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August 01, 2003 - Image 78

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-08-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Arts Entertainment

RUFFLING FEATHERS

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Oakland Press

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from page 53

idea when it arose in the 1800s in
Germany. Judaism was built to be
reformed. Problem is, some of the
reforms were designed for little pur-
pose other than to make Jewish wor-
ship look less weird to any Christians
who might happen to drop by.
So a spirited, participatory free-for-
all was turned into Jewish church:
Rabbis put on robes, stood on a stage
in front of the room and engaged in
boring, monotone responsive readings
with the congregation. All the atro-
phied dullness of Christianity, only
without the salvation.
Worse, this induced what Freud
would call "regression and transference."
The audience of spectators regressed to
a childlike state and transferred parental
authority onto their rabbis, who became
more like priests administering the reli-
gion to their congregants.
No matter. Reform Jews figured
someone wearing a black hat, probably
somewhere in Israel, was doing the "real
thing." And so checkbook Judaism was
born, through which Americans could
practice their religion by proxy.
Little did they know their money
was going to some of the most stri-
dently Zionist sects around and forc-
ing the Israeli government to cow even
further to their bizarre demands.
Which brings us to the real reason
we can't talk about Judaism today:
Israel. Note — I'm not suggesting that
Israel shouldn't exist, but many readers
will already think I've just said that.
They cannot even see these words that
say otherwise.
Our problem is not with the Israelis,
but our insistence — as Americans —
in justifying a nation's existence with
our religion. By forcing the Torah to
serve as an accurate historical chroni-
cle of the Jewish claim to disputed ter-
ritories, Jews turn themselves into fun-
damentalists who have no choice but
to interpret their texts literally.
'Abraham got this piece from God
in Genesis, and Jacob got this piece
from the Pharaoh ..." The trans-
dimensional nature of Jewish myth —
as profound as that of any Eastern reli-
gion — is reduced to a real estate deed.
This literalism is a problem.
Fundamentalists believe that Jews
must be in control of the entirety of
biblical Israel in order for the messiah
to return to Earth.
This is why Orthodox extremists
from Brooklyn race — guns in hand
— to settle the West Bank. It is also
why the American Christian funda-
mentalists are responsible for funding
a majority of Jewish immigration from
Russia to Israel. They want to bring

on the End of Days and get to
Armageddon already.
But because many Jews refuse to look
a gift horse in the mouth, everyone
from Bush to Falwell becomes our allies.
Fear, desperation and a history of perse-
cution make for strange bedfellows.
To free ourselves from this self-
defeating conundrum, Jews must
understand our unwitting complicity
in this pact with, well, the devil. We
must entertain the possibility that
Israel, the nation, may not be the ulti-
mate realization of Jewish ideals as
much as a necessary compromise.
There are better arguments to be made
for a Jewish homeland than the assertion
that the "one and true God" gave it to
us. (That's not what abstract monothe-
ism was invented for, anyway. She's not
just our God — she's everyone's.)
After centuries of exile or worse by
nation states with their own official
religions, one Jewish strategy was to
create our own nation, with its own
official religion.
Although long characterized by an
independence from territory and local
gods, Judaism might not be completely
wrecked by the temporary suspension
of these values for the greater priority.
Israel may indeed be important to
the Jewish people and, as a potential
laboratory in ethical nation-building,
to the whole world, but its current and
inappropriate centrality to the Jewish
faith makes it a topic that cannot be
approached or discussed openly.
Like the synagogue and the Jewish
bloodline, Israel has become an idol.
As a result, many American Jews feel
that to question the religious or political
authority of Israel — to suggest, as I
have, that God might not have invented
the nation-state — is akin to blasphem-
ing Judaism or forgetting the Holocaust.
So, as the Jewish authorities have
made abundantly clear to me, we are
to remain silent.
Life for Jews in the Americas today is
as good as it has ever been. Only by
reviving the inquiry and activism that
are truly central to Judaism can we serve
as antagonists rather than passive sup-
porters of everything from blind funda-
mentalism to the Bush regime's designs
on the Middle East and the world.
Just because the Jews will inevitably
be blamed for provoking these cru-
sades doesn't mean we have to make
the accusation true.
Resistance is our tradition, and it's
worth fighting for. At this point, it's
more important to me that I do Judaism
than that I get to call myself Jewish.

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