Category Archives: Judaism

How I Became an Enemy of the Race

(Note: This article, a polemic whose original and pretentious name was “Apologia pro fide sui”, was published in December 2006 in Nana News, after an Orthodox commentator charged me with anti-Semitism. He replied, and I replied again – I plan to translate the second reply later.)

(For Dena Bugel-Shunra)

Ariel Lavi, who writes Parshat Ha’Shavua columns in these pages – caveat: I edited most of them – wrote yesterday a somewhat confused and emotional column, in which he blamed of anti-Semitism. And that’s about it. Even though he wrote that “the full refuting for Gurvitz’s claims could be detailed here”, and even though he was offered a podium precisely for that purpose, Ariel has, lo and behold, declined to do so.

I was skeptical whether the strange mishmash written by a person who supposed, for some reason, that the [Jewish] Hellenizers were an obstacle in the war against, err, the Romans, and who has in the past claimed that Plato learned his wisdom from the Hebrew prophets, actually merits a reply. Normally, I’d say no; but, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, you go to a polemic with the opponent you have, not the one you’d wish for.

Anti-Semitism? Bullshit

Lavi’s first accusation is that I am anti-Semitic. Crying anti-Semitism has become, of late, the ultimate excuse for dodging debate on troublesome ideas. There’s no point in arguing with an anti-Semitic. I guess I got off lightly: Lavi did not claim I’m a holocaust-denier.

The accusation is false, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But first, it should be noted that the labeling of someone as anti-Semite is not a refutation; were I to consider all Jews the descendents of apes and pigs, and to hold decidedly unkosher debauched feasts on Yom Kippur which happened to be a Saturday, while listening to Wagnerian operas – that would still say nothing about the value of my arguments, and would not refute them.

Anti-Semitism is the claim that all Jews are guilty of something. Classical, which is to say Christian, anti-Semitism was of the opinion that all Jews are eternally, mystically, guilty of the murder of the son of God – a guilt which could only be expiated through the waters of baptism. Modern anti-Semites claimed that Jews are, by nature and without power of change, loathsome creatures.

I reject with disdain the claim that a “set nature” can be decided for over 13 million people, different in one another by ethnicity, character, education, social position and residence. Anti-Semitism is yet another prejudice, another sub-category of the disease which is xenophobia. I believe that the word “Jew” has only religious significance: a Jew is someone who accepts a certain set of beliefs.

I find that set of beliefs to be detestable – more on that in a minute – but it’s interesting to look and see how Lavi sees things. The results may be interesting.

Reverse Anti-Semitism

According to Lavi, the Jewish people is entrusted with a heavy burden of “Tikkun Olam”, fixing the world. It is not, by any means, a new concept, and it is brought ad absurdum by Jewish law: there is a correct Jewish way to lace your shoes, and a Jew who deviates from it is harming Tikkun Olam. The Kaballah, which lurks like a malignant tumor behind many Jewish customs, whispers that incorrect lacing of the shoe creates demons.

Lavi hastens to enlist me, due to my mother’s lineage, in the ranks of his devil-banishing legion. He believes I have no choice but to play the part he and the rabbis set for me in their divine farce. And, since I refuse, he is left with no option but declaring me a race traitor.

Which is to say that, according to Lavi, my function in life is set by my blood. When I renounce the part others want me to play, he decides that my behavior is irrational and is only intended to provide me with excuses. By the same logic, the Venerable Peter – one of the most influential churchmen in the Middle Ages – reached the conclusion that Jews are irrational creatures: they have, after all, rejected by various excuses the self-evident (according to Peter’s thinking) truth of the Gospel, and by so doing denied their divinely-allotted part.

So who, precisely, is the anti-Semite around here? I report, you decide. Does it mean I have no issues with Judaism – and let us be exact: Judaism and not Jews? Not at all. But it requires an explanation, and it won’t be short.

A Religion suffering from PTSD

The historical development of Jewish thought is the result of a dreadful paradox: Jews believed they were the chose people, but, how should I put it, God was on the side of the Roman legions. The Temple, which was the center of Jewish life, was destroyed in 70 AD. The defenders of the Temple were betting Jehova won’t let His name be besmirched. They were wrong.

And as if to add insult to injury, a small and cheeky cult which broke the tribal limits and believed God has expiated the Original Sin, by sacrificing himself for the sins of the world, has taken over the Known World. The majority of Jews, with no need for pogroms or persecution, went over to Christianity; within a century after “the realm turned heretic”, St. Jerome could crow that “Not one in ten remains of Judea”.

The trauma among the survivors was horrible. It is expressed in the anti-Christian curse uttered by Orthodox Jews three times a day unto this day: “Let the heretics be deprived of hope…”. The heretics are the Christians. During the Middle Ages, under pressure of censorship, the curse was changed minutely – Minim turned to Malshinim­ – and is now ostensibly directed at snitches. Pious Jews are familiar with this story.

Ever since then, Judaism was hanging between two polar points: the proper status of Jews facing their actual status. The pressure was particularly jagged in Ashkenaz – western and northren Europe – where Jews sometimes lived, literally, under the cross: the Jewish quarter was often built around the cathedral.

The result was a wild hatred, unlimited because it was powerless, to the people among whom the Jews lived. In one vengeance hymn the word “blood” appeared 77 times. (And this, as far as we can tell, is also the cause of the Blood Libel. The Christians knew the Jews hated them, and they made a logical deduction: the Jews hate us so much, they are willing to murder their own children so they won’t become Christians; what, then, shall they do with our children?).

This relationship became more and more poisoned as time passed. And as if that wasn’t enough, Judaism kept bleeding: in a desperate attempt to circle the wagons, it became anti-intellectual. The Jewish world closed more and more, and the very act of peeking outside became an offense. The philosophical writings of Maimonides were handed over to the inquisition for burning in 1232, and that was a price the rabbis were willing to pay in order to prevent Ashkenazi Jews from learning of the world beyond the walls. This turning inwards, towards the Talmud page, beget degeneracy.

And degeneracy, among a people accustomed to a high level of critical culture, led to escape – assimilation. During the Renaissance, Judaism was already an empty shell; Jews had nothing to contribute to the most stirring period in the history of the western world. Nothing – except the curse of the Kabballah, for which it was its hour of greatness; night is darkest just before dawn. The last crisis came when Orthodox Judaism, losing its wits under the waves of Enlightenment which swept the Middle Ages away, has declared that “the new is forbidden by the Torah”.

And when that happened, anyone who could, anyone with sense, fled. The 19th century saw the demolition of the legal walls between Jews and Christians, and almost any thinker of importance made the short, odious trip to the baptismal font – or merely declared himself an atheist. Once more, not one in ten was left in Judea.

Judaism reached the 19th century as a wreck. Like Islam, it crashed on modernism. It dragged a poisoned baggage with it to the century of the Enlightenment: Kill the best of the gentiles, smash the brains of the best serpent, all non-Jewish women are prostitutes, you are called man and they are not, it’s a law that Esau hates Jacob. The world outside the ghetto – and the ghetto, it should be remembered, was almost always the result of Jewish choice – was so scary.

Internal Tension and its Results

The Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam mentioned by Lavi brought about a significant branching: A large number of Jews decided, during that terrible and beautiful century of Enlightenment, to indeed fix the world. They became revolutionaries and communists and reformers. Many of the descendants of the persecuted decided no one should be persecuted any longer. They were prominent in the political, literary and scientific movements – in a time when it was taken as dogma that science will save humanity – with no proportion to their number in the general populace.

The century of Enlightenment, between the end of the Napoleon Wars and the First World War, was also the century of the Jews. Marx, Einstein, Freud, and many others – by breaking the world into which they were born, they created the world in which we live today.

(And some of them, indeed, when chasing the highest good, when love of humanity overcame love of man, when they decided to demolish the old world to its foundations, became the worst of killers. Trotsky, Kaganevich, Frenkel, Yagoda – these are names no longer mentioned).

But Tikkun Olam has two versions, and while the Enlightenment Jews chose fixing the world, and accordingly became more and more distant from Judaism, those left behind, those who kept the fire-spitting ember of Talmud and lawgivers, Kabbalah and legends, saw Tikkun Olam as something entirely different: as the restoration of things as they should be – the control of others by Jews, the Messianic times according to Maimonides. They had no interest in the world, but they had one hell of a grudge against it.

And Zionism, who created this country, was torn between these two poles. Whose heart will not bleed at Shaul Tscharnikhovski’s roar, “My sword! Where is my sword!” – when he knows well there is no sword? And, when he dreams – lying prostate before the statue of Apollo – about “the conquerors of Canaan by storm” – only someone who does not know oppression and occupation will mock the feelings of the oppressed. But Tscharnikhovski was also capable of singing the praises of human brotherhood; few Zionist could do likewise.

Yet following the Uganda Debate, after Zionism has given up its ambition of a normal state, first and foremost a shelter, when it became addicted to the bad old necromancy of messianism, based on mystical “Eretz Israel” – then the tension was discharged. Zionism became the refuge of those who chose to see the concept of “chosen people” as Herrenfolk. This attitude is not new; contrary to the claims of the Zionist left, it did not spring into being following the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Ehad Ha’Am, visiting Palestine in the 1900s, complained that the “pioneers” were treating the locals – who may not have occupied the place by storm, but did live in it for centuries – abominably. Zionism became a magnet for the racist among the Jews.

By thy Sword Shall thou Live

And so, when we look at the list of Nobel Prize winners, note the large number of Jews and the pitiful number of Israelis – even though Israel contains almost half of the world’s Jewry; when we see the achievements of American and British Jewry, and compare it to the lamentable state in Israel; when we stare into this mirror, we see, staring back, the difference between implementing Tikkun Olam as responsibility for the world, and Tikkun Olam as a wild, desperate quest of vengeance against history.

There are millions of people in Israel, whose soul is still that of the refugee, and whose minds are consumed by that old hatred, that 2,000-years old hatred, against the world. Such a situation will always be loaded – and in Israel we have given those people, who credo is “the whole world is arrayed against us”, advanced weaponry. Isolationist, Orthodox, human-hating Judaism is the variant that reigns in Israel.

And it has some frightening parallels with the Nazi movement. The attitude of Nazis towards homosexuals, women, and foreigners is dangerously similar to that of Orthodox Judaism towards them – a religion which has never abolished slavery, whose males pray daily that they were born neither woman nor slaves, whose laws do not punish the Jew who kills the gentiles, whose Chief Military Rabbi has concluded a POW must not be given medical treatment, unless it brings about some intelligence benefit, or there’s fear that his death will cause harm to Israelis.

Nazism was an attempt to cancel out modernism, to leap backwards to an imagined Middle Ages – much more violent than the real one was; and all of the faculties of Orthodox Judaism are employed in an attempt to avoid confronting the modern world, a desperate attempt of flight from recognizing that its basic thesis – that the Jewish male is the center of the world, the pinnacle of creation, above the inert, the plant, the animal and man – has crumbled 200 years ago.

But this is probably too much history for a person who keeps mixing the Greeks and Romans – hey, what’s the difference, they’ve both persecuted Jews – and way too much philosophy for a person who still believes, for reasons beyond human ken, that the Greeks worshipped statues. This demands too much thinking. Better call it anti-Semitism.

Because, as everyone knows, there is no point in arguing with anti-Semites. There’s nothing to argue about. What a nice, easy solution.

Judeo-Nazis

Gevalt! A gang of neo-Nazis was discovered in Petah Tikva. Why, oh why did we import those anti-Semite Russians? So what if, in all likelihood, they came to the country as small children and grew up here – they’re truly bred anti-Semites, just like all gentiles (spit!) are.

Just what don’t you get? They’re not Jews! Gevalt! They have only a Jewish father, or a Jewish grandfather; maybe a father and two grandfathers, and one grandmother, but they lack a Jewish mother! Maybe their mother has a Jewish father and grandfather, but she doesn’t have a Jewish mother! To make a long story short, somewhere down the line, one non-Jewish mother cropped up. That’s how it is, when you grow up without a worrying Jewish mother: you wind up a Nazi.

These Nazis, they’re not Jewish enough. They may be half, quarter, or three-quarter Jews, but they’re not full Jews. They don’t have the pure Jewish blood, which is why they lack the spark of Jewish soul, the spark which connects them to the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. Why did we bring these goyim here anyway? So they’d get mixed up with pure Jews and cause assimilation?

They should be kicked outta here, and in the meantime, they should be reminded – every day, every hour – that they’re not one of ours. They’re not Jewish enough for us – and what is it to you, if we go to the discos on Saturdays and drive to smoke a few joints in Sinai during Yom Kippur? When it comes to the purity of the Jewish race, we’re all Satmer Hassidim, and anyone who has just a Jewish father is beyond the pale, and we won’t let him forget it.

Which is right and proper, and here’s the thing: when those little goyim grew up, turns out they became Jewish-haters. What more proof do you need?

(Hebrew original posted on September 10 2007 by Mad Max, translated by Yossi Gurvitz. The police have arrested several members of a “neo Nazi” gang; the prisoners are all Russian immigrants, and a racist outcry as to their “Jewish purity” and demands for their expulsion – picked up by the Minister of the Interior – took over the Israeli news sites. This is, of course, a parody).

An illicit love affair

I am not a Christian.

