Donald Trump’s New Ban

Donald Trump’s New Ban

by

Howard Adelman

I interrupt the series on antisemitism to discuss the new Executive Order of President Donald Trump. Since Israel/Palestine is a major producer of terrorists (almost all Palestinian, but some Jewish), imagine placing a travel ban on Israel/Palestine in the same way that one has been imposed on Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen. Ask why none was imposed on Turkey or Lebanon.

Iraq has been removed from the list and the ban on travelers from Syria is no longer indefinite. The 27 January Executive Order, that was stayed by the courts, has been rescinded making the current multiple court challenges now moot. The new Executive Order will almost certainly be challenged on the grounds of whether it follows the requirements of due process and whether it violates the First Amendment insofar as the new ban still seems to be in accord with Donald Trump’s campaign promise to implement a “Muslim ban.”

This analysis can be much briefer because, fortunately, my colleagues at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, have addressed  this topic, specifically Sarah Pierce, an associate policy analyst there, who has dissected the new Executive Order and has written a report entitled, “The Revised Trump Travel Ban: Who Might Be Affected from the Six Targeted Countries?” which can be found at: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/revised-trump-travel-ban-who-might-be-affected-six-targeted-countries.

There are two core issues concerning Donald Trump’s issuance of an Executive Order under section 212(f) giving the president the legal authority to suspend the entry of all or certain groups of foreign nationals if he finds that their entry would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”. The first, unchanged from the 27 January illegal Executive Order, is the unprecedented extent of such a ban, at least in this and the last centuries. One has to revert to the nineteenth century and the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act (not rescinded until 1943) for a precedent of imposing anticipatory travel bans.

Jimmy Carter’s 1980 ban on Iranians was a specific response to the hostage crisis and was not at all “anticipatory.” On the other hand, there have been a number of nationality restricted bans, particularly in the 1920s, but all of these were eliminated when the U.S. moved to universal rather than country-specific migration limitations in the 1965 Immigration Act. These had not been so much anticipatory as explicitly discriminatory The second issue is that the U.S. has already by far the most thorough vetting procedure built into its immigration service in the world. Since the rationale for the original ban and for this revised ban remains the same – that the current practices and procedures are too porous – one looks for evidence or a rationale other than an assertion to justify the revised ban.

The second issue is that the U.S. has already by far the most thorough vetting procedure built into its immigration service in the world. Since the rationale for the original ban and for this revised ban remains the same – that the current practices and procedures are too porous – one looks for evidence or a rationale other than an assertion to justify the revised ban. 

It was not available in the 27 January Executive Order. It is also unavailable in the new 6 March Executive Order. This is part of a pattern of the new Donald Trump government administration by fiat. There is no evidence offered to justify even greater heightened vetting procedures just as there is no evidence for Trump’s assertions that Barack Obama tapped the phone lines in the Trump Tower.

There is certainly a precedent for applying vetting procedures based on country of origin rather than on “risks” re an individual.  After 9/11, George Bush under the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, imposed unpalatable and heightened restrictions as conditions of entry on 24 Arab or Muslim-majority countries, but that was a response to a very specific and dramatic event and was not anticipatory. This is quite aside from the utility or erroneous rationale for imposing such a ban. The Bush era ban led to the deportation or refusal of entry to almost 14,000 individuals in the year after 9/11. I know of no study of the impact of those decisions on the lives of these people.

It is certainly true that this order is a vast improvement over the old order. It allows immigration officers to prepare since it does not go into effect until 16 March. It does not catch people up in transit. It is no longer applicable to green card holders or retroactively applied to those who already have a legal visa. But it still creates an enormous chill and a disincentive for meetings and educational conferences to be held in the U.S. given the uncertainty of who can get in. Border control personnel have been given wide interpretive and discretionary powers. When a Canadian born woman from Montreal, in spite of having crossed into the U.S. many times previously, was refused entry this past weekend because she lacked a visa, one begins to understand why tourism to the U.S. may have declined by as much as 20% following the 27 January aborted Executive Order. One seeks security and confidence when traveling to a foreign country.

When the criterion is not criminality or a terrorist link but the determination that the individual – not assessed individually but on mass – would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States,” one can expect another series of court challenges against the need for revised vetting procedure – one rationale – when no evidence is offered that one is needed. When the criterion is so loosey-goosey, there is a good possibility that this revised travel ban will be overturned in the courts as well, but certainly not as easily as the first totally embarrassing effort. Certainly, the condition, “detrimental to the interests of the United States,” is better than no criterion and makes reference to the actual law, and certainly the specification of a number of exceptions and allowances for discretionary moves is much better than an absolute ban with no criterion and no exceptions, but that does not make the Executive Order any better in its fundamentals.

The new executive order allows case-by-case waivers and makes room for the entry of minorities persecuted because of their religion without illegally designating that religion, those with significant contacts within the U.S. and those seeking to visit immediate family members. Since the application is so discretionary, one can expect a series of decisions that will be serious embarrassments  to the United States.

There is also the problem of creating two classes of American citizens – those from the six countries affected, about 656,000 Americans, and the rest. They would not have the same access to relatives as other Americans. Further, some of them have not yet obtained a green card, that is an identifying paper granting legal permanent residence in the United States. Would they be deported when their current visa runs out? What about students on international student visas – will their status be renewed? One can make a rough estimate that the insecurity sewn into the psyches of about 100,000 people on American soil will be serious and detrimental.

This, of course, does not include those who had been planning to study in the United States. Or those even from non-banned countries who were considering the U.S., but in light of the uncertainty, may be expected to change their plans. In addition to the effects on tourists, on refugees, on potential and actual students, there is the chill on people traveling to the U.S. on business. Certainly, in the new atmosphere of intolerance, signaled and partially unleashed by these series of Executive Orders and compounded by the actual fatal shooting of one engineer from India and wounding of another, the shooting and wounding of a Sikh in his own driveway, a very wet blanket has been thrown over the beacon of America for citizens in the rest of the world.

It took a century-and-a-half to build a reputation for tolerance. It took only 30 days to demolish that reputation, an accomplishment whether the new Executive Order passes legal muster or not. The dark side of America has once again been let loose.

Further, with respect to the greatest humanitarian refugee crisis since WWII, the American cut of the refugee intake from 110,000 to 50,000 is disastrous. Just over a third of that cut came from the countries on which a travel ban was imposed and one suspects that the Trump vision for America does not include refugees no matter what their country of origin is. Canada would have to triple our intake to make up for the difference. Whenthis initiative is conjoined with a drastic cut in the American overseas aid program just when famine is devastating Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria and is threatening Ethiopia, “America First” takes on a very sinister meaning, a definition of America going from the humanitarian leader of the Western world to a tight-fisted cold-hearted self-centred tightwad.

 With the help of Alex Zisman

A Life of Quiet Desperation – Certain Women

A Life of Quiet Desperation

by

Howard Adelman

Certain Women stars Laura Dern, Michele Williams and Kristen Stewart with Lily Gladstone the only non-star in a starring role. The film is scripted and directed by Kelly Reichardt from an adaptation of two of the eleven stories in Maile Meloy’s Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It and one story from her collection, Half in Love.

Set in Montana with its broad high plains and mountains in the background, other than the absence of any significant traffic, this was not the extraordinarily beautiful Montana we drove through twice in the previous two years. This is a state viewed up close through a triptych of vignettes of the lives of four women living in a state in which Billings with its 100,000 plus souls is a huge metropolis.

Here is the way the film is described in the publicity: “The lives of three women intersect in small-town America, where each is imperfectly blazing a trail.” There are at least four misleading assertions in this one short sentence. The film is about four not three women, though it has three big stars and three stories strung together. Secondly, the lives of the women do not intersect, or barely and tangentially. It happens to be that Laura Dern’s lover in the first vignette is the husband of Michele Williams in the second one. And Laura works in a law office which Lily Gladstone comes across when searching for Kristen Stewart.

Other than these accidental and incidental crossings, there is virtually no intersection and inter-action in the movie. Each woman is akin to the very long train with which the film begins, each with its own engine and each acquiring more and more boxcars or experiences as the engine traverses across the plain. A prominent theme in E.M. Forster’s Passage to India was “only connect.” The theme of this film is “barely connect.” It is indeed a portrait of lonely lives in a lonely landscape in which people live side-by-side, interact functionally, but are imprisoned emotionally. The real depth of interaction is with the landscape which seems to diminish each of them as they experience the impossibility of rising like mountains over what seems like an endless plain.

Third, this is not a film about small-town America, but about small-town Montana where even Wyoming is viewed as foreign territory. Fourth, not one person blazes a trail. It is a film about women “at the end of the trail,” and it is a trail of desperation to escape in a territory which promised escape from the turmoil and troubles of the megalopolis cities of America. But it is a tale of certain women, very specific women, who share one common feature, determination and resilience, able to adjust to changing circumstances by resuming being themselves. They are not shape-shifters, but human beings who spring back to shape as they meet their share of disappointments in life. They are strong, tough, hardy and durable, but also vital and supple, but they are anything but change agents and more like lonely trees growing out of the semi-arid soil of Montana.

The men are another order of being. They seem incapable of hearing, taking advice or instructions from the women or negotiating with them. Laura’s hapless client who has been betrayed by life and an insurance company finally and suddenly accepts in a very short time the advice of a male lawyer offering a second opinion. The conclusion that his legal case was hopeless was the same advice that Laura had been drilling into him for eight months. The old lonely man in the second story agrees to give the pile of hand-hewn stones piled up on his property as the remnants of an old schoolhouse that he inherited when he bought the property to Michele Williams who had been determined to acquire them to build her fantasy house, but only does so when Michele’s husband reassures the old man that he does not have to sell the stones or give them away and, even then, can change his mind at anytime.

Finally, the male students in the small town’s extension class on educational law seem to learn nothing from Kristen Stewart. She is like the talking cereal box in the TV ad representing an insurance company teaching a class of young children about the benefits and security that the insurance company provides. But the children can only ask how the box eats and why he does not have a belly button. The educators cannot deal with the rights of students, but only with issue about their own legal benefits.

The film blazes its message in huge Honest Ed neon lights, but makes a tremendous but very quiet impact because of the subtlety of the details and its minimalist approach. The movie masters the challenge of making the interior lives of these women cinematic. It is a very intimate movie without any intimacy. There is virtually no action, for this is a film about inaction, about stalemates, about people whose lives have been frozen in the winter of Montana. It is a movie that makes boredom interesting by drawing our attention, not to the large picture screen, but to very small revealing moments. There are no technical innovations that I could spot, though plenty of shots of shuffling feet. This is a movie that makes understatement seem like an overstatement.

This is not simply a movie in a low key opposing modesty and restraint to that which is showy, but one that offers three stories of four independent women who live lives of quiet desperation. Subdued is too strong a word for the characters. The tone of each of the three stories is not simply muted, but the sounds slip across the field speckled with light snow and a few piles of hay to feed the horses. We hear the roar of the tractor and the dog barking as it chases it, but like the film, the dog’s bark bounces off the silence and the dog has no destination but to run after the moving tractor. That is about the level of action in the movie. Silence rather than words suffuse the film.

Other than the publicity blurb, I read that this was a film about the pioneering spirit of women when it is anything but. A pioneer explores a new territory, innovates in technology or initiates a new way of thinking. This is a film that makes Montana look old, weary and worn-out.  Every single one of the main characters is at a dead end in their lives. Rather than standing on a frontier, the whole sense of the movie is that they are in a backwater but, relative to the male characters, they come across as having a degree of spirit. Their loneliness is experienced more acutely because the men act out their meaningless lives while the women convey a sense of at least wanting some intimacy.

In the first vignette, Laura Dern is a lawyer observed over a period of interacting with one client, once an artisan carpenter, who has been injured at work but cannot legally pursue an insurance claim because he accepted a small payment from the insurance company. In the second vignette, Michele Williams plays a frustrated wife alienated from her sulky and resentful teenage daughter and living with but estranged from her husband even as the family camps in the Montana wilderness. In the third vignette, Kristen Stewart, the only member of her family who went beyond living off unskilled labour at the bottom of the employment pool, who has crawled up and achieved a law degree, finds that the only job she has been able to land is teaching educational law – of which she knows virtually nothing – to a motley tiny collection of adult students who presumably are educators but with no desire to become educated. Out of loneliness and with nothing to do, Lily Gladstone, who works caring for horses, wanders into her class and becomes enchanted by another female whose disenchantment with life is on full display.

I should not have written that this is a film absent of intimacy. Because there are indeed two dimensions of real intimacy on display. One is of Lily Gladstone with the horses she cares for and her dog. The other is with the landscape. In fact, the landscape is probably the most powerful presence in the movie. There are probably more shots of the spaces than of any of the characters.

There is also a sense that the film is also about the art of filmmaking, a very lonely profession that starts with the filmmaker falling in love with and/or writing a script and spending what seems like an eternity by oneself envisioning and blocking out the film cinematically. Then the director moves onto a different level and shares the activity of making the movie with a very large group of collaborators, only, in the end, to be thrust back onto your own resources and your own loneliness when the editor enters the editing room and returns to communing with himself or herself.

Whereas, Reichardt emerges with a highly successful result, her characters on screen end up facing a future even more bleak and miserable than the one they had when the stories began.

Malignant Narcissism: Mental Disorder or Metaphor

Malignant Narcissism: Mental Disorder or Metaphor

by

Howard Adelman

 

I want to use this morning’s blog both to demonstrate the role of argument in persuasion, but the veritable impossibility of employing that tool of argument to change the mind of a narcissist of the extraordinary dimensions of Donald Trump. On 15 February 2017 in the New York Times (A26), Dr. Allen Frances, an extremely eminent and highly regarded psychiatrist who is the epitome of scholarly care and judicious reasoning, wrote a letter (An Eminent Psychiatrist Demurs on Trump) criticising using the term “narcissism” to characterize Donald Trump as suffering from that mental disorder.

To the Editor:

Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.

ALLEN FRANCES

Coronado, Calif.

This was not your run-of-the-mill criticism. Frances chaired the task force that compiled the definitive Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental; Disorders IV. (D.S.M. – IV). Frances was the member of the committee who also evidently composed the descriptive characteristics of “narcissistic personality disorder.” In his words, Trump “does not meet the criteria that define the disorder.” Frances insisted that Trump was not mentally ill.

I could try to get around his authoritative judgement by insisting that I am not using “malignant narcissism” as a professional psychiatrist – which I clearly am not – but using a term that was adopted by psychiatry from a far broader literature. And I will certainly defend my use of the term on that basis. But I also want to deal with Frances’ criticisms of the psychiatrists who also called Trump a narcissist with a mental disorder.

It is not as if Frances was defending Trump. He chastised Trump for his “grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy.” He characterized the denunciation of Trump as appropriate for his “ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.” However, bad behaviour, he argued, is “rarely a sign of mental illness.” It is an insult to the mentally ill (mostly well-behaved and well meaning) who suffer “the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.” Further, and most importantly, Frances himself called Trump “a world-class narcissist.” Frances was not arguing that Trump was not a narcissist, but that his narcissism did not fall under the category of mental disorder because it did not produce the “distress and impairment” in the subject characteristic of a mental disorder.

Further, Frances denounced, in the same manner as my son had, name-calling. It is not clear in the letter whether the name-calling was the characterizing of Trump as narcissistic or the characterizing of his suffering from a mental disorder, but, from the context, and in order not to accuse Frances of contradicting himself, I believe it was evidently the latter. Labeling Trump as a narcissist may be alright, but naming him as a narcissist with a mental disorder is erroneous, not only because Trump does not suffer distress from his condition, but is, in fact, richly rewarded for it. Further, it suggests that psychiatry is an inappropriate response when the “antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.”

Rule 1 of rational argument: state the argument of the individual you wish to contend with accurately and fully.

Rule 2: consider alternate positions put forth by others.

One was put forth by W.J.T. Mitchell in the Los Angeles Review of Books that was published a day after Frances’ letter appeared. An earlier version had been presented in a lecture at the Université de Genève, 18 January 2017. The essay was called, “American Psychosis: Trumpism and the Nightmare of History.” It began with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: “Insanity in individuals is somewhat rare. But in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.”

We are all, both the Trumpists and the anti-Trumpists, going through the long and dark nightmare of our collective soul. With Donald Trump’s election, we crossed the Rubicon into a new epoch. It is an epoch adumbrated in the film, Being There, though in a very different version. The epoch was predicted even earlier by H.L. Menken. “As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

Mencken was a cynic and had great contempt for the “common man.” I share his prophetic view but not his reasoning. The fault is more institutional. When democracies reduce themselves to populist polities, as in Brexit, disaster will likely follow. America is even more prone to such a disaster. That is because America is a democratic monarchy and one day, a fool was almost certain to make the monarchical role primary and the presidential role and responsibility of governing second. As Mitchell wrote, when the combination of an oligarchy of the super rich joins forces with increasing inequality and the brew is fed by a new and innovative media, the conditions were created for the perfect storm.

Populism is not responsible government. Populism is not democracy, just its meanest expression. It reared its ugly head in the Brexit vote. We wait on pins and needles for the shoe to drop in the Netherlands, in Germany, but, most of all, in France. And we hope and pray that the example of the U.S. will dissuade enough voters in Europe to avoid the fatal edge of a cliff. For though the economic forces now favouring renewable energy may guarantee the eventual replacement of fossil fuels, will the victory come too late? Will Donald Trump as a climate change denier who appoints a fossil fuel lobbyist to head an agency responsible for monitoring the destructive effects of fossil fuels on our lonely and lovely green planet, do irreparable damage? Will the triumph of renewable energy sources have arrived too late?

However, the issue is not just whether Donald Trump’s condition as a malignant narcissist can be characterized as a mental illness, but also whether collective behaviour can be characterized as mass psychosis. Describing a condition as “madness” by Mitchell is not just a rhetorical tool. He put it forth, not to describe a mental illness, not to get shafted on the end of an épée, but to analyze a way of thinking, a mental state, a collective psychology rather than an individual mental illness.

I will return to our collective mental state in a subsequent blog, but I want to focus in this blog on Donald Trump’s mental state. Is that state an illness? Mitchell quotes Freud to assert than an individual’s mental state invariably involves others – models, helpers, opponents. We cannot separate the two. But, unlike Mitchell, I think it is best to start with the individual, with Trump rather than Trumpism. Subsequently, I will delve more deeply into the paradox of men and women, who are otherwise decent, hard-working, moral and, most of all, reasonable, becoming victims of “amnesia, ignorance and delusion.” Whereas Mitchell seems to see Trump as simply the purveyor of an image that mirrors a collective madness, I see him as a magnet and stimulant of that madness. And that is not saying the same thing in different words.

Let me go back to the issue of whether the primary error in depicting Trump’s characteristics is not whether he possesses those traits, but whether they add up to a mental illness. The collective Michael Brenner (MB) – https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?hl=en&shva=1#inbox/15a57040fcb2acc7[1] – argues that the man in the oval office is unhinged. MB makes that argument in all deference to Allen Frances, but in sharp disagreement with him. He does so on the basis of the following five arguments:

  1. Trump’s personality is almost a perfect fit for the profile of a narcissistic personality disorder;
  2. One does not have to suffer distress or impairment to be diagnosed with that disorder, and that criterion is not mentioned in DSMIV;
  3. Though pain and discomfort may accompany such a disorder on the individual “suffering” that disorder, those conditions are also not necessary conditions for such a diagnosis;
  4. Though many and perhaps most mentally ill individuals do no harm and cause no distress to others, this is not the case with psychotics or with narcissism of the gargantuan proportions of Donald Trump; they impose pain and discomfort on others;
  5. Narcissism is the one condition that most clearly causes acute distress for others because the strategies devised protect the self at the expense of others.

