Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Rant About Love And Hatred

I stayed by my "grandrav" for Shabbos, which was really good. We talked a lot about all kinds of topics having to do with Torah and the Jewish community — geographically, philosophically, religiously, socially, as well as unfortunately some politics too. I also saw another learnèd friend of mine over there too, which was cool.

Anyway, some of these discussions got me thinking.

I know many people who want to go out and change the world. Some of them are still just dreaming. Some of them are laying plans. And others, H' yishmereim veyatzlihheim, are already out there, taking charge and changing the world for the better.

I have one particular wound in the Jewish communal body that I want to sew up. One particular tumor that I, personally, need to see excised. There are way too many people out there who think that being Jewish is about being superior to the rest of the world. About us being important and everyone else being shit. About six billion living breathing human beings, created in the image of God, having the sole purpose of servicing us, being used and abused?

That's not what being mamlekhet kohanim vegoy qadosh — a kingdom of priests and a holy nation — is about. Zarim, non-kohanim, aren't there to be utilized and abused by priests. Everyone knows that. Maybe in some theocratic feudal society, where the religious functionaries are in charge, and everybody else is a serf... but not in Yisra’eil! Kohanim are there to serve the zarim; priests — and rabbis, teachers, leaders, anyone with a communal job — are there to serve the people, not the other way around!

As my brother condensed into a convenient-sized soundbyte,
אהבת ישראל
cannot be based on
שנאת הבריות

You cannot create Jewish pride, attachment to Judaism, or concern for other Jews, by teaching hatred or contempt for the rest of the human race.

You cannot save your community by mutilating your soul.

Being Jewish is not about being 'special' or 'better' than everyone else. It's not about being good while everyone else is evil. It's not about having some kind of right, or dream, of using other people like tools. If you think you're that kind of 'special', you're not special at all. You're just another two-bit egotist, like all the rest.

Being Jewish is about having a contract with God. It's about inspiring the world. It's about being moral, caring, and productive. It's about being a mensch.

If you think that being Jewish means that only you matter, and that the rest of God's children are there to be used by you, you're not just using other human beings — you're using God, using Haqódesh Barukh Hu’ for your own self-aggrandizement and self-inflation. We have two terms for that. One is מעילה. The other is חילול השם. The first can be atoned for. The second cannot.

It says in the Babylonian Talmud masekhet Yevamot 79a that this nation has three identifying characteristics — those who are merciful, those who have a sense of shame, and those who do acts of kindness. What the heck ever happened to that?


Blogger ALG said...

Hear, hear!

As increasingly happens, probably because I'm 28 and female and hang out with a lot of Orthodox people, I recently overheard a discussion about whether it was better to have a frum woman look after your baby and be able to sing "Aleph Bais Vais" or whether it was better to have a Hispanic woman who could also scrub the bathroom, wash and cut up vegetables (but not cook, chas v'shalom, because of bishul akum), do laundry, and vacuum.

It's not that I'm against hiring childcare and/or hiring someone to help take care of the house and cook and do laundry. For those who can afford it--more power to them. It takes a village to raise a child, and, sadly, we no longer live in villages or have easy access to cooperative childcare arrangements. But I don't think that the distinction between whether one person can do all of those things should depend on whether it is a frum Jewish woman or a Hispanic woman. It should depend on whether any one person can do all of those things at one time without sacrificing the level of childcare and/or falling down dead from exhaustion. Or it should depend on how many hours the woman works. Or how many hours the baby sleeps. Or if the baby is calm and happy and easy or a bit more difficult. But why would you expect a Hispanic woman to clean your house and take care of your kid, but not a frum Jewish woman?

I remain puzzled. And disconcerted. And scared of staying in this world if more such conversations are in my future.

12/16/2007 4:54 AM  
Anonymous brother esav said...

Everyone knows you can't steal a lulav and shake it, or a thousand dollars and give it to tsedakah. That would be a "mitsva haba'ah be'avera", a mitsva ennabled by a sin. And if you do so, the mitsva doesn't even count on your behalf. It's mumbo jumbo practiced by a criminal.

