It Isn’t Jewish Thinkers Who Think Jewishness Is A Disease

To: David Samuels From: Shmuel Rosner Dear David, How lucky I am to have a thick skin. So, thank you for complimenting my relatively meager talents; I'll just ignore the insults, as I'm sure you did not really mean any … Read More

By / May 21, 2008

To: David Samuels

From: Shmuel Rosner

Dear David,

How lucky I am to have a thick skin.

So, thank you for complimenting my relatively meager talents; I'll just ignore the insults, as I'm sure you did not really mean any of the bad things you said about my lack of literary skills. You're right: "Kafka and Babel, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth" were all geniuses of literary work. It was probably my short-sightedness that prevented me from making the connection between your work and theirs.

Moving forward: you started by asking many questions, and some of them merit an answer. But I need to warn you first: this might not be the literary, sophisticated answer you'd expect, but rather an answer that resonates with the simple narrow-minded people of "Potomac, Maryland" (I'm in Rockville, not far but a little bit different). Anyway, I'm going to try:

Why do they pray every Sabbath for the welfare of a foreign government and its leaders, and the soldiers who defend its borders?

That's easy: because they care about this country and believe it is the homeland of the Jewish people. They also see the people inhabiting this country as their brothers and sisters, and wish them well.

Why do they celebrate the new year in September instead of in January?

Because they are Jews, and according to the Jewish calendar the year starts in the fall, not winter.

Why do they insist on converting their goyish wives or children's children to their religion instead of simply letting them chose to be whoever they want to be?

Because people, generally speaking, tend to want their children to value the same things they value. That is why educated people tend to want their children to succeed at school and artsy people tend to want their children to go to the theatre.

Now let me turn to one of the things you've said at the bottom of your letter. "You", you write, referring to Israelis, "live in the largest Jewish ghetto in history, under threat of nuclear catastrophe, and under the thumb of a corrupt ultra-orthodox religious establishment whose definition of Judaism is quite literally medieval." Like many of the other assumptions you've made in your letter, this is both condescending and factually wrong.

Israel is not a ghetto, but rather a place in which Jews get to live and make decisions about their own lives. If the ghettos of the past were like Israel, there would be no Zionism — which, contrary to your assumption, is not just about making Jews safer, but even more so about making them the masters of their own fate.

But this is not the end of it: You also claim that Israelis live under the "thumb of a corrupt ultra-orthodox religious establishment." I don't know when and if you ever visited Israel, but such description is laughable. I could easily argue that the influence of religious zealots in the US is much more significant than the influence such zealots have on Israel's society and daily life. (Though of course, you can always argue that your literary imagination allows you to fabricate such nonsensical-realities.)

And anyway, how did this become a debate about my assumed Israeli mindset? I think what happened is that you pushed aside all the arguments I was making and was trying to get away with it by simply claiming that as an Israeli I'm probably too dumb to understand your position. Then again, your position is not that complex, and the quasi-courageous posture you've adopted cannot hide its many flaws. So many, in fact, that it's scarcely a position.

To make this long story short let me first summarize our differences:

You said that Jews are liars, pretending to be Americans when they are not.

I disagreed and said that the "weirdness" you ascribe to Jewish Americans is what makes them even more American.

You got angry, though I'm not exactly sure why. "We live as Americans even as we also live sometimes contradictory lives as Jews," you wrote. I can live with that, but still insist that "contradictory lives" is not the equivalent of "double-ness, lying and imposture." I also said that such allegations are dangerous. This is not a difference of opinion, but one of style. Like a rebellious child, you're toying with naughty words so as to impress us with your "speaking the truth." Sorry, but I'm not at all impressed. Words are not just toys, they can also be weapons. Maybe it is time to grow up?

You argue that if all Jewish Americans are lying, because their Americanism is a posture. But on the other hand you seem to praise the Jewish "outsider" state of mind. It seems as if your prescription will only allow American Jews to be in one of two problematic situations: the lying outsiders, or the boring insiders. They can never get it right, can they?

And this is funny because you blame Israelis for thinking that "the doubleness of the Jew in exile is a diseased condition." But the way I see it, you're the one claiming time and again that the American Jewish condition is inherently diseased.

In holding this position, you're certainly in the company of many thinkers. And I was not thinking of Babel and Kafka.



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