I think these arguments are persuasive. Donald Trump’s condition is a mental disorder. On the other hand, it is also, as I will argue, not a treatable condition. It a condition unworthy of attention to the “sufferer” as distinct from most mental conditions. Donald Trump neither demands of us nor is he deserving of sympathetic care. His narcissism alone is more than sufficient to protect him from abuse directed at him by others.

So why call it a mental disorder if we not only cannot but will not even attempt to treat it? Further, disorder conveys chaos, disarray, confusion and a question arises whether Donald Trump creates that disarray and disorder, simply mirrors it or more radically acts out the collective psychosis of our age?

As with many things, the devil is in the details. In the next blog, I will offer the characteristics of this state, which I also contend is a disorder. For that narcissism is not only an expression of a disordered mind, but is also a stimulant, adding to the disorder at large. One sign of that disorder is that Trump would not listen to, could not follow if he did listen, and would reject out of hand all four positions set forth in this blog, which includes my own. In the next blog, I will try not only to specify that Donald Trump’s disorder does not allow him to listen to arguments and contrary views, but why he characterizes all such arguments as personal attacks.

Neither Frances, nor Mitchell, nor MB nor I would regard our differences as personal attacks, but instead treat them as arguments and expressions to be debated and resolved in a rational universe. Donald Trump does not belong to that universe and is incapable of being persuaded of anything. Deviation from his path, sometimes, but never persuaded. That is why the real issue is not Trump, but those caught up in the mass psychosis and how they can be persuaded to abandon Trump.

With the help of Alex Zisman

[1] Michael Brenner does not exist in actuality. It is, rather, the nom de plume for a loose association of persons who share a perspective on the world of politics and a sensibility about cultural matters. They are of diverse background and profession. The consortium’s members came together by happenstance. There is no organization nor is there a physical location for an electronic hub… The associates’ insistence on absolute anonymity is due to more than their innate modesty. They hold the firm belief that what counts are the thoughts and ideas rather than persons. In addition, there is some consideration being given a run for the White House in 2020 by the “legend” of “Michael Brenner” – if an appealing individual can be found to assume the persona. High name recognition would be crucial to offset Ivanka’s immense popularity and her lock on the primate vote. (From a communication received 12 February 2017)

Resolution 2334 and a Two-State Solution: Part C: Analyzing the Resolution Itself and Its Effects on Negotiations

Resolution 2334 and a Two-State Solution:
Part C: Analyzing the Resolution Itself and Its Effects on Negotiations

by

Howard Adelman

Following the war in 1948, the borders recommended by UNSCOP, the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, shifted. Beginning with the United States, many countries recognized the new state of Israel. This was before the war broke out. After the war, these states, and the numbers increased, which recognized Israel, did not differentiate between the borders approved by the UN and the territory between those borders and the new armistice line. The latter was not referred to as “occupied territory” within the enlarged borders of the armistice agreement. It is more than noteworthy that the Fourth Geneva Convention (Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War) which defined the rights of a victor over territory and the treatment of local inhabitants, as well as the right to move or give permission to move its own population into those territories captured in that war, was not adopted until August 1949.

The inclusion of Jerusalem and the West Bank within Jordan was not generally recognized. Nevertheless, Jordan’s control and administration of Jerusalem and the West Bank and its subsequent annexation into Jordan became the de facto reality until 1967. In that year, UNSC Res. 242 set up a new framework for recognition. Israel was required to withdraw from occupied territories, and explicitly not the occupied territories. The drafters of that resolution explicitly did not recognize the 1948 armistice lines as borders. The big change was that Israel was now the occupying power of the West Bank, the Old City, East Jerusalem and Gaza. According to the generally established, but not universally accepted, interpretations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a power that exercises military occupation of a territory following a war – and it does not matter whether that territory was the sovereign territory of another state or territory occupied by another power or legal state or whether the territory was captured in a defensive or an aggressive war – that power was not allowed to alter the demography of that territory by moving its population into that territory or even allowing its citizens to move in to occupy parts of that territory.

The left in Israel took advantage of the clauses that allowed changes “for military purposes.” The right in Israel claimed, that under the Balfour Declaration and its international endorsement, that territory was to be a homeland where Jewish people could settle. Others claimed that the Fourth Geneva Convention trumped those allowances of the 1920s. But the point became moot because international treaties between the parties in contention would trump both the Geneva Convention and the exercise of de facto coercive power and administrative control on the ground.
Which brings us to Resolution 2334. Resolution 2334 alters previous arrangements and does so in fundamental ways. It reaffirms, as I have previously explained, a general principle, but one only applied to Israel after 1967, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by military force. It reaffirms the Fourth Geneva Convention about the transfer of populations and defines the creation of the barrier/wall/fence as a breach of that Convention and not justified by military or security needs, at least where it is located on territory administered by Israel. Israel’s actions were once again determined to be in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Resolution 2334 explicitly condemns altering the demographic makeup of the territory, more significantly, biases any negotiations by calling the occupied territory Palestinian territory and not simply the West Bank, and specifically includes East Jerusalem which encompasses the Old City in its nomenclature.

Resolution 2334 adds to these old assertions, now somewhat modified in language, a “grave concern” that the continuous construction of settlements threatens the two-State solution. The Resolution explicitly adds, “based on the 1967 lines,” and leaves out any reference to land swaps. In this Resolution, the 1967 lines now acquire a status as a border reference. The Resolution goes even further to point to the settlements as THE obstacle, that is the major, though not exclusive, barrier to concluding a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. And it is, if you accept the Old City, East Jerusalem and all of the West Bank as Palestinian territory. And that is what the UN Security Council did in passing that Resolution. It effectively trumped Resolution 242 which had only required withdrawal from some territory and not all territory. Resolution 2334 effectively trumped OSLO by setting the 1967 armistice borders as the reference point rather than any swap of territories already agreed to between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

In effect, the weight of international recognition of what was Palestinian territory was added to the weight of the dominant interpretation of international law to offset the weight of coercive power and administrative Israeli authority over parts of that territory. In the near term, the Resolution seems to have had a stimulant effect, spurring the formalization of settlements and outposts underway or in the planning stage, as occurred at the beginning of the twenty-first century when another UN Security Council Resolution was passed. UNSC Resolution 1515 adopted unanimously on 19 November 2003, endorsed the Road Map proposed by the Quartet envisaging an exchange of territories to satisfy Israeli security concerns and the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The threat of terrorism featured prominently. In that phase, the establishment of new settlements, at least legally, by and large effectively ceased.

The focus of Israel became “natural” expansion. This is precisely and explicitly what Resolution 2334 mentioned. Did Resolution 1515 passed in 2003 indirectly accept the settlements built before 31 March 2001? Was their legality reinforced in distinguishing between settlements after 2002 from those authorized before 2001? Resolution 2334 seemed to state that this was not the case. The only changes to the 1967 lines that will be recognized are those made between the two parties. Does that mean that Resolution 2334 recognizes the lines between areas A, B and C? Quite the reverse. By not mentioning them, they are given no international imprimatur. Does that mean Resolution 2334 recognizes the tentative agreement on the territorial swap? Quite the reverse. By not mentioning that swap agreement, it is given no international imprimatur. These may be incorporated into a final negotiated agreement, but the diplomatic trading hand of the Palestinians has been greatly strengthened.

In the last eight years under the Obama administration, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, excluding Jerusalem neighbourhoods, has grown to about 400,000, a gain of more than 100,000 largely through the “thickening” of existing settlements. The number of “settlers” in East Jerusalem has grown to roughly 208,000, only 15,000 more than when Obama took office. The emphasis in policy of Israel has been on strengthening the West Bank settlements. Almost 13,000 new settlement units were initiated or completed in the West Bank. What Israel has lost in diplomatic leverage in the international arena it has tried to offset by facts on the ground and de facto coercive and administrative control.

Unlike the efforts at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the 2016 Resolution called on reversing the situation. Further, contrary to the contention of that Resolution, there is little evidence suggesting that efforts to grow and expand existing settlements entrench a one-State reality as claimed in Resolution 2334. But the clinkers come in the clauses much more than in the preamble. Those clauses reiterate that the settlements established anywhere in the occupied territories after 1967 are illegal., a flagrant violation of international law and impediment to a two-State solution and a just and lasting solution to the conflict. Resolution 2334 demands cessation of all settlement activities.

And what is a settlement activity. Expanding buildings? Repairing buildings, Working? Eating? Driving? Or is it just the collective initiatives such as providing for infrastructure and administration? The real substantive elements are the repeated references to the 1967 borders as the fundamental reference, the repeated reference to East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as falling within that reference point as not only occupied territory but occupied Palestinian territory, the call for reversal of trends that have significantly fallen off since the beginning of the twenty-first century, and the call for other states to differentiate, not only in trade, but in all dealings between what happens in the occupied territories and what happens within the 1967 lines recognized as sovereign Israel. The supplementary clauses denouncing violence on all sides appear pro tem, especially because the resolution explicitly excludes reference to activities which reinforce or encourage terrorism (such as treating terrorists as heroes and martyrs) while the targeting of demolitions is spelled out and focused solely on Israel.

In August of 2016, following a denunciation of settlement thickening expansion plans by 200 American rabbis, the U.S. sent Israel an unequivocal message that if demolitions proceeded in the Palestinian village of Sussia, a red line would be crossed. This echoed protests made by EU foreign ministers on 20 July 2016 following warnings General Mordechai delivered to the Bedouins. 340 of them live in the village. The fact that these disputes, so badly handled by Israel, may have virtually nothing to do with Israeli settlement activities and everything to do with Bedouin resistance to Israeli urban development strictures, whether in Israel proper or the West bank, seem to have had no influence on the wording of the resolution.
Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, a lawyer dealing with this issue on behalf of the villagers, claimed that Israel simply wanted to move the village to or near Area B and out of Area C, an area in which 400,000 Israeli live and only 100,0000 Palestinians do. The fact that the villagers were forced to move in 1986 and the homes they built on their agricultural land were demolished in 2001, rebuilt and demolished again in 2011, was not considered as part of the analysis. This demolition would be the third time since the village was built thirty years ago. Nor did the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government in 2015 seem to count. Nor, finally, did it seem to matter that this was a new village built during occupation.

All of this must be understood also within the context of diplomacy conducted over the last six years. The Americans refused to declare the settlements illegal in 2011 when the Palestinians attempted to declare their status as a state at the United Nations in the Palestine 191 initiative. How did Israel respond? It doubled down and announced the building of additional settlement units in response to the Palestinian diplomatic initiative. The Europeans resisted. Germany moved to stop delivery of submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Israel. The following year, if some European states previously abstained, they then supported Palestinian statehood. If they previously opposed, they abstained in 2012 voting. The diplomatic war was running against Israel and criticisms mounted against home demolitions, expropriation of land and the refusal to grant construction permits to Palestinians.
These countries and their diplomats contended that Israeli actions and initiatives in the West Bank were completely contradictory to the stated and agreed aim of arriving at a two-State solution. But as I tried to demonstrate in my previous analysis, that depends on what you define as the two-State solution since there are many variations. If the plan is simply to incorporate Area C along with the accepted Jerusalem neighbourhoods into Israel, and to transfer equivalent Israeli land to the new Palestinian state, such thickening activities do not undermine a two-State solution. But if the reference point is the 1967 armistice lines, then such activities do conflict with a very different two-State solution. More importantly, by making the 1967 lines the reference point and by defining the occupied territory as Palestinian territory, the diplomatic hand of the Palestinians is significantly strengthened.

The situation, to say the least, has not been helped by the way Bibi Netanyahu conducts diplomacy in terms of domestic politics. He has bragged that his government is more committed to settlements than any Israeli government in history, in spite of the evidence to the contrary when comparing the expansion of the number of settlements under Arik Sharon’s government compared to Bibi’s. Further, Naftali Bennett and others in Bibi’s cabinet openly declare the two-State solution in any form dead. Donald Trump has appointed an ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who dubs the two-State solution in any form an illusion. All of these responses of the Israeli government stimulate an equal and powerful reaction from Western governments sympathetic to some kind of a Palestinian state being created side-by-side Israel.
As more Israeli politicians not only believe in but advocate implementing a one state solution unilaterally, increasing numbers of Palestinians have moved to advocate a bi-national state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean attracting idealist support and that of many European nations. But those efforts are NOT identified as a threat to the two-State solution because they ostensibly emanate from idealist principles rather than what is perceived to be a crass power grab.
In one interpretation of Resolution 2334, the world is trying to save Israel from its worst propensities, propensities likely to be reinforced by the new Trump government. In a very different interpretation of the very same international diplomatic initiatives, a sustained effort has been mounted to strengthen the Palestinian hand in negotiations and to keep the threat of terrorism at bay. As Israeli settlers marched from Ma’aleh Adumim to the Jerusalem neighbourhoods built on territory captured in the Six Day War (February 2014), when in 2016 Bennett openly advocated formally annexing those territories, the counter-movement strengthened.

Those who argue that settling people to mark territory is illegal under the dominant interpretation of international law, and, further, that such efforts are unsustainable, in turn, strengthen the hands of Israeli extremists demanding total annexation. The extremes are enhanced and the most reasonable compromises are undermined from both sides. This is especially true when the idealists and opponents charge Israel with creating an apartheid state – which is not outside the realm of possibilities. Certainly, hatred of Jews has been increasing among Palestinians. Suspicion and fear of Arabs, reinforced by extremist Islamic actors in the Muslim world, has increased among Israelis.

In response to my last blog, one reader wrote and asked, “To whom does the land belong?” I quipped back as if I were writing a Donald Trump tweet, “To God. We are merely the custodians.” The reader wrote back, “Well, that may be theological, but I’d like a more practical answer.” I offered a more serious response as follows:
“You are right to do so [object to my terse response]. In part, but only in part, this was written tongue in cheek. The reality is that the borders of a territory and the country that controls that territory are products of coercive power, administrative legal authority, legal treaties between and among nations and recognition by others. Is Taiwan part of China? Is Tibet part of China? According to the first two criteria above, the answer in both cases is yes. Over the last seventy years, the answer to the 3rd and 4th criteria has also increasingly been “yes,” even though there is often a distinction made between de facto and de jure recognition.”

Are the settlements illegal and does that mean they should all be condemned and torn down? Illegal means unlawful, but does not entail that what took place is a criminal act. Civil disobedience is illegal in many countries. Trespassing is illegal but not a criminal offence. Further, some practices are illegal, but the laws against them are not enforced. Some acts are considered illegal but the requisite authority lacks any enforcement mechanism. Most international legal experts in humanitarian law deem it illegal to transfer a conqueror’s population into the territory under occupation. Many Israeli experts in humanitarian law argue that if the territory is taken in a defensive war AND if the territory was never the possession of a sovereign state, settling the population of the new occupier in the conquered territory is not illegal and many even regard the territory as not occupied.

Since the International Court in The Hague has sided with the first set of interpreters, and those interpreters are in the majority, I simply take it as a descriptive fact that, currently, international law deems the settlements in the West Bank to be illegal. However, I myself believe that law is not the only determinant and often not the main factor in international affairs. The removal of such a large number of people would be immoral and politically catastrophic and those ethical and political considerations far outweigh the considered legal opinions of most international humanitarian legal scholars and even the interpretations of The Hague court.

Further who gives the recognition is critical. If it is a major power, that is one thing. If it is Honduras, that is quite another. Sometimes occupied territory is recognized as part of a state passively – namely by muting criticism of that occupation. This happened with the territory Israel won in the 1948 war. It has not happened with the territory won in the 1967 war. In fact, the vocal and legal opposition to the ownership by Israel of the “occupied territories” has grown. At the same time, the control via power and demography of some of that territory has increased. The next two decades will set the direction of the resolution of the recognition of new borders based on an admixture of these factors, but the determination will not be unilateral determined by Israel’s coercive power or formal administrative authority alone.

Those other factors will be significantly affected by influence, the growing role of Israel in wealth and in the world economy and the other kind of influence that is non-material, the respect Israeli politicians and friends earn for Israel on the international stage. The latter is usually called diplomacy.

It is in this context that I want to move on and examine the American approach to Resolution 2334 compared to the Israeli one.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Names and Games: Joseph’s Politics

Names and Games: Joseph’s Politics – Mikeitz Genesis 41-44

by

Howard Adelman

After Joseph was made Prime Minister of Egypt by Pharaoh and was renamed Zaphenath Pa’neah, and after he married Asenath (“she who belongs to the goddess Neith”) who was the daughter of the governor of On, Poti-phera (“whom Ra has given”), why does Joseph name his firstborn son, Manasseh (“God caused me to forget all of my father’s house,” ch. 51) and his second son, Ephraim (“God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” Ch. 52)? After all, Manasseh is about the past, forgetting that past. Ephraim is about the present, the wealth and power Joseph currently enjoyed in Egypt. But Joseph came to power, not because of his past, but in spite of it, not because of his status at the time, for he achieved that status suddenly and precipitously after being a prisoner in a dungeon. He came into his position of power and wealth because he could interpret dreams and read the future. He was a diviner. Yet his first son was named in relationship to the past and his second in relationship to the present.

Naming is always very significant in the Torah. In terms of Joseph’s new name, scholars have suggested that Zaphenath is an early transcription error and that the name was probably Zat-en-aph. It means, “He who is called,” though other commentators have suggested that the name means “a revealer of secrets.” Since “Panea” is probably derived from the Egyptian word, “aneah,” ankh or ankhu, meaning “is alive,” Joseph’s new name, “Zaphenath Pa’aneah” is usually interpreted to mean, “he who is called Anakh” or “God speaks and he lives.”

It is God who was responsible for saving Joseph’s life through the serendipity of Judah suggesting that he be traded for money rather than allowed to be torn apart by wild animals. It is God who is responsible for the serendipity of the chance passing of the slave traders who were off to Egypt. It is God who is responsible for the attempt of Potiphar’s wife to seduce him and his rejection of her advances, either because he was not attracted to her or because he felt a strong loyalty to her husband or because he feared the consequences or a mixture of all three or because he was uninterested in women altogether. That rejection and her trumped-up charges led to his being thrown into prison.

It is God who is responsible then for Joseph’s chance meeting with the butler and the baker and his interpretation of their dreams. The butler survives, is released from prison, gets his old job back as a cup-bearer, hears of Pharaoh’s dream and informs Pharaoh of Joseph’s unique gift of divination. Though Pharaoh calls Joseph to explain his (Pharaoh’s) dreams about the fat and the thin cattle, the healthy wheat and the shrivelled stalks, Joseph would not be in that place at that time without God’s efforts to raise Joseph up and give him a new name and a new life as a wealthy and powerful Prime Minister of Egypt. Further, Joseph then insists that, “Not I; God will give an answer [that will bring] peace to Pharaoh.” (Genesis 41:16) Later, he will forget God as the source of his well-being.

What about Asenath? She belongs to the goddess Neith, the Egyptian god of war and hunting. One thinks back to Esau and envisions Joseph marrying a female version of his uncle. But if Esau was easy going, Neith is fierce. She carries the symbol of those Hebraic twins in the form of two bows that face one another on her shield. Neith has a fiery fury and is associated with rapids and the primordial waters of creation. She carries the scepter that is the symbol of power and authority. Like Joseph, she is the protector of the royal house of the Pharaoh. She is also a goddess who can give birth without having had sex, important because Joseph may have been gay and uninterested in having sex with Asenath. Neith is also the symbol of ankh, life that is part of Joseph’s new name.

The couple have two sons. Manasseh is the eldest, the first of a long line of successors bearing the same name, beginning with the son and successor to King Hezekiah (Kings 21:1). According to Matthew, Manasseh was an ancestor of Jesus as well as of men who divorced their foreign wives in bursts of Jewish puritanism. In the final descent, Manasseh was the patriarch of dissident idolatrous priests. It should be no surprise that future generations largely avoided the name Manasseh.

Joseph in his new life has all but forgotten his nine brothers who sold him into slavery, forgotten Reuben, his oldest brother who failed to save him, and even his younger beloved full brother, Benjamin. Not once did Joseph when he was all powerful inquire into the well-being of his father, Jacob. One can imagine that, as he became more powerful, he became even more narcissistic. And Manasseh was the symbol of that forgetting, for the name is derived from the verb נשה (nasha) meaning forget. If Joseph in his new life was given a new name and a new life and a name that meant life, his first son’s name was connected with נשם (nasham) meaning to breathe or gasp for life. If Joseph was the epitome of life lived to its fullest in an exhibition of power and authority, his eldest son found it difficult to breathe in a world in which Joseph’s past had been forgotten and even buried.

At least until his brothers were sent down to Egypt in search of food during the famine, Joseph had moved upward and away from his life as a shepherd to fulfill the destiny set out in his early dreams. But he had not yet witnessed his success through his brothers bowing down before him. He had moved away. He had moved up in the world. Manasseh was the symbol of that. For נשׂא (nasa’) means precisely moving up and away. Joseph had accomplished this because he had proven to be an oracle, משא (massa). But had he lifted himself up through his powers of divination or been lifted up? Did he hold his head up in independence and pride or, alternatively, in supplication? In carrying the enormous responsibilities of state, did he also carry a huge burden of guilt for his forgetfulness? Was Manasseh the projection of that forgetfulness?

But there is another side to Manasseh. Joseph takes a personal interest when he learns that his brothers have come down to Egypt to buy food. But they have come without Benjamin for Jacob would not risk the departure of the youngest son of his beloved Rachel. So while Joseph takes an inordinate interest, נשׁא (nasha), in these lowly Hebrews, he enters into a long family drama to both beguile and deceive (נשׁא – nasha) them, just as his mother deceived her father, Laban, when she stole his idols, as his father deceived Isaac when he stole Esau’s blessing. Joseph comes from a heritage of deception. As he espies his brothers, he charges them with being spies.

But נשה (nasha) also means to lend on credit. When Abraham first came down to Canaan, he refused to accept a gravesite as a gift. He insisted on paying for it. The brothers too come down to Egypt to pay for food. But Joseph ordered his minions to put the money of his brothers back into their sacks unbeknownst to them. And when they returned a second time, with both the original money as well as new money to once again pay for their food, Joseph had insisted that he would not acknowledge them unless they brought their brother with him on a second visit. This time, they came with Benjamin in tow in order to free Simeon and prove their honesty.

Once again, Joseph tricks them and not only puts back all their money into their packets, but puts his silver goblet in Benjamin’s sack. Then, after they leave, he sends his men after them to accost them and discover the goblet in Benjamin’s pack, but only after his brothers echo Jacob’s pledge to Laban when he sought his stolen idols. “Whichever one of your servants with whom it is found shall die, and also we will be slaves to my master.” (44:9) So Manasseh becomes the symbol not only of forgetting, but using all the variegated meanings of his name to connote a special way of re-enactment, remembering and recalling.

What about Joseph’s second son, Ephraim, the son whose name stands for and evokes the present wealth and status of Joseph? For Ephraim derives from פרה (para), to bear fruit or be fruitful. Joseph had been fruitful and bore two sons. Joseph enjoyed the fruits of his divining and management skills and had become wealthy and powerful. But there was a dark side. Joseph had forgotten his God and his father. When his brothers arrived, he remembered. He inquired after his father’s welfare after the passage of so many years. His father was still alive and still in mourning – for his wife Rachel who died in childbirth and for his favourite son whom he had come to believe had been eaten by wild animals when sent on a spying mission for him to look at what his brothers were up to.

The name Ephraim comes from פרס (paras) which also means to break in two or divide, a breach as in an agreement or covenantal arrangement with God. Joseph had violated his covenant with God as he became caught up with his status, with his position, with his wealth and with his power. Joseph had forgotten his father and his God. His two children were reminders both of the forgetting and the new idolatry into which he had sold himself and become enslaved. This is the core of the story, built on the multiple meanings of the two names of his children and the divide between the forgetting of the past and the glorying in the present. The text is also a series of twice-told tales as signs of the cosmic importance of what is being told. (In the appendix, I include Act 3, scene 4 of one of William Shakespeare’s lesser historical plays, The Life and Death of King John, to emphasize the importance of twice-told tales and repetition in literature and what they signify.)

Jacob repeats his words: “And take your brother, and get up, go back to the man. And may the Almighty God grant you compassion before the man, and he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin, and as for me as I am bereaved, I am bereaved.” [my italics] (Genesis 43:13-14) As Joseph told Pharaoh when he first met him and after Pharaoh told him his two dreams, “And concerning the repetition of the dream to Pharaoh twice, that is because the matter is ready [to emanate] from God, and God is hastening to execute it.” (Genesis 41:32) Because of the importance, because of the immanence, all must be a twice-told tale and each told in two different ways but saying the same thing, and each an echo of an earlier tale that, rather than becoming hackneyed through the repeated telling, gains breadth and depth.

Look at the number of twice-told tales in this one section:
1. Pharaoh’s two dreams – of the seven healthy and seven emaciated cows and the seven ears of healthy grain and then the seven thin and withered stalks.
2. There is a butler and a baker, each with dreams, but opposite interpretations and outcomes.
3. Pharaoh retells his two dreams twice to Joseph, the second time with a bit of elaboration – “I have not seen such ugly ones throughout the entire land of Egypt.”
4. There are two political authorities, that of Pharaoh and that of his second in command, Joseph. The latter is given a raiment of fine silk, a signet ring, a golden chain around his neck as symbols of his authority, as well as a chariot of the second rank. And we recall Tamar, the foremother of King David, taking Judah’s signet ring, his leader’s staff and belt as identifiers as surety for his promise of payment of a goat in return for sexual favours.
5. Joseph has the two sons mentioned above who mirror the present facing but forgetting the past.
6. When his ten brothers come down to Egypt and prostrate themselves before Joseph to buy grain and do not recognize him, we readers recognize the repeat of Joseph’s vision of the ten sheaves of whet bowing down to an eleventh.
7. Then there is Joseph’s accusation that the brothers are spies which adumbrates the story of the twelve spies, each from the tribe descended from one of the brothers, who were sent by Moses to spy on the land of Canaan; in this case, the accusation of coming from Canaan to spy on Egypt is a false charge.
8. Then there is the irony of the guilt the brothers felt when their brother Simeon is kept in prison and they all recognize that, “we are guilty for our brother, that we witnessed the distress of his soul when he begged us, and we did not listen. That is why this trouble has come upon us.” But it is that very brother, live and well, who is now causing them so much stress.
9. Reuben, just as he was when he believed that Joseph had been killed by wild animals, is distressed the most. He remonstrates his other brothers: “Didn’t I tell you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the lad,’ but you did not listen? Behold, his [Benjamin’s] blood, too, is being demanded!”
10. Just as Joseph went to prison when he first went to Israel, so Joseph put Simeon in prison. Recall from last week’s blog, it was Simeon along with Levi who kill all the adult males of Shechem in revenge for the “rape” of Dinah. Simeon was the rashest of the brothers, but very strong and fearless. He was also the one who was probably most jealous of Joseph. Did Simeon propose Joseph be killed? Did he push Joseph into the pit? There is much speculation on this given Simeon’s character and his relationship to Joseph. And this is an instance of what goes around comes around.
11. Putting their money secretly in their sacks echoes and should remind his brothers that they sold Joseph into slavery so they could put money in their sacks.
12. They keep repeating that they are honest, and Joseph insists on their proving their honesty, reminding us how they lied to their father about Joseph’s death.
13. In the meanwhile, Jacob is even more bereaved than ever. He lost Joseph – so he thinks. He lost Simeon who is now in jail. And he believes he might now lose Benjamin. This is an echo of Judah who lost two sons and withheld the third from Tamar only to have the breech in customary law reverberate against him so that it is he who fathers the child by his son’s widow.
14. The brothers travel twice to Egypt to purchase food. Two times, the money they paid was put back in their sacks. On the second trip on their return, twice the last payment was put there. Everything is a sign of double trouble and a message of the seriousness of each event.
15. Jacob prays: “may the Almighty God grant you compassion before the man, and he will release to you your other brother and Benjamin, and as for me as I am bereaved, I am bereaved.” (Genesis 43:14)
16. Twice the brothers prostrate themselves before Joseph just as Joseph dreamed twice that they would.

The whole of the parshat is an echo chamber. What is the connection between this doubling down and Joseph’s rising up out of the pit and going away? As Medici says twice in the first two segments of the Netflix series, deception is right if it serves a higher good. Unlike his father, Joseph did not practice deception out of self-interest, but in order to give his brothers time to become conscious and confess the error of their ways. He wanted them to discover and admit the truth about themselves instead of his confronting them directly with it. Joseph is the one who abandons political practice radically among the Israelites, shifting from the appeasement and cowardice of Abraham, the impotent politics of Isaac, a man suffering from PTSD, the politics of deception of his own father. He becomes the progenitor of a politics based on foreseeing and planning for the future where dreams foretell reality and deception is used to achieve a higher good. Finally, the Hebrews have developed, through Joseph’s example, a politics in which deceit is only used for lofty purposes. The nation finally has an ethical foundation to its spirit.

