Protocols A group of Jews endeavors towards total domination of the blogosphere.
Saturday, March 13, 2004
9:15 a.m. -- Jewish community leaders hold press conference to request that a federal judge agree to distribute a $1.25 billion Swiss bank settlement to support services for elderly holocaust survivors; Schick's Manor, 4901 12th Ave., Brooklyn.
There's no mention of which Jewish community leaders will be there, and no contact info on the press announcement. Presumably, Elder Pinchas will have what to say.
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
9:24 PM |
So Eric J. Greenberg was recently tossed from the New York Jewish Week and Nacha Cattan delivered her two weeks' notice to the Forward. Casual observers might assume this to be simple coincidence, but insiders are murmuring about something rather more sinister: Greenberg and Cattan will serve as the right arm and leg, respectively, of a Voltron-esque super-robot, to be populated with three additional J-weekly expatriates, meant to deliver to the J-journalism world that which it has thus far failed to deliver: coverage of Holy Joe, 24/7.
I'm glad that the discussion of my Shapiro article has gone so well and remained so civil. There are a few points raised that I want to address now, and I'll raise some additional issues of my own.
In order of appearance:
1) Since when is dorm room material at Ner worthy of mention? There are all sorts of things that go around." Since forever, the literature that has circulated in whatever circles has been of significant import. One commenter noted the spread of haskalah literature in batei midrash; one can add to that controversial content in everything from newspapers to even -- at times -- Maimonides. In the case of Shapiro's article, according to accounts from those present, the spread at Ner Israel was unique, or at least quite rare.
2) Bleich doesn't hold Parnes' position...According to Bleich one is permitted to read this stuff, you just can't believe it! Without asserting anything on Bleich's behalf, it is most certainly the case that many Jews maintain this view...but many Jews don't. Parnes would be one, and I'm sure that if we tried we could list many, many more. It's important to note that some might make gradations of what heresy is acceptable, such that they would permit reading of, for example, a work of Shakespeare that contains Christian beliefs and something like the New Testament, or even Milton or somesuch.
3) "As usual, you do your best to create controversy and sensationalize -- while ignoring the substantive aspects of the issue." While there's always one schmuck who leaves a comment like this, in the case of this article, I think the need for recognition of the actual controversy is compelling. In the first, of course, the book was obviously already raising controversy: it was the best-selling book at the Seforim Sale, at least one bookseller has had to return its copies owing to community complaints. In another way, I think I'm getting to the story before it becomes a larger controversy, which is to say that I think it's important for newswriters to recognize trends as they're forming and ongoing rather than to write a history of them after hundreds of thousands of people have already read about them; inasmuch, my perspective is different from, say, the New York Times, but I think I'm right.
Of course, Shapiro's book alone is only going to be controversial; it is his book combined with a number of other important elements that is going to form schisms and great waves of tumult throughout the Jewish community.
4) "I often wonder how close we are to the day when traditional Conservatism and liberal Modern Orthodoxy find enough in common to work as one group. There really is little left between them theologically; the major difference is in the observance level of the laypeople." And between certain communities, that difference in observance level is largely absent. However, it's important to note that Yeshiva University still claims -- and will claim for at least a little while more -- to be the beacon for Modern Orthodox action and inquiry.
As well, the gap between "traditional Conservatism" and "Conservatism," is quite large, as well. In the original version of the article, I had quotes from Rabbi David Halivni-Weiss, who broke away from the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Conservative movement to form a more conservative Union for Traditional Judaism, an institution and community that has largely assimilated into the Orthodox on the Right and Conservative on the Left. Halivni-Weiss asserted in the interview that UTJ has largely ceased to exist and that, as well, he doesn't think he's really considered Conservative anymore -- owing almost entirely to the Conservative movement's continual shift. He also spoke of Modern Orthodoxy as theologically inept.
But theology is a quirky thing. Just because someone's on the leftward spectrum of Orthodoxy doesn't mean one is less loyal to a very literal reading of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles; opposingly, those on the rightward spectrum are often not literalists. The divide here is less straightforward than scattershot.
4) "I would need to read the book myself, but in the article you have chosen the weakest example of refutation of Rambam.
Virtually all Orthodox (even right-wing) know and understand that the Gemara asserts that the last few verses of the Torah might have been written by Yehoshua. It is not the "Exclusively Mosaic" authorship that is meant by Rambams principle (the simplest way that we know this is because we are pretty sure that the Rambam himself knew the Gemara). Thus there are many understandings of this principle, but virtually none understand them to mean that if you believe that Yehoshua wrote the last few verses that you are a heretic." Using the eigth principle -- that of Mosaic authorship -- was a conscious choice on my part. With all due respect to Dude, I speak with a great variety of sources in the rabbinic, academic, and communal worlds on a regular basis for all of my stories (only a small portion are ever explicitly mentioned in an article), and think that I have a greater grasp of what a varied array of religious thinkers assumes. And I have found that many contemporary Orthodox thinkers do not assume that the last eight verses of the Torah were authored by Joshua. In fact, I have heard a fair number refer to Ibn Ezra's comments regarding the concluding verses as not really meant to indicate that Joshua authored them. That they not only maintain that the verses are not authored by Joshua, but even disagree that certain traditional commentators thought them to be so, indicates not just a belief in complete Mosaic authorship, but a very deep-seated one. Moreso, other differences among versions of the Torah, and the idea that different versions could have existed at the same time (such as durign Maimonides' life), are explicitly and vehemently rejected.
After conducting my research, I found that the Eighth Principle was the best candidate for discussion in the article.
5) "It definitely means that Modern Orthodoxy, or a part of it, is heading in the same direction Conservative and Reform headed in: Repudiate the small stuff, then move on to bigger things to discard." As Shapiro makes quite clear in his introduction, for contemporary Orthodoxy, Maimonides' Thirteen Principles are most certainly not, "The small stuff."
6) "Was Rav Saadya Gaon a heretic for only having three ikkarim, and not the thirteen of the Rambam?" While the practice of denying certain of Maimonides' principles as ikarim, or absolute fundamentals for Jewish faith, while maintaining them as beliefs is discussed at length in Shapiro's book, the more relevant sources are those which deny the validity of Maimonides' principles outright.
7) "R. Bleich is only claiming that the doctrine of normativity applies not just wrt to halachic issues but to issues of belief also. As I recall, he bases this on the chasam sofer. The point he is making is that ONCE a belief becomes normative, it becomes binding." This seems a fair summary of Bleich's opinion.
8) "As to the discussion above about he Ikkar that the entire Torah was written by Moshe: the thirteen Ikkarim as found in siddurim after shacharis are simply summaries (not written by Rambam) of the Ikkarim sent forth by the Rambam in hakdama to perek chelek. If anyone would bother to read the Rambam's actual description of the Ikkar, they would see that Moshe receiving the entire torah is a side point there mentioned in half a sentence, and it's not even clear from the source that the Rambam is saying there that Moshe received the entire Torah, his emphasis is more on the fact that the entire Torah is divine." The degree to which Maimonides agreed with contemporary readings of his principles is obviously relevant to this discussion. However, all parties would likely agree that it's a fair amount more productive to deal with the views of other traditional figures throughout time than to open the can of worms that reading Maimonides -- and all its esotericism or non-esotericism -- brings to the table.
9) "The Ralbag did not deny any of the Ikkarim. Shapiro is mistaken on that issue." I think this topic was raised in the comments by someone claiming that Bleich, not Shapiro, would have considered Gersonides a heretic today. However, since the topic was raised, here is a (partial) summary of what Shapiro has to say about Gersonides: He denies creation ex nihilo; He believes that a prophet similar to Moses will arise outside of the Jewish nation; He assumed Ibn Ezra did not believe in the fullest potential for God's omniscience; Gersonides opposes Maimonides' Tenth Principle, and "develops the distinction between God's knowledge of the universal and the particular"; Gersonides agreed with Maimonides that "intellect is the source of immortality," (Shapiro's words) something that Shapiro takes to be in contravention to contemporary perspectives of reward and punishment as declared in the Eleventh Principle.
10) I noted in my report of Shapiro's speech that during q&a, Shapiro denied that philosophy needs to be subject to halachic scrutiny. This view is fatal to the argument presented in Shapiro's book. Once philosophy is permitted to operate in an extra-halachic fashion, it doesn't matter much what Maimonides or anyone else thought and "heresy" becomes a label without much meaning or practical implications; inasmuch, all of the research documented in Shapiro's book becomes worthwhile only as a matter of recording intellectual history, and not in any fashion for protesting contemporary Orthodox perspectives that do assert an halachic boundary for philosophy.
Shapiro can't have it both ways: either one abandons the idea of participating in an halachic debate, or one doesn't. If one does abandon the idea, one can allow people like Menachem Kellner to fight one's fight over the separation of philosophy and halacha. If one doesn't, one must acknowledge that the theologies maintained throughout Jewish history were part and parcel of the halachic process, and any arguments brought to bear today are part of that.
Of course, Shapiro's perspective on his book doesn't matter at all. Once a book is released, people are free to use it for whatever they choose. My assumption is that most people won't deny that it is relevant to the halachic process.
So I'm sure there's a place in blogger Hell for citing a Times article as though it were NEWS or anything, but this one has particular resonance with me, just two days post my anatomy course. In light of the whole UCLA cadaver scandal and an article in this month's Harper's, today's Times has an piece on donations of cadavers for medical study.
The stories reported in these forums are troubling, but I'm focusing on a specific quote, which I think has relevance to the Einstein anatomy program:
"Sidney Liroff, who died two years ago this month, willed his body to U.C.L.A. as a gift to science. His widow, Selma, 81, said that she had planned to follow him, even though they are both Jewish and, according to custom, must be buried intact within 24 hours of death.
"We just wanted quietly to do a good thing," Mrs. Liroff said in an interview this week. "We are kept alive by science. Research is a good thing. That's why we did it."
But having learned of the scandal at U.C.L.A., she said, she has no idea what happened to her husband, and she is devastated. "It's ghoulish," she said, her voice hoarse and crackling. "Imagine the pictures that come up in my mind."
Mrs. Liroff said she had been promised that her husband would be returned to her after research was completed. She wanted to scatter his ashes in a rose garden. But when she called the university she was told by a technician that her wishes could not be accommodated.
"We were married for 57 years," she said. "I just wanted him back.""
Initially, when I started anatomy, someone well meaning (but obviously not too bright) asked me "but what if your dead body was Jewish? Isn't it at least a safek? How can you be in medical school? Shouldn't you ask a shayla about whether you can even go to class?" At the time, I rolled my eyes (in fact, I'm still rolling my eyes), especially since my cadaver's name was Jesus (which might have made him Jewish 2000 years ago, but has since become a fairly safe indicator of NOT being a member of the tribe - by the way, don't tell Mel Gibson, but I did spend the last four months cutting up Jesus...), and I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be dropping out of medical school (at least for those reasons...). But I remember hearing a story while in Revel from someone in the YU library whose parents were not religious, and whose father, wanting to have some connection to judaism and tikkun olam, donated his body to (predictably) Einstein, a jewish med school. The guy since became frum (the son, not the dad, who was eventually dissected by my older colleagues), and has sent irate letters to the YU bigs who (again, predictably) never responded.
I also have heard smatterings of conversation about how this affects Israeli med schools, which used to try to obtain druse or arab cadavers, and now seem (I hasten to add reportedly, I have done no checking into this yet) to be forced to use Jewish ones as well due to practicality.
What I guess I'm getting at with all this is that the cadaver trade and Jewish bodies (not to mention Einstein and Israeli schools) is an issue that (especially in light of the anatomy publicity - I think cadavers are the new hot thing, for the next couple of days) might bear some measured and intelligent looking into (as opposed to the generally shrill and uninformed bits of opinion I've heard untill now).
I'm a med student, personally, but all you would be (or actual) J-journalists: get on it. It's a good idea.
posted by Sam |
8:42 AM |
Re: The Passion & anti-semitism I apologize at the outset if I am repeating anything that has already been noted. I haven’t had the opportunity to go through all relevant posts in detail. (Also, if anything here seems like it should be italicized, pretend that it is. I didn't have the patience to re-italicize things when I posted.)
First, I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t intend to pay money to do so. Not for any ideological reasons. I’m just not interested enough to pay money to see it. Kinda like most other movies. But I digress. As I hope will be evident from the thrust of my analysis, not viewing the movie may actually be a key ingredient in commenting intelligently about its anti-Semitism or lack thereof.
Alright, next. For our purposes, there are two kinds of anti-Semitic content: a) inherent anti-Semitism and b) effective anti-Semitism. [Harvard President Lawrence Summers made a similar (though not identical) distinction in his discussion of the attempted divestment campaign. However, I’m going somewhere else with this.] The important thing to realize is that each type of anti-Semitism can exist independent of the other. Instead of formulating precise definitions of these concepts, which would be a difficult task and would doubtless inspire (mostly trivial) objections, I’m just going to provide general ideas and specific examples that should clarify the gist of what I’m saying.
Let’s go in reverse alphabetical order and talk first about (b) effective anti-Semitism (or “anti-Semitism in effect”). Basically, “effective anti-Semitism” is an action/speech/activity that will almost certainly result in the undeserved bodily harm of, or the undeserved threat of bodily harm to, Jews. There need not be anything inherently negative about the action/speech/activity being committed, and it is entirely irrelevant whether the person committing the act intends his action to have such an effect. As I’ll try to make clear, with this kind of anti-Semitism, only context matters.
Let’s take the following example: Bill, a Christian, places a yellow star upon the lapel of Aaron, a Jew, who is walking down the street. Is Bill’s action effective anti-Semitism? Well, that depends. If the action occurs in Warsaw in the early 1940s, the action is (barring some weird scenario) indisputably anti-Semitic in effect. The marking of Aaron as a Jew, in this context, will almost certainly lead to the undeserved bodily harm of (or to the undeserved threat of bodily harm to) Aaron. Now, Bill may in fact love Jews. He may sincerely be acting because he believes that a fashionable yellow star really completes Aaron’s outfit. Nevertheless, since Bill’s action will almost certainly cause the aforementioned un-pleasantries, it is anti-Semitic in effect, regardless of Bill’s intent.
However, if the activity described above occurs on Fifth Avenue in New York in 1998, at the Israel Day Parade, it cannot be effective anti-Semitism. In fact, in this scenario, the context robs the activity even of the possibility of effective anti-Semitism. Indeed, Bill may in fact be a rabid Jew-hater. He may have delivered the keynote address at the KKK annual dinner. Still, since in this situation his action will almost certainly not result in harm to Aaron, Bill cannot be honestly charged with effective anti-Semitism.
Why is this relevant to The Passion? Because of one important fact that seems to have been muddied in some of the, alas, copious punditry on this topic: the filming and release of the Passion cannot, in any way (at least presently), be fairly considered as effectively anti-Semitic. There has yet to be a single documented case in which the viewing of the movie has caused bodily harm or even the threat of bodily harm to a Jew or Jews. Moreover, Gibson and whoever else was involved in making the movie were entitled to the reasonable expectation that the movie would not foment danger for the Jewish community. I’ve read more times than I can remember, in condemnations of the movie, that the movie is exactly like the “Passion Plays” that were performed in medieval Europe, which often featured pogroms as an encore. Well, whoop-de-damn-do. Guess what? WE DON’T LIVE IN MEDIEVAL EUROPE. The innuendo of guilt-by-association that is implicit in this comparison is nothing more than, well, innuendo.
If, in the example we are working with, someone were to comment that the affixation of the yellow star upon Aaron at the Israel Day Parade is effectively anti-Semitic because it is exactly like the fixing of a yellow star upon a Jew in Warsaw in the early 1940s, the appropriate response would be, “No, you idiot. They are not the same because Bill does not live in Warsaw in the 1940s.” The same logic, with one qualification that I will address presently, applies to the Gibson movie. No matter how hard one tries to link Gibson’s Passion to the horrors engendered by performances of the same genre centuries ago, the attempt must fail because the contexts are entirely different and cannot be otherwise.
Now, there are two points within this line of reasoning that need to be aired. 1) We can push our point about effective anti-Semitism one step farther. It is theoretically possible that Mel Gibson, deep within, actually hopes that the response to his movie will be the same as were the responses to the medieval passion plays. Perhaps Gibson wants Christians in the United States to start slaughtering innocent Jews. But even if he does, since the prospect of this happening is virtually nil – and the average person would expect it to be nil – the movie still wouldn’t qualify as effectively anti-Semitic. In other words, even if Gibson were to want the movie to be effectively anti-Semitic, that would not make it effectively anti-Semitic. [I should stress that to charge Gibson with this view without proof, and I certainly don’t have any, would be disgusting; I raise the possibility simply to illustrate a point].
2) There is a sense in which one could make a valid comparison between Gibson’s Passion and medieval passion plays. One could make the claim that, in copying an action that in previous eras had resulted in effective anti-Semitism, it is clear that the copier intends the activity to be anti-Semitic. There are three things to realize about such an argument: a) It does not deal with effective anti-Semitism but inherent anti-Semitism, which will be discussed later. b) It does not seem to be the argument being made by those who condemn Gibson’s movie on the basis of comparisons to passion plays. And if it is, the arguers do not make this clear, preferring instead to rely on their very invocation of the comparison to make their point. c) It is wrong in any case.
