Korach and the Spies Open a Holocaust Museum

“Right through here please,” says Gadiel ben Sodi. It’s all prepared: cement floors and exposed brick and a real cattle car through which all the museumgoers will pass. Monitors big as billboards show the faces of the holy, fading placidly in and especially out. Thirteen men stand with the pride of builders whose private toil is finally ready for others’ eyes. A fourteenth, a teacher, law-giver, and famous mountain climber with a thick white beard is the first outsider to step through their exhibits. There are nerves in the air—he has also commissioned it.

They show him through the process of history, the special Kristallnacht diorama, the personal artifacts, the solemn crimes. “A stone would weep,” he remarks quietly, and the thirteen try to show no sign of their deep inner satisfaction. They pass the mini-treatment of the European fronts. They conclude with the liberation, the documentation, the arrows reaching like vines seeking sunlight across oceans and to a well-known land in the East Mediterranean.

“Where is the rest of it?” asks the visitor. The thirteen are dumbfounded. One of them, the one with burns, begins to smirk as the other twelve shuffle their sandals. He too-casually walks off to check on something.

“What do you mean, the rest?” asks Shaphat ben Hori, after what feels like forty years.

“Where is the lesson of this museum? What are we to learn?” Tittering among the twelve. Two begin to nod as if this is what they were wondering all along. Ten look merely dumbfounded.

“The whole question doesn’t start, really,” says one of them quickly, as if trying to sneak the words in under a falling blade. “Because the Holocaust isn’t like anything else, so no lessons are really applicable. That’s what ‘holiness’ is, and you chose us for our holiness and its holiness, didn’t you? We are leaders for a reason, and you are our inspiration (there are none like Moses after all) and the Holocaust is incomparably holy and were we to seek lessons or applications elsewhere it would just dilute the particulars of the event itself that we are meant to be commemorating. Other things simply aren’t the holocaust so why do they belong here?” He pauses to take a breath, and before he can continue Moses holds up a single finger. Our Holy Teacher’s eyes move briefly to the thirteenth man, who is dusting off a display case full of Soviet art and whistling to himself.

Moses looks back at the twelve, who in turn are studying the floor. “I am not G-d,” says Moses. Absolute silence reigns. He waits. No one has anything to say. “The Holocaust is not G-d.”

“Well—”

“Since it is not G-d, it is created by G-d. So, the Holocaust has that in common with other things. Doesn’t it?”

“Well, yes,” someone, probably from Yehuda or Shimon, gathers the courage to respond. “but G-d has created things totally differently. I mean, if you say it’s all just the same you’ll get ‘Auschwitz stubbed toes’ and ‘Hitler poor aesthetics taking advantage of populist bad taste’—”

“Just as G-d created the land and the wilderness differently?” asks Moses. The spies wince. “You seem to think that the natures of things somehow overpower the One G-d to produce an insurmountable diversity tantamount to idolatry,” he notes with gently, infinite patience. They catch a flash of gold in his eyes and shudder.

“Ahem.” They turn as one to find the thirteenth man raising his hand.

“This guy,” says Amiel ben G’mali.

“Me,” says Korach.

“He’s gonna show you his slideshow now,” groans a spy.

Korach already has the projector out and gives a glare to the spy that would crack open the earth. He turns to Moses, manages a smile, and launches into his presentation. NEVER AGAIN lights the nearest wall. Korach clicks through trigger warnings and into disturbing images from Rwanda, Syria, China, and other, closer places. A somber Eastern European fiddle accompanies the diagrams for a well-designed #NeverAgain Genocide Exhibit, including booths where visitors can sign up to volunteer with or donate to contemporary aid organizations. The music ends and Korach awaits Moshe’s response with rubbing hands.

Moshe looks disappointed. Korach’s eye begins to twitch. “You don’t like it, do you?” Moshe shakes his head.

“This is all politics,” Korach enunciates through gritted teeth. “You’re only saying this because if the Holocaust isn’t special, you aren’t special either.” The spies gasp.

