Monday, December 04, 2006

Wanted: Spine Transplant and Testosterone Injection for Olmert et al

By Jason Gold

Showing that he indeed needs a dose of "B&B" (balls and backbone), PM Olmert (and WhichMinisterAmIToday Tzipi Livni) overruled the cabinet which had the B&B to suggest that Israel actually has an obligation to protect its citizenry from Kassam rockets. In their rather finite wisdom, Livni and Olmert instructed the IDF not to take action to stop terrorists seen about to launch rockets towards Israel nor to try to hit them immediately after they have launched the rockets. Their rationale? That there were "other considerations" that transcended preventing Israelis from being murdered by Kassam rockets. Translation: Since Bush and company also need a dose of B&B (albeit a smaller dose than Olmert et al), as no one is listening to him except Israel because we have even less B&B than Bush (to finish the job in Iraq), we just need to continue to show that restraint that the Arabic State Department loves that leads to more dead Jews!!! (With thanks to Aaron Lerner from Imra)

The Jewish Narrative
By Matthew Mausner

What makes Judaism unique, in a way that all denominations can agree with, is that it is the only tribal wisdom tradition in the world specifically founded upon restoration from the traumas of slavery, colonization, and exile. Whatever else one wants to say about it, the Torah is an attempt (however successful) to give a broken people back the essentials of meaningful human life, essentials which are stripped away by the processes of enslavement, natal alienation (taking a child from its mother and home), domination, and rape.

These essentials can be summarized as follows:

  • identity, embedded in historical narrative and built upon a genealogy of familial ancestry;
  • wisdom, and continuity of its transmission;
  • detailed knowledge of how to live in the world;
  • a sense of belonging;
  • a real, tangible homeland.

While monotheism, our moral code, and any number of other ethical and philosophical elements are of course central to the influence of Judaism’s core texts on the world, those were not necessarily unique to the Hebrews’ tradition. Many other religious and/or tribal traditions had similar or resonant moral codes and monotheistic ideas; they do not help explain why, specifically, the Hebrew bible and tribal story have become the formative, sine qua non explanatory framework for two-thirds of the world’s people. There must be something about this particular story and text that help explain why this, and not any other tribal tradition, was adopted as the core of belief systems all around the world.

If any given animal was spread all over the earth, yet two-thirds of them shared some signature behavior, belief, or fidelity to a given location, biologists and evolutionary scientists would all look for a real explanation. Yet the risk of controversy seems to prevent most serious thinkers from grappling with the oddness of precisely this behavior among humans.

For Jews, however, it is a matter of life and death to do so. For us the tradition of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses and David and Bar Kochba, Jerusalem and Masada, is at least at a certain level simple—it is our tribal genealogy, our national history, our bloodline, our identity. Yet because of the choices of Christians and Muslims to incorporate it into their larger universalist narratives (generally without our cooperation or consent) we have difficulties not faced by any other nation in maintaining and (in the modern age) re-establishing ourselves in our homeland.

While rarely mentioned out loud, it is obvious to any Jew that there is something odd about Christian and Muslim belief systems and identities, in comparison with ours, or in comparison with tribal traditions of AmerIndians or Africans or Australian aborigines. Where are all of their tribal identities and affiliations? Why is their sacred geography built upon ours, rather than in their homelands in England or Morocco or Korea? On bad days, I call them the “Puff Daddy” traditions: they took our original story, remixed it, rapped over it, and became far more popular.

Christianity of course found its first strong foothold among the slaves of the Roman empire, the millions of dislocated and traumatized victims of Pax Romana. For them, the story of the Hebrew deliverance from slavery had a powerful appeal, an explanatory theology which answered the specific damages inflicted upon them by the processes of conquest, enslavement, and resettlement. Arabia, for millennia buffeted by almost every major empire and its conquests, proved fertile territory for Islam’s co-optation of the Hebrew narrative into a warrior creed, among similarly traumatized peoples. Both major monotheisms have maintained their appeal in spreading to the damaged, colonized, and dislocated of the world even to this day—an appeal which must be ascribed, at least in part, to these crucial aspects of the Hebrew narrative which answer needs which arise from such traumas.

For them, our story and our history are object lessons, demonstrations of the pedigree of their theologies, which have superseded ours. For us to stand up and demand that our literal existence, and our real-world tie to our homeland, be respected, is a direct challenge to their core theology of identity. It is not an intentional challenge, of course: we are simply trying to enact our own tribal story in our own homeland, as we have been trying to do for millenia. But in so doing, we DO implicitly challenge them. It is time that we become candid about that confrontation.

There is no need to attack theologies themselves; there is no need to demand that anyone, Christian, Muslim, or Jew, change their belief systems. Rather there is a crucial need to acknowledge the different LEVELS at which identity, belief, and the reality of land interact with these religions. Jews are a tribal nation, primarily related by blood, tied to a real history in a particular homeland; this is true regardless of one’s belief system. [Even leaving aside for a moment the long history of persecutions of massacres and forced conversions of Jews at the hands of Christians and Muslims,] it must be acknowledged that they are qualitatively different traditions and identities than Judaism. They are universalist religions, rather than tribal identities; they are messages, creeds, belief systems, meant to transcend any one place or people, and in fact meant to spread to the whole of humanity.

However, their origins in Abrahamic monotheism necessitate an uneasy relationship, at best, with Judaism and with Jews who persistently hold on to their own identity (with or without belief), who refuse to accept the new revealed truth. To deny the divinity of Jesus or Mohammed is ‘bad’ enough; but to actually return to sovereign majority in the holy land, to return to something approximating a coherent and autonomous existence as the ‘nation of Israel’ rather than as subordinate footnotes to the rule of Christendom or dar-es-Islam, is directly threatening. Even if many Jews see nothing divine about the establishment of the modern state of Israel, it must be acknowledged that its creation, in the eyes of Christians and Muslims, calls into question the mantle of legitimacy, the favor of the divine, they claim to have inherited directly from the ‘Old’ testament.

Many of them take literally the promises of y-h-w-h that if the nation of Israel conducts itself well, it will be secure and prosperous in the land, and if not, it will be exiled and downtrodden; Jews’ sorry plight was for centuries proof that such promises not only held, but proved that the favor of the divine had moved to the world-spanning empires of Christianity and Islam. So for Jews to be back in Israel implies the question: has God’s favor returned to the Jews—and if so, what of Muslims and Christians? Even if many Jews would wish for a non-religious state, for an atheist world, even if we don’t believe a word of scripture, we must acknowledge that for much of the planet, the foundation and existence of the sovereign nation of Israel is an apocalyptic event.

By the same token, we must acknowledge that this dynamic—whether the unbearable frustration and insult some Muslims feel at the existence of Israel, or the beatific adulation of some Christians—is not dependent on the particular borders, that is to say, it is irrelevant whether Israel includes parts of the West Bank and the Temple Mount or not. It was seen in the same terms from 1947 to 1967 (although for the Messianist Christians, Israel’s success in the ’67 war certainly stoked the fires of hope for apocalyptic change). The existence of a Jewish state in any form in the holy land is the destabilizing point for their theologies.

In order to deal with this, we need to take back the way our narrative is written and perceived in the world, and make a real case on our own terms as Jews for being here. The primary ways Israel has been presented to the world until now have ignored or downplayed its theological significance, despite our knowledge that such a perspective IS seen as irreducible truth by much of the world. At this point I think we can safely say that such approaches which do not address this issue, have not worked.

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