Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Who Is A 'Self-Hating' Jew?

Most of us are already familiar with the dispute over “Who is a Jew?” The clash between the Orthodox, Reformed, and Conservative movements have been festering for decades, with the State of Israel and their Law of Return somewhere in the middle, waiting for the various factions to make up their minds as to whose conversions are accepted and whether or not paternal lineage counts. Yet, there is a new type of controversy over a type of Jew whose being also seems to escape accurate description. He is the ‘self-hating Jew’. Who is he exactly?

If you ask anyone from the religious community they would probably tell you that fellow Jews who will not follow the strict religious orthodox-based outlook are, in essence, ‘self-hating Jews’. This connotation of ‘self-hating’ implies that if one doesn’t follow all things by the Orthodox Jewish standard and in the traditional Jewish manner, then not only is one’s connection to God and Judaism in serious jeopardy, but that rebellion or neglect serves as a direct attack on those who continue keep to Torah and Mitzvos. If a Jew neglects or rejects Torah, he is not only harming himself, but all Jews as well. His act, whether he perceives it or not, is an act of hatred toward his fellow Jews.

This belief is not without foundation. The Torah states in several places that a) individuals who commit certain acts are ‘cut off’ from the people b) these individuals must be removed from Jewish society, and c) the failure to remove apostates and rebels will inevitably bring the downfall of the entire nation, as those who go astray incite others into heresy and disconnection. There is, in the minds of the religious, a Divine retribution that falls on everyone when Jewish society strays from Torah or sits idly by while others neglect its fulfillment. In addition, some assert that Messianic times cannot come without complete religious observance.

Now, when the religious Jew calls me ‘self-hating’, I can agree that he has a valid point in terms of how he structures his definition of the term. As one who rejects the dogma and doctrine, it comes as no surprise that I would be ostracized and face a certain amount of derision on account of my apostasy. I expect as much, and moreover, that response is a necessary function of any non-anarchistic society. There are rules, and to preserve the social order, rules must exist to discourage the rules from being broken. We can argue over the specifics, but the same principle applies to religious and secular societies alike.

In broader terms, many see the diversity of ideas within Judaism, i.e. Reformed, Conservative, Secular, etc. as a threat to national unity; being a nation geographically scattered requires a unified front in every aspect to survive. This thinking is not without its logic. Any fractured culture becomes ready for conquest, civil war, or assimilation, not to mention the possibility of losing its national or ethnic identity altogether. Thus, the wisdom of the unified front is not without merit. “United we stand; divided we fall” is the credo and, if you manage to ignore what it is we are ‘standing’ for, it always makes perfect sense.

In recent years, however, the term ‘self-hating Jew’ is reaching beyond the religious world into the political arena. Conservative-minded, right wing Jews use the moniker to describe anyone who opposes their fiscal or social policy or is critical of the Israeli right in any way. I find it strange though, having grown up strictly Orthodox, to hear the non-religious right wing Jews, many of whom have never put on tefillin or kept Shabbos, dare to call me a ‘self-hating Jew’ because somehow being of a different political or philosophical bent threatens their position. Other than lip service, they have no greater allegiances to the religion that do I, yet they choose to attack me based upon something they claim as Jewish. This is the ‘political Jew’ baring his fangs.

Unlike the religious Jew, whose position I understand, when the political Jew spews such rhetoric in my direction, I take great umbrage. This political Jew does not dislike me because of my Judaism or lack of it, but because his political views, which may or may not be in synch with the religious Jewish views, differ from my own to the extent that he, only coincidentally another Jew, feels threatened. His insecurity has nothing to do with his being Jewish at all, since many gentiles strongly object to my beliefs for similar reasons. The political Jew demands my compliance to his world view because he falsely identifies himself and his views as particularly Jewish. In other words, being Jewish has really nothing to do with the politics going on in his head. It’s not that I am ‘self-hating’ or ‘Jew hating’; I simply disagree with him and he takes it to mean something entirely other than what it is.

This phenomenon is not limited to friends and family in the privacy of home and coffee shoppe. Both right wing radio talk show hosts and political pundits have been playing fast, free, and easy with the public pronouncements of ‘self-hating Jew’, to the point where they assume that those Jews deemed in their estimation as ‘self-hating’ are, by proxy of their left-wing political beliefs, so strongly anti-Jewish as to be considered as Nazi collaborators and supporters of Hezbollah. I am not going to spend time debunking those assertions here, but leave it suffice to state that the speakers in question are not operating within the realm of reason, decency, or history. This bombastic vitriol serves no purpose other than to shut down dissent and debate and represents politics at its worst.

My beliefs don’t make me ‘self-hating’. I am simply no longer Judeo-centric in my thinking. By identifying oneself as ‘Jew’ and Jew only, doesn’t that create a rather narrow definition of self? I fully realize that we Jews are taught to believe that we are ‘chosen’ and therefore unique among nations and, as far as I can tell, there is some truth to it, but is that all that I am? Am I not also a mammal? A rational mammal? A human being? A man? A denizen of a world filled with other denizens who consider themselves equally ‘chosen’ in some manner? Must I ‘hate’ myself or someone else to recognize that I, too, am part of a greater whole? For me to be cured of this alleged ‘self-hatred’, I would have to narrow my world vision to the point where the rest of the universe would exist only to suit my ends and purposes, regardless of how much reality denies that outlook at every turn, and my interaction with that world would become one of open condescension and heavy-handedness.

Sadly, and in spite my protestations to the contrary, I remain, by their definition, a ‘self-hating Jew’ of the highest order and no one seems reluctant to say so. I continue to reject any and all religious dogma and doctrine, nationalistic or tribal allegiances, and fully support a socialistic world view with the vision for a common society based on naturalistic secular principles, many of which are espoused by religions as well. However, that does not make me an enemy of anyone who isn’t already looking for enemies everywhere anyway. I would never ask for the world to outlaw religious belief or practice, nor do I ever support or justify war or terrorism against Israel or any other nation, even when I do recognize and attribute the humanity of those who are not so eager to empathize with my own.

For the record, I don’t hate anyone. I have strong and definite ideas about the world and hatred isn’t among them. I am not a ‘self hater’ because I disagree with Ludwig von Mises or Moses ben Maimon. I am just another human being with an opinion.

Kol Tuv

No comments: