Michael Chabon Fights Judaism, and Loses

Invited to speak at Hebrew Union College’s commencement ceremony, the novelist Michael Chabon took the opportunity not only to attack Zionism—and especially the Jewish residents of Hebron—but also to advocate for intermarriage and to express his dissatisfaction with Judaism itself, which strikes him as a “giant interlocking system of distinctions and divisions.” Nothing, Chabon began and ended his speech by saying, is worse than distinctions and divisions, except perhaps “the erection of border walls and separation barriers.” In a thorough dissection of the oration, Elli Fischer writes:

Chabon expresses discomfort with “monocultural places” with “one language, one religion,” but the application of these words to Judaism is simply astonishing. Virtually every Jewish community in history has developed its own dialect. There are five Judeo-Arabic dialects alone. There is a dizzying variety of Jewish culture and multiform expressions of Jewish religiosity. Chabon, however, has no access to this amazing, diversity because he speaks no Jewish language. . . .

Chabon writes “I ply my craft in English, that most magnificent of creoles,” as if speaking English, with all its layers and loan words, makes one multilingual all by itself. Perhaps sensing this, he adds: “my personal house of language is haunted by the dybbuk of Yiddish.” Alas, it is a small dybbuk . . . and not very frightening. . . . Consequently, even as Chabon celebrates even the most superficial cross-cultural fusion, the Judaism he describes is suburban, third-generation American Judaism, a monolingual, monocultural, monochromatic (but not necessarily monotheistic) sliver of the totality of Jewish experience.

Chabon singles out the Shabbat eruv for ridicule three times in his speech. For him, an eruv is just another boundary, another way for Jews to mark who is in and who is out. But the word eruv literally means “mixture” or “combination.” The legal theory behind it is that many private and semiprivate domains can be combined into a single household so that one may carry things from one to another on Shabbat. Creating an eruv involves negotiation with all those, including non-Jews and nonobservant Jews, who share that space. The “walls” of the eruv are, in fact, generally not walls at all. They [consist] only of posts and wires, on the premise that two posts with a lintel form a doorway. The eruv circumscribes a community with walls that are entirely doors. . . .

The very idea of a wall made of doors undermines Chabon’s dichotomies. . . . Instead, all Chabon sees, all he wants to see, is that the eruv divides the inside from the outside and is therefore abhorrent; living in an eruv and living in Hebron—it’s all the same. No need to make distinctions.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Hebron, Intermarriage, Jewish language, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Shabbat

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict