Salvation versus Resurrection

 

ישעיה כו:יט יִחְיוּ מֵתֶיךָ נְבֵלָתִי יְקוּמוּן הָקִיצוּ וְרַנְּנוּ שֹׁכְנֵי עָפָר כִּי טַל אוֹרֹת טַלֶּךָ וָאָרֶץ רְפָאִים תַּפִּיל. Isaiah 26:19 Oh, let Your dead revive! Let corpses arise! Awake and shout for joy, you who dwell in the dust! For Your dew is like the radiant dew; You make the land of the shades come to life.

Resurrection is very infrequently cited in the Torah. In its rare expressions, it is most often interpreted as a vision of glory at the end of days. But try reading it as a nightmare of the end of days when ignorant nostalgia governs, when dead zombies take power, when the shades enter daily life and hide the rays of sun behind a dark cloud, when those who sleep in the dust of the earth on gold-plated beds awake to reproach all others and spread abhorrence and hatred. (Daniel 12:2).

The vision of resurrection is not something to be celebrated, as the rabbis and Jesus did, but to be feared and eschewed. The monster in the black lagoon may now be coloured green as in The Shape of Water and in our imaginations and apparitions, but the real danger lies in the monstrosity of breath entering the dry bones of a dead past, dry bones covered with sinews and flesh, dry bones made to breathe and live again, when those should have been left in the slow decaying heap where they belonged and left to return to dust. (Ezekiel vv:1-2) The goal should be to deliver the Promised Land to our children and our children’s children and not to those lifted out of their graves.

“Dry bones, ’dem dry bones, now hear the word of the Lord.”

In an age in which a consumer machine with the reach of Amazon, a surveillance machine with the reach of Facebook and a search machine with the power of Google, command the high reaches of our culture, filled in with hordes of more minor players, in an age in which it is so easy to brainwash all in the name of delivering freedom, choice and judgement, in an age when E.M. Forster’s spiritual command to “only connect” has been perverted in the extreme in a connect but totally uncommitted culture, I pray for salvation.

We live in an age of crony capitalism in which real competitive capitalists are exiled as those at the centre of power seek to reduce the independence of the judiciary and laud law and order instead of the rule of law as they create disorder and the rule of whim, in an age in which the political centre can ally with a powerful media network committed to perpetuating and elaborating the same lies instead of holding up truth to power, in an age of political gerrymandering that echoes the corrupt political days of old and power politics is based on a unity of white male elites who cry foul when not permitted to have their cake and eat it too, when simple and arbitrary connects replace commitment and commitment is gutted and converted to sloganeering, when NGOs that are transparent and dedicated are blasted as part of a hidden international conspiracy, when projection onto externals replaces taking responsibility for one’s own actions, when abuse of others replaces critical self-examination of oneself, I pray for salvation.

When those in power wallow in self-pity and victimhood, when the tactics of the powerful weaponize culture to instigate emotionally dominated culture wars, when a nostalgia for the greatness of a nation displaces a historical and critical examination of the past, when anyone committed to the universal oneness of humanity is blasted as a traitor and enemy, when the efforts to improve are turned into a piñata for abuse and calumny, when revenge rather than forgiveness has become the dominating immoral passion, when politicians with a noble conservative heritage turn into impotent patsies of populism, when illiberalism displaces liberalism and when crude nationalism shunts aside true national pride, when the graves for the death of democracies are being excavated, I pray for salvation.

When in the face of feuding sectarianism, shape-shifting allies and local government corruption one turns on one’s heel and retreats, abandoning long-suffering allies, taking with you your military toys, the path is open for corrupt coercion instead of coercion used in the defense of values, I pray for salvation.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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Turf and Surf

I am sitting at the kitchen table in our rented casa, writing and listening to the surf roll in and out. For me, the sound is so soothing. But for Karen Bentley Pollick, a brilliant violinist who played with Don Slepian on keyboard in an extraordinary combination of classical and American mountain music that I had never heard at the San Pancho Music Festival, the rolling in-and-out of surf is unnerving to her highly sensitive ears. Some of us listen to the same thing but hear it in opposite ways.

Amongst many terrific performances, the duo stood out – way out. In between each crash of the waves, I hear the music grow fainter and fainter. Except, the waves clash more than crash. They war against the wall of rock protecting the shoreline. The rocks are resolute. They refuse to give, refuse to bend, refuse to submit. Wave after wave they come. But the resistance is powerful. It will take aeons of these clashes for that persistence to wear away the stonewalling of that rock wall.

The waves clash and crash but do not really roar. Nor do they just rumble, even though they tumble onto the beach. The latter sound is drowned out when the waves hit the rocky promontory just a few degrees north of the sand. There is a very slow long buildup until you hear what is just a splash of a wave hitting the rock and then a rapid crescendo. However, that does not do the rhythm justice. For I listen again and the next wave comes in with stealth. Then the next in a short staccato. And then the next in a roll. I cannot find a pattern. Perhaps that is what unnerves Karen. I, on the other hand, love the variety and unpredictability. Or is it just the low-pitched growl of my hungry stomach projected out to sea?

Perhaps what I really hear is the silences, the quiet between the clashes, the whispers between the ripples. Not the beats of a percussion instrument, but the rhythm units created by the quiet, the sound of silence without a metronome. Whatever the correct way to capture what I hear, as if there is a correct way, the sound of surf has always been a puzzle. Not just its irregularity. It does not make sense. For surf is a derivative of susurrus which is a whispering or rustling sound and what I hear sounds nothing like that.

The paradox is just like that of the word ‘turf’. Last Wednesday, we went out to eat. Just for a change from the usual fish – most often mahi-mahi – I ordered a steak. Evidently not the regular steak, but the special, one with two enormous grilled prawns stuck into the slab of meat and forming a giant arch. And the whole dinner all for the equivalent of the enormous sum of $15. So I had surf and turf for the first time. And that is the other puzzle.

What connection is there between such a meal, or the steak in such a meal, and a square slab of earth with a dense growth of grass, such as a section of sod we put down after we have neglected our lawn for too long? If the shape is the connection, why not call the dish surf and slab. Because that would not be very appetizing? But why “turf”? I think I know the answer. Turf is home. Grilled steak is home. I have been away too long.

A little while ago, I wrote a blog about the gangs of Toronto after WWII, each with its very boundaried turf which it guarded and defended. In a gang mentality, turf is not so much a home as a castle with a moat and drawbridge to keep out or “turf” out the unwanted rather than welcome the stranger. However, for me turf is home and I now know the reason I chose the title for this blog even though I had no idea when I began. For I was determined to write about the university and somehow ended up on surf and turf. My holiday is approaching its end and I have been away too long.