Despite the lack of evidence, I am willing to accept that a radical Jewish rabbi learned a lesson from a foreign woman, and that he extended Hillel’s Golden Rule to the Gentiles as well; that he said that wondrous sentence, “let he among you who is free of sin, cast the first stone”, and that he told the “sinning woman” just “go and sin no more”; that he made a point of eating with the castaways, those people who were kicked away by right-thinking society: the sinners, the tax-collectors, the whores; that he preached against the corrupt Jewish leadership of the time; that he was betrayed and crucified by one of the worst Roman governors of Judea; and I’ll accept that last, terrible call, “My God, My God – why has thou forsaken me” – and that’s it. No demons rushing into swine, no bread and fish, no walking on the water; certainly not a return from the dead, absolutely not him being “Lamb of God, who carries the sins of the world”.

I am well-acquainted with the origins of Christianity. I know, as an atheist, that nothing that relies on the Jewish bible can be true, since it is false from beginning to end – especially visions of revenge visited upon the gentiles in the Book of the Apocalypse, which relies on that late forgery, the Book of Daniel. As a rational person, I reject Christianity alongside Judaism.

But.

Shulamit Aloni, a bitter and cynical goddess was asked once, in one of those holiday questionnaires, what is the difference between Judaism and Christianity, and she fired away: “The difference is that Christianity has mercy, and Judaism does not”. Spot on.

Judaism is based on the concept that there is a terrible God: Jealous, vengeful, visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations, and that he has set before his children – Jews, naturally – a set of commandments which no person can fulfill (the classic, of course, is “thou shall not covet”; let’s see you managing full compliance even to the Ten Commandments).  And since, as the Gnostics knew, it’s hard to see the difference between the Jewish God and the Devil even on a lineup, a large part of the Jewish religion – the whole of Leviticus, for starters – was dedicated to methods of appeasing the heavenly psycho through the slaughter of cattle and other animals.

In return, the believers of Jehova were left with a sense of superiority over the people among which they lived, who were not blessed with the commandment of checking the minutae of grasshoppers (prior to cooking them). Historiography common among the faithful revolves around the concept that “we did evil in the eyes of Jehova”, and therefore we must increase the finesse in which we treat the commandments, culminating in the Orthodox madness of our days, which honestly and seriously believes that there is a divine entity which will throw a person into fire for eternity, only because that person tore a piece of toilet paper during the last day of the week.

The Christian concept is a mirror image. It says God does not want you to obey the commandments, which is impossible for humans anyway, but their surrender and love. Understand that God loves you; love him back; give up your pride, your belief that the world is yours to conquer; accept your brothers, and your enemies; understand that they, too, are erring sinners, that evil is terror and weakness projected outwards; forgive them, for they know not what they do – and God will forgive you, too. Because you are human and erring and that’s how you were made and that’s the nature of the Valley of the Shadow of Death which is the world, and in the end you will return home.

And if Jesus still represents judgment and law, then since the 4th century a duality develops within Christianity, as the figure of Mary becomes more important and independent. Mary, the suffering mother, becomes a figure protecting all human beings, a “great mother” in every sense. She becomes a conduit of intercession for grace; the popular prayer “Ave, Maria” ends with “and please pray for us in our hour of death”. The image of Jesus, which Byzantine art kept portraying as the horrifying judge of the day of judgment, has been replaced – both in the East and the West – in that of a baby, protected by his mother. Mary becomes the defender of the common sinner. Jesus, for obvious reason, never materializes in the Middle Ages; but his mother is present, here there and everywhere, emanating grace and mercy wherever she appears. Often, she is the particular patron of criminal women, such as a mother blamed for smothering her baby son to death – a very common crime in the Middle Ages.

In a slow, persistent process, Mary was transformed from a cameo character to a central one; believers start referring to her as the Queen of Heaven, a staggering title, when you remember that in the Old Testament the “queen of heaven” is a foreign goddess, quite possibly Anat/Astarte.

The Middle Ages saw the worship of Mary reach its zenith. In the cathedral of Florence, he statue shows her holding Jesus in one hand and a scepter in the other. This has reached the point where the church has accepted – in the 19th century – the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, which claims that Mary herself, not just her progeny, was born free of sin; and stubborn rumors claimed Pope John Paul II – a native of Poland, where Marianism is a force to be reckoned with – has considered, as his final act, declaring Mary as a co-redeemer,  which is to say, not just one who plead for mercy at the feet of her judging son, but rather as one who can grant mercy of her own power. To a large measure, the mother has taken the place of the father in the Trinity.

Which may be what I am looking for.