But this last point really takes us adrift into the world of inherent anti-Semitism. Which I will gladly lead you into. Another time. Soon, I hope.
Also, a belated happy birthday to Rebecca Moses.
7 p.m. -- The Orthodox Church in American hosts visit by the Tikhvin icon of the Mother of God; Holy Virgin Protection Cathedral, 59 East 2nd St., Manhattan.
--Note: In July, the icon will be returned to the monastery in Tikhvin, Russia, after a 55-year sojourn in the U.S.
Correct me since I'm obviously wrong, but I thought that the Orthodox considered icons to be unacceptable?
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
7:03 PM |
Some great Jesus mods over at Fark. Some of my favorites are the Fear and Loathing image, the Jaws parody, Dude, Where's My Cross?, and Terminator.
Some probably borders on offensive to our religious Christian readers, but Jesus holding a boombox for Ione Skye...that's precious.
The Public Editor is on the case! I just received an e-mail from Daniel Okrent's assistant asking for clarification on some facts, which I guess means that the matter of Rabbi Adam Mintz's correction may receive the attention it's due.
11:30 a.m. -- Clergy with the gay and lesbian synagogue, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, and their supporters pledge to continue to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies
But CBST has presumably been sanctifying such marriages since at least 2000, when the Reform movement allowed individual rabbis to determine the efficacy of same-sex marriages for themselves. So what's news? I just did a Nexis search and they haven't been mentioned since December.
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
4:35 PM |
Doubleheader! We report, you decide who's got more credibility:
7:15 p.m. -- The Anti-Defamation League hosts panel discussion on Mel Gibson's ``The Passion of the Christ''; Congregation Rodeph Sholom, Eisner Auditorium, 7 W. 83rd St.
8 p.m. -- Yeshiva University Jewish historian Dr. Louis Feldman discusses the death of Jesus and Mel Gibson's ``The Passion of the Christ''; Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave., at 76th Street.
UPDATE: I hadn't noticed this, but Feldman's lecture is actually being organized by AMCHA. Hmmm...
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
3:15 PM |
Update to Elder I’s post below about Defense Undersecretary Dov Zakheim:
An article last Wednesday about the growing trend among American Jews to celebrate the circumcision ritual of the bris outside the home or synagogue and with increasing elaborateness included a quotation from Rabbi Adam Mintz of the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan that referred imprecisely to his attitude about the timing of the rite, ordinarily carried out eight days after birth. He says that in remarking, "Sunday is the most popular day, and even among the Orthodox, people are choosing the date that's most popular," he did not intend to suggest that a bris could be postponed for the sake of holding a party at a convenient time ? but rather that if it had to be delayed on justifiable grounds, there might then be flexibility in scheduling.
You'll recall that the reporter originally told Mintz that this kind of error was not "correction material." So what changed? I'd imagine it was either persistence on Mintz's part or added pressure from others. Let's see.
UPDATE: So I sent an e-mail asking Mintz what had changed. His reply:
I have no idea!!!!
I also sent an e-mail to Daniel Okrent...maybe I'll send one to the reporter, as well.
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
9:37 AM |
Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Marc Shapiro's lecture on "Maimonides: Between Reason and Revelation" Shapiro starts by noting the influential nature of Maimonides, at a length and specificity that doesn't need to be relayed here. He then goes on to declare that Maimonides has been interpreted differently over the years.
In the handout accompanying the lecture, he references a title page to the Mishnah Torah printed in Amsterdam in 1700; the titlepage has an illustration that includes Moses on the left (with horns) and Maimonides on the right, with two less-than-fully-dressed women above them. This doesn't do much to illustrate his point regarding differing interpretations of Maimonides, though it does illustrate the reality that different communities with different perspectives approached Maimonides' text. He says that the title page itself is rare, that while Harvard has four copies of the volume, only one has the title page, as, "When they shipped it out from Amsterdam to Poland, it was ripped out."
He's now getting into his thesis as presented in his book, which essentially argues that prior to the modern period, traditional Judaism did not universally accept Maimonides' Thirteen Principles of Faith. He summarizes the Principles and gives some cursory reference to the disagreement about them.
On the topic of Maimonides' exhortation not to explain the secret philosophies of his work, The Guide for the Perplexed, Shapiro lists a series of rationales provided by his explicators. Narboni and Caspi: his secrets are already known, because of Greek philosophy. Ibn Tibbon: The Christian society is different from Islam, because in the Christian world, they're familiar with philosophy. Others note that incorrect interpretations are "already out there" and therefore need to be corrected.
