“Above All, Judaism Is a Religion”

Nov. 10 2021

One of America’s leading historians of the Jewish people, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi (1932-2009) trained numerous scholars, and shaped the thought of many more with his works on Jewish memory, Marranism, and Sigmund Freud. In conversation with Sylvie Anne Goldberg, he reflected on the state of Judaism in his day:

One movement that is quite active right now calls itself “secular Judaism.” I have nothing against these people, who include many American and Israeli academics and intellectuals, nor against their movement or this trend. I support any action taken in the name of affirming Jewish identity. The one thing that annoys me, and I don’t think it’s a sign of purism, is the name itself, “secular Judaism.” Historically speaking, I find it distorting, misleading, and contradictory. Judaism is a religion, or at least it was. We can’t artificially cancel this aspect.

Above all, Judaism is a religion. By definition, every specifically Jewish way of life is anchored in one form or another to a religious connection to life.

And although Yerushalmi admitted sometimes thinking that “the condition of the Jewish people . . . isn’t anything to be proud of,” he urged reflection on the situation immediately following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

The state of mind expressed in the Apocalypse of Baruch, [a religious work from that period], is, “let’s stop sowing, plowing, getting married, and everything else, because it’s all over.” And yet, nothing’s over, since we’re here today to talk about it. The other example comes from a poem by Yehudah Leib Gordon, . . . “L’mi ani amel” (“For Whom Do I Toil?”). . . . I quote from memory—the end of the poem states: “Who knows? Perhaps I’m the last Hebrew language poet and you are the last readers.” This poem was written in 1870, I believe. That’s how Gordon felt at the time, with good reason. There was no way to predict that less than a century later, a Jewish state would be restored, in which Hebrew would become the daily language.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Judaism, Second Temple, Secular Judaism

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter