From what I understand (or tried to, for a recent paper) the French have something like neoconservatism. It’s quite a bit like the US variety, except that its proponents are more likely to be referred to as “philosophes” than “warmongerers;” proponents of both get called racist. Something else they have in common: according to this Haaretz story by Yair Sheleg (last name=”snow”–I SO know Hebrew!), “A year ago, the weekly Nouvelle Observateur described him as one of the five outstanding intellectuals representing ‘the new right’ (three of them are Jews: Finkielkraut, Bernard-Henri Levy and Andre Glucksmann), the French parallel to the American neo-conservatives.” Three out of five, huh.

It’s struck me recently (as I’m sure it’s struck others since these terms first appeared) that the terms “left” and “right” are as good as meaningless, at least outside the realm of economics, but perhaps even there. Left and right say nothing about how much government control of domestic life is sought or how much foreign intervention is acceptable. What political slant is a person who believes strongly in “Enlightenment/Western” values, is concerned with liberty and equality, and in favor of a race-blind society? “Classic-liberal-aka-neocon”? Or simply “Jew”?

Sheleg precedes a quote from a talk Finkielkraut gave in Tel Aviv by pointing out, “What he said may sound familiar to Israelis.” The gist of this paper I not long ago handed in was that what Finkielkraut says, more generally, sounds awfully familiar to Americans, and would not raise eyebrows here.

I found this bit interesting:

Although he is a republican zealously devoted to the French national identity, Finkielkraut has been broadcasting a weekly program on the “sectarian” Jewish radio station “because it is hard to share concern for Israel with non-Jews. Israel, after all, is considered a regional power, and people don’t understand this concern.”

Here’s where I get to the point of this post. The responses I get to what I write on Jewish subjects from Jewish readers claiming to speak for the “Jewish community” often strike me as knee-jerk and closed-minded. I sometimes wonder why bother? I disagree with people of this mindset on just about everything other than the need to defend Israel and Jews generally from a world that’s less than enthused by our existence. I like plenty of things that fall under the category of “Jewish”–Israeli music, fashion, and actors; UChicago-inspired American Jewish fiction; French Jewish literature and history–but do not feel “among family” when at campus Jewish events, do not believe that I can truly connect better to Jews than non-Jews, and do not feel guilty when I realize that a High Holiday has come and gone and I had no idea. I do not believe that my less-than-orthodoxy would somehow save me should a new wave of anti-Semitism turn violent. Opinions aren’t what are being attacked in such a context, anyhow.

I’ve realized what’s going on. Commenters to my posts and I are talking past each other. I care about Israel and Jews generally because I am interested in liberty and, as a Jew, this particular form of liberty, the freedom to be Jewish, is one I have more of an understanding of than, say, the freedom to be gay. These commenters care about liberty because it’s important to them to be Jews. I want those Jews who, through choice, outside definition, or both, “count,” not to get persecuted on account of their Jewishness. They want more Jews, and more observant Jews. I believe in the right to be Jewish; they believe in Judaism.

These are two completely different worldviews. I will not go so far as to say that one way of seeing things is no better than the other–if I thought as much, I’d be undecided or indifferent–but without their position, one like mine would not exist, as there’d be no reason for it.

And I may be overstating my position a bit. I perfectly understand being concerned when it appears that an entire civilization is under attack. But, as Alain Finkielkraut pointed out in his Le Juif imaginaire, the damage on that front is done. Asking all who Hitler would have murdered to sacrifice their own freedom today in order to repair the damage (as if this were possible) is not necessarily a good thing.

Crossposted at WWPD.

About the author

phoebe

47 Comments

  • This post – like your previous one about “natalism” – is refreshingly candid in its narcissism.

    You cannot bring yourself to entertain the notion that actually living as a Jew is of value – no, your interest in Jewish welfare and Israeli affairs extends only to your wish not to be penalized or inconvenienced by association.

    And when The Rest of Us – committed to living as Jews – assume that anyone who would bestir themselves to blog about Jewish issues surely must share our fundamental committment to being Jewish – you sniff and complain that it’s we who just don’t get it?

    What a delicious irony that this post starts out talking about neoconservatism – when in fact your stance is a perfect mirror image of the self-hating, pro-Pali Jew’s desire not to be tainted by association with smelly, uncool Jewishness.

  • Well done missing the point entirely. I do not see living as an observant Jew as valuable… FOR MYSELF. But understand that it has value for others, does not harm the non-believer, and thus must be defended. I wrote this post specifically to show that I’d figured out where it is I disagree with more observant Jews on some fundamental issues–if my preoccupation was avoiding association with things Jewish, I might not be writing for something called Jewlicious, studying French Jews…

    In that those who speak up about “Jewish community” include me in it, as I am Jewish, I do not consider myself less qualified to state my opinions on Jewish subjects of general concern (i.e., not specific passages of the Talmud) than anyone else, simply because I am not observant.

    And you also seem to have missed the point re: my political sympathies. Oh well.

  • The terms “right” and “left” actually originated in France and represent the seating in the National Assembley where the “left-wing” parties sat on the left of the room and the “right-wing” parties sat on the right…. So, i guess once upon a time the term made perfect sense in politics!

  • There are many misunderstandings here. But the sentiment expressed is not all that uncommon. It’s also a very familiar academic orientation. Cheers, ‘VJ’

  • There is no objective definition of this. Any attempt at following rules of the Jewish religion, any preference for “mitzvot” over all other forms of morality, any concern that there be “more Jewish babies,” any excitement over statistics showing increased attendance at campus Hillels… these are all things I would consider examples of observant Judaism, but by no means an all-inclusive definition. But no, it is certainly not just Orthodoxy/Hasidism.

  • So if I celebrate a seder on Passover, I’m an observant Jew?

    If I would like to see the Jewish community maintain its size, I’m observant?

    If I think it’s good that Jewish people are engaged in the Jewish community, or that young Jews want to be engaged in the community, then I am an observant Jew?

    That is an interesting definition. Essentially, and please correct me if I misunderstood, any person who is Jewish and who participates in any Jewish religious or cultural activity is, in your view, “observant.” You also include in those ranks any Jewish person who sees value in maintaining the viability of any Jewish activity at all by hoping that there will continue to be Jews to participate in such activities.

    I’m confused. If you entirely reject any cultural or religious aspect of Judaism, for yourself of course even if you generously allow others to participate in such things, then why bother with any relationship to Judaism? It seems to me that you are saying that your entire connection to Judaism is academic in that it offers you subject matter for your research, and that you would like Jews to be considered equal in every way to everyone else.

    The former does not require you to be Jewish. The latter also bears no connection to being Jewish. Plenty of people of all backgrounds may seek to have a world where everybody is the same. I think this is a variant on Marxism. However, this has nothing to do with being Jewish and when you claim “I am interested in liberty and, as a Jew, this particular form of liberty, the freedom to be Jewish, is one I have more of an understanding of than, say, the freedom to be gay,” you contradict yourself to some degree. After all, the gay person isn’t denying his/her desire to actively participate in gay activities and in fact is defined to some degree by either those activities or a desire to engage in those activities, whereas for you “Jewish” is nothing more than an adjective.

  • Phoebe, wouldn’t going on a free trip to Israel through birthright make you observant per your definition of “observant”

    and why do you bother with anything jewish if you have so much dislike for it?

  • Thanks to Phoebe, I’ve discovered–eureka!–my Jewish identity. Just in time for Passover…. I’m OK with carbo-loading on matzoh, but can we do something about that wine, please?

    Employing Phoebe-style criteria: Jewish Mother is, unbeknownst to her, Roman Catholic. Welcome aboard, JM.

  • When a postette like Phoebe is trashed on such a regular, vituperative basis, it can only mean this: she’s doing a good job.

    This is a very thoughtful, engaging piece, and resorting to reflexive, defensive mode– depicting her as attacking Judaism, which is obviously not the case– means ignoring what’s she’s written.

    There is a close connection between Jews and Judaism and Enlightenment values: who has a greater stake in Western pluralism than Jews? In an article in the current New Yorker, the Pope is quoted as linking the Western rational tradition to the West’s Judeo-Christian heritage; he contrasts this with Islam, whose “catalogue of human rights . . . differs from [a] Western catalogue” which includes “normative elements”, like tolerance, which are not subject to the “vagaries of majorities.”

    Conversely, there is a tension between the unqualified, categorical demands of religious faith and participation in a pluralist, secular culture. To be a religious believer in the West means to live in two worlds.

  • Jewish mother is now experiencing the slavery of the Egyptians with the cleaning and preperation that is going on in her house, poor dear. I however am still recovering from Michael’s remarks…

  • Jewish Mother is appalled by marijuana and the vaguest whiff of the notion that somewhere out there, mostly in California, there are men who like to kiss other men. If my comments had indeed introduced her to the concept of bukkake, seismometers around the world would have detected the tremors caused by the sheer force of her head exploding. So either Jewish Mother was already familiar with this particular cultural practice, or she’s just, y’know, otherwise occupied.

    Besides, I don’t know why Chutzpah and crew are so distraught. I was referring only to a method of preparing soba. Why, does bukkake mean something else?

  • Phoebe –
    I’d love to see your response to The Middle.

    It seems that not just “observant” Jews are confused by your stance….

  • I want to note that the original idea posted borders on a certain kind of (anti-Maimonodean) idea of there being a pintyla Yid, something inherent about Jews qua Jews to which any sort of Federation or mitzvot are merely ornamental. This is an interesting stance, and a worthy one. One could say to those who object, are you more connected to an non-Observant (or even differently-observant) Jew than you are to a gentile? If so, it is not the inherent value of the mitzvos that make you more connected, but something else entirely.

    Also, the link between the Jewish question and the essentail question of the West must needs be explored further, but that is not the main point I want to make. Still, the degree to which a social community can share some of the rights and responsibilities of full citizenship while to some extent maintaining their own communal and, yes, religious structures, underlies the question of politics.

  • (part of this is cross-posted on Phoebe’s other post, “Ugh, Natalism“)

    A,
    As long as the religious structures are separate from the political, the members of the community are the same as any other members of the society. Their citizenship is precisely the same, and equal to, the citizenship of all other members of that society. The hope is that the society will also perceive this and accept these members as they do any other members.

    Having said that, while we may not parse it this way in our post-Enlightenment minds, one of the links to other members of our religion is instinctively a tribal one. There is an inherent recognition of the fact that we share a lineage that goes back centuries and millenia. In essence, we are a family even if our logical minds tell us otherwise. This isn’t all that different from, say, an American who descends from Ireland perceiving a connection to his Irish heritage. This may also be why Phoebe feels a closeness to Dreyfus and seeks to understand French Jewry even if to her “Jewish” is not related to any form of practice of the faith.

    Tom, the Enlightenment did nothing to prevent the Holocaust. The Enlightenment did nothing to prevent Dreyfus. The Enlightenment did nothing to prevent signs in parks and hotels that said “No Jews Allowed” or in some cases that I heard about Canada, “No Dogs or Jews Allowed.” The world today still gives us antisemitism and in fact at times gives it to us in a far more sophisticated way that what we had seen a few hundred years ago. As I read recently, these days one sees antisemitism driven by the educated class and political leadership. I point you to the Muslim world where you have heads of state and media outlets which are often organs of the government vilifying Jews using classic antisemitic canards. In fact, we see it on the Left today as well. My point is that “Western pluralism” has significant limits.

    Phoebe, in fact, points to those limits when she expresses the hope of being able to be Jewish in the sense that one would point to an American and say, “She’s from Wisconsin.” It may give you a broad idea of how/where that person may have grown up, but for all intents and purposes, she’s like you, an American.

    I don’t discount for a minute that Phoebe is extremely bright and articulate. The question is whether she’s saying something new and I don’t believe she is. Consider, for example, that John Kerry and Madeleine Albright (and ex-Senator George Allen) discovered that their parents essentially sought to have them completely assimilate by eliminating any connection to Judaism. Consider movements where Jews were quite active such as Communism and Socialism that obliterate differences between people and strive to eliminate religious dogma from the lives of people. Consider simply the large number of Jews who have become not only secular but entirely unaffiliated with the Jewish community so that in essence they live their life with virtually no identification with their Jewish roots and certainly their spouses or descendants carry no such knowledge or sense of affiliation.

