Friday, June 3, 2011

Not Everything Needs To Be Politicized

Art by Chana Mazal

I recently put up a status that said:

An old jewish story: Zuzia, a much-loved rabbi, was fretting at his death bed. His disciples asked, "Why are you fretting? You have lived a life worthy of Moses and Hillel." He answered, "I do not worry that God will ask why I have not lived a life worthy of Moses or Hillel. I worry that God will ask me why I have not lived a life worthy of Zuzia."

I have a lot of friends right now who are struggling with their personal paths, mostly due to the economy.  My sole point in putting this up was to remind us that we need to be true to ourselves.  Right now, much of what we used to believe about our personal public personas must be let go of because it's not easily possible to attain, let alone maintain.  Instead, as we attempt to rebuild ourselves within the new economic structure where we find ourselves, we do best to stay focused on staying as true to our personal values as we can - even if that means worrying less about our public images.   For you nonprofit types out there, sort of a personal mission alignment.  

Nevertheless, my erudite friend Jeffrey Malashock, of the right-leaning persuasion (isn't it fun that I can make those words lean right using Italics?) could not resist the opportunity to politicize my statement.  While my intent in posting the comment has nothing whatsoever to do with what Jeffrey said, I think he has an interesting point of view and want to give him space.  Just not on that thread.  

So, here you are, Jeffrey.  And while you're at it, perhaps you'd like to politicize this bit of a hacked song, with apologies to both Koheleth, Pete Seeger and The Birds:

"To everything, turn, turn, turn,
"There is a season, turn, turn, turn,
"And a time for every purpose under heaven. 

"A time for politics,
"A time to back off...
"A time to be tough
"A time to be soft,
"A time when you may inflame,
"A time to refrain from inflaming."

JEFFREY MALASHOCK:  The semiotics of this conversation are actually very interesting. Context here is everything, in fact the context often conditions the response to the actual message. You guys like the story, or the root idea within it. This message is one of the central premises to Ayn Rand's philosophy, and of course she like the Jewish sages would argue that one serves Moses and Hillel best when also being true to ones self, and that good for all comes from this. Her message comports with many of the Hasidic masters too, which isn't surprising coming from a Jewish refugee from communism. Her message isn't the caricature her opponents make it, but it is fundamentally a Jewish message. She dispensed with God like Mordechai Kaplan did too, but kept much of the philosophy. Its almost another effort at deconstructionism without God. Because many people are unable to decouple any discussion of philosophy or idea's from someone somewhere are using it in a current perceived political context (or really, the need for anything to always HAVE a political context at all), its never possible to discuss those idea's in any meaningful way.

Those whom one of my teachers (a very old and venerable Rabbi) refer to as the "Tikkun Olamers", those that try to bend Judaism (but actually know little of it) to fit a communitarian utopian statism, are to Judaism what liberation theologists are to Catholicism. Basically, the liberation theologists were more influenced by the arguments implicit in that other form of Jewish messianism, dialectical materialism, just as the Tikkun Olamers are. Ultimately, both religions (which are very different in significant ways from each other) are about the individuals relationship to God and universe. The Kehillah or the community cannot prosper if the individual is suppressed. The individual is ultimately at the end with have to answer to God "Zusia, what did you do with the life I gave to you and how did this serve Zusia"

DOUG CHANDLER: You sure know how to stretch things, Jeffrey! In what way is Rabbi Zuzia's message central to Ayn Rand's philosophy? The rabbi isn't saying that being true to one's self precludes helping one's neighbors or even the strangers in your midst. Nor is he saying that being true to one's self precludes a sense of community or being part of it. Please amplify.

JEFFREY S MALASHOCK:  The spell checker changed "reconstructionism" in my first post in this thread to deconstructionism. I meant the first one. These are very different idea's.

 #  #  #

This is as far as the boys got, but I invite them to continue.  

Doug, I warn you, it's not really a fair match.   Jeffrey has been studying for years with an orthodox or possibly a Hassidic rabbi - my apologies Jeffrey - I cannot recall which.  And he will believe he has a better bead on the interpretation than you do.  

The reason it's not an even match is not because Jeffrey is so "studied" - although he is - but more because in my experience some of these rabbis believe that other interpretations are evidence of ignorance.  It is something similar to the way the Mitnagdim believed their learned followers had something on the Ba'al Shem Tov's spiritual but less-learned followers.  Come to think of it, it is something similar to the way ideologues on both sides of the political fence think of each other.  Hmm...

Of course, that annoys me.  

I was once told by an ultra-orthodox rabbi that I was "lost to the Jewish people" because I believe the writing of the Torah involved some human input, rather than being fully Divinely given.  It mattered not at all to him that the genizas (resting places for old writings containing the Holy Name, such that they cannot be destroyed) contain multiple examples of Torahs that contain variations.  It didn't make him feel better when I suggested that perhaps the human hands had been divinely inspired, nor did he budge when I suggested that authorship mattered little, since people have been living as though the Torah is Divine for centuries.

Here you have a nice Jewish girl, raising nice Jewish daughters in a Kosher home, no less, who will become mothers of future Jewish children.  But no.  All is LOST!   Can you believe I am entirely lost?  Not misguided, but LOST!   

Plow on boys, if you're interested.  And anyone else who wants to join the fray as well.


  1. I agree with everything you wrote with the exception of one thing: the idea that no one other than Jeffrey can contribute to this discussion because Jeffrey is so much more learned on these issues than anyone else. I know that that's what he'd like people to believe, but I'm not claiming to be as "studied" as he is on religious topics. Instead, I'm drawing from what other rabbis and Jewish scholars have said -- sources who are just as well-versed as any authority he might cite, but whose views more closely match yours and mine.

    If Jeffrey were as smart of a fellow as he claims to be -- and I have no reason to doubt he isn't -- he also knows that scholarship means keeping an open mind and acknowledging that the contributions of others often include pearls of wisdom. He'd also recognize that, on any issue, "his" authorities are, indeed, matched by other authorities who feel differently.

  2. poor jeffrey. i wasn't really trying to head him off at the pass. and i definitely wasn't trying to start an argument between the two of you. i was simply saying that the rabbis jeffrey studies with feel they "know" and jeffrey will also no doubt believe his perspective is highly refined because he's studied with these folks. the beauty of the talmud is that it always acknowledges multiple perspectives. the problem with some of the teachers will always be that they feel they get to decide which perspectives get the privilege of being acknowleged. i was just forewarning you, doug.

  3. Jeffrey, sorry for making assumptions before you've even had a chance to weigh in. That's terribly unfair of us and, as Sandy suggests, places you an awkward position. I'll wait patiently for you to hang yourself. Meanwhile, I'm also sorry for suggesting that your very old, venerable rabbi could also be senile. It's just that whenever I hear of old, venerable rabbis these days -- the "very old" is your term, not mine -- I think immediately of the rabbis in "A Serious Man."