The Narrow Orthodoxies of Jewish Cosmopolitanism

Investigating the contrast between Jewish universalism and Jewish particularism, Moshe Koppel takes as archetypes “Heidi,” a liberal graduate student he met at Princeton University, and the members of the small ḥasidic synagogue (shtibl) that his grandfather attended. Koppel writes:

I was twenty-three, out of yeshiva for the first time; Heidi . . . had taken it upon herself to educate me about the special duties of the Jewish people to humanity. “The lesson of the Holocaust,” [she told me], “is that we Jews must never put our parochial interests ahead of others’ interests. We should know better than anyone what happens when that lesson isn’t learned.” I had never encountered [this] orthodoxy before.

My own thoughts about Jewish obligation were not quite so pious as those of my interlocutor. My first lessons in the matter were learned in the Gerer shtibl where my grandfather davened. The members of this shul were Polish Holocaust survivors. . . . They were worldly, cynical, [and] fiercely independent, but chose to remain loyal to the ways of their fathers. Some were [fully committed] Gerer Ḥasidim for whom [Judaism] could never be the same after the war, but many—maybe most—could better be thought of as ex-Ḥasidim who wouldn’t think of jumping ship after what had happened to their families. . . .

The Gerer shtibl gang were intense; they were angry; they could be funny in a biting sort of way; they were devoted. But one thing they had no patience for was high-minded pieties. They despised pompousness and self-righteousness. Their devotion to Yiddishkayt [Jewishness] as a way of life and to the Jews as a people was as natural and instinctive as drawing breath. . . .

My main argument [is] not that the cosmopolitan critique of the Judaism [of that shtibl] misrepresents Judaism itself (though it does). Rather, this critique is rooted in a number of cultural blind spots, including a blinkered understanding of the scope of morality, of the preferability of social norms to laws, and of the extent to which certain beliefs are unavoidable. In short, [one worldview is] narrow and orthodox and the other is worldly and realistic. [But] most people are confused about which is which.

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Read more at Judaism without Apologies

More about: Hasidism, Holocaust survivors, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Universalism

 

The Arab Press Blames Iran Rather Than Israel for Gaza’s Woes

Following the fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad over the weekend, many journalists and commentators in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia didn’t rush to condemn the Jewish state. Instead, as the translators at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) note, they criticized the terrorist group for “operating in service of Iranian interests and thus inflicting suffering on the Gaza Strip’s residents.” One Saudi intellectual, Turki al-Hamad, wrote the following on Twitter:

It is apparent that, if at one time any confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian organizations would attract world and Arab attention and provoke a wave of anger [against Israel], today it does not shock most Arabs and most of the world’s [countries]. Furthermore, even a sense of human solidarity [with the Palestinians] has become rare and embarrassing, raising the question, “Why [is this happening] and who is to blame?”

I believe that the main reason is the lack of confidence in all the Palestinian leaders. . . . From the Arabs’ and the world’s perspective, it is already clear that these leaders are manipulating the [Palestinian] cause out of self-interest and diplomatic, economic, or even personal motives, and that the Palestinian issue is completely unconnected to this. The Palestinian cause has become a bargaining chip in the hands of these and other organizations and states headed by the [Iranian] ayatollah regime.

A, article in a major Arabic-language newspaper took a similar approach:

In a lengthy front-page report on August 7, the London-based UAE daily Al-Arab criticized Islamic Jihad, writing that “Gaza again became an arena for the settling of accounts between Iran and Israel, while the Palestinian citizens are the ones paying the price.” It added that Iran does not want to confront Israel directly for its bombings in Syria and its attacks on Iranian scientists and nuclear facilities.

“The war in Gaza is not the first, nor will it be the last. But it proves . . . that Iran is exploiting Gaza as it exploits Lebanon, in order to strengthen its hand in negotiations with the West. We all know that Iran hasn’t fired a single bullet at Israel, and it also will not do this to defend Gaza or Lebanon.”

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Read more at MEMRI

More about: Gaza Strip, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israel-Arab relations, Persian Gulf