To explain Maimonides' esoteric approach, he discusses the potential contradictions regarding creation ex nihilo, explicating from Leo Strauss and others, leading to the conclusion that the esoteric Maimonides allowed for creation from eternal matter.
In summation, he offers the contrast in approach to esoteric interpretations of the Maimonides. "In the yeshivas," he says, Maimonides' halachic work is important and his philosophical work is considered important as well, "but it is only studied on the surface, where it is glatt kosher." Academics study Maimonides almost entirely under the surface, "and this is what the Rambam said to do."
In a cute q&a moment, one attendee asks a question regarding Maimonides' choice not to teach his esoteric elements to the masses. In response, at one point, Shapiro mentions that one doesn't go to Meah Shearim to teach them evolution; this generates an interesting rise out of another attendee who questions those near her about the appropriateness of referring to Meah Shearim as "the masses." It's an interesting moment in deferring authority to the Right not because of anything relating to expertise, but merely by virtue of its being Right.
In another q&a moment, pressed on how we differentiate between accepted and rejected halachic positions, Shapiro emphasizes that he does not think his argument needs to be tied to the halachic debate, as it's a discussion of philosophy. This will contrast sharply with the views of many halachic authorities.
masculine, discrete, bi- whiteboy, looking to explore with orthodox (pref. hassidic) Jew. I've seen lots around the neighborhood, been with few men, but am very turned on by the orthodox...perhaps this is a fantasy of mine.
I'm not looking for a boyfriend, this most likely will be a one-time thing. I'm 29, nice shape, all-American type looks, safe, ddf, etc.
you should be clean, under 35, and a no-smoker.
it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests
this is in or around Bedford Ave.
Discluding the unclean and smokers seems like a horrible way to go about recruiting Chasidic men, but, hey, good luck to him.
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
2:17 PM |
UPDATE: Apparently, the guy who made the image is getting somewhat overloaded with hits; if the image doesn't load, click through to his page and click on the link there for the larger image which, presumably, is more likely to load.
Mishloach manot (nee "Shlach manes") are so mysterious. First, you get sick pigging out; then, you reach over while you're working and realize the only item left is a small bottle of jam.
UPDATE: Until you move one of the empty boxes and find mixed nuts and Paskesz "Fancy Candy"! Huzzah!
Blake Eskin rounds up the anti-Fiddler sentiment that has seen a number of critics demeaning the current production as not Jewish enough. While some of the criticisms seem more salient than others (WaPo's noticing that "mazel tov" is pronounced "mazel taff" is a great one), the only thing missing from the current Fiddler, it seems, is the sound. After all, they look Jewish. The "taff" difference grates on my ears, because it indicates a very specific distance from the tradition necessary to produce such a mispronunciation, but Fiddler as a true representative of tradition was a chimera anyway, and that didn't stop people from using it as such, "taff" or "tov" (or "toyv") aside.
Eskin notes the degree to which Fiddler became a sourcebook for Jewish tradition in a way that scripture had previously for the average Jew. To whatever degree it's truly accurate that Jews used to know a lot of scripture, I'll take Eskin's word for it on the Jews of last generation knowing a lot of Fiddler.
I have relatively little familiarity with it (the last time I saw it I was in single digits, age-wise); I think the rest of my family knows it a bit better (my sisters watched the whole four hours or somesuch of the film), but it's served mostly to provide easy jokes. It's just so simple to intone "Is this the little girl..." for a quick laugh at nearly any point, as well as sundry other elements of the play -- so long as they're not too obscure. And speaking of obscurity, I wouldn't have been able to tell you before reading Eskin's essay that Fiddler includes a pogrom; I've read about pogroms, and a ruined wedding with broken dishes, they most certainly were not. As John Heilpern in the New York Observer wonders, "Was ever a pogrom so mild and even hopeful?" Heilpern continued, "Apparently, the Fiddler revival doesn?t seem Jewish enough to some. It never was Jewish enough, but let that pass."
And, indeed, in our diverse understanding of what Judaism is -- and more specifically Jewish cultures are -- Fiddler appears as something we can all understand, perhaps even cheer, but something that can only tell American Jews a very small part of the story. As Eskin concludes:
...The show's Yiddish textual, musical, visual, and geographical setting make Fiddler a popular touchstone of what it means, or once meant, to look, sound, and act Jewish. (Today, alternative models abound; on Sex in the City, Charlotte York becomes a Goldenblatt, then adopts a baby girl from a Chinese Anatevka.) Still, people struggle to differentiate between outward manifestations and what it means to be Jewish. Part of Swiss clarinetist Bruno Doessekker's transformation into Holocaust survivor Binjamin Wilkomirski was getting his hair curled and putting on a Yiddish-inflected German. I've also watched a real cousin develop a slouch over the past few years as he became a ba'al teshuva. Some of what he does?recite prayers, lay tefillin?requires acting and sounding differently than he once did, but his bold Boston accent has receded in favor of an Ashkenazic lilt he picked up from teachers or friends at yeshiva. Such performances should not be necessary to convince others?or oneself?of who you are.
Ami Eden, who's working on a similar essay for the Forward, was telling me last week of how he played "The Chinese Rabbi" in a grade-school production of Fiddler; I didn't remember any such "Chinese Rabbi," so I asked him what he was talking about and he said that the way he played it, it seemed as though the rabbi was Chinese. Such wasn't an accurate reflection of Fiddler as the original producers intended it, but it was what a traditional Jew did with it; so was it less or more "Jewish"?
It's worth noting, in light of this, Alisa Solomon's essay, which Heilpern described as a, "Talmudic discussion about Jewish culture and Fiddler." Of course, it was none of that; it was absolute crap, as Solomon's not just worthless and wrong, but harmful writings on Jews and Judaism tend to be. And I think it's Somon that brings us full-circle here.
Fiddler never encapsulated the entirety of Jewish experience, and it was never meant to (by a long shot). Even Yiddish and all it's created is only a very small portion of Jewish tradition, and then only for certain Jewish sectors. It appears that for some Fiddler did come to represent the entirety of the Jewish experience -- a misinterpretation and a cultural chauvinism that presented a specific Jewish identity as the Jewish identity. Finding that identity shifted -- by outsiders, by goyim, of all people -- is shocking that identity at its core. But for those Jews that never saw Jewish cultural claims as part of a triumphalist agenda, it's merely a play that should have Yiddish accents, but doesn't. For Solomon, Fiddler's nostalgia is one that is, "speaking to Jewish yearning for the more liberal and expansive ethos that once defined us." The irony is that the supossed liberality and expansiveness that such people need to find in Fiddler never actually grew to understand diverse forms of tradition that can all be incorporated into a whole. Thusly, her first paragraph:
For thousands of years, Judaism has remained constant in its adaptability, as Talmudic disputatiousness and contemporary needs have urged multiple reinterpretations of ancient scripture. Nowadays lesbians get married under the chuppah, boys talk baseball at their bar mitzvahs, and Passover seders proclaim the rights of Palestinians. But one Jewish text has remained resistant to renovation, with strict prohibitions against any alterations to the practice it originally laid out. Call it the 11th commandment: Don't fuck with Fiddler.
Sounds just as exclusionary and fake as the theatrics criticized in Eskin's concluding paragraph. For a traditional Judaism that truly did engage a Talmudic ethos, Fiddler was always just a cute add-on, one taken in a context that explicitly recognized its non-universality, and the very reality that Judaism has a non-universal element to it. Taking "Tradition" as tradition was actually a fight against tradition, revealing that those making demands for Fiddler's remaining a closed canon, like Solomon, never bothered to care for the Jewish experience as anyone else knew it. Surely, her "liberalism" -- as that of much of so-called liberalism today -- is one more firmly set in rejectionism than incorporation. I don't care if non-Jews fiddle with Fiddler, in part because I never cared all that much about it in the first place and in part because it's their right to do whatever they want with it; I also don't much care if someone wants to interpret halacha or the Bible or what have you in a different manner. I just don't want them claiming that they have closed the canon on re-interpretation and re-reading in a way that's prohibitive to anyone else's reading.
Solomon and those like her are much more fundamentalist than they're willing to admit, and it's about more than just Fiddler.
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
12:32 PM |
Naomi Schaefer writes in this week's Boston Globe "Ideas" section that while we are seeing potential church schisms, we may also see mergers; basically, she just explains an article from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.
Chicago's Rabbi Harry Maryles weighs in on the cardinals' visit to the YU beis medrash, but doesn't offer much by way of substance. I hadn't blogged R' Chaim Dov Keller's letter, because it was part of a series of letters I'd been meaning to get to; I'll try to post more on it soon.
ImPassioned In a rush, I e-mailed a bunch of J-bloggers to try to put together a Purim issue in a few hours. Some of the submissions are still rolling in, and we might put together a .pdf or separate page for it later. Meantime, I'll put stuff up in this post, and may or may not get to all of it here.
Individual contributions are anonymous, but the list of contributors includes:
The Village Idiots Zackary Sholem Berger Kumah Waldheim Jewschool Okay, here goes:
Bloggers' Reactions to the Purim Story Click Here Top Ten Usernames for the Forward's Registration-Only Website 10) GramaLuvr
Images Passion1 Passion2 Press Releases You Didn't See PRESS RELEASE ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE
ADL SHOCKED AT GEORGE TAYLOR'S BLATANT ANTISEMITISM
New York, March 7, 2003--Abraham H. Foxman, the world's sole arbitrator of what is and is not antisemitic, announced that his next-door neighbor, George Taylor should be ashamed of himself for his antisemitism. Acting in his role as the spokesman for all American Jews, President Foxman said he was shocked and disappointed in his neighbor's bigotry against Jews.
Taylor's shocking antisemitism came to light during a dispute with President Foxman over a shared driveway. "George's refusal to pay for half of the repaving costs is an obvious and disturbing sign of his bias," said President Foxman. "Jews all across the United States recognize that anyone with whom I disagree is an antisemite. Therefore, since George and I are having a disgreement, he must be an antisemite."
While at first glance, the dispute between Taylor and the Jewish People may seem trivial, President Foxman explained that it is important to note every act of antisemitism. "At this time of decreased endowments and smaller foundation support, it is incumbent on Jewish spokespeople like myself to highlight every act of antisemitism as if it heralded the building of new concentration camps," President Foxman said. "We must never forget what can happen as a result of turning a blind eye to bigotry. Everyone knows that the rise of Hitler came as a direct result of a dispute about a hedge he had with a Jewish neighbor."
"It is easy for George to make amends," said President Foxman. "All he has to do is announce, loudly, that he supports the Israeli government, no matter what it does. As I established with Billy Graham and Silvio Berlusconi, all that is required for an antisemite to make up with the Jewish People is for them to blindly support the Israeli government."
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and igotry. Its president, Abraham H. Foxman is recognized by news organizations around the world as the official spokesperson for Jews.
PRESS RELEASE ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE
ADL AND WARNER BROTHERS SIGN FIVE-YEAR MARKETING AGREEMENT
Hollywood, March 7, 2004--ADL President Abraham H. Foxman, the self-appointed Offical Arbiter of Antisemitism, and Barry Meyer, the Chairman and CEO of Warner Brothers Entertainment, announced today the signing of a landmark marketing agreement. According to the agreement, Warner Bros. and the ADL will jointly choose one film a year to be denounced as antisemitic.
"We saw what a publicity boon Abe's hysteria was when it came to 'The Passion.' When I saw the amount of column inches of editorial content about Mel's movie, I knew I had to get into that sort of action." Meyer said. "Warner Brothers is pleased to be entering into this historic agreement with an organization recognized the world over as the only
spokesperson for the Jewish People."
Foxman heralded the agreement also, calling it good for the Jews. "Every time I decide that something is antisemitic, donations to the ADL skyrocket. Since what's good for the ADL is good for the Jews, regular hysteria about mounting antisemitism is a boon to our community."
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry. Its president, Abraham H. Foxman is recognized by news organizations around the world as the official spokesperson for Jews.
1 p.m. -- Two dozen black, Jewish and Hispanic teenagers who perform in a controversial new play ``Crown Heights'' share their impressions and experiences together with playwright Lenora Fulani; The All Stars Project's performing arts project, 543 West 42nd Street between 10th and 11th avenues.
Playwright Lenora Fulani? I hadn't heard that before; apparently, neither did Julia Goldman in her NYJWeek review. While her association with the play in the first brought it into question (as the play's toying with history would have done anyway), her status as the actualy playwright would make it seem far more sketchy. Moreso, if this is the fact and it was held back during the period of review, that'd add other elements to the story.
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
1:39 AM |
Of course, some people don't have a sense of humor on Purim day:
3:30 p.m. --
Members of Neturei Karta, an ultra-Orthodox sect that does not believe in the state of Israel, demonstrates; intersection of Lee Avenue and Hewes Street, Brooklyn.
Don't they have a seuda to get to or something?
posted by Steven I. Weiss |
1:29 AM |
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