It’s 2016, and we Jews have a lot to answer for.
A political battle wages in the United States. On one side, a group powerfully desirous of government-enforced universal human love, understanding, and prosperity. On the other, a group that campaigns for the preservation of tribe and nation in a world ever more violent and insane.
Both groups hate the Jews.
Let’s put aside the fact that Jew hatred really needs no reason, and look instead at its manifestation on each side.
The universalists hate the Jews ostensibly because they are committing genocide but really because the Jews are irredeemably tribal, a group separate from other nations, whose duties to one another come before their duties to the swift march of progress, as demonstrated by their unfortunate allegiance to their own dynamic state, Jewish, Western, and wealthy. Damn Jewish fascists.
The nationalists hate the Jews ostensibly because the Jews are simply not of their tribe but really because the Jewish tribe, rather than minding its own business out near Arabia or the like, says that there are rules bigger than any one tribe, that might does not make right, and that tribes are universally obligated to act in a way that’s Good and not Evil, capital letters intended. Damn Jewish commies.
I, personally, find it strange that Jews should be enamored of either of these groups. I survey the situation: Bernie supporters would love me if I, like Bernie, were more about Bernie than I am about my allegiance to other Jews. Trump supporters would love me if I would just admit my moral judgement holds no sway over what are essentially white, Christian, European affairs. My conclusion: With friends like these, who needs friends?
The irony is that the model this country was founded upon, with its covenantal Constitution and its moral grounding (including the Declaration of Independence), directly parallels the Jewish model of a closed, limited tribe with universal ideals. In other words, the United States as an objective reality to which its citizens belong and should be loyal is coupled with the moral nature of the country, famously unique as a nation founded on principle rather than mere historical happenstance, which allows for castigating the country’s actions while still remaining utterly devoted to it. In a word, traditional American patriotism (unlike its special 2016 variants) follows the Jewish notion of family coming first, even though family can sometimes be evil.
Look at how public opinion in Israel works on the whole. There is daily partisan sniping, each side convinced that the other is a reprehensible evil. But when it comes to defense, to war, to surviving the onslaught of our endless enemies, Israel is Israel, and the enemy is, as a rule, the enemy. If Jews were not tribal, if every act of evil or incompetence was part of the definition of the relationship between Jew and Jew, eventually all confidence in one another would be lost and the state would fall apart; certainly the support of American Jews for Israel would disintegrate. On the other hand, if Jews were only tribal, criticism or moral evaluation of evil or incompetence would be not only forbidden but actually absurd, because the survival and strength of the tribe is the only good. Instead, we Jews have been finding a balance for millennia (where the balance lies exactly is, of course, a matter of debate), a united tribe with a sense of universal morality.
So, too, could be the American way, a blend of nationalism and universalism, a sense of loyalty to one another combined with a sense of our own fallibility and moral shortcomings. The two are not a contradiction, any more than the love and contract of a marriage are a contradiction. Nationalists want the contract independent of love with no opportunity for divorce that is the foundation of abusive marriages; universalists want love independent of a contract which is not, in fact, a lasting, objective marriage at all but merely a fling that melts away at the first sign of trouble.
We, as Jews, have been living under the weight of these paradoxes for millenia, but we have not yet managed to teach the world the ultimate lesson: that there is no easy way out of this tension, no option to simply pick a side, because G-d made this world to see how the contradiction plays out, how the object can be a vessel for the subject, and eventually merge into one.
Originally posted on Hevria.