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Friday, April 09, 2004  

Part II
Now, for the question of whether Gibson’s movie is non-materially anti-Semitic. At the outset, it should be noted that this evaluation is much more difficult an undertaking than was the other. Material anti-Semitism is measurable fairly objectively. Is the movie causing violence, etc., or not? On the other hand, no easily apparent criteria present themselves with regard to recognizing non-material anti-Semitism.
And it is this difficulty that accounts for the almost unbelievable variability of opinion that has accompanied Gibson’s movie. Detractors have left the movie and declared it anti-Semitic in the extreme. Many Christians claim to have found the movie uplifting and seem genuinely confused as to why so many Jews (and others) are complaining.
My problem with many of these accounts is that they are largely impressionistic. “When I saw the movie, I felt like it was attacking Jews and fomenting hatred of Jews, so it’s anti-Semitic.” Or, “When I saw the movie, I was uplifted, and I found the message to be a message of love, so it’s clearly not anti-Semitic.”
No resolution or “meeting of the minds” is possible between these sorts of claims. As long as the decisive factors in assessing anti-Semitic content are the feelings of the viewers, there is no way that any sort of consensus can be reached because different viewers – obviously – will perceive Gibson’s movie, and most any other media, in markedly different ways. And there is little hope that one person’s “I feel it was anti-Semitic” contention will cause another to retract his own “I feel it was not anti-Semitic” claim. A defensible argument for (or against) non-material anti-Semitism in Gibson’s movie must rest on more broad-based, less subjective grounds.
(As an aside, it bears noting that – independent of the Gibson issue – the implications of determining the existence of anti-Semitism on the sole basis of feelings and rhetoric are decidedly unattractive. After all, there are some people who feel that virtually all news-reporting involving Israel is anti-Semitic; most fair-minded people would disagree, and rightly so. Jerry’s incisive spoofing of Uncle Leo in “The Shower Head” is predicated upon the ridiculousness of the “everything-is-anti-Semitic” crowd. And, in what could be viewed as the ultimate warning to those who think that feelings and rhetoric constitute proof of anti-Semitism, the Anti-Defamation League was successfully sued for – of all things – defamation, for the undeserved charge of anti-Semitism it leveled against a couple in Colorado.)
Can such grounds be found with regard to Gibson’s movie? Good question. Well, let’s take a step back for a second. What do I mean by objective grounds? Can there even be such a thing as “objective” non-material anti-Semitism?
I believe that, indeed, objective evidence of non-material anti-Semitism can exist, and – using two specific, extreme examples – I’ll try to isolate some of the characteristics that might be useful in identifying such evidence. Then we can attempt to apply the criteria to the Gibson movie and see where that takes us.
First, let’s take a classic example of (what I think we can all fairly agree is) a video that is anti-Semitic: a nice little blood libel video produced in Syria, which portrays a group of frum-looking Jews killing a young Christian child in order to use his blood for, you guessed it, the Passover matzos.
[For the sake of the argument, let us suppose that the video is seen in a context that would not lead it to material anti-Semitism, so that it is simply “non-materially anti-Semitic.”]
Ok, now, let’s think about the content of this video, and about blood libels in general. I think we can fairly say that even if a blood libel will not cause violence against Jews, it is still anti-Semitic. Why? Well, basically, because it propagates vicious lies about Jews and the Jewish religion – namely, the notion that Jews are obligated (or believe they are obligated) to sacrifice Christian children in order to perform Jewish ritual and that Jews have acted upon (and will likely continue to act upon) this supposed obligation and murder Christian children for ritual purposes.
Great, that seemed simple enough. We’ve isolated one characteristic that might render a movie (or other performance) non-materially anti-Semitic: representing as truth a pernicious, blatant untruth about Jews or Judaism.
What happens if we try to apply this litmus test to Gibson’s movie? Does the movie portray a pernicious, blatant untruth about Jews as fact? In a word, no. (Philosophy-types might prefer the less far-reaching “it is not the case that ‘the movie portrays a pernicious, blatant untruth about Jews as fact.’”) We can argue until we are all blue in the face as to how much Gibson has read into Christian Scripture, but he did not wholly invent the basic storyline of the movie. Even if we grant, say, Bill Buckley’s estimation, that “the story it tells is a gross elaboration of what the Bible yields,” it remains an “elaboration,” rather than an obvious departure from the truth (as reported by the sources in question); one cannot fairly accuse Gibson of the kind of transparent, stop-the-presses fabrication that lies at the heart of the blood libel. And as a result, we are deprived of our first criterion for objectively labeling Gibson’s movie non-materially anti-Semitic.
Ok, so what else do we have in the arsenal? What characteristic – other than sheer fabrication of a story – might indicate anti-Semitic content, and so strongly that we might consider it “objectively” anti-Semitic?
Well, I have such a characteristic in mind, but it’s a tad abstract, so I’ll introduce it with an example. What would the response be if, say, Gibson portrayed all of the Jewish characters in his movie with fangs, rather than human teeth? Picture it: all of the Christian characters in the movie are featured with the less-than-pearly whites typical of pre-modern dentistry, but the Jews in the movie uniformly look like characters auditioning for the title role in a Dracula remake.
I contend that, in this case, a consensus would emerge: Gibson’s movie would be regarded as unmistakably anti-Semitic. (Perhaps the opinion would not be as uniform as it would be with regard to a blood libel, but it would be the opinion of a vast majority).
Ok, but why should this be so? What element of this scenario marks it as non-material anti-Semitism? Well, it’s a sort of dishonesty, but not the same sort as that propagated by a blood libel. In a blood libel, the entire story is a gross fabrication misrepresenting Jewish belief and practice. In the case of the movie with the fanged-Jews, the storyline is defensible, insofar as it roughly conforms to an established narrative of the events portrayed therein. However, the dishonesty – bottom line – emerges from the disjunction between what the movie is purported to be and what in fact it is. Gibson has remarked on numerous occasions that, in his movie, he has attempted to recreate as faithfully and realistically as possible the story of Jesus’s death, as told in Christian Scripture and other traditional Christian sources. Fine, that is his prerogative. However – in our hypothetical case – by portraying Jews as fanged creatures, Gibson manifestly undercuts his profession of fidelity to traditional sources by inserting an element so unnatural and unrealistic that it could not fairly be inserted in a purportedly realistic performance without explicit textual basis. And so, unless a long-lost “fanged Jew”-Gospel were to be discovered, Gibson would not be able to successfully defend his movie from justified charges that is non-materially anti-Semitic.
Ok, but this (long-winded) exercise was just a hypothetical case. In fact, (as far as I know), Mel Gibson did not give fangs to the Jewish characters in his movie. But, is there anything in the movie that could be likened to our hypothetical, even if less egregious?
Well, I don’t really know, because I haven’t seen the movie. But, from what I’ve read, the entire issue seems to come down to one, easily measurable, factual question, whose answer should not be at all difficult to ascertain: Do the Jews in Gibson’s movie have unnaturally long, or hooked, noses or not? It’s very simple – if they do, then Gibson’s movie is not realistic, for there is nothing in Christian sources (as far as I know) that testifies to the notion that Jews, among their many other faults, possess mutant shnozzes. And if this is the case, then Gibson’s portrayal of Jews in this manner is indefensible and is non-materially anti-Semitic, drawing – as it does – on centuries of stereotyped imagery of the evil Jew. Frank Rich alludes to this factor when he complains that in the movie, “the Jewish high priests are also depicted as grim sadists with bad noses…” and then that “(The only Jew with a pretty nose in this Judea is Jesus.)”
And, conversely, if Rich (and others) are wrong – and the Jews’ in the movie do not have unrealistic physical features – then we are back to square one, bereft of any objective criteria for labeling the movie non-materially anti-Semitic.
Well, this is as far as I’ve gotten in my brief musings about this over-hyped topic. I’m sorry for the anti-climactic conclusion, but there’s nothing I can do about that. I’m convinced that there could be other objective criteria in the movie that point to it being anti-Semitic, but – not having seen the movie and sitting at the mercy of perusing others’ complaints – I can’t figure out what they are. However, as I indicated a few weeks ago, I think that not having seen the movie might have freed me from the emotionalism that has characterized the arguments of those who have seen it. Still, if anyone has seen it and can think of measurable criteria that would seem to impact upon our discussion, I would be very interested in hearing them.
[And if anyone found it odd that I rarely name Gibson’s movie: it’s simply a formatting issue – I don’t feel like re-italicizing the title, which is what I need to do when I post.]

posted by Deranged GOT Fan | 5:22 PM |

The Passion and Anti-Semitism – Part II
Ok. As promised, here’s part II. Almost.
Quick recap of Part I, in case anyone wants the convenience of having both parts of the argument next to one another. I’ll post the actual Part II in a few minutes.
Part I:
1: All instances of anti-Semitism can be classified as belonging to one of two categories: material anti-Semitism and non-material anti-Semitism. Material anti-Semitism is that which will cause Jews undeserved bodily harm (or the threat of bodily harm), monetary harm, legal harm (e.g. an expulsion), or the like. For now, “non-material anti-Semitism” is anti-Semitism that is not “material anti-Semitism.”
2: Many commentators/pundits have likened Gibson’s movie to “passion plays” that were performed in Medieval Europe, which inspired violence against Jews. My contention is that this analogy is misleading, at best, or actually disingenuous. Here’s why:
The true horror of the medieval “passion plays” owed to the fact that the plays led to material anti-Semitism, that Jews would be physically (or monetarily, etc) harmed as a result of the performances. Now, according to the best evidence that we have, there is little chance that Gibson’s movie has inspired or will inspire such material anti-Semitism.
However, those who invoke the analogy between the Gibson movie and the “passion plays” seem to expect that the listener will condemn the Gibson movie as anti-Semitic to the degree that the medieval performances are popularly condemned as anti-Semitic. But, of course, the analogy is fatally flawed, because the modern context is entirely different from the medieval context. Since the true horror of the passion plays – namely, material anti-Semitism – has not/will not be caused by Gibson’s movie, it would be inapt to condemn the Gibson movie, with regard to whatever anti-Semitic content it might have, to the same degree that one would condemn the medieval passion plays.
[For those who have, for whatever ungodly reason, followed the “discussion” in the comments to my previous posts, here’s why the issue requires the theoretical framework of dividing all anti-Semitism into two categories: Even though the historical context of the Gibson movie prevents it from being materially anti-Semitic, its form is outwardly similar – if not identical – to the form of the passion plays; and this surface similarity engenders an undeserved tendency towards viewing the movie and the plays as similarly anti-Semitic and similarly worth of condemnation. The analogiz-er would say, “The plays were anti-Semitic in form. The movie has the exact same form. Therefore, the movie is also anti-Semitic.” Moreover, if there were only one type of anti-Semitism, the analogy would seem to trap us into an uncomfortable dilemma: either the movie is as anti-Semitic as the plays were, or it is not anti-Semitic at all. However, with the introduction of our distinction, our options are broadened. Our distinction between the two types of anti-Semitism reveals that there are actually two issues – material anti-Semitism and non-material anti-Semitism – which the analogiz-ers unfairly merge into one issue. Once we have our distinction, the response to the analogy is apparent. “There are two issues here: material and non-material anti-Semitism. It is a subject for discussion whether the two are similar insofar as non-material anti-Semitism, but they certainly are not the same insofar as material anti-Semitism. And since the true horror of the plays had to do with the material anti-Semitism, that horror cannot be fairly associated with the movie.” Perhaps the structure would not be necessary if our intent were only to make the simple point that the movie is different because it will not cause material anti-Semitism. But the structure is necessary in our argument because our goal is broader, namely, identifying the element that is misleading people into accepting the analogy.]
A couple of notes:
a) Columbia – You make a couple of good points. I wish that I were less easily sidetracked into discussing inanities, and I will try to avoid doing so in the future. However, I really was simply attempting to clarify my position. Please bear in mind that I have no idea who will read my posts (let alone why). Given this fact, I try as much as possible to explain my thoughts as thoroughly as possible, with the aim of making my comments understandable to anyone who (for whatever reason) decides to read them. As you must know, not every reader attends Columbia Law School. After all, if they did, it’d be pretty pointless to sign your posts “Columbia Law Review,” wouldn’t it? (See “ad verecundiam” or “Appeal to Authority, ”in Kraut, Sacred Laws of Arguing. New York: NYU Imaginary Press, 2004. This tactic consists of invoking one’s title, rank, or law school, as the basis for the merits of one’s argument). Anyway, I digress. My point is that my intent in responding to comments is to explain, but – you’re right, it was overkill. And I’ll try to not replicate the experience.
b) Apparently, something I said tickled NYU’s bowels. In response to one of my statements, NYU reports, “I almost shat my pants.” Well, NYU, I am happy that you were able to hold it in. Now, if you could only find a way to hold in the sh*t that keeps leaving your mouth, you will have made some real progress.
c) AC dude – I guess you meant it as an insult, but thank you for the “Commentary Magazine” comparison. Kozodoy will get a big kick out of that one.
d) Once again, to Mr. Waxman, I sincerely apologize for my initial response to your comment.

