Signing Off

Readers,

As you can probably tell, this blog is growing defunct, so after a lot of thought, I’ve decided to seal the deal and declare this project finished. I’ve had a wonderful time blogging here, have made some great friends, and hope that I and my co-bloggers were able to contribute a little to the excellent conversations happening around social justice, Jewishness/Judaism, anti-Semitism, and other vital issues.

Since I first came across blogs, I’ve thought of them as a type of magazine – a serial publication for which cessation is a sign of failure. I don’t think that’s the case here; I and my co-bloggers have the option of continuing here for as long as we like. Rather, I’d like to think of this blog (and my next blog, if I decide to go ahead with it) as a finite collection of writings. I think I’ve said all that I have to say in this space. However, if someone else wants to take the reigns, let’s talk!

You’ll find me at Alas, a Blog, Dinah Press, and Feministe. Co-bloggers – please feel free to update this post with your current location. If this blog is ever taken down, our writings will be made available in another format.

Take care, all!

In unity,
Julie

Since when is Gore Vidal an expert on anti-Semitism?

Nevermind that being the victim of anti-Semitism doesn’t automatically make you not a rapist, (thanks Melissa), let’s take a look at some of this man’s philosemitic work, shall we?

Vidal’s much-noted distaste for Jews and Judaism comes through most clearly in three essays written from 1970 to 1981. It is rooted in a standard Nietzschean genealogy of morals — Judaism was a slave-religion that, through Christianity, transmitted its ignoble principles to the whole West — and flavored with an aristocratic contempt for Jews as arrivistes. Admittedly, when criticizing the outrageously stupid comments on homosexuality made by Jewish neoconservatives such as Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, and Joseph Epstein, Vidal is in the right. But he puts himself in the wrong when he refers to Jewish writers as “Rabbi” and calls attention to “the rabbinical mind” of one; when he mentions “[Alfred] Kazin and his kind,” says that Hilton Kramer’s criticism of Garry Wills and himself must be “because we are not Jewish,” and calls Podhoretz “a publicist for Israel”; when he describes New York Jewish intellectuals as a “new class,” and then says that “no matter how crowded and noisy a room, one can always detect the new-class person’s nasal whine”; and when he repeatedly insinuates that it is “unwise” for Jews to criticize homosexuals because they “will be in the same gas chambers as the blacks and the faggots.” Every individual remark can be extenuated — at times it even seems that Vidal writes out of a disappointed love of Jews, whom he expects to be liberal on all issues — but the cluster of hostile, sneering, scornful references leaves a very unpleasant taste. There seems no reason, other than anti-Semitic compulsion, for three of the 14 essays in a book ostensibly about sex to be, in reality, attacks on Judaism and on individual Jews.

I do think that the writer is on to something here, at the end: this is a familiar pattern with anti-Semites. There is an admiration based on a kind of imagined camaraderie, for any number of reasons; Martin Luther, for example, was far more positive when he imagined our rejection of Christianity was more due to malfeasance from the Catholics than doctrinal or theological reasons.

However, more to the point: given what this man has previously written about Jews, why should anyone take his analysis of anti-Semitism seriously?

All together now, say it with me:

I’m breaking my long-term blogging hiatus (due mainly to needing to find employment) to weigh in on something that’s been all over the media recently:

Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl. He then ran to France to live a welcomed, upper-class life rather than stay and fight any judicial misconduct with what was and is available in the legal system currently. You know, like all the little people who aren’t artists and who don’t create.

The quality or lack thereof of his movies should not actually be relevant to this at all.

Va’Etchanan part 1

(As previously noted, all my parshot are done with the Etz Hayim used in my original Conservative denomination.)

Most of us are probably at least peripherally aware of this parsha, due to the presence of the Sh’ma and its centrality in the Jewish faith. It also seems central to this parsha as well, according to the URJ, since this week’s portion is entirely an exhortation to Israel to listen to Moses.

We start with Moses telling Israel about being denied entry into the Land of Israel by God – Abraham ibn Ezra says that Moses did it to emphasize the privilege embodied in living there, as it was the one thing God denied him which he truly wanted, while the Midrash tells us that Moses said it to impress upon the Israelites that they ought not to assume God owes anyone an affirmation of their desire through prayer or flattery. Personally, I think this is later emphasized in the attribution that “God does not accept bribes” (Deut. 10:17).

Now, Deuteronomy 4 starts with another command, a command not to add or to take away from what God has commanded (Deut. 4:2). Of course, if some things had not been added or taken away, we would not have modern Judaism as we know it – quite possibly, there may not have even been Solomon’s Jerusalem Temple. The Sages, according to Etz Hayim, opined that this was limited to “quantitative” changes in the law, while extension and clarification did not qualify as “adding” – to me this actually seems like the only way we could survive all this time within the framework of The Law.

Deuteronomy 4:5 gives us an interesting contrast to most of the nations of the world – Samson Raphael Hirsch noted for this passage that the Jews are unique among the nations for having the Law first, and then the land. Indeed, for thousands of years after the end of the Second Temple and expulsion from Jerusalem, we have had Torah and later Talmud to sustain us, so I suppose the question is: what’s the priority?

There are a lot of things to unpack in this parshah, so I will have to continue this later.

Hiatus

I know I haven’t posted much if at all since, well, last summer, but it turns out that life has once again kicked me right in the ass, so I’ll be out for a little while. Pray for me or wish me luck, this one’s a doozy.

Ritual Purity vs. Human Beings

If there’s one thing the whole Agriprocessors scandal taught me, it’s that for many of the Orthodox or very Orthodox set, ritual purity must be upheld at all costs, even at the expense of other human beings.

With this in mind, while it’s very disheartening and very disappointing, it comes as no surprise that the Israeli Deputy Health Minister (a member of very rational Agudat Israel) wants the “swine flu” to be renamed the Mexican flu.

This reference to the flu maybe coming from a treif animal, of course, is very upsetting to the ultra-Orthodox constituency. If we have to propagate a meme that it’s being spread from illegal immigrants and further dehumanize them as carriers of plague in order to maintain sensibilities and ritual purity, then so be it. After all, it’s not like Jews have ever been accused wrongly of spreading disease and sickness ourselves.

Is this really how some of us think we should treat our fellow people, all created in God’s image? Again, in light of all the Agriprocessors scandals, I suppose I know the answer to that. I also know who ought to know better but apparently don’t.

Easter in Orange County

Last Sunday, sitting on the steps next to my container garden outside my Long Beach apartment, I heard a group of people singing in the next building. I thought of the seder I’d had a couple of nights before; my friends and I had sung the Ma Nishtana, which I only learned a few years ago and forget every year. Only two of the guests remembered the melody at first, but it only took a line or two for it to come back to the rest of us. I wondered if the neighbors could hear us. I’ve never had an anti-Semitic incident in this neighborhood, so I thought it’d be kind of cool if on the other side of our open windows, people were listening to us sing.

I watched families walking in and out of apartments, carrying children, greeting relatives. I smiled as I listened to the singing. Then I realized it wasn’t a hymn or some other Easter song – they were all singing a pop song. Blink 182 or something.

Oh. Well, it was still nice to hear singing. Yellow jackets buzzed around my bacopas. My bean seedlings were just starting to twine around the railing, and my lavender was blooming like the world was going to end.

***

According to the Slingshot Collective, “the modern world is the ugliest, saddest, dirtiest, and most stressful and dangerous place humans have ever created.” I don’t know if it’s the ugliest, the saddest, or the est of any of those other things, but many parts of it certainly are ugly and sad. I was thinking about that quote, along with various discussions I’ve witnessed about the “lack” of white American culture – whiteness as negative space – and white Americans’ need to appropriate more exotic cultures, when I tested a theory out on my husband: that the United States has one of the shallowest national cultures on the planet. Continue reading

A banner day for Venezuela

Four days ago, a constitutional amendment passed by referendum eliminating term limits for Venezuelan politicians – specifically, the President, governors, mayors and deputy mayors. According to some news sources, as much as 20% of the Jewish community in Venezuela has already emigrated, and this was while term limits did at least exist. Now, since such limits have been removed and it looks very little like Chavez has real opposition, this might mean that there will be one more centuries-old Diaspora community diminished and depleted, another victim of scapegoating from a dictator looking to consolidate power, and the world of Jewish culture will be lesser for its loss. You could call this a premature requiem, I suppose, but it seems a little more like the writing is on the wall, since we’ve seen this so many times before.

AP Article Says More Than It Intends

From Salon:

Jan 31st, 2009 | CARACAS, Venezuela — An armed group vandalized Caracas’ oldest synagogue, shattering religious objects and spray-painting walls in what Jewish leaders called the worst attack ever on their community in Venezuela.

Two security guards were overpowered by about 15 people who ransacked the synagogue’s sanctuary and offices late Friday, leaving graffiti such as: “We don’t want murderers,” and “Jews, get out.”

Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro condemned the attack and promised it would be investigated, while reiterating his government’s opposition to what he called Israel’s “criminal” government.

“We respect the Jewish people, but we ask respect for the people of Palestine and their right to life,” Maduro said in a ceremony called to welcome home two Venezuelan diplomats expelled from Israel this week.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry ordered the envoys to leave after Venezuela expelled all Israeli diplomats on Jan. 6, to protest Israel’s offensive in the Gaza strip. President Hugo Chavez labeled Israeli leaders as “genocidal.”

Nearly 1,300 Palestinians died in the three weeks of fighting.

Leaders of Venezuela’s estimated 15,000-member Jewish community warned that vocal denunciations of Israel by Chavez and the country’s government-funded news media may have encouraged Friday’s attack.

“These declarations permeate society,” said Abraham Levy, president of the Venezuelan Confederation of Israelite Associations.

The incident forced the synagogue to cancel Saturday’s worship service.

I do think that the violence speaks for itself, and that Jews in parts of the world being punished for what the nation of Israel does is nothing new, I just wanted to highlight something I found curious about the whole thing: the Venezuelan government’s response.

1.) Why was the Venezuelan Foreign Minister promising an investigation into this incident? If a minority group in the United States experiences violence, would the Secretary of State promise to investigate?

2.) The Foreign Minister then went on to mention Palestine when referring to an attack on Jews in their own country.

Here’s what I saw: the Venezuelan government, while not outright condoning this violence, nevertheless makes it clear that they see Jews in their own country as not really Venezuelan citizens, but simply Israeli foreign nationals and saw it as, essentially, something akin to looking into some unfortunate attacks on some tourists and not domestic crime. Just another example of where Jews are not seen as citizens of whichever country they’re living in, and their first loyalty is to Israel.

If the Venezuelan government, or at least their Foreign Minister, did not see them in this way, was the phrase “We respect the Jewish people, but we ask respect for the people of Palestine and their right to life” necessary? What do the Venezuelan Jews have to do with Israel beyond these assumptions?

Good to see the Venezuelan government is continuing a pattern of behavior in Latin America previously established by the Argentinian government’s “investigation” into synagogue bombings

Call for Bloggers

Just thought I’d write a quick note to my beloved clickers, scrollers, linkers, and commenters reminding you all that we’re always on the lookout for new contributors here at Modern Mitzvot. If you’ve never blogged in your life but have something to say, let us know! If you have your own blog and are interested in cross-posting, let us know! If you don’t see yourself as a regular blogger, but have an idea for a guest post, let us know! The addy is modernmitzvot at yahoo dot com.

The general thrust of this blog is social justice, but it’s very flexible. We love anything having to do with Jewish identities.

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