done’ – and i dont really have a response to that objection. but i just don’t see jews being called upon, as jews, to vote in pattern X by someone in a position of power within the jewish community nearly as often as i see that sequence from christian leaders. i would also hazard that a lot of the ‘jews=democrats’ data is driven just as much by other factors, like educational attainment, locational factors, etc.

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