The university was my bailiwick for fifty-eight years. Not just the territory in which I worked, did my research, taught and helped with the administration. It was my mental home as well. The first two books I wrote were called The Beds of Academe, about the close connection between student residences and the founding and development of the university, and The Holiversity, about the changes in the development of the idea of the university since 1185.  But the university was my bailiwick in a more literal sense, for it was a place of increasing impotence but decreasing authority and influence.

I had written and published a scholarly article on power, influence and authority. There are two varieties of each. An individual has genuine authority as an expert in a particular field. One of the purposes of the university has been to develop a cadre of experts with just such authority. And the best universities have succeeded marvellously in that task. But a university is also a place, not only for the exercise of authentic authority, but to inculcate its sense of formal authority in a breed who would lead the businesses and governance of the corporations and the polity. Turf is a bailiwick, a bureaucracy concerned with tenure and promotion, hiring but rarely firing in my home university, budgets and pensions. I had played my part in all these areas as a department chair, as an associate and acting dean, as a senator and even as a chair of Senate.

My record was mixed. One of the first committees on which I sat was “Tenure and Promotions.” I lasted a year and never sat on such a committee ever again. I never applied to such a committee for my own promotions and tenure, but my colleagues were generous and far-sighted. They gave me tenure because they thought that I needed protection for being so outspoken. They also awarded me promotions though I never requested one. However, I was vain enough to be pleased, at least inwardly, when the promotions came. I do not believe I ever thanked my fellow academics for what they did.

The reason I opted out of the tenure and promotion system, at least in being a responsible participant, was because in that year when I was on the committee considering a tenure application as a very junior professor, I thought one applicant, given his abuse of his teaching responsibilities, did not deserve tenure. He was given tenure over my objections. However, one case does not make a pattern. I investigated. In my early career I could not find one candidate who had been rejected for tenure. Sitting on such a committee at my university I decided was a waste of time.

This was definitely not true of all committees. After I had been at the university awhile, I learned that a woman colleague who was retiring would get a smaller pension that a male retiree with the same years of experience and a similar level of accomplishments. I was flabbergasted. I investigated. I was given the following rationale. Women on average lived longer than men. So they were receiving the same pension, but spread over a longer period. I could not believe what I had heard.

I campaigned and easily was elected to the pension committee. It was small – only five members, including the Vice-President Administration. At the very first meeting I asked to put an item on the agenda in the form of a motion. I was allowed to introduce my motion. I moved that black members of the faculty should receive higher pensions than white members. Needless to say, the members of the committee were uniformly startled. They asked why I was moving such a motion. I said that I would discuss that if my motion had a seconder because those were the rules of procedure. The VP, a man of extraordinary reasonableness and fairness who had once been my first wife’s high school teacher in her boarding school in West China, agreed to second the motion.

I then explained my motion. According to statistics at the time, blacks lived shorter lives than whites. If women were given equal pensions, but just spread over a longer period, then blacks too should receive equal pensions but spread over a shorter period. The actuary from the company managing our pensions was dumbfounded by such reasoning. “But,” he blustered, “that would mean that whites would have to get smaller pension payments each year.” He actually said that, not as a racist, but as an actuary steeped in the hidebound categories of his calling at the time.

It took two years of commissioned studies and a great deal of debate to change what was simply a category mistake. Humans can be diced and spliced into a myriad of categories. Which ones we choose for administrative tasks have an implicit ethical and social judgement embedded in them. It was a fundamental principle in my mind that women faculty members who retired needed the same amount of funds as their male colleagues each year without regard to life expectancy. If one class statistically had shorter life spans – as disabled professors had even more than black ones – on that reasoning, they should receive higher pensions.

The correction to the York University pension system had either direct or  indirect repercussions on parallel struggles throughout Ontario. Within five years the whole idea of paying women retirees less per year because on average they lived longer was seen to be the absurdity it was. That was a productive committee.

But the overall trend drifted in the opposite direction. Committees multiplied and flourished at the expense of efforts that should have been devoted to teaching and research. Often their efforts were counter-productive in themselves. I offer one other example. When I was a young faculty member, if a student was caught plagiarizing, a teacher had four options. The faculty member, generally if the plagiarizing was incidental and/or the student was unaware of the precept, could ask the student to rewrite. Or the faculty member could award a zero for that assignment. The faculty member could also allow the student to withdraw from the course, but the charge of plagiarism would remain on his or her record. Finally, the professor could take the issue up to a higher level and ask the faculty to expel the student or suspend that student for a year or two. The latter was a remedy rarely used.

Near the end of my career in response to principles of fairness, the right to be heard, the right to have legal representation and other claimed rights, and before computers became so acute in spotting plagiarism, in a case of alleged plagiarism, as of decades earlier, the student was called in for an interview. But now a second faculty member had to be present to assure there was no intimidation. That faculty member had to read the assigned work as well. Usually, this process took several meetings as the students, having been advised of the process, would often ask for time to arrange for representation.

If the original charge was sustained, the student had several opportunities to appeal – to a faculty committee, to the dean and then to a senate committee. Each time, the faculty member making the original charge would have to be present. It should be no surprise that the number of charges of plagiarism declined precipitously. Not, I believe, because there was less plagiarism. With the onset of the internet, I believe there was probably more. However, faculty members did not want to invest their time in such a drawn-out process where often enough the charge was often rejected on a technicality. They made quiet arrangements with the student offering him or her the opportunity to withdraw from the course, even with a late withdrawal, but without any entry on their record of a charge of plagiarism.

Everyone knows about the proliferation of the mechanisms for ensuring transparency and protecting rights of students. Everyone is aware of the vast increase in university expenditures on student counselling. However, it is not clear when and whether these innovations have proven to serve student interests overall, and, more importantly perhaps, whether they have enhanced their education. These innovations have evidently sustained the lives of many students who might have fallen by the wayside or dropped out under the pressure of a tertiary education.

This is clearly a superficial examination of my personal historic turf. I have barely skimmed or surfed the surface. However, I want to introduce the other two concepts I mentioned above before I delve into the future with any greater depth.

Tomorrow: Power and Influence in the university

 

Israel-Diaspora Relations Part III Palestinians

Israel-Diaspora Relations Part III Palestinians

by

Howard Adelman

In addition to her TV interview last Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) also addressed the Knesset on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) that recently passed a resolution declaring Hevron and the Cave of the patriarchs (Mearat Hamachpelah) as “endangered Palestinian heritage sites.” UNESCO is an esteemed international agency based in Paris. Its declared objectives are “to contribute to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through educational, scientific, and cultural reforms in order to increase universal respect for justice, the rule of law and human rights.” Was the resolution, widely considered in Israel to be so, an anti-Israel motion? If so, why is UNESCO engaged in such activities?

This was not the only resolution of this type passed by UNESCO. In the same week, in Kraków, Poland, of all places, where the scene of the Nazis ruthlessly clearing out the ghetto of Jews and shipping most residents to the gas chambers in Belzec, were portrayed in Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (remember the girl in the red coat), the UNESCO World Heritage Committee (UNESCO-WHC) voted to have the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the Old City of Hevron inscribed as a Palestinian world heritage site. The Committee also determined that the site was also “in danger.” From what and why?

The latter motion establishing the tomb as an endangered heritage site was passed by the 21 countries [Angola, Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Croatia, Cuba, Finland, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Tunisia, Turkey, Tanzania, Vietnam and Zimbabwe] 12-3 (those 12 are easily picked out of the list since they regularly support anti-Israel motions) with 6 countries abstaining. Though the vote usually takes place by a show of hands, Poland, Croatia and Jamaica requested a secret ballot. Israeli Ambassador Carmel Shama-Hacohen stormed the chair, accusing the Polish diplomat in charge of failing to conduct a truly secret ballot. The vote was not held behind a curtain; ballots were placed in an envelope in full view of the delegates. The chair called in security.

The issue was NOT declaring Hevron, the Cave and the Tomb heritage sites. Hevron was declared to be an Islamic city. It was the third site recognized by UNESCO as located in the “State of Palestine.” Whatever the history being recognized or not recognized, the resolutions were clearly political rather than educational and cultural in nature. Israel was deliberately disassociated from a site widely recognized, certainly in the Torah, as the burial grounds of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel. Israeli diplomats called it “an ugly display of discrimination, and an act of aggression against the Jewish people.”

Upon passage of the resolution, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki hailed a Palestinian diplomatic victory. “Despite the aggressive Israeli campaign, spreading lies, distorting and falsifying facts about the Palestinian right, the world recognized our right to register Hevron and the Ibrahimi Mosque under Palestinian sovereignty and on the World Heritage List.” For Maliki, the issue was about Palestinian sovereignty and NOT about the location of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs.

The issue was also about sovereignty when the same committee earlier in the week explicitly denied Israel’s claim to the Old City of Jerusalem. In May, UNESCO’s executive board ratified a 2016 resolution denying Israel, not only legal, but also any historical link to Jerusalem. Israel was deemed an “occupying power,” a designation never applied to Jordan when that country overran the Old City in the 1948 war. UNESCO regularly criticizes Israel for its archaeological work and excavations in Jerusalem and Hevron.

However, the Committee did not explicitly deny the connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. The Jerusalem resolution recognized the importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for the three monotheistic religions.” Further, the Temple Mount compound was not referred to solely as “Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif” as in a 2016 resolution that called the Temple Mount “a Muslim holy site of worship.” Hevron, Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem were all defined that way.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry decried the decisions and insisted that Jerusalem remained the capital of the Jewish people. “Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people, and no decision by UNESCO can change that reality. It is sad, unnecessary and pathetic.” For Palestinians, UNESCO votes offered additional proof that in the minds of the international community, Jerusalem was “the capital of the occupation.”

Did it matter that Avraham and Sarah, Yitzhak and Rivka, Yaakov and Leah, and even Adam and Eve, were allegedly buried in the cave, or that Avraham bought the Cave from Ephron the Hittite long before Islam existed? One has no sense from the debate that this belief and cultural identification was relevant let alone crucial to the decision. Recognition of Palestinian sovereignty was at stake.

However, whatever the myth or historical reality, the debate upped the ante in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Reuven Rivlin of Israel may have tweeted: “UNESCO seems intent on sprouting anti-Jewish lies, while it remains silent as the region’s heritage is destroyed by brutal extremists,” but Palestinians could boast of another significant political victory in an important international forum piled on top of winning membership in UNESCO in 2011. The cost, however, has been another repeated gesture politicizing a cultural and historical issue. When debates over memory, history and culture are brought into the centre of a conflict, the stakes are raised enormously. With regard to the sites mentioned above, unlike any other one recognized as a heritage site (Aztec sites in Mexico City are but one example; Cordoba in Spain is another), there was never any attempt to deny the historic connection to the site. In all three cases in Israel/Palestine, the Jewish connections to the sites were omitted. The Ibrahimi mosque in Hevron, known as the Sanctuary of Abraham, built in the 14th century, however, is identified.

In UNESCO commemorating sites, Battir, called Beitar in the Bar Kochba revolt against Rome and even in Arabic dubbed “Khurbel al-Yahud (the Jewish ruin), is recognized to be “representative of many centuries of culture and human interaction with the environment.” Cultural genocide is the systematic destruction of traditions, values, language, and other elements which make a one group of people distinct from other groups. It is both the height of irony that an organization like UNESCO, in order to advance a Palestinian political position, finds it fit to extinguish Jewish historical and cultural links to sites in Israel and Palestine. Why would even Jews who defend the right of Palestinians to have their own state be complicit in cultural genocide? There are also political repercussions. The more Israelis and other Jews alienated from around the world, the less likely they are to support a Palestinian state alongside Israel if cultural genocide is a consequence. Are any of these sites “culturally endangered” as Palmyra has been in Syria?

UNESCO does recognize many other sites in Israel as having a Jewish connection and as heritage sites – Tel Aviv as the White City and foremost representative of the Bauhaus or International style, Masada, the Necropolis of Beit Shean, and six others, but none on the other side of the Green Line. When the fight becomes a cultural and historical one and not simply political, the very purpose of UNESCO is threatened. But perhaps that is inherent in UNESCO. In its charter, culture, science and education are viewed as ways to advance political objectives, even as those objectives are spelled out in the lofty language of freedom, rights and the rule of law.  UNESCO memorialized Ernesto Che Guevera in the World International Documentary Collection even though he has been widely accused of committing massacres by the Cuban community in Miami. On the other hand, it was Israel which could be said to have instigated the process by designating the Cave of the Patriarchs, Hevron, Rachel’s Tomb and Bethlehem, as “national” heritage sites in 2010.

Ever since that date, UNESCO and Israel have been engaged in a cultural war, but one in which UNESCO has engaged in fostering cultural genocide. In January 2014, UNESCO escalated the conflict beyond Israel and swept all Jews into the maelstrom when Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, initially and indefinitely postponed a Paris exhibit promoted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center on the 3,500 year relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. On the basis of this totally obvious bias, indeed official endorsement of cultural genocide, last month both Israel and the US announced that each would be withdrawing from UNESCO, the US for the second time – it had rejoined in 2002 after an absence of 18 years. Even Christians have become upset with UNESCO when it named the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem as a “Palestinian” heritage site, ignoring the fact that Jesus was a Jew.

It is against this background that the venom Tzipi Hotovely spewed against UNESCO should be viewed as well as Princeton University Hillel’s cancellation of Hotovely’s speech on the day it was to be given at Hillel’s Center for Jewish Life. The speech was cancelled under pressure from the Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP). Hotovely belongs to the Israeli hard-right. She is opposed to creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. She does not disregard any Palestinian sovereignty claims to the land as AJP stated; she strongly opposes such claims. She was in Princeton to explicitly make the case that settlements are not an obstacle to peace. (Even though I oppose the settlements, I would even insist that they are not the prime obstacle to peace.)

The effort to deny Hotovely the right to speak (she did speak, but under the auspices of Chabad) blackens the reputation of progressives at the same time as it deepens the chasm between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. AJP claimed that Hotovely’s stance damages the prospect of peace, something on which I would agree. Nevertheless, I defend her right to advance her position just as I defend the right of Palestinians to advocate their own One State solution. I do not have to attend, I do not have to participate in such occasions. But they do not foster violence or cultural genocide. Both sides offer fundamental differences over sovereignty.

However much I disagree with Hotovely, however much I oppose the government’s claims on behalf of the settlements, however much I declaim her contention that peace has not yet been achieved between Israelis and Palestinians because of incitement and a generation of young Palestinians who were not educated for hope, I have not read any evidence that she practices cultural genocide and denied any Islamic connection to the Haram al-Sharif in her address in the Knesset directly aimed at Palestinian MKs. Was it not enough to disagree with her over giving priority to Jewish claims to the site?  Even if one radically disagreed with her, she was not being uncivil as she claimed that Palestinians are “thieves of history” and accused them of attempting to Islamicize Jewish history. I go further than her. I claim that the Palestinian efforts are part of a campaign of cultural genocide. I strongly support a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Should I be silenced if I characterize the efforts in UNESCO as advancing a program of cultural genocide even it if is for what I regard as a worthy political purpose?

AJP in its open letter in The Princetonian expressed its shame that the Committee on Jewish Life (CJL) at Princeton misrepresented “our Jewish community’s politics and values. We will not sit by quietly as the Israeli government continues to entrench its control over Palestinians. We will not be silent as members of our Princeton community further these hateful and racist policies.” Subsequently, AJP claimed that it was not its intention either to censor MK Tzipi Hotovely or to cancel the event, but “to highlight the CJL’s systematic silencing of leftist voices on campus through uneven application of its ostensibly neutral Israel policy.” There was no evidence that I found that they supported Hotovely’s right to speak.

Further, no one said that AJP should be silent. No one said they should not oppose the Israeli government efforts to control Palestinian land or to even deny that it is Palestinian land. But that does not make the opposing position racist. Even more importantly, no group, absolutely no group, can claim to speak for the Jewish community as a whole, especially for its values.

Nothing so exacerbates the Israeli-Diaspora divide than the claim that Jews should speak with a singular voice, that Jews should be united. Hotovely to her credit, however disagreeable I find her views, has not insisted on a unified Jewish voice but a clearer opportunity to have the hard-right voice heard. In my view, nothing is more divisive among Jews than the argument about Jewish unity and who is most responsible for promoting that disunity and who is in the best position to defend that unity. The reality is that Jews have never been united.

Nor should nor need they be. The quest for unity is a chimera and itself a very divisive issue.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Sodom and Gomorrah

Sodom and Gomorrah

by

Howard Adelman

The first side of the frame for understanding the story of the binding of Isaac is the narrative about how Sarah received the message that in her old age she would have a child, a segment I titled “Sarah Laughs” (SL). The second of the four-sided frame is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah (S&G). It is revealing if we compare two themes in the two otherwise very very different narratives.

Hiding

  1. In SL, Abraham hid from Sarah the news that God had promised that she would become pregnant and Sarah hides within the tent and eavesdrops on the discussion between Abraham and God’s messengers.
  2. In S&G, God asks (Genesis 18:17), “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?”

Note:

  1. a) One can almost hear God chuckling to Himself fully aware of the irony when He asks the question (and He asks, in contrast to Abraham and Sarah who act) as if He were considering whether He should behave in the same way that Abraham and Sarah did.
  2. b) What considerations go into God offering an answer? Two factors. First Abraham is to become the forefather of a great and populous nation and a blessing for all other nations. Second, Abraham has been chosen to defend what is just and right as a condition of the first – becoming a father of a great nation.
  3. c) We do not get an answer. The question appears to be rhetorical since, when Abraham pleads with God to save the city if a minimum of ten just men can be found within its walls, Abraham has to know God’s intentions just to plead with him. The contrast stands out. While God is totally transparent, Abraham and Sarah hide.

Pleading

  1. In SL, Abraham pleads with the three strangers to be their host.
  2. In S&G, Abraham pleads with God not to destroy the city if only 10 just men can be found who live there.
  3. a) Note the similarities between the two types of plea. In neither case does Abraham’s plea constitute begging. Abraham, in offering his hospitality to the three strangers in SL, does bow down and call himself a servant, but it is as a generous host. Secondly, both pleas are interpersonal; neither involves a formal, let alone written, petition.
  4. b) However, note the radical differences. In SL, the plea is an appeal both to the needs of the strangers and the demands of the norms of hospitality. Abraham entreats the three divine messengers in a most earnest and humble way. “My lords, if it pleases you, do not go on past your servant.” (18:3) In S&G, there is no bowing and scraping on Abraham’s part. Instead, Abraham does not even simply stand before the Lord; he approaches Him. Abraham walks towards God. He was being forward. There was no humility, no begging. Abraham’s intercession, his proposal, was an offer, a plea bargain.
  5. c) In SL, Abraham is successful – he gets the divine messengers to stop, stay and accept his hospitality. In S&G, Abraham is successful, not in stopping God, but in setting the conditions for a reprieve. Abraham does not achieve a stay of execution. Abraham does not even get God to send his angels to investigate. God announces: “I will go down to see whether they have acted in accordance with the complaints against the citizens.” (18:21) Abraham sets the conditions for a possible reprieve – if there are at least 10 just men in the town.
  6. d) Finally, in S&G, Abraham succeeds because of a rational argument rooted in the principle of proportionality. Even if only a few innocents are affected, no punishment should befall the city. But one need not be a purist. Nine innocents may be killed, Abraham establishes, but not ten. The principle of proportionality is determined by absolute numbers, not by a ratio. In SL, Abraham made an emotional appeal that implicitly evoked the principle of hospitality.

What is most noteworthy is that it is Abraham in both cases who establishes the rules of behaviour, not God.