    On the contrary, what Phoebe is saying is all too familiar. I’ll tell you what it means to me. It means that my son will live in a world with far fewer Jews. He will live in a world where, whether he does them for cultural, historical or faithful reasons, the traditions he wishes to preserve will be far more difficult to preserve because the resources available to him will be greatly diminished, beginning with the number of potential spouses and including the number of synagogues or schools for his children or other cultural artifacts such as community centers, concerts, courses of study at universities, etc. I seek to preserve these things not just for myself, but for others including my son as well as our friends and their children. Phoebe belongs to the ranks of those who will not only make the overall pool of people and resources smaller, but by actually advocating such an outcome, may be convincing others to follow suit as well. Isn’t that reason enough to challenge her assertions?

    Look, you asked the question in her other post about “Natalism” about what numbers of Jews are enough and whether the numbers even matter. This is an interesting question because many Orthodox Jews today will tell you they don’t care about the numbers if it means that they have to accept converts who weren’t converted by Orthodox rabbis. In fact, some go as far as to reject other streams of Judaism altogether. Of course, they then proceed to have many children themselves which suggests a desire to grow the population base of at least the “right kind” of Jewish people.

    However, if you ask me, the issue is a pertinent one for non-Orthodox Jews for the reasons I mention above with respect to providing a large enough community to our children that they can enjoy a robust social environment as Jews, have opportunities to marry other Jews and raise children as Jews, have healthy communal services and functions, and be able to maintain traditions and a link to a valuable and ancient culture. This is difficult to do when your birthrate is below replacement levels and your educated population is marrying only half the time (stats similar to the general population where 50% aren’t married), and when they marry, half of them marry non-Jews and of those non-Jews about 80% retain their original faith.

    You asked in the Natalism conversation whether the Holocaust plays a role in the hope to maintain numbers. I’m sure it does to some. However, to me, it informs more than influences. There were 19 million Jews in the world in 1939 and about 13 million in 1945. Today, in a world where the population has at least doubled since then, Jews represent about 14-15 million. That indicates serious challenges to future stability outside of Israel. To you this may not be meaningful because you belong to a group that counts 700 million adherents and continues to proselytize even as its members are surrounded by a large number of others who either share the same faith or a variant of that faith. However, we, as Jews, not only don’t have the numbers, but are surrounded by you folks from these other faiths, in a society that orients itself around this faith. We meet you folks in school, university, jobs, etc. and it’s much more likely when we’re surrounded by 97 of you to every one of us that we will find common interests with one of those 97 than one of the other 2.5 to 3 individuals who share our faith. In other words, it becomes even more challenging for us to maintain a connection or end up with a partner who cares about our culture, faith or traditions.

    Does it matter? It matters to me. I find our traditions to be valuable and beautiful. I want to preserve them and would like to preserve a link to our ancient culture. Obviously, I do it from a secular perspective, but I am who I am because of those traditions and the values instilled in me by my family and community and believe it is critical to pass them on to my son and to have him pass them on as well.

  • The Enlightenment did nothing to prevent the Holocaust, or it is the Enlightenment and its descendents that ended the Holocaust and evaluate it as wrong, and not merely another fact of history?

  • a: Probably both. To say that emancipation was bad for the Jews implies that there was, in the late 18th C, an alternative. As though a cheery shtetl or, better yet, state of Israel, awaited those Jews who decided not to become French citizens. Arthur Hertzberg and others say that the Enlightenment–specifically Voltaire–created modern anti-Semitism, but it’s as easy to say that the philosophes created modern ideas of tolerance, too. Better to say that the Enlightenment brought about modernity, both the aspects that pleased the bulk of Jews and those that did not.

  • Nobody said the Emancipation was bad for the Jews. What I wrote was:

    the Enlightenment did nothing to prevent the Holocaust. The Enlightenment did nothing to prevent Dreyfus. The Enlightenment did nothing to prevent signs in parks and hotels that said “No Jews Allowed” or in some cases that I heard of in Canada, “No Dogs or Jews Allowed.” The world today still gives us antisemitism and in fact at times gives it to us in a far more sophisticated way that what we had seen a few hundred years ago.

    As you’ll note, the tone is passive. It’s not the Enlightenment that brought about the Nazis, although it might be the Enlightenment that allowed the world to see the genocide as wrong. Then again, it could just be sympathy that made the world see this genocide as wrong. What the Enlightenment didn’t do, however, is make Jews (or Gypsies, for example) equal to others to the degree that the Enlightenment was supposed to bring about. This isn’t news, by the way, and we didn’t need the Holocaust to inform us of this. Herzl was influenced because Dreyfus and other mis-treatment of Jews across Europe was proof enough that the ideals of the Enlightenment weren’t going to eliminate antisemitism or the perception of Jewish people as “others” or foreigners.

    To bring this into full focus, consider that the Jews of Germany in the ’20s and ’30s were secular, integrated into society and intermarrying at rates as high as today’s in North America. By the mid-’30s, they were already victims of specific laws targeting them and as of 1939/1940, they were being systematically exterminated by a nation considered to be at the forefront of European enlightened high culture.

  • Left and right aren’t necessarily meaningless, Phoebe, but they sometimes apply differently across social, economic, etc. policies.

    BHL et al just aren’t right-wing by most Americans’ definition of right-wing, nor by the classic definition. In most things economic they’re in the mainstream of French leftishism. The only real area in which they’re accused of being on the right wing of things is in the area of what we can call, I guess, ethnic relations.

    France is just plain screwed up in this area. BHL et al fall into that screwiness — they have interesting things to say, but they’re trapped in a fundamentally bizarre debate, especially to the extent that they have always embraced their Jewishness.

    Consider: traditionally France’s republicanism is all about not being “communautariste”. Communautarisme, in turn, is all about having no identity but the French identity. Jews managed to coexist with that for a while by essentially (1) turning religion into a private matter which (2) was regulated by the state and could therefore not threaten to break out of its “private” box, and at the same time (3) subordinating their Jewish identities to this — from a Jewish standpoint — voodoo category of “religion”, as in “French fellow citizen of the Mosaic faith”.

    Flash forward a bunch of years. French-and-nothing-but identity has never worked too well. The undercurrent has always been that it’s a fiction, hence antisemitism bubbling beneath the not-communautariste-no-way veneer. An increasing number of Jews debark from North Africa who hadn’t been around for the whole remember-you’re-not-really-a-Jew years, and the thing starts to crumble from the Jewish standpoint, not to mention the much larger crumbling it’s doing in response to larger population movements.

    That’s sort of BHL et al’s problem. They don’t want to be anti-communautaristes, because they realise the Jews aren’t quite imaginary. At the same time heavens forbid they would be communautaristes, because that trips right back into another kind of ethnic essentialism they know to be false: Jews really can be pretty French and not go to war with the state, and so can all the other people pointing to ethnic differences. Difference can be contained. Conflict need not occur. But to argue that is to be sort of, well, republican.

    So as a result they’re caught in between the ridiculous ethnic essentialism of champagne banlieusards, and the true republicanism of extreme throwbacks like Dieudonné.

    That does not right wing make. Nor does it suggest that left and right are obsolete: stage a debate on real economic issues and you’ll see how fast those terms creep back.

    What it does do, though, is underline the screwiness of France’s relationship to identity questions. My opinion, at any rate.

  • You would all be better off masturbating than engaging in this insipid and useless exchange. If you are an observant Jew, put on your tfillin and go daven somewhere. If you are a non-observant Jew, go have a nice ham sandwich and watch televisio. If Phoebe was even half-way decent looking she would probably have a boyfriend and be happily humping instead of wasting time on this site. The fact that she is sitting at the computer tapping out this “shtuyot” indicates that she is just another resentful Jewish “meiskeit” who cannot find anyone interested in sniffing her pudenda. Attention all you yeshiva buchers out there: You’re not impresseing anyone with your argumentation and intellect. Go play with your petzy.

  • Sage, Phoebe is attractive and does have a boyfriend.

    Not a single yeshiva “bucher” participated in this discussion.

    But now that I’ve reread the discussion, I have to agree that it’s insipid. To think that if you had shown up earlier I would have known to masturbate instead of writing all that junk makes me very sad.

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