“The holocaust is not G-d,” says Moshe again.

“It’s not even holy!” Korach nods.

“Since it’s not G-d,” continues Moses, “it is created by G-d. Since creation is ex nihilo, from nothing, the Holocaust has nothing inherently in common with those other things.”

“You can’t be serious,” says Korach. “You just told the spies in last week’s parsha that One G-d means one inherent nature underlying everything. It’s the same G-d in Israel as in the wilderness; that was their mistake. Now you want me to ignore the obvious essential similarities between Dachau, North Korea, and Texas, between me and you?”

“We have nothing in common,” Moshe says, full of sorrow.

“We’re speaking the same language!” cries Korach.

“It’s hard to say,” says Moshe diplomatically.

“But wait,” objects a spy, “What are we meant to do? How do we finish the museum? Is the holocaust comparable to other things, or incomparable?”

“Good question,” says Moses. “May I suggest learning lessons from the Holocaust not through direct qualitative comparison but through the principle of divine providence whereby every incomparable ex nihilo particular your soul encounters is itself a communication of G-d to be understood and used in His service?”

“But then all inherent natures are just like miracles!” cried a shocked spy.

“But then my mind’s ability to compare has to depend on a higher supra-rational logic!” complains Korach.

“I’m hungry,” says Moshe. “Is there falafel nearby?”

A Pox On Both Your Googleplexes

In the beginning, God created humankind with a mind to perceive the truth of the world and a soul that yearned to transcend that world and achieve love and unity beyond the bounds of reason.

These two goals are opposite goals.

The mind, by nature, affirms the existence of the world. The mind’s career is supported by perceiving the nature of things; things that do not exist do not have a nature. The mind is obsessed with what is.

The soul, by nature, denies the existence of the world. The soul is not interested in the nature of things but can find its way home to itself, to God, and to all mankind the way a bird finds the North after a long and bitter winter. The soul is obsessed with what can be, and what can be is the enemy of what is.

Of course, if a human being has competing impulses and competing purposes — and these are only the highest and most noble of our purposes. Most of the time we’re distracted by far lower ones — then there must be a higher human system to regulate and balance them. And if that higher system was to dissolve, the human being would spin apart.

Dear reader, I submit to you that one of the purposes of religion is to regulate the nature of the mind and the desire of the soul, so that they do not pull a human being apart.

I further submit to you that religion is perceived to be in the dumps right now and no one likes it, anyway.

And so, we have the fight between Google Guy and the Forces of Social Justice. And in this fight, I wish both sides success.

Take the FoSJ. This is a group of people, nay, an ideology, becoming ever-more famous for only trusting the mind as far as they can bend it. The sharing or discussion of fact, scientific or otherwise, is discouraged in face of the truest and deepest: some people are more oppressed than others, and now they deserve control.

They seem to deny that a claim, such as “there are biological differences between the sexes,” is even theoretically open to understanding or debate by all healthy adult human beings. They are not at all interested in what is, in the shared reality in which we all participate. All such preoccupations are chaff sent up by the forces of oppression to unlock our focus from what could be, that is, a world in which there is true equity for all.

Of course, in order to measure that equity in a way agreeable to all, the FoSJ must revert to reason and the mind, since reason and the mind are precisely the only means we have of meeting in some sort of objective, you know, world. But this itself is my point — no functioning human being can deny the mind indefinitely. It’s much easier to compel her with selective focus and force of conviction than to get rid of her. This is how one arrives at individuals who can purge heretics from their ranks for not believing that one’s access to the truth is determined by one’s sex, gender, skin color, orientation, etc.

I must reemphasize that I think the FoSJ ultimately come from a good place, though they are lost. They are the latest in a long tradition that seeks to break free from the chains of the human intellect in search of a better life uncompelled by worldly limitation. In this sense, they are utopian (and use science and philosophy as a rationalization for their utopianism, a trick in vogue since Marx). And the utopian stirring of the human soul, the longing, in some sense, for a messiah or a messianic age, has historically been balanced in a religious context.

That is not to say that actual religious messianic yearnings are even-tempered. On the contrary, they have historically led to disaster, in Judaism as well as in other religions. However, inasmuch as every human being has a deep desire to live without rules, and in most human beings this manifests as a longing for a more perfect world, it is remarkably rare that this desire has, in the history of world religion, led to violent or destructive messianic cult. Indeed, it is quite possible that the ability to regulate this impulse has lent longevity to some of the oldest and largest of our faiths.

The way religion regulates the utopian or transcendent impulse within man is through redirecting it toward the world as it is, right in front of us. God (or the realm of spirit, or the higher reality, or whatever) does not keep the imperfect physical world around for no reason; it somehow fits into the plan. The world is not a lie in the sense of something abhorrent to be burned down or ignored or fled, but rather a lie in the sense of something incorrect to be confronted, loved, hated, understood, fixed.

This willingness to engage the imperfect is an earmark of a system of thought that values the truth beyond mere success. If the transcendent messianic impulses of the soul are forced to confront some form of tradition, some logical calculus, or even a mere creation narrative, those impulses cannot maintain their own satisfaction as their end. The utopian vision must explain itself in terms of the past, as an outgrowth of it; the perfect world must “fit” the imperfect one as the conclusion of the plot must fit the rest of the novel. The desire to “burn it all down” or “leave it all behind” must explain why, if it’s worth all burning down, it’s there in the first place, why its apparent qualities are purely evil, why its joys are lies. It must, in short, explain something. And that means the mind has tied it down.

Of course, if there is no agreed-upon tradition, logical calculus, or creation narrative, things become dicier. People reach for some means to constrain the transformative, power-seeking forces of utopia, some shared reality with which to bind them, and in 2017 they land on, of all things, biology and evolutionary psychology.

I feel for Google Guy. The FoSJ are quite powerful in mid-2017, and they have little mercy nor patience for dissenting opinion. I would not want the witch hunt to come after me, and since it was inevitable, I suppose it took some sort of courage to publish his memo.

On the other hand, Google Guy is at least as wrong as the FoSJ, though for opposite reasons. I don’t blame him personally; like them, he is a product of his times; like them, he is one half of an old dialectic, continuing to clash and hash itself out.

Google Guy, of course, represents the mind in the current contretemps, and the mind is just as central to the human reality as the transcendent yearnings of the soul. Whereas the latter seeks to escape reality and its governing principles to achieve perfection, the former is by nature attuned to reality and its governing principles. The mind’s entire purpose is to see what fits and what does not. When someone tells Google Guy that there are no non-social differences between men and women (because that’s what we deeply wish were so) he raises both eyebrows (because he has studied the matter, and no).

He then begins putting together charts and diagrams and weaves the words of science!

But science is not synonymous with the mind, not really. Just as the FoSJ express the deepest yearnings of the human spirit unmoored from any system or past to guide them, so does the Ev. Psych. expert adhere to the principles of logic and intellect undirected toward any higher or transcendent end.

I speak not only of performing science for the sake of science, not only of the continued insistence of scientists that teleology does not exist, but most pertinently of the absolute refusal to consider human beings as more than purely physical, the way a rock is physical.

In 2017, some scientists are barely willing to countenance that there is perhaps more to a man than there is to a mollusk. And when they do countenance it, the difference is explained in purely evolutionary, and therefore material, terms. This is the role of Evolutionary Psychology, the study of how to excuse the meaningful, purposive, mental, and spiritual in terms of the material. It is a realm of knowledge geared toward It is a field born of a fierce faith that putting stuff together can somehow create a private subjective mind and that this then-nonexistent subjective consciousness was selected for survival purposes.

Whether or not this faith is justified, evolutionary psychology now plays the role of marriage counselor, trying to reconcile our biological knowledge with the obviously spiritual nature of our experience, which has been estranged from modern science since modern science was invented. It purports to achieve this unity by explaining how the spiritual nature of our experience is purely biological. Of course, the real trick lies in explaining how explaining itself can be purely biological, and it is again an article of faith that one day neuroscience will do just that.

If this sounds vaguely messianic, that’s because it is. Just as, ironically, the FoSJ must at least superficially kowtow to the mind to argue for their anti-intellectual position, so must the scientists contradict themselves by using their inexplicable subjective private experience to argue that such things are mere “emergent phenomena” of neurons or the like. And just as the FoSJ wave away any actual reason that might slow down their quest for utopia, so do social scientists refuse to acknowledge that human beings exist and will always exist beyond the grasp of quantifiable theories.

Traditionally, religion regulates the tendencies of the human mind to categorize, quantify, and understand. Though approaches to God are usually characterized by rules, a defined path, or a limited way, ultimately the human being exists beyond any of these constraints (thereby allowing for repentance, further growth, and forgiveness in the pursuit of said way).

But when the mind is not regulated by an appreciation for the limitations of rules or analysis, the human being, as a unique creation with infinite individual worth, is ultimately lost in favor of making things fit. And the dystopian potential of ideologies that makes people fit need no further elaboration.

Though Google Guy himself may not call for anything of the sort, the social and scientific analysis of human beings without constraint inevitably leads to things like valuing people for their IQ or market value, tendencies already present in the hyper-quantified world of Silicon Valley and spreading to other areas of our society.

The FoSJ and Google Guy are not really so different from one another, in the end. They are half-responses to the deficiencies of each other’s position, deficiencies that developed with the death of an overarching and unifying understanding of the human condition. The FoSJ see what a world ruled purely by “reason” with no room for the transcendent human being looks like, and are horrified. Google Guy sees what world ruled without any reason looks like, and is horrified. And they respond to each other with the opposite extremes, with syntheses that do not truly acknowledge at a fundamental level the existence of the opposite point.

But it does not have to be this way.

Rather than trying to synthesize the broken pieces of the enlightenment project, we could tap into ancient springs and revive ourselves with the old wisdom. For if we turn to the old understanding of God and man and their relationship with one another, we will find that the mind necessitates the transcend human spirit, and that the spirit exists only for the purpose of the mind, and that these two things are really one thing, a complete human being, who exists for unifying purposes.

Or we could continue to argue politics.

It is becoming increasingly common that politics in the United States is split along new lines that leave no good choices to a conservative, traditionalist, or adherent to an Abrahamic religion. I am speaking not only (I say, as the excitement of the same old battle rises within us) of the 2016 election, with its famously bad candidates, but also of the underlying culture war of which that election was in many ways symptomatic.

The culture war is itself no longer a fight about which principles ought to limit the pursuit of political power, but rather simply a struggle for power between two sides that share no common reality. There barely remains in our discourse any philosophical framework in which to argue.

Ultimately, these sides have spun away from each other with the weakening of any overarching system that can find a balance between our analytical minds and our transcendent, dreaming souls.

If our only options are an abandonment of all reason or subjugating ourselves to the dictates of biology and evolutionary psychology, I choose neither. Until we can find something that splits the difference, a pox on both your houses.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

A Framework For Torah Politics

One of the tensions Chassidus is most concerned with is between investiture and transcendence. G-d has made the world in such a way that both are necessary but are opposing forces. Investiture is necessary if one wishes to truly change something — the famous example is that the brilliant teacher cannot give the student his own knowledge as-is but must, if the student is to truly learn, convey the lesson at the student’s level of understanding. Transcendence, however, is necessary to truly change something, for to change is to become something new, not just to reshuffle what one is. A teacher who only invests himself at the level of the students’ understanding can give them nothing they don’t already have; a teacher who only transcends them can give them everything but they will understand nothing. It seems that instead some sort of synthesis is needed.

If we assume (and it seems a safe assumption) the Torah is meant to teach the world G-dly wisdom, we would need some synthesis in our understanding of it as well. Indeed, even a superficial analysis, we see that there are varying levels of investiture and transcendence — a written law and an oral law; four books of the Torah vs. Deuteronomy, the speech of Moses; Torah in the holy tongue and Torah in translation. Nevertheless, these syntheses provide no obvious approach to the relationship of Torah to worldly ethics and (less ethical, and more worldly) politics. This leads to a tendency for investiture and transcendence to separate out, like oil and water. What is required then, for Torah to “teach” politics, is a framework for their synthesis.

Without such a framework, we see the extremes in the usual attempts to apply Torah to a political context. On the investiture side, you have those who believe the Torah speaks directly to our political choices in the real world. Verses are selected (more on the true nature of this selection later) in support of a candidate or ideology. Mrs. Clinton is compared to G-d, the Zohar is said to have predicted a Trump victory. People point to this law or that Midrash to demonstrate the Torah’s support of progressivism or conservatism, limited government or entitlements, traditional sexual values or transgenderism. The obvious problem with this is that the truth of G-d is co-opted for fights that are all too human. This, in turn, incentivizes new interpretation of the Torah, trying to read it in a way that supports our pre-existing biases.

On the transcendence side, however, one sees a desire to remove Torah from any connection to worldly concerns at all. The Torah says only what it does, they wish to say, and any resemblance to secular matters is purely coincidental. This leaves a Jewish politician, say, free to support whatever position they like as long as it is not in clear violation of the law. However, this attempt to leave Torah uncorrupted also leaves it impotent, having nothing to say on matters of great importance to the average man seeking to do what is right. Further, it corrupts the Torah in every sense other than the legal one. That the book is the truth rather than a mere guide for action falls by the wayside, at least as far as truth human beings can appreciate or act on. Ultimately, it places a strict barrier between the human mind and the book and forbids its traversal — the mind is too universal and objective and would only apply the Torah to places, as a holy book, it has no business going.

So, everyone who wishes the Torah to be a holy and true book of practical moral teaching must find some kind of synthesis. Just such an approach was put forth by the Rebbe Rayatz, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch, sixth Rebbe of Chabad. The Rebbe Rayatz was the leader of Lubavitcher Chassidim in Russia under Stalin and was no stranger to political movements and their Jewish followers. His famous incarceration was the work of the Yevsektsiya, the Jewish communists later largely purged by the dictator.

On one of his journeys, the Rebbe Rayatz encountered a group of people arguing over which political system was supported by Torah, and each one brought proof that his position was favored by Torah. They asked the Rebbe his opinion. He told them that Torah, being the ultimate good and truth, contains and is the source of what is good in all the political systems.

This is not so much a straightforward synthesis as a redefinition of terms; we are not saying Torah is good so much as redefining good and truth to mean what Torah says. This is not arbitrary. If the Torah is G-d’s wisdom, it precedes the world and defines the world; it makes sense that “good” is defined by Torah rather than vice-versa. Therefore, what the Rebbe Rayatz has technically done is applied an even higher transcendence than what was previously considered. Not only is Torah too good for the world, but goodness itself is too good for the world. The entire process of seeking a “true” or “good” course of action is, in the Rebbe’s view, non-secular, since Torah itself is the G-dly Torah.

However, this further form of transcendence is, in fact, more permitting of investiture than it might appear. For if the Torah is merely a document existing beyond worldly concerns it is quarantined from practical application. But if Torah is truth itself, then any true or good aspect of any non-Torah worldview, no matter how base, is Torah — the way in which the thing is openly connected to the truth. Conversely, this does not bring the Torah down to the level of manipulation for political ends, because the only true end is the Torah itself.

More simply — the Rebbe acknowledges that every politics has some truth to it, but also that anything which is not Torah itself can never be the whole truth. The Torah is both invested and transcended, the truth of every thing but fully present in nothing except itself.