What is the connection between humans hiding and God being transparent while, at the same time, humans are setting the standards for action rather than God? There seems to be no connection. For in one case, Abraham and Sarah (humans) hide and God does not. The second is not a contrast between human and divine behaviour, but between two different types of human behaviour apparently with the same designation.

However, on another level, there appears to be a connection. From God’s side, from the side of full transparency, we are dealing with either impossibilities (Sarah being attractive enough for Abraham to want to have sex with her and Sarah being able to bear children in her old age) or with normally unacceptable behaviour – destroying everyone in a city, infants and children as well, for the sins of their parents. However grave the sin, the destruction seems totally disproportionate.

In contrast, those who hide are fully understandable as actors, whether on the rational or the emotional plain. Their disbelief in the first case seems totally justifiable. Abraham’s offer of a plea bargain also seems to appeal to a higher sense of justification. But the evidence in the first case will be an event that seems impossible. The evidence in the second case – apparently no evidence is found to support Abraham’s conditions, that is, there are at least ten just men in the city – seems very likely, but proves to be impossible to find. These two expressions of the mixture of impossibility and implausibility, so characteristic of some of the best fiction, are what give each of the stories their power.

In the case of SL, the attitudes of Abraham and Sarah on first hearing the promise of a child is totally consistent, not only with their experience, but with ours as readers. In the case of S&L, Abraham’s plea seems most reasonable. It is God’s actions which come across as either totally impossible (SL) or totally unacceptable even if less than 10 non-sinning adults could not be found. If one thinks about it, God’s action seems totally unacceptable.

But why are supernatural events accepted in the first case but remain dubious in the second? The first operates in the realm of scientific possibility and, to go along with the narrative, one has to adopt Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s rule of thumb for the narrative to have any power – “a willing suspension of disbelief.” The second takes place in a realm in which evidence is required, not to support a fact and justify a belief, but to support an act and justify it.

Feasibility is operative in the first case. Desirability operates in the second. In the first, God’s actions disobey natural scientific law; what happens is biologically unfeasible. In the second, God’s action seems legally and ethically unnatural, not only with respect to the likelihood of finding ten innocents within the confines of a city, but with respect to natural ethical norms. In the two cases, the non-natural wins over the natural. But the non-natural in explicitly operating juxtaposed to natural scientific laws and natural ethical and legal norms.

In the SL tale, there are two human actors, Abraham and Sarah. In the S&G narrative, the tale of Abraham bargaining with God over standards for mass killing is succeeded by the story of Lot. Note the differences between the story of the strangers passing Abraham’s tent and the angels and their meeting with Lot.

SL                                     S&G

Number of strangers                 3                                           2

Location                        in front of a tent                  at the gate of the city

Appeal to self-interest   feel refreshed                   so the angels can get

away early

Method                            bow                                     bow, face to the ground

Behaviour                      eat outside                           enter the tent

Staying overnight          acceptance                           rejection

What follows is different in the two cases. In the first, Sarah equivocates.  In the second, an intolerant mob comes on the scene and demands that Lot surrender the strangers. Lot pleads with the mob rather than for divine intervention. But divine intervention comes with a literally blinding light. In SL, there is a promise. In S&G, Lot and his family are offered an escape. In SL, Sarah greets the promise as if it is a joke. When Lot pleads with his sons-in-law to leave, they treat his insistence as a jest. In SL, there is no use of force. In S&G, the angels seize the hands of Lot, his wife and his two unmarried daughters. They are urged to flee to the hills. Lot agrees to go there, but only when the strangers promise that the town be made a sanctuary. Then the annihilation of the population, the city and the vegetation follow.

There are two other differences. Sarah looks back in time and regrets her initial response to the promise. Lot’s wife looks back in space and I s reified as a pillar of salt. Second, Sarah gives birth as a result of sleeping with her husband. Lot’s two daughters each give birth as a result of incest with their father and give birth to nations, not rooted in laughter (Yitzhac or Isaac) with both its negative and positive associations. However, the Moabites and the Ammonites by their very names cannot forget that they were nations born in sin rather than a divine promise, for mo-av means “from my father” and ben-ammi means son of my paternal kin.

When I come back to the story of the Akeda, I will try to use these differences to show how an understanding of the words that came before the Akeda throw light on the meaning of the binding of Isaac story. By then I will have depicted the other two sides of the frame.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

 

Circumcision, Zionism and a Global Legal Order

Circumcision, Zionism and a Global Legal Order

by

Howard Adelman

We are into anniversaries – the 50th year since the Argentinian Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara, was captured in Bolivia and the signing of The Outer Space Treaty bringing modern law of the open seas into space law. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour declaration, but also the Bolshevik Revolution and the defeat of German troops by the British in the Battle of Broodseinde signally the eventual defeat of Germany. It is the 150th anniversary since Charles Darwin published his theory of natural selection in On the Origin of the Species, and since Canada was created as a country. Finally, this is the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing or gluing his 95 theses on a church door signalling the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

But what did we study in our Torah study group last week – God’s covenant of the promised land with Abraham and the circumcision of Abraham and his entourage as a sign of that covenant. (Genesis 17: 1-14, the ending of the parsha, Lech-Lecha – see below) This week – Vayeira, Genesis 18-22 – begins with the controversy over who were the three individuals who appeared at the opening of Abraham’s tent and asked about the well-being of his wife, Sarah.

Strangely, all of the above events are connected. Let me begin with the most absurd claim, that the ritual of Jewish circumcision had any relationship to the above momentous historical events. In the Torah, circumcision is not recorded as an act of health to reduce the chances of venereal diseases and of AIDS and, in modern parlance, to ensure the survival of the fittest. Although Talmudists depict the act as removing a defect and the ritual an act of human intervention to advance the cause of perfection, circumcision is much more significant as a sign.

From the ancient Hellenistic-Roman world, when circumcision was regarded as a barbarous act, to the modern world when circumcision is seen to conflict with a reverence for “the natural” and inflicting pain on a child regarded as an abuse of rights, circumcision was connected with misanthropy. In response, circumcision has been defended by Jews as an improvement over a natural defect that, without correction, led to disease and sometimes even death. The link to a deficiency is reinforced when Moses referred to his stutter as “having uncircumcised lips.”

However, Ezekiel viewed circumcision, not as a minor flaw to correct an imperfection, but as a major transformation. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh.” (36:26) He was not talking about cleaning out the coronary arteries, performing a valve replacement or even using surgery to correct a thickening of the walls of the heart in hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, but a transplant operation wherein one obtains a new heart. Circumcision is a sign of a covenant between God and his people that will give them a new spirit. Circumcision is not, as it was for Philo, the excision of an unwanted and even evil presence, literally a catharsis, an excision of desire and vanity, but a process of being reborn with a new name and a new mission. Possessing a foreskin is not a mark of Cain; it is not a defilement. However, its removal is an opportunity.

Christians took the revolutionary transformational rather than reform version of circumcision a step further. One did not even have to imprint the revolution in one’s flesh, for faith in Jesus alone would bring about the transformation. One merely needed to surrender oneself to Christ. As Paul said, the “true” Israelites are “not children of the flesh…but the children of the promise.” What does such a debate have to do with the Cuban revolution and with Outer Space as a realm for the whole human race and not just for the powerful? What does it have to do with the Bolshevik Revolution, the British defeat of Germany in WWI and the instantiation of Zionism into international law with the Balfour declaration? More significantly, what does it have to do with Darwin’s theory of natural selection and with Martin Luther?

The Darwinian connection, ironically, is the easiest to answer, though only in a simplified form; natural selection is the scientific inversion of the theological doctrine of divine election. Circumcision certainly has a great deal to do with election and promise. For God promises Abraham, of which circumcision is a sign, two things – that he will be the forefather of many nations and that his direct descendants, the Israelites, will be a nation that will possess the land of Canaan. Christian Zionists, who preceded Jewish Zionists, married the two tracks of the Abraham covenant by viewing their own nation in the Enlightenment world as one of many nations chosen to fulfill the covenant, but that the Jews had a unique role for they had to be restored to their land for the covenant for all nations to be fulfilled. For some Christians, this also meant that all Jews had to be converted to a belief in Christ in order to bring about the Second Coming. For other Christians, these millenarian beliefs were independent and not linked to restorationism.

When I was entering my teens, there was a storefront just north of Bloor Street on Markham Street in the City of Toronto that offered an outreach to Jews. I recall distinctly going into their small office and receiving a nickel (5 cents) if I promised to read the pamphlet they handed me. Much later in my life, I would host a television program for twelve years on a Christian evangelical station which, contrary to widespread belief in the Jewish community, did not expect or push Jewish conversion to Christianity, or even expect that mass Jewish conversion to happen as a precursor to the Second Coming, but instead believed in restorationism, in a resurrected Israel as the precursor to a resurrected Jesus. Further, the term Israel was also detached from its specific association with the Jewish people and linked to a self-definition of one’s own nation as one also descended spiritually from Abraham.

Between these two periods, in 1980 I undertook an investigation of the source of the promise of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1979 to move the Canadian embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a promise that turned into a fiasco. My link began with a meeting in early spring of 1979 convened by the Canadian Jewish lobby group to solicit the advice of Irving Abella, Harry Crowe and myself, about whether the Canadian organization advancing the cause of Israel in Canada should act on Prime Minster Begin’s request that Canadian Jews lobby the Canadian government to make such a move. The three of us thought it was a bad idea, very unlikely to happen and likely would result in a terrible backlash.

In the 1979 Canadian election, the Tories adopted such a program and the Jewish lobby was riven with suspicion and divisions over whether the professionals in the Jewish organization had betrayed the board of directors by advancing such an effort even though the board had deliberately not adopted such a program. I knew the executive had not been responsible. But then why did the Tories adopt the platform? When I was in Israel that winter, I heard a bizarre explanation. Before the election, Joe Clark and his wife, Maureen McTeer, in the company of friends, a Jewish couple without a close connection to the organized Jewish community or Zionism, had visited Israel and Jordan. They were feted in Israel. While in Jordan, the king had made them wait for two hours before granting them an audience. Maureen was particularly stirred up by this insult that so contrasted with the way they had been treated in Israel; she pushed Joe to adopt the policy of Canada moving its embassy to Jerusalem.

I thought the Israeli explanation was far-fetched at the very least and ill-fitted my knowledge of the extraordinary norms of hospitality of Arabs in general and of the royal household in Jordan more particularly. In any case, how could such an intemperate fit, itself incredible, result in the Tories adopting the decision? When I returned, I determined to research the issue and publish my findings – which I did. The results of the scholarship had virtually no impact on the widespread belief in the Jewish community that the Tories had been influenced by some of the Jewish community’s professional staff, in spite of an absence of any authorization to lobby for such a move, and by the goal of winning ridings in which Jews were a significant presence.

The truth was both more mundane and far more fascinating. A 5-person Tory policy committee dominated by Christian Zionists and led by Lowell Murray, a policy advisor to Joe Clark, (Murray was named a senator after Joe Clark took power on 4 June 1979) had met prior to the election campaign and adopted as part of the Tory program the promise to move the Canadian embassy to Jerusalem. Thus, the Canadian Conservative policy in 1979 had a kinship with the Balfour declaration and the efforts of David Lloyd George to implement what he had learned in Sunday school.

This interpretation of the significance of Britain’s imminent defeat of Germany, creating political space for the realization of restorationism, was deeply entrenched in British history, not simply in the Christian Zionist writings of the Earl of Shaftesbury, but in the theology of John Calvin versus that of Martin Luther. Both Calvin and Luther were “literalists” opposed to the manifold treatment of the biblical texts via metaphor, allegory (as in preterism, the belief that prophecies were merely allegories for actual historical events that had already taken place) and analogy. Both believed in the necessity of a Jewish mass conversion preceding the Second Coming. However, Marin Luther became enraged by Jewish resistance and became openly and strongly anti-Semitic. Calvin never abandoned his belief in Jewish restoration.

In America, Calvinism became associated with an obsession with God’s chosen people, a national belief in American exceptionalism and the singular mission of the American nation as well as the Protestant ethic and a reverence for individualism. It was also rooted in hermeneutics. John Winthrop in his well-known “City upon a hill” speech in 1630 as the Puritan Governor of Massachusetts described the Puritans in America as persecuted refugees who had inherited a special covenant with God and a special mission in history. This Christian Zionism was also put forth by John Cotton and his disciple, Increase Mather, who became president of Harvard.

When did the Jewish return to Palestine, restorationism, get divorced from the belief in mass Jewish conversion as a prerequisite for the Second Coming, with millenarian hopes? I believe it came about by the creation of what my colleague, Sanford Levinson, depicted as the Constitutional Faith that underpins the American view of the world and their place in it. For unlike Winthrop, who resisted the expansion of civil and political rights and refused to codify the laws governing the colony, the Constitutional Faith emerged as a belief in a civic religion rooted in the rule of law that can be established without any requisite preconditions, least among them, mass conversion of the Jews. It was this civic religion that painted King George III as the anti-Christ and provided the theological foundation for the Revolutionary War even though Cromwell a century earlier had believed in restorationism and had allowed the Jews to once again reside in Britain. Bringing freedom and democracy to the world had been adopted as the American vision.

However, Christian Zionism, globalization and the rights of free passage across the seas and through space had even earlier roots in Hugo Grotius’ On the Law of War and PeaceDe Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres as long as one does not rely on Louise Loomis’ 1949 translation which leaves out most of the Jewish references. Grotius was a seventeenth century Dutch Arminian. He read Hebrew and Jewish exegetes rather than relying on the Latin text of the Bible. He was a follower of the Dutch Reformed theologian, Jacobus Arminus, who grew up immersed in Calvinist theology but, along with his Remonstrant colleagues, emphasized election and the role of grace in freeing men as well as the freedom of the individual to receive or deny that grace. They believed in biblical scriptural interpretation as the mode of determining who can be saved. Grotius as a Remonstrant opposed the Calvinism of the Gomarists.

Grotius was a nationalist who opposed Spanish domination, but a nationalist who believed that nations could live in peace and prosperity if they all abided by a universal law binding all humanity. Hence, the Just Theory of War. He, along with Thomas Goodwin and John Wycliffe, viewed the Jewish restoration to their covenantal land as a sine qua non for the full flowering of international law.

Grotius, along with John Owen and Joseph Mede, Oliver Cromwell and John Milton, were restorationists rather than revolutionaries, and realists rather than millenarists. America, as its national belief system evolved, had a special mission. Under Abraham Lincoln, Americans fought a war for the universal rights of man rather that the particularist rights of slave holders. When Abraham Lincoln met the Canadian, Henry Wentworth Monk, in 1863, they discussed the unique role of each of their nations, one in gestation and the other engaged in a bitter fight between twins.

Lincoln had joked about his Jewish podiatrist who had been the source of his ability to stand without pain on his own two feet and joined with Monk in lauding a new moral order, with Monk stressing the prerequisite condition of restoring Jews to their own land in Palestine which, for Monk, was a precondition for Christ’s second advent. Lincoln, though he admired Monk, signed the Emancipation Proclamation and expressed sympathy for the ideal of restoring the Jews to Palestine, but was never allowed time to implement that dream. In light of the controversies this past week over John Kelly’s remarks on the secessionist, General Robert E. Lee, and the issue of compromise or no compromise with advocates of slavery, Monk took up both positions and impossibly urged compromise on secession, but only if the South agreed to free its slaves and abolish slavery.

Monk advocated a world government based in Jerusalem and globalization rooted in the age of railways and steamships, telegraphs and newspapers. Unlike Hugo Grotius, who died as a result of the injuries and ill heath resulting from his shipwreck, Monk was restored to health in spite of coming close to death in the wreck of his ship off the cost of Massachusetts. He survived for several decades living on his family farm in the Ottawa Valley and promoting not only restoration of the Jews to Palestine, but the creation of an international court to ensure world peace, a vision adopted by the Conservative leader, George Moffat, and eventually developed by the Dutch heirs of Hugo Grotius that led to the founding of the international court in The Hague.

Thus are great international innovations and nationalist visions a by-product of debates over circumcision.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Respect and Critique

Responsa – Respect and Critique

by

Howard Adelman

In response to my blog, “Our Pristine Island and its Traditional Custodians,” my friend wrote the following:

I wish I shared your view.  I would like my spirit to soar.  But, sadly, I do not.  I fully acknowledge that we are only custodians of the land and that artificial ownership only serves artificial economics, but that does not extend to my placing any significant weight on who came first to the country. So what if the indigenous peoples came first!  How is anyone’s worth a function of their ancestors’ place in history? For me, it is all about this generation and who is here now.

I feel no guilt for the residential schools nor the history of white man’s discrimination against native peoples, even though I acknowledge it was all bad and racist. Why? Because my parents came from the coal mines of Wales. We discriminated against no one. We respect everyone. We’ll assist anyone. I am NOT my forgotten very distant ancestors. And even if there was case to be made for bearing some responsibility, look at how those same ancestors treated me and my family. My father was destroyed by war. We grew up in poverty. I was very often marginalized, discriminated against and unassisted. That is the way life is.  

To me, we are all in this together. Black, white, yellow and brown. And that requires an acceptance and embrace of all. But that all is restricted to my time on earth and what I can directly influence during my time here. I am not in the least responsible for that which happened when I was not here. It is the main reason I speak up so much now – because I am here now and I am responsible for me now. 

Do not misinterpret this as anti-native. They deserve our love and support. But only reasonably so and for those in need. And I will give that, but I will not add an apology nor will I accept responsibility for their current plight. My love and support now should be enough.

RESPONSE

Below, please find an open letter to my friend who critically questioned my insistence of acknowledgement and recognition of the role of indigenous people in Canada as well as my celebration of tradition.

To My Dear Friend;

I should not be charging you with confusion or even the note underlying my response to your latest missive, your inconsistency. Logical, you are not. But loveable, endearing, loyal as well as belligerent, but respectful, even worshipping of nature, you are. You have a hard-hearted realism combined with a romantic love of your Sally. And you will refuse right until the end to go gently into that good night. For you will always insist that even death will have no dominion over your soul.

Where do you think that attitude, that stance, came from? Out of the blue?

Let me begin with Bob Dylan who recently won a Nobel prize for his bardic poetry and who dismissed and tried endlessly to run away from his Jewish tradition as Robert Zimmerman to adopt that of another, the Welsh – yes Welsh bard – Dylan Thomas, even as his songs were infused with Biblical themes and phrases. Before I discuss the latter, let me compare my experience of you to the former.

Bob Dylan wrote “Life is Hard.” You not only could write “life is hard,” but you deliberately chose to make it so – physically and in terms of survival. However, look at the differences. Sally is at the centre of that difference. Whereas Bob Dylan wrote,

I’m always on my guard

Admitting life is hard

Without you near me

You too could write “life is always hard,” but you make sure it does not overwhelm you. In contrast with Bob Dylan, you keep the one “so dear and near to you” ever nearer, ever closer, so that she will not slip far away, so that, in the end, with all your scepticism, with all your escape to the northern bush, she would not stray. For with all your sense of emptiness and the lack of meaning in life except that which we give in the day-to-day, you are at heart a romantic.

You continually echo Bob Dylan’s words:

I don’t know what’s wrong or right

I just know I need strength to fight

Strength to fight that world outside
You refuse to feel “a chilly breeze. In place of memories,” you continuously bring up one memory after another, one anecdote piled atop a different one, not to evoke loss, but to insist that you survived, that you sustained yourself through all the tribulations.

In perhaps his most famous song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” the refrain repeats:

“How does it feel, how does it feel?

To be on your own, with no direction home

A complete unknown, like a rolling stone.”