Same thing here. Any love-of-same (or love-of-self) that comes from hatred-of-the-other isn't merely *ineffectual*, it's also not really love at all. Lema hadavar domeh? To the case of a schoolyard bully who taunts the other kids in order to feel bigger than them. And no matter how hard they try, they eventually learn (one hopes) that you don't feel any better about yourself by putting down others, because that's the nature of self-esteem.

12/16/2007 7:00 AM  
Anonymous brother esav said...

I should also reference Rav Leibtag's observation that "kedusha" in the Torah means "the separation/dedication of one portion in order to sanctify the whole".

12/16/2007 7:04 AM  
Anonymous Daniel said...

I’m de-lurking to say I agree with you 100%. People who think being Jewish means being better than non-Jews are just showing their own insecurities about their identity.

However, I worry that the problem is more difficult to solve than it seems. I think the entire concept of “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” is intrinsically liable to misinterpretation.

True story: I have a friend who I have recently had to tell that the only way to preserve our friendship is never to talk about religion again. The reason: she isn’t Jewish. In fact, she’s a reconstructionist pagan (I know there are halakhic implications; I had already done some research into what I could and could not talk to her about when I discovered what her beliefs are and this is over and above that), and she absolutely will not believe me when I say that I don’t believe God hates either her in particular or non-Jews in general, and I got tired of her twisting everything I say on the subject to fit her hypothesis.

The fact is that being a light to the nations is a surprisingly complex idea, and even if it is taken as meaning “inspiring the world”, there is still something of a power-relationship embedded in there. After all, there are plenty of non-Jews (like my friend) who feel the world would be a better place if we monotheists hadn’t inspired anyone in the first place. I don’t agree with that interpretation, but I can see how easily Jews and non-Jews mistake it for the real one, and I have learnt from experience that it is a very difficult misconception to correct.

12/16/2007 12:44 PM  
Blogger David Guttmann said...

Well said and it needs to be repeated. Unfortunately it seems to fall on deaf ears. We need to start with the educational institutions, the yeshivot, the Rashei Yeshiva who themselves believe in the special Jewish soul and misinterpret accordingly.

12/16/2007 6:15 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Thanks for adding more anecdotes to the disturbingness. Although i feel a need to lighten the mood by hypothesizing that maybe they just think a frum Jewish woman would be too JAPy to do housekeeping work ;-)

brother esav:

very good points, about the criminal mumbo-jumbo, bully, and kedusha.


thanks for the delurkage and encouragement!

you're right about the complexity of the chosenness idea; there's a very wide range of understandings, with varying amounts of power-dynamics, hierarchy, patronizing, or other factors which can feel wrong and rub up against other values and attitudes that Yahadut has trained us to hold. even just the idea that "we have the truth" is enough to make other people feel offended that we disagree with their truth.

you may very well have exhausted all possibilities already, but according to some understandings of the Me’iri, your friend could count as no more עכו"ם than a Christian, depending on her exact Pagan Reconstructionist beliefs. the first PR i ever met, actually, a Celtic believer, insisted that original Celtic Polytheism believed that all the gods are expressions of One Divine Unity (and that's why they were so easily converted to Christianity), as many Hindus also believe. The other question, besides the mathematical question of whether all the gods = One, or if it otherwise looks like שיתוף to the Creator, is the question of morality. According to some understandings of the Me’iri, the actual theology doesn't matter, it's the moral/ethical philosophy that comes out of it that does; which would mean that if she believes that the gods want her to follow a code of morality similar to our own, you could halakhically trust her in ways that an old-time Ba‘al- or Huitzilopochtli-worshipper could not be trusted.

Maybe i'm just unjustifiably optimistic, but i can't imagine that contemporary PR people, rebelling against what they see as an oppressive monotheistic culture, would also throw away the dominant liberal zeitgeist of human rights to life, liberty, and not being sacrificed.

David Guttmann:

nothing to say but "i agree"

12/16/2007 11:14 PM  
OpenID daniel-saunders said...

(This is the same Daniel as above; I've only just worked out how to link my name to my blog)

Good points (and yes, my friend does believe that her many gods are somehow avatars of a single infinite, incomprehensible Creator), but my friend simply doesn’t believe me. I recently discovered (although I haven’t been able to check the original sources) that R’ Isaac Arama and others felt that non-Jews aren’t even held liable for avodah zara any more, just for their ethical inter-personal conduct. I even quoted Malachi 1.11-12! But she always insists on the most fundamentalist interpretation possible, which is why I had to give up arguing, even if that leads to a hillul Hashem by leaving her with a mistaken view.

Maybe i'm just unjustifiably optimistic, but i can't imagine that contemporary PR people, rebelling against what they see as an oppressive monotheistic culture, would also throw away the dominant liberal zeitgeist of human rights to life, liberty, and not being sacrificed.

I agree (which is why I have no problems being friends with her), but talking to her I was surprised to discover that most PR people she has met are not socially liberal hippie-types (as I had assumed, and as she is), but libertarian right-wingers. My friend believes in the Germanic/Norse pantheon and she admitted that they do have a problem with neo-Nazis using their mythology and rituals, but I don’t think that’s any more representative of most PR people than [insert name of a fundamentalist Jewish rabbi/group] are representative of Orthodox Judaism.

12/17/2007 12:24 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Paradigm unto the nations. How it goes with Israel is indicative of how it will go with the others.

When the teacher calls you to the front of the class, it does not necessarily mean you're the best student - but there is something exemplary in what will happen next.


Great post Steg - but, as you know, I already agree with you on your point (having an understandable bias along the same lines). I particularly like how you draw the tone back to the three identifying characteristics.

12/17/2007 4:32 PM  
Blogger Ariella said...

It irks me to hear a cleaning woman referred to as "the Goya," insinuating that menial labor is appropriate only to nonJews. I find it very shocking that otherwise decent people use such expressions. Would they like to be referred to as in a derogatory fashion by nonJews?

12/19/2007 9:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

define am segulah, and similar pesukim.

a standard conception of the end of days is that goyim will either be wiped out, or subservient to jews.
believe it.
or not.

not the only part of judaism that doesnt sit well...

12/20/2007 6:08 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


the principle behind עם סגולה is that we have a contract with God that gives us greater responsibilities and the privileges that go along with them (for instance, a direct relationship with God). that's clear from the פסוקים.

maybe that conception is "standard" where you come from, but the one i learned from the נביאים is that everyone else will come to learn from us. unfortunately, the נביאים also attest to the possibility that the road to the later days will be bloody and conflicted.

12/20/2007 7:02 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


unfortunately, frequently anti-fundamentalists are even more fundamentalists than the people they're trying to attack. it's easier to attack a strawman argument than a living, breathing phenomenon.

the back of the hill:

thanks! i like your front of the class metaphor, that definitely fits the paradigm.


i was bothered by an otherwise good book on kashrut, published by artscroll, because of the way it assumes that the only non-jews encountered in a jew's life would be a maid.
but a friend of mine pointed out that unfortunately, that's often the case, especially for artscroll's demographic.

12/20/2007 7:05 PM  
Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

Wow. I'm so glad not to be in an environment like that. Right now the nerd crowd that I hang out with is mostly non-Jewish, and I'm the only observant Jew in the group. So I'm very far removed from the anti-gentile bigotry, even so far as that none of my friends here even know that there are crazy right wing Jews who are racist and hate non-Jews (regardless of skin color). The only reason they would know this is if I rant about it to them.

Though once upon a time I was in a Yeshivish BT community for Shabbat, and over the dinner table we discussed the "halacha" that you're not supposed to give gifts to non-Jews, and the dillemmas this caused with intermarried families. I had never heard of this halacha before. No one had a source to give me.

I guess I'm a koferet b'ikar since not only do I think this halacha is stupid (if it can even be called "halacha") but I revel in breaking it, and knit shiny things for my non-Jewish friends and bring them shiny rugelah from Israel.

(Though in a conversation this past Shabbat I found that one of my friends had learned about this law growing up, and the teacher concluded that you could give gifts to non-Jews if it were for business gains, but not if you're just being nice. Her response beyond "this is stupid": Isn't this just reinforcing stereotypes non-Jews have about Jews?)

1/07/2008 5:33 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

knitter of shiny things:

it's called the halakha of lo’ tehhaneim, and there are definitely opinions to rely on that it only applies to either the 7 Cana‘anite Nations or only to immoral idolatrous people who in the Me’iri's words are not "restrained in the ways of religion", as opposed to almost all of the Non-Jews we encounter in our day-to-day lives.

1/07/2008 5:46 PM  

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