This synthesis allows us to begin to approach matters of Torah and politics without having to worry about whether the Torah is sidelined or corrupted. Take, say, universal healthcare. Sources can be brought from either side of the matter. The Talmud recognizes a need to heal the sick and the cost of care on individuals and communities. But what cannot be said is that there is no Torah opinion on the matter — since the very notion that anything about a man-made healthcare system can be good or true is predicated on reflecting Torah. On the other hand, we also cannot say that any man-made system is the Torah or could shift the Truth an inch, since if we know Him, we would be Him, and no approach to worldly affairs until Moshiach’s coming can be Truth.

We can plot a course of action that does not violate the Torah. We can even devote ourselves to fulfilling it in thought, speech, and action. But to build any sort of secular system is by definition to build something outside of Torah. It is only by bringing to bear G-d’s will upon our actions (rather than by trying to bridge intellectual systemic gaps) that we can bring true peace between the truth of G-d and the truth of the world. This is what is meant by Moshiach — to find the true part of every thing, and return is to the Truth that’s only one.

Understanding “The Pianist” & Jewish Opinion on Trump

If you’re Jewish and confused by other Jews’ response to Trump, whether the support he has from the religious and particularly the religious Israeli Jews or the powerful, loud opposition he faced from the non-religious American Jewish community, it will pay to remember The Pianist.

The story: A talented Jewish pianist from Warsaw is saved from certain death by his beautiful performance of Chopin. The Nazi officer who discovers him does not have the heart to destroy the artist and works to rescue him from the destruction of the holocaust.

The question is why. What happened in the mind and heart of an officer otherwise more-or-less committed to the Nazi endeavor that allowed him to make an exception for the pianist? The question is not so much on the true story behind the novel; in the real world it is always dangerous to assume the motions of the heart follow the dictates of logic; the pianist was saved because Hosenfeld the German officer was a Catholic, or because he was a schoolteacher, or because he felt guilt for the occupied Polish. It doesn’t matter; the question is how we read that unbearable moment in the shelled-out building when Szpilman is revealed to be an artist. If we want to understand what happened in those precious seconds of mortal and moral peril, what story could we tell?

The answers to this question, it must be pointed out, are the very answers that frame the Jewish response to the holocaust and perforce the Jewish response to all new external threats. To understand why a Nazi might not have killed a Jew is to understand why the Nazis killed so many Jews and how we might prevent any similar thing from occurring in the future.

 

So, here’s one answer:

The Nazi doesn’t kill the pianist because in that moment he realizes that Nazism is a lie, or at least a lie relative to the deep truth of shared humanity. The Jew and the German both participate in a shared appreciation of capital-A Art, highest of human endeavors, a mating of beauty and truth that demolished all the contrived boundaries that separate us. Hitler may say that a Jew is not a person, but in that sublime moment when a Jew’s will and a Jew’s hands transform wood and wire into undying eternity, even the Nazis do not believe him. Hitler forgot that we are all human, that we are united by far more than divides us. His and the Germans’ fear of the “other” and desire for power drove out the innate love of man that otherwise beats in every human breast.

The Nazis’ defeat, the unmaking of their plan, though obviously requiring military force in the short-term, comes ultimately and permanently from our refusal to separate from the “other,” from our acknowledgement of our shared humanity, from art, beauty, and love.

If Hosenfeld’s actions are to effect us, they must not be allowed to translate as a mere personal tolerance or forbearance. We must see them as a victory of our best self, the self we all share, over the fractious tendencies of tribalism and nationalism that threaten to swallow the subterranean truth that is human unity. It cannot be, “A certain nazi found it within his heart to save a Jew.” It must be, “We all find it in our own hearts to save one another, deep down in the place that makes us people.” This is how we learn.

 

Here’s another answer:

The Nazi doesn’t kill the Jew because, at the moment Szpilman plays the piano, he is a perfect German. Indeed, Nazism at its root is not proven a lie by the incident but rather proven true. Given enough training in culture and artistic talent, the Jewish untermensch can approach being human. The Nazis may have believed in a brutish philosophy but the majority of them were, at the end of the day, standard bearers of Western Civilization in general and German culture in particular, lovers of Wagner, Mozart, and Goethe, who saw the arts as yet another area where the Aryans were superior. And if a dirty Jew should succeed at the highest level of artistry, if he could demonstrate that he, too, was German, he may not deserve death. Not that this was of any benefit whatsoever to the millions who were killed, children and all. No, the opportunity to prove the quality of Jewish genetics was not extended to them; they were still Jews, after all. The progress of humanism, the arts, and love of all men was a casualty of the war; Chopin was just another heuristic for determining whether a Jew was fit or deserved the gas chamber; the survival of the pianist is in consonance with the death of six million Jews, most of whom could not find middle C.