posted by Deranged GOT Fan | 5:19 PM |

Thursday, April 08, 2004  

Just watched "The Today Show," which occasionally features outdoor concerts for which audiences line up for blocks hours in advance. Today was an appearance by the composer of the soundtrack to The Passion conducting an orchestra/choir in one of the album's tracks. Repeatedly in the promo buildup to the show, the host kept announcing the film's $432 million box-office take.
The message keeps getting hammered home: The ADL really screwed up here.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 9:05 AM |

Instapundit notes the quote from Paul Boutin about evangelism on the Web: "I really think that if Jesus were around today, he would have a blog.?
And isn't that so true?
And given how true it seems, how come so few churches, religious leaders, or sects have blogs?
Over on the Judaism side of things, I think we're doing better on the saturation front, and I think we'll continue to do better, owing simply to the complete decentralization of authority for most Jews. The question now seems less to be of which Jews and Jewish leaders are paying attention to blogs as much as it is a question of who these days isn't. In the past six months or so, J-blogs have begun a saturation of the J-comm that continues to grow exponentially, both in terms of the quantity of blogs and in the size of their readership.
Along the way, of course, many of those readers or bloggers turn out to have been influential folks -- and, as Jeff Jarvis would be sure to note, the line between the two is shrinking: J-blogs are influential, and J-blogging is more and more becoming about influential Jews influencing other influential Jews.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 8:42 AM |

"Jesus Loves..." was the skywriting as my pops and I rode to Costco on Monday. I was pretty surprised, the pops wasn't, so I asked him: "How many times have you seen 'Jesus Loves' in skywriting around here?" His response: "Two or three times, probably."
One has to wonder what the potential for skywriting polemics could be. I'm just waiting for the Chabad here to up the ante.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:47 AM |

Okay, so weirdest chometz-burning experience that didn't include significant injury? I saw a guy this time around with two Costco-sized boxes of Cheerios, pouring on a little at a time so as not to drown out the fire. I don't know how long he was there before I arrived, or how long he stayed afterward, but that looked to be an achingly slow endeavor.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:26 AM |

Four people were injured Monday by a fire that was set on a Brooklyn street, authorities said.
Fire marshals were investigating reports that the fire was set as part of a bread-burning ritual related to Passover.
Four people, including at least one teenager, were being treated for burns. Their conditions were not immediately available.
The fire was reported at about 11:17 a.m. on 42nd Street in the Borough Park section.
(Thanks Josh)
UPDATE: Better details in the NYT. I'm not much for shadenfreude, but I couldn't help laughing at this:
Because the wind kept putting out the fire, the son of the Breslov rabbi, identified by witnesses as Moshe Schick, was trying to revive it with paint thinner. But some embers were still burning, and just as he poured, a gust of wind came up and the stream of liquid vaporized in a flash, a fire official said.
Mr. Schick, with his father looking on, dropped to the ground and rolled, yelling "call Hatzolah," the private Jewish ambulance service, said one witness, Yaakov Baum, 20, a student at the yeshiva. "He was on fire rolling toward me," Mr. Baum said. Another witness, who would not give his name, said that at one point Mr. Schick rolled under a car and had to be pulled out.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:19 AM |

Wednesday, April 07, 2004  

Yoel rants on the demise of a "center" in Orthodoxy, wondering on the growth of a "right" and a "left."
In part, for other Jews and certainly for non-Jews, the idea of Modern Orthodoxy being divided into a Left, Right and Center could seem pretty ridiculous, and justifiably so. The division of so few Jews into so many identities begins to come close to the "one Jew, two shuls" joke.
Nevertheless, in this post I'm not interested in whether the division is real or necessary, if either side is "correct," or which side will "win." I find it interesting -- though certainly not original or unique -- that Yoel thinks of Rabbi JB Soloveitchik as, "the glue that helped keep the Right and the Left together." Indeed, he and others consistently refer to this split -- however real or imagined it truly is -- as a bastardization of Soloveitchik's legacy.
But few suggest that this split, or more reasonably the antagonism that is a part of it, is a predictable element of Soloveitchik's work to begin with. I've been paid to edit thus-far-unpublished work on this subject, so I won't go very far in working out these ideas which aren't my own. Nevertheless, it's quite surprising that just as each side claims a legitimate legacy, neither supposes that both are equally the result of Soloveitchik's work -- intentionally or unintentionally. A similar debate takes place these days in Lubavitch, and surely does or has taken place in other sects, as well.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 11:49 PM |

