Monday, April 17, 2017


All those who agree a Jewish state was and is necessary but occasionally permit themselves to wonder if it might have been better in, say, Uganda, raise your hands.

Am I being facetious? Of course, and yet beyond the existential Palestinian problem and the looming Iranian threat, there is the inner threat of a religious problem. Because the Jewish state is where it is, on land roughly coterminous with Biblical territories, its thought processes are clogged by an extravagant, uncompromising and bellicose religiosity based on confusion between the fifth century BC and today's world. This makes sane solutions to all of contemporary difficulties hard to come by, and maybe unobtainable.

The problem for Israel is less the reproductive rate of the Palestinians than it is the reproductive rate of the Haredim. However decent, even admirable, many are, considered collectively as a growing political force, the Haredim are nothing less than a disaster.

The Haredim fantasize that they are living in an extension of Biblical times but they would be no more recognizable to ancient Hebrews than they are cognizant of today's realities.

The Talmud may have intellectual, historical even literary appeal when the likes of Adam Kirsch comb through it, as he has been doing in his Dof Yomi readings, and aspects of it will no doubt continue to be eloquent and perhaps poetically engaging forever, but the Haredi desire to make Talmudic strictures and commentaries a blueprint for Jewish and Israeli life, and the weight they throw behind this impulse, nullifies its value for me.

The most enduring aspects of Christianity are, to my mind,  not its articles of faith, or its theologies, or its history, so often heinous, but in the residues to be found in its sublime art and music.

In his "The Talmud and the Internet" (2000), Jonathan Rosen compares the great Christian monuments of faith, such as Chartres, to the Talmud. The cathedrals are empty now, in disuse, he says, but the Talmud is still functional. This is his rather ham-fisted argument for the superiority of Talmudic Judaism.

I'd prefer to reverse his argument and say that to the degree Christian cathedrals are in disuse they are, in fact, superior.

Would that the Talmud, at least as deployed by masses of Haredi adepts, be emptied out as well.

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