Five Reasons Why Jews Tend to Gravitate to the Left
This document started-out as a letter to my Uncle which aimed to explain why many Jews identify with the Left. As I started to write it, it dawned on me that I had a few penetrating concepts that, perhaps, should be heard by more than my uncle’s ears and that these ideas should be promulgated to the world at large. (Yes, I know I sound nauseatingly full of myself. But read-on and you shall be edified.)
The other day you said to me that you wondered why so many Jews were situated on the left end of the political spectrum. I think I’ve heard you speculate along those lines before. (Sometimes, I think that when you mention the alleged misdeeds of Leftist Jews, you are, in a roundabout way, taking a snipe at me.) In any event, you are not alone. Lots of people have been annoyed by their perception that many Jews are radicals or socialists. Many people have found Jewish sympathy for the left illogical and stupid. They reason that since much of the left can been seen as anti-Semitic (latter day communists who were anti-Zionist, anti-colonialist Arabists, and advocates of affirmative action, a program that can only harm Jewish representation in higher education and the upper echelons of life since Jews tend to “outscore” all groups on standardized tests save, perhaps, Asians), Jews should not have much to do with the left. Also, although Jewish income levels in the United States approximate those of Anglicans, Jews, it has been said, tend to vote like Roman Catholic Puerto Ricans. And so people wonder: Why are so many Jews so ardently left-of-center. In this note, I will try to tell you why:
1) We are idol smashers.
To a large extent, this has to do with what it means to be a Jew. Being a Jew means being an idol-smasher. The first Jew was Abraham. His father’s profession was that of idol-maker. Abraham looked at the assortment of idols that suffused his primitive world, and he ridiculed the BS. He realized that inanimate heaps of wood and stone cannot govern the universe. Abraham, very simply, asked questions, doubted and disparaged blind acceptance of tradition and authority. Accordingly, the sort of person who is very Jewish is the sort of person who will shun reflexive deference toward conventional wisdom and will constantly venture-out, on his own, to find that which is really true.
Because Jews tend to ask questions and to doubt, they will ask questions of authority. The Jewish proclivity for questioning those in power tends to make Jews more receptive to left of center thought.
Ironically enough, the most Jewish of the Jews will often find themselves alienated from their fellow Jews. Because they decry herd-like acceptance of hoary customs and laws, they will continually find themselves at odds with their faith.
Consider the issue concretely, in the development of a Jew’s mind: In good Jewish schools, a teacher will tell a group of five year olds, on the first day of class, a story of some sort. Then he will ask his students to find the “Kasha,” or inconsistency, in this story. This inculcates the development of a challenging, probing intellect. And the legacy of this sort of education is the very radicalism that you despise.
The most Jewish of the Jews have always chafed at the boundaries of existent knowledge and belief, have always deviated from most Jews and from most other humans, have always been on the outskirts of what was deemed permissible or legal or prudent, and the most Jewish of the Jews have been traitors to their people and leaders of the world: Jesus, Freud, Marx, Spinoza.
2) The Multi-Thousand Year Dialectical Conflict Between Judaism’s Legal and Prophetic Traditions
I can just imagine your response to my use of the word Dialectical. I can veritably visualize Diarrhea’s (My uncle’s wife is named Rhea; I find it pleasing to call her Diarrhea) eyes glaring with Queenly disdain: David is using a Five Dollar Word because he is a pretentious, pseudo-intellectual asshole (Of course, in certain precincts anyone who dares to think who isn’t worth more than a million dollars is automatically tagged with the term pseudo intellectual). I use the word dialectical because a dialectic, as Hegal described it, is exactly what we have here. A dialectic is this: A phenomenon has within it the seeds of its own antithesis. Example: A) We feel love, B) We get really sick of loving that selfish bastard who hasn’t given squat in return and C) we finally feel hate towards that person whom we had loved. In other words, love created its opposite, hate. (Marx of course applied Hegelian dialectics toward material matters: Rich people create their opposite, poor people, i.e., they become rich by making other people poor.) Hegel also said that after the thesis, or original point of view, had created its opposite, or antithetical point of view, a synthesis would emerge.
In Judaism, long before the destruction of the second temple, there had been a civil war between the legal tradition and the prophetic tradition. More specifically, the exacting, almost intellectually sadistic and punitive legal tradition had given birth to its antithesis: The full-throated prophetic tradition calling-out for justice and helping the poor. Occasionally, Jacobean strains in the prophetic tradition (Abbie Hoffman) incite a revitalized and furious right: Think of Norman Podhoretz, writing the same thing for thirty years: “I used to be a radical, and people like Norman Mailer and Lillian Hellman were once my friends, but I have finally become a grown-up Jewish burgher with respectably dreary and bourgeois points of view.” Then, after having endured the sneering, smugness of the neo conservative years when Jews thought Bernie Madoff was G-d because he was rich (Hell, those rich bastards DESERVED to lose their money), many Jews voted for Obama (And he was a grand mistake, but we probably disagree as to why he was a mistake). In any event, this is how the dialectic played itself out in Judaism between the legal and prophetic traditions.
A big part of Judaism is the Law.
(People often say that the Jewish contribution to civilization has been the law, but, being a lawyer, I don’t understand why the world should love us for having given it the law. To me the Law is a means of using obfuscation, mental machinations and tricky language to shroud the truth and further injustice. I could give you so many examples of the law being used to further injustice that I wouldn’t really know where to begin. Just for the hell of it, I’ll tell you about the negative pregnant, a rule of law in Anglo-American jurisprudence that has, over the centuries, probably thrust millions of people into servitude and poverty. This is an example of the negative pregnant:
A alleges: B owes me one hundred dollars
B answers: I don’t owe A one hundred dollars
Result: B must pay A 99 dollars and 99 cents.
Reasoning: The allegation, by B, that he did not owe 100 dollars was “Pregnant” with the admission that he owed all lessor sums of money.
The negative pregnant is, to my knowledge, no longer in force in any jurisdictions of the United States; the last hold-out for this ancient tenet was the deep South. It is, incidentally, one of the reasons why lawyers often write documents with an obsessive-compulsive streak, forever wary and forever verbose.)
The law is, largely, all about the governance of commercial relations. By contrast, Christianity sometimes is infused with a longing to transcend petty commercial squabbles and rise to a more spiritual plane.
(Of course, I am not saying that Christians are more honest than Jews. After all, no one can beat the Vatican when it comes to playing the capitalist game. In the era immediately preceding the Reformation, suckers all over Europe gave the Church oodles of gold because the Church had a racket known as the sale of indulgences. Very simply, for X amount of Gold the priest could assure you entry to heaven, for 2X amount of money he could give you a package deal and get you, your wife, your mistress and your first born into heaven. Shortly before the Reformation, one very rich Bishop gave a dinner party in which the silverware and plates were all composed of gold and silver. At the end of the party, the Bishop, to broadcast his wealth, threw all the gold and silver cutlery and dishes into the sea to make it known that he had plenty more of that stuff)
Judaism is suffused with all things commercial. The Talmud, I have been told, seems at times like nothing but an arid treatise on contract law, replete with detailed and comprehensive analyses of every facet and permutation of a case in which a cow, costing x amount of money, fails to deliver milk. Judaism, therefore, in many ways has little to do with the things that we normally think of when we think of religion. It is, supposedly, not much interested in the metaphysical; it is deeply pragmatic and seeks to govern and define all of our day to day affairs, many of which are commercial.
Some of us get a little ill when religious study seems just like Law school. Actually, I first started to think about this and related issues when I heard a man, on line at a bank, say that Law school is liar school.
(This reminds me of my reaction formation theory of the professions. A reaction formation is a state of affairs in which one tries to conceal one’s socially unacceptable tendencies by purporting to believe in, or aspire to, the reverse of that tendency, e.g., one tries to conceal one’s desire to be a drag queen by purporting to be like John Wayne. In the professions, reaction formations play out as follows: a) If you want to make people feel stupid, you conceal this unsavory desire by purporting to want to educate people, and you become a teacher, where the high point of your day is screaming at a student and telling him he is stupid, b) if you want to drive people crazy, you become a psychiatrist (Results from the Eyesenck study: Two-thirds of neurotics who don’t go to therapy get better over time, but only 44 percent of those neurotics who go to analysts get better), c) if you want to hurt people physically, you become a doctor: e.g., i. the first class of anti-neoplastic drugs were derived from the mustard gas of World War One; ii) Electro Convulsive Shock Treatment was introduced to Bellevue straight from Mussolini’s Italy; iii, 100,000 Americans die every year from infections contracted in the hospital; iv) a doctor from the Mayo Clinic Warns that this country will have 25,000 additional cancer deaths per year because of CT scans, which emit 400 to 500 times as much radiation as a chest x ray. Finally, if you want to lie and deceive, you become a lawyer and the best lawyers are those who lie with greatest ease and avidity, e.g., the OJ Simpson defense team.)
Some of us think that not only the Law, but also that which it tries to protect and manage, namely commercial activity, is also all about lying. After all, what is the essence of the capitalistic act: Taking a piece of dreck worth 10 dollars and convincing a poor shnook that it is really worth 50 dollars.
In any event, the legal tradition of Judaism inspired the prophetic tradition: Damn your legal equivocations and distortions. Take from the rich and give to the poor. The Jewish drive to the left is inspired by the Prophetic strain of Jewish life. Judaism, I have often thought, has some of the biggest and most successful capitalists, and this has birthed our tendency to have the biggest communists, e.g.,Leon Trotsky.
3) The Legacy of Pesach (Passover)
One of our cardinal holidays is Pesach, when we commemorate our freedom from slavery. Is it really that very hard to understand why Judaism sparks an identification with, or at the very least sympathy for, people who are persecuted. Perhaps this is hard to understand for those whose Judaism is what Kahane called “mere gastro intestinal Judaism” (a Judaism that revolves around Eastern European cooking);
[Incidentally, from what I have read, I sense that gastrointestinal Judaism might help explain why Jewish women are so often so adept at dominating Jewish men. Before the enlightenment, many, many Jewish people were extremely pious, and truly believed in G-d, and worshipped with real authenticity. Science could not do that much (There was no electricity, no cars, no penicillin) There were no implements to help us determine that the earth was billions of years old. There was only the beastly Tzar, and our sustaining faith.
Judaism was also something that was largely dominated by men. Only men could become Rabbis, only men prayed – women cooked instead of going to shul. When Jews came to America, many very quickly chucked their Judaism because through assimilation and deracination they could make a mint. Almost overnight, our religion declined in importance. Since our religion was a male thing, the decline of the faith prompted the decline of men’s self-esteem. Consider Passover Sedars: In the past, the Sedar meal was enjoyed, but it was accompanied by something more important than the ingestion of brisket: The recitation of the Haggadah, or story of our bondage and liberation from Egypt. There were roles for both sexes: Women cooked a sumptuous meal, and men told the Passover story. After Jews became Americanized, and lost their faith, the prayers were forgotten, although most families still had a child ask the Four Questions. But the Father who answered the four questions was now mute. In this modern and vacuous appreciation of Pesach, men were sort of useless and had no role, while the mothers and Grandmothers were lauded for the simple feat of wadding food with a whole lot of cholesterol and calories.]
In any event, Passover induces sympathy for the oppressed, downtrodden and poor. When I hear some people say that Jewish leftism makes no sense, I tend to think that these people, even if they are observant Jews, have serious deficits of Jewish knowledge.
4) From the French Revolution until the 1950’s, an era once satirized by the phrase, “Allen Dulles, Henry Luce, GOP hypotenuse”
From the time of the French Revolution until, perhaps, the Sinai crisis of 1956, when the Soviet Union assumed an unequivocally hostile stance toward aggression against Egypt, the left and the Jews were on the same side in almost all European conflicts.
The Church was of course anti-Semitic and the Church was the prime defender of the ancien regime. Through doctrines like the divine right of kings, which held that the King is the King because that is what G-d wants, Christianity buttressed autocracy and repression. Those who sought to demolish aristocratic privilege tended to despise Christianity because it aided the aristocracy and this engendered a natural sympathy, for the Jews, among revolutionary factions. Consider Marx’s ode to the Paris Commune: “Compare these Parisians, storming Heaven, with the slaves to Heaven of the German, Prussian, Holy Roman Empire, with their posthumous masquerades, reeking of the Church, of the barracks, of cabbage Junkerdom, and above all, the philistine.” The revolution will not wait for Heaven; the revolution seeks justice now whereas reactionary German Christians will bow down to their masters and believe that their salvation will be had in some heaven that none of us have ever glimpsed.
This alignment between the Left and Jewry continued during the early days of the Bolshevik revolution: An inordinate proportion of Communist agitators were Jews, most of Hungary’s leading Bolsheviks (Bella Kuhn and company) during the post WWI communist insurrection were Jews, Germany’s post WW1 Bolshevik revolution was run by the Jewish Pole Rosa Luxembourg and in the 1930s and 1940’s the Jewish affinity for the left made all the sense in the world because the Left was at war with Fascism and Nazism. For example, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, there were two Polish undergrounds – one for communists and one which was backed by London. The Polish Home Guard, which took London’s lead, for the most part handed Jews, in hiding, over to the Nazis and did nothing to help the Jews during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. By contrast, the Polish Peoples Guard, which was associated with Moscow, sent radiograms to Moscow regarding the uprising and the Red Army bombarded German Positions which were harassing the Ghetto.(I don’t know how this was done because during April of 1943 no Soviet troops were anywhere near Warsaw.)
[Incidentally, some people who say that Jews should not be on the left allege that Soviet armies were inert while the Nazis destroyed the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto. This is LIBEL. The Jewish Ghetto was destroyed in 1943, and the Soviets rendered some aid. In 1944, the Soviet army idled on the East bank of the Vistula River while Christian Warsaw (essentially reactionary Catholics who hated the Soviets and the Jews), which had done nothing to help the Jews of the Ghetto, was destroyed by the Nazis.]
After world war two, London was opposed to the creation of the Jewish state and actively aided the Jordanian and Egyptian armies in attempting to strangle the nascent Jewish state in the cradle. America gave no aid, whatsoever, to the Jews. Russia, however, supplied Israel with oil and the communist block, particularly Prague, was for the most part Israel’s only source of weaponry. Until 1967, the membership of the Soviet Academy of Science was two-thirds Jewish.
The Jews, very simply, had an alignment with the left that lasted for almost two-hundred years. Such old friendships do not die overnight.
5) Alfred Kazin’s unmerited happiness
Many people in your generation looked at the supposed savagery of the Jewish Radicalism of the 60’s, which is still with us although to a markedly muted degree, and concluded that younger Jews had an almost animalistic, primitive radicalism. You guys felt revulsion towards the social as well as the political radicalism of the hippies and the yippies, the drugs, the long hair, and the student strikes that started in Berkeley and sooner or later spread to every good university in the nation.
Many of these young leftist Jews may have seemed anti-Semitic because their exultation of youth was like a kick in the shins to our elders, who were of course Jewish. And some conservative Jews were horrified, noting that such anti-semitism was especially grotesque so soon after the holocaust. However, the holocaust is precisely what made younger Jews so radical in the sixties.
We looked at our American elders and all we could think of was one thing: What did they do to try to stop the Holocaust. We found that in most cases, they – with the exception of Jewish men who fought as soldiers — did absolutely nothing. They were far too busy trying to make it in America, trying to conform to White Protestant norms, trying to kiss the asses of the goyishe teachers in school, trying to get good grades, trying to become part of what William James called the American National Obsession, worshipping at the altar of the bitch goddess success, to care about anyone but themselves. And this was conservatism and this was capitalism, caring about no one but yourself, and it was conducive to the Holocaust because if Jews had devoted less time to their financial interests, and more time toward their European brethren, more Jews would have been saved. And we hated our conservative elders because they seemed so self-satisfied with things that were immaterial, they would eat kugel and look at younger Jews and plead for inactivity and passivity and we had contempt for their passivity, which, we reasoned, is why six million died.
I remember when I was very young I, like many other little children, showed in inordinate interest in the oddities and differences in strangers. At times, I spoke about what I saw. My Grandmother used to respond to me by saying, MYOB, mind your own business. But I thought that minding one’s own business was the primary problem with life. That was why my Father had died (He reputedly was choking on his food in a restaurant for several minutes while no one intervened) and that was why six million had died. And so I wanted to shun and shuck all the conformist and conservative behaviors that one might associate with the MYOB mode of behavior.
But I by no means saw this lack of sympathy only in my relatives. This was reflected, for example, in Philip Roth’s novel “My Life as A Man,” which revolves around, in its opening scenes, a Jewish hotel in the Catskills in the 1940’s. The author shows us a bunch of Jews having a fun-filled time in the Summer. And I wonder: What the fuck is so funny if it is 1943 and millions of Jews are facing extermination. And why do the Jews of the novel have such a tolerant view of the Jewish guy who allegedly got out of army duty for fraudulent reasons when it seemed clear that every Jew should have done his duty toward Judaism, and the United States, by willing to fight for Uncle Sam. And I find this lack of care evident in Alfred Kazin’s autobiographical book ‘New York Jew.” This book, in large measure, is one prosaic Ode to the intellect of Alfred Kazin. At the beginning of the book, Kazin recounts his ecstatic happiness in the early 1940s: A great work of his is published and received great criticism, he moves from parochial Brooklyn to cosmopolitan Manhattan, and he is invited to all the really right cocktail and dinner parties where the pampered and erudite guests ferociously argue about Communism and Fascism all hours of the night. And upon reading this, I want to stab Kazin: What was left to be argued about after the Wehrmacht. There was only one think to do, join the marines, or the royal air force or the red army. The extreme radicalism of young, leftist Jews can be traced to an overwhelming revulsion for complacency and passivity in the face of evil.
And so I always wondered what you guys were doing in 1942. And this is why I became contemptuous of you and this is why I became radical.
 I have a weird idea: I have often thought that a staple of Pesach, Kenadelah, or matzho ball soup, violates Pesach dietary laws. During Pesach, we are not supposed to eat leavened products, or products that have risen (e.g., bread) in the process of cooking because when our ancestors fled from Egypt they had no time to bake bread, which of course rises. However, Matzoh balls grow, or in other words rise, in the process of cooking. They double in diameter after being cooked in boiling water. Actually, I think they may contain baking soda and baking powder, the classic leavening agents of cakes. Matzoh balls are thus a leavened product and should not be deemed Kosher for Pesach. I have been told I am wrong. I would like to know why.
According to Christian theology, Jesus died for our sins. His suffering and death supposedly satisfies some moral calculus that commands that sin be paid for with blood and guts.
At the same time, Jesus was the quintessence of innocence.
And so Christian Philosophy implies that God is a brutal mad man: He requires the spilling of blood, but he will be perfectly satisfied if innocent blood, in the form of his son, is spilled.
Very simply there is no reasonable, logical reason why an innocent person, namely Jesus, should be crucified because of the sins of others. Christianity would make sense to me if it said that the way to heaven was good works on earth.
Of course the idea of spilling guilty blood is completely alien to Christianity. Only innocent people are bludgeoned. And so the Roman conquerors are not to be disturbed. Jesus counsels that we render unto Ceaser that which belongs to Ceaser, which is apparently just about everything. This is a philosophy that is made to comfort and buttress the reigns of all Kings, Emperors and tyrants. And so Europe gave us the divine right of kings and the letter de cache, and imperial Courts horded wealth, the peasants starved, and the Jews were made to bear the guilt of the imperious nobility.
And so what do we do when evil rears its head. We must exact punishment. But we needn’t attack the guilty party. Any innocent will do. And so Jesus dies, although he is innocent, and this gratuitous act of violence supposedly does the trick. And years later Europe will simply kill Jews, to kill additional innocents to make their murderings in sync with the death of the first innocent, Jesus. And so Christianity inculcates a yearning to find scapegoats because, it believes, that if an innocent is debased and punished — and we accept the idea that he dies for our suns — our sins are expunged.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2012
The old testament is a fantastic, mad story, but in its evocation of the most incisive and pitiful truths, it is like a mad shaman who screams with psychotic ideation ala LSD while glimpsing the stellar hells of our lives.
The second major story in the Bible, in which humans interact, is the story of Cain killing Abel. It is the story of murder. All the sins ensue from this murder. The bible is primarily meant to tell us this: Do not kill your Brother.
The primacy of murder in the order of events in the bible is meant to reveal the primacy of hate and aggression and murder as our moral culprits.
The following was written years ago. I am posting it, even though it betrays a febrile and whacky mind which, I regret to state, is sometimes susceptible to anti-Jewish outbursts (I am a Jew, through and through, but have very ambivalent feelings about my religion. To my fellow Jews, who may be annoyed by my spasms of anti-Jewish sentiment and ideation, perhaps this will be some consolation: I find our faith less objectionable than any other faith I have encountered)
This is being posted, despite the above deficits, because I think the ideas are very relevant, very timely and the writing is as hot as a witch’s cauldron.
LOX AND BAGELS AND SADAAM
The New York Times recently noted that the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was filled to capacity with American Jewish “solidarity” groups which hoped to express their support for Israel in the Persian Gulf Crisis. The article tersely noted that the groups intended to fly back to America on January 14, 1991, one-day before the due date for death in the Persian Gulf. These bourgeois American Jews have a rather cute way of getting involved in politics. (Footnote 1 — at end of essay)
Cute and vulgar. In the United States, Mr. Solarz gave a blessing of liberal respectability to Mr. Bush’s war aims by giving him a carte blanche for war in the Gulf. Mr. Solarz, throughout his political career, had a record of unqualified liberalism, and everyone knows why Solarz shifted gears on the Persian Gulf: Israel.
Incidentally, one wonders why these American Jews think that American military action against Iraq is in Israel’s interest. If America went to war, Iraq would have only one choice: Attack Israel. In such a situation, the American-Arab alliance could dissolve, Syria and Egypt could very well reverse their positions over night, Mubarak could suffer assassination or a coup de tat, assorted Arab states, tribes and factions could attack Israel, and our European allies would doubt the merits of our involvement and quickly exit the region.
In the event that we crushed Iraq, the resulting power vacuum would be filled by Syria and Iran, and an ascendant and surging Syria, which unlike Iraq shares a boundary with Israel, arguably poses a much greater threat to Israel than Iraq, separated from Israel by Jordan and for the most part consumed by its ancient and enduring Babylonian antipathy toward Persia. And Persia, now Iran, would ineluctably gain from the demise of Iraqi power. Israel, weird as it may seem, has been blessed by having both Iraq and Iran as enemies. Those two states have always been at loggerheads and to the extent that they are heaping abuse on one another they have less time and energy to bash Israel. When one of those state’s goes, the remaining state will enjoy a huge augmentation of power and prestige. Also, Iran and Syria have tended to be simpatico – provided that nations can genuinely lean together (De Gaulle used to say that states never have friends; they only have interests). In any event, the demise of Iraqi power will lead to the ascendance of a powerful Damascus-Tehran axis of power that could effect devastating harm on Israel.
However, even if these American Jews are right, what gives them the right to assert that American foreign policy should be molded to fit Israel’s desires. Does Solarz sit in the Knnesset or does he sit in Congress. Apparently, he considers this question irrelevant or the necessity of answering it obviated by the fact that his heavily Jewish District in Brooklyn supports a staunchly pro-Israeli policy.
The fact that Mr. Solarz’s district supports Israel is not enough. One wonders how many of the young Jews in his District serve in the armed forces. The evidence which I have seen suggests that Jewish participation in American military life is rather limited. American Jews seem much more intent in luxuriating in the possibilities for advancement and financial reward that American life can confer than in doing a working man’s — or what they may call a Shvatza’s — sort of job: fighting in a war.
Of course, American Jews not only have no quarrel with the notion that the poor white trash and their black brothers should do their fighting in the Gulf; they also appear quite satisfied with an ugly economic and, to an extent, racist relationship that they have with Israeli Jews which goes like this: We white rich American Jews will give generous contributions to Israel — more often than not, in the most public way possible, in palatial synagogues in splendid suburbs — and you Israeli Jews, poorer, more religious, and, very often, darker in complexion — can do the fighting.
It appears odd that American Jewry, by and large a very sophisticated and well-educated body politic, seems oblivious to these issues and, to the extent that it ever addresses these issues, reaches conclusions which are nothing short of delusional. For example, American Jews do address their relationship to Israeli Jews — they think about it all the time. For the most part, their thinking is romantic, misguided, poetic and utterly fallacious. American Jews dream an endless dream of glorious union with Israeli Jews, of unqualified solidarity, of love, of blood, of boundless Jewish love for Jews. Obviously, it is infinitely more satisfying to dream sweet dreams at smoked salmon political luncheons in New York than to get hit by Arab bullets in the teeming Gaza strip and so our bourgeois American Jews see no reason to stop dreaming.