Thus, the unmaking of the Nazis’ plan can come only through the application of force or authority, whether through military opposition to fascism or appeals to moral or religious principles to curb the will to power of the murderous art lovers. They must be taught, as Merlyn tries to impart to Arthur, that might does not make right. When art is a cudgel rather than the key to enlightened universalism, when Beethoven does not necessitate the brotherhood of man, all that’s left is morality and the Sherman tank enforcing it.

Hosenfeld’s actions are thus extraordinarily virtuous but do not directly present a lesson for us to learn; the good deed of one Nazi, if it ought to be seen in a broader context at all, is the exception that proves the rule of an evil in man’s soul that no amount of art or culture can fix. There may be no solution to the problem of tribalism, except education to choose the right over the easy and using all the tools of politics and intellect to systemically prevent the seizure of power by the power-hungry and imperious. To stop evil, those who are not evil must be confident and strong and must spread their influence as far as possible; it is only the binding principles of good and right that can truly civilize, if anything can.

 

The first of these answers was largely adopted by American Jews, whereas Israelis and the religious Jews found the latter narrative more compelling. Naturally, the average American Jew sees the crimes of the Nazis as a violation of universal humanity, as a perversion of the good man would do unto his fellow if society only allowed it. Many religious Jews, on the other hand, feel the Nazis’ crimes are evil like those of any murderer or tyrant, but special insomuch as they signal the failure of enlightened universal humanism buttressed by culture and the arts to withstand hijacking by the same old and brutal forces that once hijacked religion, monarchy, and everything else.

It is thus no surprise that, thinking narratively, the average American Jew sees an orange barbarian whose signature trick more than any President since the war is “othering” vast swathes of people, who expresses no overt devotion to the project of enlightened humanism, the arts, or erasing the boundaries society places between men, and that Jew concludes that Hitler or something like him has come once more.

On the other hand, many a religious Jew sees a barbarian with few morals, a narcissist who is successful in business but lives a life of debauched excess, and that Jew says that as the law governs and the society believes in a traditional rules-based morality, there is no reason to suspect a Hitler will be elected to the White House in January, nor could he carry out Hitlerian plans if he wanted to.

The average American Jew is especially despondent, because the project of universal human brotherhood based on what we all have in common has been meeting stiff resistance of late and (for various reasons not worth arguing here) President Obama was seen as the new hope and is now seen as the last hope with the electorate’s reversal.

But many religious Jews and Israelis are cautiously optimistic. Even if the man is G-dless and immoral, his total destruction of the status quo may be an opportunity to fix the long-eroding roles of the rule or law and traditional morality in our society, especially as they relate to the death struggle of Israel (and now, large portions of Europe) with totalitarian Islamism, a system which gives room to many of the worst domineering impulses of the human spirit. They feel this is a threat that can only be beaten back with military power and allies willing to accept that their way is, at the very least, the far lesser of the two evils. In short, they seek leadership willing to say that the enemy is evil and that we would be evil not to name them so, a president willing to use war correctly rather than write it off as a violation of the deepest ideals of humanity, a bit of the old-time “us and them.” And they think Trump may be the answer.

 

In the end, I think the divide in the Jewish community over President-elect Trump is far less an issue of ignorance, “fake news,” or deception than a pure “fact-based” analysis might let on. It’s instead a fundamental divergence in worldview that traces back to at least World War II, when our community chose two different paths in trying to ensure that calamity would never again strike our people or the world.

How The Jew Haters Desperately Need Our Help

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.