*           *            *

My affair with Catholicism – not the watered-down Protestant version of Christianity – began in my last year in the Yeshiva. I was confused. I knew I am no longer a Jew – I mean, I did not know yet that the texts were forged, was not yet familiar with the depth of its horrors as I am today, but…

Let’s start anew. In 1984 Martin Meir Kahane was elected to the Knesset. His election was followed by a wave of ultra-nationalism among the Nationalist Jews, a wave which struck my Yeshiva, Nekhalim, particularly badly. At about the same time, the (first) Jewish Underground was exposed; the feeling was that these men, who murdered several men and plotted the death of hundreds, suffered injustice by being arrested at all. During the following year, when David Ben Shimol fired a LAW rocket at a bus full of Palestinians, the evening lessons at the Yeshiva had to be postponed so that student will have time enough to dance. I looked at that circle from aside.

All sorts of rabbis came to us, especially on Saturdays, and started talking about Din Rodef  (Law of the Pursuer, which allows killing a potential murderer to prevent the murder) and Lo Techanem (which orders that gentiles should be allowed to live in Eretz Israel, should be shown any tolerance, and should not be praised), and other such humanistic commandments. Following one of those sermons, my class’s rabbi – an Ultra-Orthodox, not a National Jew – called us together and, agitated,  tore that sermon apart. No, he said, no: Din Rodef is not a license to kill. If someone fired at you and then escaped, or dropped his weapon, he is no longer a pursuer. He was shaking with anger and he understood young killers were being educated there and I looked at him and at my classmates and the smirks they were trying to conceal. On Saturdays, they sang “may the mosque blow up” to the tune of “may the temple be built”.

Some Kahane books were moving around, semi-clandestinely – the head of the yeshiva, the convicted criminal Yossef Ba-Gad, has forbidden their distribution, saying that “Kahane is right, but he’s insane” –  and getting one was not particularly hard.  I read it, became convinced that Kahane was deeply rooted in Jewish law, and decided I needed a ticket out, because I had no intention of becoming a Judeo-Nazi. And that’s it: the principled rejection of Judaism came before my atheism.

I was young and confused, which did not sit well in an atmosphere of young and fixated. There were debated which turned into fight. There was my boarding school roommate, who was just born back to the worst possible side – Kabbalah. He didn’t give us time to sleep with his arguments. Just to shut him up, I was dragged into atheistic devil-advocate arguments: how do you even know there is a God, not to mention the Catapult of Souls?

The rabbis and the instruction took notice. I spent much of the 11th and 12th grade in what was termed “High yeshiva” – they send you to a yeshiva which teaches nothing but religious studies. But I was mostly left alone in those places, which allowed me much time to read. And one day, when I was down and out in a Jerusalem religious institute, I decided it was time to taste the most forbidden fruit.

Jerusalem has plenty of churches. After their dwellers overcame their initial fear of the strange Israeli who wants to hear what they have to say – a perfectly justified fear, given the harassment Christians routinely suffer in Jerusalem – they were happy to talk to me. I bought a copy of the New Testament. I spent two charming evening in the Abbey of the Dormition. A group of elderly German monks and one former Jew, they in their robes and me in my yeshiva boy clothes, praying in Latin; it must have been a strange sight.

And the name “Mary” kept cropping up. Needless to say, she was not part of my formal education, and the new Testament says very little about her. I listened to them and they to me. I did not understand, but they explained, the division between law and mercy Paul made so early.

On one of those two nights, a young Catholic woman, from Germany, joined us. She did not sit with us; she sat separately. But I was used to that and at the time it raised no questions.

And, of course, the music, the solemnity, the incense, the aesthetics.

I was careless, and after several meetings my class rabbi informed I was seen moving around in churches, and ordered me to get back in line. I was frightened; I had no idea I was followed. In a very rash act, I went back to the church and they prayed for me. But, at that stage – as I told my roommate – I was convinced Christianity contained beauty Judaism lacked, but I did not believe it.

About a month afterwards, the school year was over. I could not return home with the New Testament. I left it in my closet; as a rule, anything left in the closets once we’ve left the rooms would be thrown away. I did not want to throw the book away myself.

A classmate has decided, for reasons known only to him, to dig around in my closet. He found the book. An unholy mess broke out. My mass communication teacher, Michael Tuchfeld, told me “I don’t see why they deal with this nonsense. It’s clear, after all, the problem is your atheism”.

It was clear. But did not stop them from burning the book.

*       *        *        *        *

And that’s what left: A taste of something beautiful yet false, something inviting a surrender which will not come, something which once promised grace and understanding in what looked like an endless period of judgment. A Bavarian old man explaining to you how to pronounce Latin, a Great Mother which is always there and an understanding God, which acknowledge your mistakes and will pardon them, if only you’d surrender, give up your rational, thinking part, and come into that great, false beauty.

But I can’t come. I can only look at others experiencing it with desire, and jealousy – from afar.

(published today, in the “The True and Shocking Story of” Hebrew Blog. Translation: Yossi Gurvitz)