But someone must wake them from their impudent slumber.
In a loud clear voice they should be told to express their love for Israel by making aliyah, (by moving to Israel) and by joining the Israeli Defense forces. This sort of conduct would not only be much more morally sound than the present policy of asking poorer Jews and goyim to do the sacrificing, but would also preserve Jewish pride: The early Zionists — whose thinking for the most part has been obscured and distorted in the past couple of decades by conservative Jews who are embarrassed by Zionism’s association with socialism and ardent disapproval of most features of diaspora Jewry — wanted to create a New Jew which would be the antithesis of the helpless, effete, sedentary, brainy but brawnless, de-physicalized, cowardly mandarin Jews (In short, “heterosexual faggots.” This term aptly categorizes Diaspora Jews. I say heterosexual because most Jews, like most people, are heterosexual. However, outside of the bedroom, they are — in their narcissism, their infantilism, their dependence on their mommies, and their bitchy, bloomingdales, 14 karot gold sensibility — virtually indistinguishable from a pack of furiously fashion-minded New York Queens.) whose Shabbos goyim snickered at them as they lit the anointed Sabbath candles. Zionism envisioned Jews who would fight for themselves. Indeed, to the extent that Israel stands and fights alone, it remains pure and untainted by the disease of dependency.
Of course, the Solarz contingent does not understand this and urges an increased American role in the Gulf. Obviously, Israel is very much in need of American guns, but Israel must not have the benefit of any blond or black Christian soldiers — such dependency would be disastrously reminiscent of Israel’s relationship with Rome, and would further taint Israel with the guilt of Imperial America –and all of its misdeeds from Vietnam to El Salvador to Chile to Attica — and curse Israel in much the same way that Ceaser cursed the The Temple in Jerusalem.
Somehow one doubts that our bourgeois Jews will in any significant numbers make aliya and fight in the IDF. Of course, they could, arguably, buttress Israel, albeit indirectly, by serving in the United States Armed Forces. But, somehow, I do not foresee any significant movement of persons from the pampered houses of Great Neck and Scarsdale to FortDix and any appreciable diversion from smoked salmon and lobster tails (Footnote two) to the grits and burgers of the United States Army. No, our bourgeois American Jews will sit through the war reading and listening to their Norman Podhoretz and their Jean Kirkpactrick and will get cozy in their couches to watch the death and dying on the TV screen. They will not — heaven forbid such a thing — give up their lucrative (un)law(full) firms, medical (insurance business) practices, and let their eyes stray from the ticker tape to make any sacrifices for the larger good. What would Sophie Portnoy think of her baby boy in the Army.
[Quite frankly I will never overcome the nausea I experienced in reading the opening segments of Alfred Kazin’s “New York Jew” in which he expressed his sheer delight and happiness in being alive at the end of 1942. Kazin explains that, at that time, he made it in literary circles, got an apartment in New York, and first started going to all the right cocktail parties in New York while the great ideological geniuses of his day never so much as got into a fistfight — let alone serve in uniform — while debating communism, fascism, capitalism and all the other isms. I could think of only one thing: How dare he be so happy — making money and getting what my cousin used to call nauchus (def: happiness) points (you got 1000 nachus points for breaking 1400 on the SATS, you got 5000 points for getting into Medical school, etc.) — while his brethren are being murdered in Europe.]
Perhaps, selfishness does not fully explain the American Jewish failure to do anything real, like fighting, in the United States Army or to make aliya and fight in the Israeli Army. Indeed, American Jews have, on numerous occasions, exhibited a highly unusual measure of selflessness. American Jews participated in the Civil Rights movement in overwhelming numbers — although Jews make-up only about three percent of the American population, about forty percent of non-African freedom riders in the South were Jewish.
One cannot resist the hypothesis that the failure of Jews to make any real contribution — monetary contributions cannot be considered real from people who are flush with cash — toward Jewish life and survival stems from the fact that Jews really don’t believe any of it, i.e., they do not believe in religion, in god, and certainly do not believe whatever it is the prophets are supposed to have said to us over the years.
There is something childlike about religion. Although infantilism is more pronounced in Christianity — which provides a quaint and poignant human interest story replete with a mommy and a daddy and a terribly adorable little baby who gets killed by all those mean Jews and then saves the world — Judaism, by virtue of being a religion — which means believing in things which cannot be proven — is quite childlike. Very simply, adult-thinking does not consist of believing in things that cannot be proven, like messiahs, or burning bushes, or special covenants with prime movers who made the world in six days.
Accordingly, as people become more advanced — become acquainted with theories of evolution, atomic science and the like — they become too smart for fanciful theistic conceptions. I will concede that as of late there has been a revival of religious sentiment among many parts of humanity, from fundamentalists in the mid-East, to Jewish professionals on the Upper West Side, to bucolic types in this Country who want some sort of rustic, back to nature, back home religious feeling with the aroma of maple syrup, but there is nothing genuine about this upsurge in religious thought: it is nothing but a reaction to modernity and all of its harsh realities [This historical regression was engendered by the exceptional turbulence of the middle and latter part of the twentieth century — WWII, the “sexual revolution,” etc. — but as we become acclimated to the wreckage (good and bad) the world will resume its normal, gradual — and healthful — march toward atheism] in much the same way that those clean cut Waltons were a reaction to the neon and napalm of the sixties, and in the long run it will lose the race with science and reason, which will, bit by bit, gene by gene, atom by atom, prove that there is no great and good Father with a gray beard, up in the clouds, watching over us.
Jews, it appears, are very advanced. They are, perhaps, the most advanced, sophisticated people in the world, and when they sit in Synagogues on the high holy days — resplendent in linen and in velvet and in the glittering, radiant, irradiating rage of thousands of precious stones, each jewel screaming “see how rich I am” — the Jewish lawyers, doctors, nuclear physicists, and psychiatrists (a tribe so smug in its reason that it has dared to create its own universe and kingdom of delusion and unreason) snicker among themselves at the references to primitive Biblical events — probably with the sort of condescension that erudite Germans had toward the Nazis before the Fascist spark became an inferno — and tell themselves that in a little while the services will be over and they will be free to stuff themselves with refreshments at the “Kiddish.”
Jews, also, have far too tortured a history to really believe in God. Given all of the persecutions — the Babylonian exile, the Romans, the inquisitions, the crusades, the poisoned wells, the bloody matzohs of the mad Tzarist mind, the imaginary meetings in a Prague Cemetery to take over the world, the holocaust and, last, but not least, the denial that the holocaust took place — a patently sick notion which is becoming widespread throughout united Deutschland as Neo-Nazis sprout up like funguses from the Rhineland to Prussia. (As many Soviet hardliners state, we may regret the permissiveness that let the Berlin wall come down and Germany become reborn — or, perhaps, that creates the wrong image; the revival of Germany, it appears, is much more like the rising of a Vampire in the Night than anything as welcome as a birth.)
Most American Jews, accordingly, do not believe in god. They are too smart for the nonsense fables of religion, and the history of Judaism is far too dismal to allow them to entertain the thought that there is a God which is omnipotent and benevolent. Of course, there could be other sorts of gods — very different from the sort we conceive of when we think God — running the show. They would, given the treachery of the world, have to be either malevolent or, if benevolent, impotent. Freud put it better than anyone: If I ever saw god on his majestic throne, I would present him with a child’s cancerous bone and say how do you justify this.
Judaism, accordingly, is, for the most part, not a religion; it is a tribal feeling, a nationalism, a thing kept alive only by anti-semitism. Synagogues rarely address the philosophical questions and, more often than not, their primary function appears to be fundraising for Israel and nothing else.
One may attempt to counter the preceding by asserting that Christian Americans are not a bunch of intent students of philosophy, but one would be missing the point entirely: Christians, in their churches in America, do talk about right and wrong, the meaning of life, salvation, death and all that shit.
Perhaps they come-up with the wrong answers. But given the sort of issues they address — the meaning of life, death, right, wrong, what’s it all for — I think Christians are entitled to call Christianity a religion.
I suppose the Jews will say that my comments stem from a lack of familiarity with Judaism. Of course, I probably know more about Judaism than a large proportion of, if not more than half of, the Jewish population, whose knowledge of Judaism, for the most part, consists of the Yiddish term for black, and other unreligious things. I had a Jewish education, and I learned a thousand rules about a thousand subjects of daily living, but there was no unifying theme, no cohesion to bring the boring prohibitions together, let alone to life. Face it. Toynbee was right. It’s just a lot of arid legalisms.
Of course, Jews don’t go to, and never did go to, synagogues to get spirituality. They went other places — on the fringes of religion and often downright outside of it — to get a soulful feeling. Most Jews probably don’t want to remember what they did in Eastern Europe — and even as late and as close by as the Lower East Side (See Michael Gold’s Jews Without Money in which a family consult’s an old, tattered Jewish woman of deep but perhaps incoherent faith to tend to their son’s phobia of horses – the remedy, which consisted, as a I recall, of wearing a rag drenched in all sorts of soul smelling substances, seemed more effective and expeditious that Freud’s treatment of Little Hans who also had a phobia of horses) — to get their dose of opium. They had a marked proclivity toward the occult, magic, witchcraft, and strange superstitions. Nowadays, they go to analysis, which is more expensive.
Some Jews would probably state that I would come-up with a different answer if I had studied Talmud. Without a doubt, these secular Jews would not have made such an assertion if they knew anything about the Talmud. It is, essentially, the equivalent a law school casebook: It is a seemingly endless discussion of concrete, mundane conflicts concerning harms suffered and monies lost — the law of contracts and personal injury law — and commentaries regarding the appropriate Jewish answer to each of these conflicts.
I have no doubt that such a thing is of value — Rabbinical views pertaining to contracts and personal injury may serve as a guide to our present legal system [However, I would abhor any such thing: For example, Rabbinical Law regarding Torts — personal injury law, etc. — is extremely conservative (its an insurance company’s dream) and contract Law is just as rigid and forbidding.], but it’s not a philosophical, or deep, or emotionally enriching, or soul-saving work.
Of course, religious Jews know better and do not cite the Talmud as evidence of Judaism’s concern with deep fundamental issues. Its been my experience that religious Jews get very scared whenever one starts talking about “deep,” philosophical issues: They know that Judaism is, relative to Christianity, somewhat wanting when it comes to addressing these issues, and they do not relish letting their ignorant, secular Jewish coreligionists in on — to paraphrase Police Commissioner Benjamim Ward — our dirty little secret.
And so the non-observant Jews claim that Judaism is a religion because they do not know anything about Judaism, and the religious Jews try not to think about it: By spending all of their time complying with the seemingly infinite number of Jewish rules and regulations governing almost all aspects of Jewish life — an extraordinarily complex dietary code, morning, afternoon and evening prayers, etc. etc. — religious Jews become diverted from the more troubling question: What’s the reason for all their rules and regulations? [The diversion from big issues to the trivia of meat and milk (Most Jewish traditions command one to refrain from dairy until six hours after the consumption of meat; in Germany, it was often three hours; and in Denmark, with veritably bizarre anal precision, some Jews hit on 72 minutes — this is what they told me in Hebrew school. If this is not the case, the teacher was joking, but it seemed just as whacky as all the other rules I found it believable) is something akin to what physicians call displacement or referred pain — The transference of pain from the organ which is the center of the infirmity to some other organ (perhaps, because if all the pain were coming from the spot which was really sick, it would be too much to bear). For example, in some cases a patient with appendicitis will not feel pain in the appendix; it will be displaced to the abdomen (thousands die every year because some physicians, in these cases, fail to palpate the appendix and tell the soon to be a goner than he has gastritis). Displacement is also pronounced in many areas of psychopathology and should, therefore, not be unexpected in religion, or mass psychopathology operating under color of god, whatever that, or it, or him, or her is.]
One could say: What the fuck do I care, I like lox and bagels. Nevertheless, it has nothing but the most momentous political implications. If Judaism is not a religion, then Zionism is nothing but an intense nationalism bordering on racism. To the extent that Zionism posits that the Jewish state should belong to Jews simply because they are Jews, and that the Jewishness of these Jews has nothing to do with what they believe in or their conception of God, or whether or not they have any conception of God at all, and asserts that these Jews, who do not attach any particular importance to a belief in god, can relegate non-Jews to second-class citizenry or, as some have proposed, eject these non-Jews from the Jewish state, Zionism is very much like the sort of rabid, anti-alienist nationalisms of pre-War Europe.
And so, all things considered, those who call themselves progressive must, odd as it may seem, have a very strong measure of respect for the ultra-religious factions in Israel today. Because, whether we believe in the Jewish religion or not, only a belief in Judaism can make Zionism something special. Or, to be blunt about it, something other than racism.
1 After I wrote this, the war broke-out, and some American Jews were going to Israel — and the New York media, taking care to keep their Jewish audience happy, waxed sentimental and ridiculous with talk of courage and valor. However, most of it amounts to nothing of real significance. One group, called Torah Shield, traveled to Israel to offer “moral support” and acts of kindness. This wimpy way of fighting a war calls to mind the Parisian matrons who brought floral bouquets to the Maginot line in the autumn of 1939. (And we all know what happened to the Maginot line.) Of course, the Jewish response in the present situation is even wimpier: In the case of France, middle-aged women went to the front to offer floral bouquets. Torah shield, however, is not composed of middle-aged women; it is a group of late teenage and young adult male Yeshiva students who have explicitly said that they will not fight and will not do anything of military or industrial significance — they will not get their pretty hands dirty. When I asked a bourgeois Jewish friend of mine why they could not fight, he said, “because they can’t.” Why? Because they are American nationals? If they gave a damn they wouldn’t worry about the legal consequences of serving in another nation’s armed forces, or would serve in the American Armed forces, which, of course, they are completely free to volunteer for.
2. Lobster, of course, is not kosher. But, as succeeding portions of this essay will demonstrate, Jewishness in America has nothing to do with Judaism.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 1991
The religious right often says that we have certain rights because of G-d, because G-d gave us these rights. Of course, I don’t know how one can be sure of such a thing. G-d may have deigned to give us only rules and orders and a series of religious laws. Indeed the bible is filled to the brim with injunctions and prohibitions. I can recall no verses from either of the testaments (although I must concede that I am far from an authority on same) telling us that we have the right to life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness. Furthermore, I doubt if most religions spend much time advising the flock of their inherent rights to liberty, etc., as ordained by G-d. The idea that G-d is an authorization or fount for liberty never made sense to me. The old testament tells that we are made in the image of G-d, but this is far from a license to be free. On the contrary, it can be interpreted as meaning that since we are made in His image, we are compelled to be Godly – virtuous, morally irreproachable, etc.
I think we have rights because we have endured the fate of being born. We never asked to be born. But we are born. Therefore we have the right to make our lives feel worthwhile, comfortable and happy.
Copyright, David Gottfried, 2012