That is why Joseph is named, “God speaks and he (Joseph) lives.” And he lives on in us when we practice the art of honest politics.

Appendix: Act 3, scene 4 of Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John

The play is about the ethical beginnings of the British realm, the period when the Magna Carta was forged. In this scene, it is the French King, Philip, who is in despair. His fleet had been scattered into the winds. Angiers has been lost. Arthur Plantagenet, son of John’s elder brother, Richard, has been taken prisoner. Pandulph offers false comfort. Lewis, acknowledges that the loss is unprecedented. To be unique, however, in this sense is to be ashamed and to be unable to discover meaning in the loss.

K. Phi. So, by a roaring tempest on the flood,
A whole armado of convicted sail
Is scatter’d and disjoin’d from fellowship.
Pand. Courage and comfort! all shall yet go well.
K. Phi. What can go well when we have run so ill?
Are we not beaten? Is not Angiers lost?
Arthur ta’en prisoner? divers dear friends slain?
And bloody England into England gone,
O’erbearing interruption, spite of France?
Lew. What he hath won that hath he fortified:
So hot a speed with such advice dispos’d,
Such temperate order in so fierce a cause,
Doth want example: who hath read or heard
Of any kindred action like to this?
K. Phi. Well could I bear that England had this praise,
So we could find some pattern of our shame.

But then Constance, the mother of the captured Arthur, makes the King’s despair look feeble in one of the greatest passages of grief in literature:

Because my poor child is a prisoner.
And, father cardinal, I have heard you say
That we shall see and know our friends in heaven.
If that be true, I shall see my boy again;
For since the birth of Cain, the first male child,
To him that did but yesterday suspire,
There was not such a gracious creature born.
But now will canker-sorrow eat my bud
And chase the native beauty from his cheek,
And he will look as hollow as a ghost,
As dim and meagre as an ague’s fit,
And so he’ll die; and, rising so again,
When I shall meet him in the court of heaven
I shall not know him: therefore never, never
Must I behold my pretty Arthur more.
Pand. You hold too heinous a respect of grief.
Const. He talks to me, that never had a son.
K. Phi. You are as fond of grief as of your child.
Const. Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words, [my italics]
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form:
Then have I reason to be fond of grief.
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!

Constance exits followed by King Philip to check and ensure she will not harm herself. Lewis then comments:

There’s nothing in this world can make me joy:
Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale, [my italics]
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man;
And bitter shame hath spoil’d the sweet world’s taste,
That it yields naught but shame and bitterness.

The speech is, of course, ironic, because it is the twice-told tale that is anything but tedious for the repetition reveals the cosmic import of the events.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Jacob and Esau

And Jacob Fought the Angel – Part B

by

Howard Adelman

Who then was Jacob? What was he like? I have tried to indicate that he was far from just a passive patsy. The struggle he had with the so-called angel was not an epiphany in which a new person was born, but an event in which Jacob came to realize himself in his full potential. His character did not fundamentally change as Wiesel suggests. Nor was this simply and simplistically a marking of a new point of maturation as the visiting rabbi to our Torah study group had suggested. Rather, the very same character was subjected to an ultimate test, a test that proved that he was worthy of being renamed Israel.

Who was the stranger, the man with whom he fought? He was not an assailant or an aggressor as Elie Wiesel depicted. For the struggle is NOT about aggression. It is about using one’s body to achieve a meeting of hearts. Why then did Jacob insist on receiving the stranger’s blessing before he released him. Did Jacob believe that the stranger had an inheritance to bestow upon him? If so, what was the inheritance? To be God’s messenger. The man was NOT an angel, NOT a messenger, but God in an embodied form. He did not bring a message but a blessing with enormous consequences in history.

Why did the man or God not want to continue the wrestling match beyond dawn (שָׁ֫חַר)? It was at the dawning of a new day that the angels urged Lot to rise and take his wife and two daughters and flee Sodom. (Genesis 19:15) It is after dawn that God wracks havoc on the world. With the exception of Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, fasting begins on all other fast days at dawn rather than when the sun sets the evening before. I believe that it is because neither Yom Kippur nor Tisha B’Av are about mitzvot. Mourning requires twenty-four hours. Blessings begin at daybreak, at sunrise (netz hachamah), at the moment when one can see and recognize another. For mitzvoth are always intersubjective. Catastrophes tend to be individually or collectively singular.

But what about shabat? Is it not a blessing in itself? Does not shabat begin at sunset (shkiah)? Do we not welcome shabat like the return of a dearly beloved at the Friday evening service? It is not only because we need the full night to recover from a week of work so that we can truly celebrate and enjoy the day of rest. We need to be completely inside a new metaphysical time zone, a time that requires a radical shift in the unconscious to appreciate. Whereas our usual habits in the day are to be seekers and acquisitors, we require a very different bodily and mental state on shabat. Friday night is used to rejuvenate ourselves, to cocoon away from external stimuli.

But that is not how Jacob and the stranger spend the night. They wrestle until the dawn of day. And not to collect speckled and streaked and mottled sheep. But to what end? So that Jacob can prove he can last. So that Jacob can prevail. So that Jacob can be recognized for who he truly is and be blessed with a new name to signify that recognition. So that Jacob can be reborn in full self-consciousness of who he is. The sun rises on its own account. Out of the darkness, out of the sea of the unconscious life, Jacob will now rise higher and higher in the sky to look down upon a much bigger world. Jacob comes to recognize his own significance, why he was placed in this world. Jacob will have his own gunfight at noon. But he will not shoot. He will not be shot at. He is now destined to reach the zenith of who he is and will be ever after. The rest will be the responsibility of his descendants. The rest will be commentary as his twelve sons and daughter carry the responsibility for the continuation of his lineage.

But is this not Elie Wiesel’s thesis, that Jacob is reborn a new man? Yes and no. I argue his character is unchanged. It has just gone through its final stage of fulfillment. He does not become a new man such that his personality changes. He retains the name of Jacob while Abraham discarded the name Abram. But he becomes a new man because he comes to full self-consciousness of who he is and who he is destined to become. Abraham was promised that he would become the father of a great nation. So was Isaac. But neither absorbed that message into their inner being. Because both remained beholden to God and dependent upon Him. Abraham was even willing to sacrifice his son because he was told to do so. Jacob acquires his own place in the sun. Jacob, in contrast, stood up to God. Jacob wrestled with a man he had come to recognize at dawn was God.

God’s vanity was not damaged in the process, as Elie Wiesel contends. There is not even a hint of that in the text. Further, it is what God wanted for the forefathers of the Jewish people. It is not that Jacob’s task was any different than that of his father or grandfather. It was the same task. But only Jacob made it part of his entire being. Only Jacob absorbed the full responsibility for achieving that task. Jacob all along was neither a coward nor a rash individual. He was truly courageous because he calculated his chances, he figured the odds and he took steps to mitigate untoward damages. But most of all, he was unstinting. He would not give up. He would not even surrender to God’s will as his grandfather had. For faith and trust are not irrational leaps but must be earned. And it must stand on the ground of love, not a rational calculation. This is what he had been taught by his two wives and was a lesson that neither Abraham nor Isaac ever learned. Hence the schisms of their children instead of a unity that absorbed and raised up differences.

A reader, and esteemed writer in his own right, after my last blog, wrote me as follows:

I’ve come to think of the ‘man’ as the embodiment of Jacob’s physical insecurity; the embodiment of his abiding terror in the face of physical courage, which Jacob, the younger brother, and naturally somewhat in awe of Esau’s primordial power, feared he lacked. Before meeting Esau, he had to face his terror and overcome it, leaving him wounded but brave. The irony is that Esau turned out to be such a mensch. No doubt, he had a match the night before, too, not a wrestling match, but a brilliant debate, which he won.

That is dead on. The historical rabbinical portrayal of Esau as the embodiment of evil is so mistaken. Esau was a mensch. He was an honest down-to-earth guy, ruddy in complexion and hairy like an animal. But he certainly was not a beast. He loved his brother and could forgive him even for the most heinous acts in terms of everyday ethics. But Jacob had a higher, a loftier destiny that he took into his very being. He struggled with God and prevailed because he took on the responsibility for the future of the world, for the future of humanity, for the future of a people destined to be a light unto the nations.

Elie Wiesel said that Jacob, before Peniel, was honest and anxious to avoid risks. He was neither honest and only anxious to take unnecessary risks. He was courageous, as Aristotle recognized, because he was not rash. He was a second-born. He had proven his dedication. He had proven he was a man in his own right and not the weakling manipulated by others in Elie Wiesel’s depiction. He did not simply obey. He figured out how to get around and use the treachery of his uncle Laban. He figured out how to earn the loyalty of both his wives so that they clung to him rather than their own father. Finally, rather than being “incapable of initiative,” it was he as well as the stranger, who would be revealed at the dawning of the next day to be God, who initiated the historic battle and emerged a winner, not by defeating God, but by fully absorbing God’s creativity, God’s sense of responsibility, God’s sense of service to the future of his own nation and that of humanity. The lesson was embedded into his very being.

Esau was the mensch. Jacob was the father of a different nation, one that would have to survive by wile rather than natural strength or numbers, one that would have to create wealth rather than wrest it out of an unforgiving ground. That requires political calculation, not naiveté. That requires not risking all even when your brother demonstrates he is a mensch of the highest order. For a mensch can turn on you if you cross him. His righteousness can turn on a dime into a withering critique and determined opposition. And as a leader, Jacob would be required to make tough decisions. So rather than a follower, he had always been a leader. In the battle with the stranger, he came to realize who he was and what his responsibilities were. He could not risk it all in reconciling with his brother. That is why Esau comes across the next day as the very opposite of the evil one, as the trues mensch in the story.

A reader of my blog sent me the following referenced to Delacroix’s depiction of Jacob wrestling with the “angel” that can be found in St. Sulpice in Paris

https://www.google.ca/search?q=delacroix+jacob+wrestling+with+the+angel&espv=2&biw=1280&bih=622&tbm=isch&imgil=ssx62EkzFnyWWM%253A%253B2Si9hecy7O1ucM%253Bhttp%25253A%25252F%25252Fwww.allposters.com%25252F-sp%25252FJacob-Wrestling-with-the-Angel-1850-Posters_i2576155_.htm&source=iu&pf=m&fir=ssx62EkzFnyWWM%253A%252C2Si9hecy7O1ucM%252C_&usg=__ED2wDG_2LucUwTU9kNcfLsa8iLI%3D&ved=0ahUKEwi-goSYpf7QAhXJ5oMKHY3fBGEQyjcILw&ei=ecpWWP7hEMnNjwSNv5OIBg#imgrc=ssx62EkzFnyWWM%3A

This portrait captures the essence of the battle. There is no winged angel on one side larger than life wrestling with Jacob or dancing with him in a loving embrace. Love and struggle can be soul mates. They are not opposites. Rachel’s reciprocal love for her husband and Leah’s unreciprocated love for the same man did not end up ultimately in contestation, but in giving Jacob the strength to realize who he was, the strength to found a nation in which there may be disputes, in which there may be differences, but in which there should be no civil war, a nation in which even a dandy like Joseph could become a great leader. So much for the vision of a warrior king!

Let me repeat what my correspondent had written. The struggle was the embodiment of Jacob’s physical insecurity; the embodiment of his abiding terror in the face of physical courage, which Jacob, the younger brother, and naturally somewhat in awe of Esau’s primordial power, feared he lacked. Before meeting Esau, he had to face his terror and overcome it, leaving him wounded but brave. Does not Delacroix capture this combination of inner and outer struggle, this metaphysical battle that was so physical in the struggle with both God and man?

Elie Wiesel was correct. Jacob’s father, Isaac, suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Isaac was blind to the crisis that he had undergone, blind to the merits of the younger twin so enamored was he by Esau’s strength and physical acumen. Even though Isaac had relegated himself to a life of “serenity and meditation,” even though it was he who was the nebbish, not Jacob, that very blindness in the cunning of history would produce a Jacob. Isaac loved the older twin, blind to the merits of the younger which Rebecca could clearly see.

Who would not grow up insecure when you had a father who seemingly did not love you.? But who would not also grow up very secure, more secure even than Esau, with a mother so devoted not only to you but to who you were destined to become. Jacob was vulnerable. But he was also strong. How do you capture and portray both aspects of his character? Delacroix in the end, as much as he humanizes both Jacob and God, ultimately fails because he portrays Jacob as a muscular man rather than as one who wins by guile and calculation, through feints and thrusts like a master of the martial arts. Jacob was more a Bruce Lee than a Sampson figure. Jacob recognized that in battle, and life was a battle, deceit and feints were as important if not more important than blatant honesty. In the end, Jacob proved he was the superior one, proved he had what it took to be a leader because, at his foundation, he was a dreamer. He was a visionary. Abraham may have had visions, but he was not a visionary, merely God’s obedient lackey.

When Jacob had his ladder dream, he was not ready to climb up the ladder. He had to learn that his quest was not upward, not to be a God in heaven, but to be an earthly leader. He had enough sense not to envision climbing the ladder, but enough sense to realize that angels climb down as well as ascend. Unlike his father and grandfather, Jacob did not pledge unstinting trust in God. It was and remained conditional. The proof is in the pudding and not in the recipe, not in the words and promises, however tantalizing. If God delivers, I too will deliver. It will and must be the same in dealing with other individuals and nations. There can be peace between us, but only if in your heart and in your deeds you are peaceful and not because you sign a piece of paper. There must be concrete reciprocity. And to get that, Jacob had to prevail – not kill God, but prove both that he could survive and that he could do so as a self-conscious individual.

Elie Wiesel might trivialize Jacob’s quarrels with Laban, his concern with labour contracts, his mundane preoccupations and his commonplace conversations with his wives and concubines. But the devil is indeed in the details, not in grand metaphysical visions. Jacob was not a man without will or authority, but was a man who knew how to bide his time and wait for the right moment. He allowed Laban to search the belongings of his entourage when Laban caught up with him instead of insisting that he be regarded as innocent until there was some proof that he or someone in his entourage had stolen Laban’s idols. He did not stand on a soapbox and preach the right to privacy when faced with the military might of his father-in-law. This was not crass cowardice, but clever calculation. Jacob always showed he knew where and when to stand his ground and when to retreat.

Wiesel is so down on ordinary worldly matters that he is as blind as Isaac. What is viewed as a shortcoming is Jacob’s strength. For Jacob, this life is an embodied life. For Jacob, his God is an embodied God. And one prevails by taking over the responsibility from God for the embodied world. This does not mean, as rabbinic commentators were prone to do, showering Jacob with virtues he did not possess. Wiesel, in spite of his superior reading, is prone to do the same when he dubs Jacob honest. Jacob is not the just man. Jacob is not pure. Jacob is not a man of traditional piety. Jacob was very far from being righteous. Jacob was very far from being Jesus.

And what about Esau? Commentators usually go to the opposite extreme, portraying him as evil when he was just physical, portraying him as an enemy when he was nothing of the kind. In fact, he was too kind and not overwhelmed by his own strength. He could have easily grabbed the lentil soup from Jacob instead of trading his birthright for it. He did not use his strength to get his own way. For Rachel and Leah had also taught him that love was more important than strength. But Rebecca realized that his very virtues made him unsuited to be a leader of people. It is not that she loved Esau less and Jacob more, but that she had the clear-eyed vision, which her blind husband lacked, to understand and see who her children were. Honesty and justice and fairness were not the supreme virtues. Realpolitik was more important.

But realpolitik leaves its scars. Jacob limped after the battle and would be forever wounded. Not just anywhere, but in the sinew of his thigh. Why is the portion between the hip and the knee so important? Because without your leg working, you cannot stand on your own two feet. God wrestling with Jacob touched the hollow of his thigh, tore the elastic tissue connecting the muscle to the femur and the pelvic bone as well. When that happens – as currently I know all too well – you cannot walk except in extreme pain and dependent on another for help.

But this was not only a physical handicap with which Jacob was left. Recall that when Abraham sent his servant to search out a wife for his son, Isaac, he made that servant press his hand under his thigh to prove that he would keep his word. (Genesis 24:2). Abraham’s thigh stayed in position and his servant fulfilled his pledge. Jacob’s thigh bone was displaced and his sinew torn so that he henceforth walked like a cripple in great pain. (Genesis 32:31) So God was NOT a servant who would allow Jacob to assume an enormous responsibility for his people and for the world painlessly. Like women who bear their children in pain, Jacob and his descendants would always know and always remember when they refused to eat the sinew of the thigh muscle, that assuming such a responsibility comes at great cost and pain. Jacob and humanity were now on their own in a way that they had not been before.

This did not mean that God would not help them. It only meant that they could not, that they should not, count on that help. Even Jesus had to cry out, “Why have you forsaken me?” because Jesus had not learned the lesson that Jacob had, that God was not a steadfast servant at the beck and call of humans. When Jacob, now renamed Israel, was about to die, he made Joseph pledge by putting his hand under his thigh that Joseph would assume the responsibility of burying his father in the homeland rather than Egypt. (Genesis 49:29) For Jacob was to be the father of a people in a homeland and not relegated for all time to a diaspora existence.

But what of Esau, the mensch, Esau, who had loved his younger brother, who had not used his strength at the time of the porridge incident or when they met again years after their long estrangement to subdue Jacob? When his father, Isaac, had been tricked into giving the blessing he had planned to give Esau but, in the cunning of history, had given it to Jacob, Esau cried out in desperation, “Father, have you but one blessing to give?” Isaac had another. Esau would not be able to use his physical prowess to become master of the world. Esau wept, convinced that his mission in life had failed. But Isaac blessed Esau. “See your abode shall enjoy the fat of the earth and the dew of heaven above. Yet by your sword shall you live but you shall serve your brother.” And then the prophetic warning. “When you grow restive, you shall break his yoke from your neck.” (Genesis 27::39-40)

The cunning of history would play with Isaac’s blessing, for Isaac was a man of laughter and in tune with irony. Esau’s descendants would not enjoy the fat of the earth, but the fat under its surface. And rather than be showered from the dew from heaven, they would use that black and silken “fat” or energy to turn salt water fresh. And they would break free and come into their own, not serving the descendants of cunning and political craft, but committed to fulfilling Esau’s earthly honesty and deep love for his brother.

But that day has yet to come. The cunning of history has yet to deliver.

Esau and Jacob

Tol’dot: Jacob and Esau Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday, I distributed a movie review of Hell or High Water. Two central figures in the movie were brothers, Toby and Tanner. Toby was the younger one, very reserved, very repressed, with an enormous sense of responsibility for the future and, yet, a loser. Tanner was the older brother, a wild one, an excellent marksman and a high risk instigator of trouble. Jacob and Esau are not identical to Toby and Tanner, but there are enough similarities in character that analyzing both the bond and the tension between Jacob and Esau against the backdrop of Toby and Tanner can be revealing.

Quite aside from the particular character and connections of the two sets of brothers, there are some constants that characterize the character of older brothers and their younger siblings. In The Right Stuff (Thomas Wolfe) and in the movie of the same name, fighter pilots are characterized as confident, assertive, competitive, brash and flamboyant. And two-thirds of those who fly fighter planes are firstborns (during the second world war virtually all fighter pilots were firstborns or only children), greatly disproportionate to the number of firstborns in the population. Further, most pilots (a minority of the total), who are neither firstborns nor only children, are far less driven and competitive than the firstborn or only child pilots. Some of those non-firstborns are decidedly cautious and far less enamoured with the romance of flying.

More loose generalizations can be found. In general, firstborns are not the ones you find buried in books in a library though the two classes of males are equal in general cognitive ability. Though firstborns may have to study, most really must be active. And they are always striving to surpass themselves. They are restless. They are ill content with who they happen to be at any time. They are assertive. But they also have difficulty in emotionally connecting. What they want and seek is excitement rather than introverted self-critical analysis. They have a great sense of space, but a weak ability to formulate what they see as pictures or to grasp an overall picture. They identify areas through map coordinates rather than by way of images. Generally, they are brilliant at immediate spatial data coordination.

Firstborns must win. They are quarterbacks and political leaders (most U.S. presidents). More CEOs are firstborns. They are perfectionists and driven. They prefer the dominant position. In terms of goals, firstborns generally prefer to set their own goals; later-borns are more prone to accept goals set by others. But perhaps the biggest difference is in romantic attachments. Firstborns have a much higher propensity to separate and divorce their romantic partners while second born males, particularly middle-borns, tend to have much more stable relationships. The differences extend into studies of homosexuality. Simplified, the later your birth order, the higher the propensity to homosexuality.

Now, I am not going to speculate here about the cause, whether these differences result because the firstborn paved the way through the birth canal. It may or may not be the case that, as a result, firstborns have the highest neonatal mortality rate, the smallest mean birth weight, inflict a longer period of labor on their mothers (hence, mothers possibly love later-born sons more than firstborns), experience greater head compression or more frequently suffer from permanent neural damage because of hypoxia during delivery. On the other hand, there are studies that show that the perceived rather than actual birth order (PBO) is the significant variable. The latter claim may or may not be true.

However, I am not concerned with the biological explanation, the nature versus nurture issue – though the Torah clearly seems to favour the explanation that the differences are rooted in nature. I am concerned with the social and psychological consequences of male birth order. I am more concerned with noting that, in spite of any possible extra trauma of a firstborn in birth, contrary to expectations, firstborns exhibit better perceptual motor skill in coordinating targets at a distance, with pulling a trigger of a rifle and downing a duck. Firstborns, in general, also make better surgeons or, at least, are more likely to become surgeons than internists. In the extreme, there is a correlation between increased rates of autism, attention deficit disorder and dyslexia in firstborns (hypothetically explained by some to result from maternal immune responses and the release of androgen).

In science, there is even a tool for measuring these differences. The Frostig Development Test of Visual Perception measures the differences between firstborns and later-borns. On that test, later-borns perform significantly better, but only on specific subsets of these measurement criteria – perceptual constancy and intelligence related to global perceptual performance. To put it more graphically, firstborns are better hunters of moving targets, whether these be tigers or enemy fighter planes, while later-borns can keep their “eyes” on a specific fixed target over time. Further, later-borns identify objects within a global reference field as distinct from a finite visual field. In sum, later-borns have a higher abstract intelligence quotient. On the other hand, it should come as no surprise that firstborns have brain neurons that make the strongest axon projections to remote physical targets.

There is one other bit of scientific data I want to put on the table – the distance in time between the birth of a first born male and a later-born male sibling. In studies of sibling dyads, the more widely spaced the birth, the greater and broader the later-born experiences his intellectual and social environment. In contrast, the firstborn is better attuned to what used to be called his “instincts.” The fact that Esau and Jacob were twins, but Jacob was born immediately after Esau (biting his heels as it were) might indicate that the two boys had similar experiences. Or it might suggest that order of birth is even more important than the birth experience itself. Alternatively, it could mean that each one copes with similar experiences in very different ways. The Torah text suggests the order of birth combined with the very close timing of birth leads to the most radical differences.

However, it seems the birth order is most important as indicated in the dramatic differences in the behaviour of Toby and Tanner in the movie Hell or High Water. It is clearly the case when comparing Esau with Jacob who are fraternal twins. However, I do not want to use these differences as scientific diagnostic tools to explain the radically antithetical characters of Esau and Jacob. I am not interested in going on a scientific expedition to test the validity of the claim, for example, that these differences result from the way daughter cells in the developing infant produce particular transmission factors at the time of birth to embody memories that maintain differences based on both the time of birth and the experience of that birth. Rather, I want to use these supposedly scientific differences as a series of metaphors to highlight the characters of Esau and Jacob to help understand and grasp the significance of their relationship.

Tol’dot is about the generations of Isaac. The parshat begins with Rebekah giving birth to fraternal twins, Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25: 19-26) after 20 years of being barren. It was clearly a painful pregnancy blamed on a struggle between the fraternal twins in the womb. Set aside for the moment the prophecy that the descendants of the younger son will become more preeminent than the children of the elder fraternal twin and “the elder will serve the younger.” (25:23) The two were dramatically different in both appearance and behaviour. Esau, who emerged first, was ruddy and covered with hair. Jacob is not really described except to say that he emerged with his hand holding Esau’s heel. Esau grew up as a hunter and man of the field. Jacob grew up as a quiet homebody but one with a cunning and determined personality. Esau will give rise to the Edomites. Jacob will give rise to the Israelites.

Further, the two parents had different favourites. Isaac preferred the more manly alpha male, Esau, while Rebekah favoured her quieter, more domestic and more self-reflective child, Jacob. (25:8) What is the nature of the first significant encounter when they have grown up? Jacob is cooking and Esau comes home from being out in the field and is starving. Jacob offers to feed Esau, but only if Esau trades his birthright. So Esau, in order to eat, agrees to sell his birthright. What does this text mean when it records that “Esau despised his birthright”? (25:34)

Is this assessment self-serving? Judaism as a religion seems to favour the traits associated with later-borns over those characteristic of firstborns and only male children. It is clear that the rabbinical commentators also favoured Jacob over Esau. Rashi described Rome, and its successor, the Holy Roman Empire of Christianity, as the children of the brutality of Esau. Esau was seen as hateful and wicked. But it is Jacob that tricked Esau out of his birthright for a mess of pottage. Esau is straightforward, driven by his appetites. Jacob is the trickster with his eye on the long game rather than immediate sensual satisfaction.

So the question I pose is why is there such a clear favouritism in Judaism? Why do the choices of the mothers matter far more than those of the father? Why in social and collective life are the traits of the second-born or middle male child favoured? Why are values given priority that stress negotiations over fighting it out, peacemaking and mediation skills over the traits characteristic of a heroic warrior? Why do Jews seem to esteem what is misleadingly said to be brains over brawn?

If we take the story of Esau and Jacob as paradigmatic of a value scale of social mores, the construct of the Jew as the archetypal sabra seems to run contrary to the historical value set. Further, in spite of strenuous efforts over several generations to remake Jews as a warrior nation, they are not. They are not conquerors. The territorial goals are very boundaried, even for the right. On the other side, the products of intellectual work and of scientific research seem to garner the greatest accolades. What does this say about the social dynamics within Jewish families and about the nation as a whole? Or is all of this just an exemplar of an abuse of science and a false and misleading extrapolation? But even if the natural basis for such claims may be problematic, this evaluation bias, if there proves to be one in the text, might indicate how the people of the book survived as a community of social practices.

It also suggests a predestined relationship to the two nations that emerge from Rebekah’s womb. Or does it, for oracles are always equivocal? The text reads:

וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ
וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר: One people shall be mightier than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.

But the text may also be translated as the younger will work for the elder. There are four logical possibilities. The older may be mightier. The nation derived from the younger may be mightier. Each of these two variations has two alternatives with respect to the relationship. The younger may serve the elder. Or the elder may serve the younger.

I suggest the text and the story means that the progeny of Esau will be mightier than that of Jacob. If so, which nation will emerge as having the dominant value system? If one takes the former rivalry between Ishmael as the elder half-brother and his younger brother, Isaac as a case in point, Sarah secures the inheritance for Isaac by sending Ishmael and his mother off into the wilderness. In this story, it is Jacob who hits the road and, even when he returns, avoids a full reconciliation with his brother and moves on.

The more telling point, however, is not the two different paths the different pairs of children take, but the role the mothers play in the determination. Further, in the Jacob-Esau story, Jacob not only engages in tough bargaining, but uses trickery to deceive his father that he is really the first born. And even Rashi will endorse this trickery by insisting that the Midrash that says that Jacob was really the first born is the correct one. Jacob was not really a trickster but was merely claiming what was his by right of being the real first born. He may have been born on the heels of his brother but was conceived first. Very clever, but also a totally unconvincing apologetic for Jacob’s trickery!

יעקב נוצר מטיפה ראשונה ועשו מן השניה, צא ולמד משפופרת שפיה קצרה, תן לה שתי אבנים זו תחת זו, הנכנסת ראשונה תצא אחרונה, והנכנסת אחרונה תצא ראשונה, נמצא עשו הנוצר באחרונה יצא ראשון, ויעקב שנוצר ראשונה יצא אחרון, ויעקב בא לעכבו שיהא ראשון ללידה כראשון ליצירה, ויפטור את רחמה, ויטול את הבכורה מן הדין:
Jacob was formed from the first drop [of semen] and Esau from the second. Take, for example, a tube with a small mouth. Place two stones inside it one after the other; whichever enters first will be come out last, and whichever enters last will come out first. We see from this that Esau was formed last but came out first, and Jacob who was formed first came out last. Thus Jacob wished to stop him, so that he could be the first born just as he was first conceived, and would be the one to open [his mother’s] womb and receive the birthright legally.

I think the real issue is not who was justified by nature in gaining the inheritance, but the role of the cunning of reason in the unfolding of history. We can see this device at work as the story continues.

With the help of Alex Zisman