Friday, March 20, 2015

Reflections on the Core: On the Social Contract - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

(To give some context to the upcoming quote: Rousseau talks about how in the Pre-Monotheistic world culture, religion and politics where all one and the same. Every State had his God that was fighting for the best of his people, a war was a war between the Gods, and when you lost, it meant that your God lost. A concept such as a nation in exile simply did not exist. If a nation was exiled, their nationality disappeared, and they became part of a new nation and God/s)

“But when the Jews, while in subjection to the kings of Babylon and later the kings of Syria, wanted to remain steadfast in not giving recognition to any other god but their own (think about Haman’s arguments in the Book of Esther), their refusal, seen as rebellion against the victor, brought them the persecutions we read in their history, and of which there is no other precedent prior to Christianity.” 
“Since this new idea of an otherworldly kingdom (-that Jesus speaks about) had never entered to head of the pagans, they always regarded Christianity as true rebels who, underneath their hypothetical submission, were only waiting for the moment when they would become independent and the masters, and adroitly they pretended in their weakness to respect. This is the reason for the persecution.” 
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Book IV, chapter 8

Throughout generations they were, and are, countless probes to explain Anti-Semitism. None of them are valid excuses, but the questions stands, why the hate? To some extend his first explanation is something that explains it a bit, as well as the hate that every culture until the modern era had against minority cultures. However, it will be foolish to say that this is the main reason. True, minorities were persecuted, but historically none of them had it as bad as the Jews. In every place, in every generation, and in almost every society, the Jew was the devil. If someone should understand their refusal to surrender it should have been Christians, but in fact, they oppressed them the most, and the worst.

Nevertheless, in the second explanation that he gives - the feeling that they are hypocritical towards the local government got me. Until today, this explanation is valid, and I have to say, understandable (although not excusable). A society that is living in a land they will never consider their homeland, a land that they pray three times a day that its government should be destroyed, is hard for anyone to swallow. Right they were told to respect to local authorities, but isn’t that exactly “pretending in their weakness” (in our case physical weakness, or a religious believe of having to wait for the Messiah) that he talks about? While in reality, they are hoping, and waiting to be “the masters.”

I cannot talk for all religious Jews, but I can talk for the culture I was raised in, they definitely think so. Moreover, when reading Rabbinical texts from the Talmud to the last generations, this is their attitude. 

I know talking about that, and saying that is controversial. However, at least as liberal Jews when we try to tackle the problem of Anti-Semitism, perhaps this is something we should keep in mind. Several leaders of the nineteenth century Haskalah, including Theodore Herzl in the beginning, believed that the only way to solve Anti-Semitism is through assimilation. Henceforward, maybe we should listen to one of the biggest political thinkers in history - Rousseau, and reevaluate the way we think about our local governments - as Jews.

I know, a lot, and maybe most liberal Jews agree to that and feel the same, but it is still something that we need to work on. Just think about how some feel when it comes to Israel. Shhh... I did not say that.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Reflections on the Core: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman - Mary Wollstonecraft

"It appears necessary to go back to first principles in search of the most simple truths, and to dispute with some prevailing prejudice every inch of ground."
- Mary Wollstonecraft

When I am reading these basic texts, I am always amused by how people literally changed the world, in every sense, not with power, force, or money, but rather with words and wisdom. Hence, this is the most significant and appreciable power. I think that the above quote is a perfect summary of what they did; refuting everything they/we knew, and start from scratch. This seems to be the only way to see light with a clear mind.

Often when I argue with people about religion (if you never had an in length conversation with me - this is basically all I argue about...) I find this to be a major obstacle. It is naturally hard, and almost impossible for a human mind, to reject everything we know, and start from scratch. Sometimes society will label you right away, and sometimes we are paranoid from ourselves. Either way, this is the only way to enlighten ourselves and the world. By doing so it is mind boggling to see how much we can achieve. As Wollstonecraft writes, "Intellect will always govern."

We need more writers and minds like that. And on top of that we need to keep an open eye to make sure we are not shutting them down.

More reflections on her work might follow.