Via Kesher Talk, troops observing Passover in one of Saddam's palaces.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 11:01 PM |

Okay, the first two days are over. Here are some questions for discussion while I scare up some more posts:
1) What was the reason that a lecturer by you gave for the four-day wait between getting the Pascal lamb and eating it?
2) How many times was chometz compared to sin?
3) Who considered it a significant revelation that lambs were considered Egyptian gods?
What other Passover cliches did you come across?

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 10:49 PM |

Monday, April 05, 2004  

How was your last chometz? Leave your stories in the comments below.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 10:06 AM |

Sunday, April 04, 2004  

The Ten Commandments is on now, and watching it I'm led to wonder why no one's ever compared the story to Oedypus. He overthrows the rulership of his (adopted) father, and has his mother as a wetnurse. It's not precise, but it's close.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 8:56 PM |

An increasingly problematic aspect of bedikas/biur chametz: almost nobody gives out paper bags these days, but the chametz must be collected in a receptacle that can be safely burned.
We used the bag for a bottle of wine from a liquor store.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 8:44 PM |

So at the local synagogue on Friday night, there's always a table with lots of literature announcing different events/classes, or providing information sources for said events/classes. This Friday night, there was a packet with a number of articles from Star-K Kosher Certification relating to observance of Passover.
One such article was, "What Could Be the Problem With...", which details what does and does not require certification for use on Passover (for Ashkenazim, of course).
So you'll notice that the first item is "Supermarket Produce," the potential problem of which would be the waxy coating used to protect said produce from wear and tear, which can be made from a soy by-product, hence raising the issue of kitniyos. In responding to the issue raised, the author declares that there are no problems because of batul b'rov, the concept by which a very minor ingredient doesn't affect a food's kashrus.
Scroll down and you'll see the category "100% Pure," which would include things like 100% pure honey. Here, too, the author raises the potential of a problem relating to kitniyos, owing to the fact that, "100% pure honey could be adulterated with corn syrup without detection." But here, too, we'd be dealing with a minor ingredient, if we're dealing with an additional ingredient at all. In fact, the FDA characterizes as "Economic food fraud" the use of any supplementary ingredients in products labelled "100% Pure."
So if the minor ingredient is batul b'rov on supermarket produce, why wouldn't a similar minor ingredient -- which is most likely not there, since it's illegal to place it there -- be batul b'rov in a product like honey?
The answer would seem to be pretty simple: a kashrus organization can get away with supplying certification to honey, which just kinda feels "manufactured," while market realities presumably can't bear a kashrus organization trying to certify fresh produce.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:08 PM |

So, EphShap has a post up about the shift in Yom Hazikaron/Yom Ha'Atzmaut this year. This isn't news in the true sense, because the issue's been discussed for months, the bill was introduced in February, and the vote took place weeks ago. But EphShap pointed out to me -- and my limited research thus far hasn't disproved him -- that the J-media has completely dropped the ball on this, even though tons of Jewish calendars are now incorrect, and different American institutions will likely be observing on different days (some will follow the Israelis, some won't).
Indeed, a search for "Yom Hazikaron" at JTA, the Forward, and the Jewish Press produces no results (admitting that the search methods may be flawed).
I hadn't written anything because I just kind of assumed this had been reported on and was known; it turns out it may not have been reported on in the States at all.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:38 AM |


6 p.m. to midnight -- The Israelite Church of God & Jesus Christ holds its Passover celebration; 311 W. 34th St.
Contact: Bishop Joseph J. Watson II
I can't find a Web page for these guys; can you?
UPDATE: Reader Shmarya finds it for us, and they've got a blog! Or, well, they used blogging software to assemble the page.

posted by Steven I. Weiss | 12:03 AM |
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