Of course, Bob Dylan became the most famous minstrel of his time, even though he was like a rolling stone, not like the same one Sisyphus rolled up the hill only to see it roll down the next day so that he had to start over, but one that rolled through one tradition after another, from his Judaism, which continued to haunt him all his life and inform his themes and lyrics, through folk and rock, through evangelical Christianity, through the revival of a unique blues voice borrowed from the voices and rhythms of those who struggled hardest in North America.

But you did not follow that path of rolling through history, but a path that rejected history, that rejected a collective community. You chose, instead, to embrace nature and an atomized community of your own. But you too have not found a direction home. Bob Dylan’s song is about surviving in a world of fraudsters, con artists and crooks, a world in which the individual is reduced to one who has “nothing to lose.” You have deliberately sought the world of all monks who aspire to live a life where they have nothing to lose.

In Bob Dylan’s 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home, there is a song, “I’m only bleeding.” Dylan sings, and I quote in full:

Darkness at the break of noon

Shadows even the silver spoon

The handmade blade, the child’s balloon

Eclipses both the sun and moon

To understand you know too soon

There is no sense in trying
Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn

Suicide remarks are torn

From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn

Plays wasted words, proves to warn

That he not busy being born is busy dying
Temptation’s page flies out the door

You follow, find yourself at war

Watch waterfalls of pity roar

You feel to moan but unlike before

You discover that you’d just be one more

Person crying
So don’t fear if you hear

A foreign sound to your ear

It’s alright, Ma, I’m only sighing
As some warn victory, some downfall

Private reasons great or small

Can be seen in the eyes of those that call

To make all that should be killed to crawl

While others say don’t hate nothing at all

Except hatred
Disillusioned words like bullets bark

As human gods aim for their mark

Make everything from toy guns that spark

To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark

It’s easy to see without looking too far

That not much is really sacred
While preachers preach of evil fates

Teachers teach that knowledge waits

Can lead to hundred-dollar plates

Goodness hides behind its gates

But even the president of the United States

Sometimes must have to stand naked
An’ though the rules of the road have been lodged

It’s only people’s games that you got to dodge

And it’s alright, Ma, I can make it
Advertising signs they con

You into thinking you’re the one

That can do what’s never been done

That can win what’s never been won

Meantime life outside goes onAll around you

 

You lose yourself, you reappear

You suddenly find you got nothing to fear

Alone you stand with nobody near

When a trembling distant voice, unclear

Startles your sleeping ears to hear

That somebody thinks they really found you
A question in your nerves is lit

Yet you know there is no answer fit

To satisfy, insure you not to quit

To keep it in your mind and not forget

That it is not he or she or them or it

That you belong to
Although the masters make the rules

For the wise men and the fools

I got nothing, Ma, to live up to
For them that must obey authority

That they do not respect in any degree

Who despise their jobs, their destinies

Speak jealously of them that are free

Cultivate their flowers to be

Nothing more than something they invest in
While some on principles baptized

To strict party platform ties

Social clubs in drag disguise

Outsiders they can freely criticize

Tell nothing except who to idolize

And then say God bless him
While one who sings with his tongue on fire

Gargles in the rat race choir

Bent out of shape from society’s pliers

Cares not to come up any higher

But rather get you down in the hole

That he’s in
But I mean no harm nor put fault

On anyone that lives in a vault

But it’s alright, Ma, if I can’t please him
Old lady judges watch people in pairs

Limited in sex, they dare

To push fake morals, insult and stare

While money doesn’t talk, it swears

Obscenity, who really cares

Propaganda, all is phony
While them that defend what they cannot see

With a killer’s pride, security

It blows the minds most bitterly

For them that think death’s honesty

Won’t fall upon them naturally

Life sometimes must get lonely
My eyes collide head-on with stuffed

Graveyards, false gods, I scuff

At pettiness which plays so rough

Walk upside-down inside handcuffs

Kick my legs to crash it off

Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?
And if my thought-dreams could be seen

They’d probably put my head in a guillotine

But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.
Think of how often you refer to the shadows that haunt the silver spoon. Think of your core existential philosophy that can be summed up as, if you are not being reborn daily a la Nietzsche, you are dying.  Look at your rejection of sentimentality, your insistence at always being at war with the world in which you look askance at the waterfalls of sentimental tears, acting to improve the world and your self, not only by rejecting pity, but pitiless in your denunciation of sentiment. What you have not yet discovered, as you try so hard and so persistently to harden your heart, I believe, is that you are but “one more person crying” as you bark disillusioned words like bullets. As you have dodged the games people play, as you avoid the siren call of consumer advertising, as you refuse to join in the gargles of the rat race choir and refuse to be bent by society’s pliers, you echo the refrain:

Although the masters make the rules

For the wise men and the fools

I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.
For you, money does not talk; it swears. For you reject fake morals and, unlike the cowardly Jeff Sessions, you throw the insults back at megalomaniacs like Donald Trump, You refuse to be part of the obscene world. You scoff as false gods and stuffed graveyards. But you refuse to lay your neck upon a guillotine. For it is all life.

All this said, it is not as if you are anything akin to Bob Dylan. If anything, you have so much more in common with an identity Dylan revered, Dylan Thomas. Of course, I am not writing about Dylan Thomas, the young Salish indigenous artist who lives in British Columbia near you, but the Welsh poet who would be one hundred and two years old today, except he died when he was only about forty. Dylan Thomas was also a minstrel poet, but so different that the bard Bob Dylan that one has a hard time imaging the Welshman as Robert Zimmerman’s idol. But that he was, so much so that he appropriated his name.

But read Dylan Thomas. Read one of the truly greats of your tradition, a tradition you claim not to know and which you overtly eschew, but in your love of words and love of disputation you echo daily. You should steep yourself in the poetry of your ancestry and rediscover your own rich roots in the oldest literary tradition of the English-speaking world. There are a myriad of poets to choose from – Gwenalit Jones and Waldo Williams to name but two of literally hundreds. But I focus on the most famous of them all – Dylan Thomas.

I suspect you do not celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday, but please read or re-read, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” before this December. Listen hard over the crashing sounds of breaking waves of the two-tongued sea to the distant speaking of Welsh voices. For, like Dylan Thomas, I suspect that the sky and not Granville or Hastings is your real street, and it is the Georgian Straits that sing you carols. For like Dylan Thomas, you desperately need to be transformed into the identity of a hunter, of an Inuit arctic marksman where cats become lynxes and the bell calling out dinner is a gong warning of fire. For the sense and sounds of the present are used to transport you to an ethereal world as grounded and as hard-fisted as you insist you are.

For in your imagination and in your life, you live in another world, an alternative universe, unlike Bob Dylan who always sought and despaired of finding utopia in the here and now. But not for you the age before the motor car, before the motor boat, before electricity and even petticoats.  As much as you deny living in the past and insist you live in the present, you are at heart a true romantic who wants to create the world in which he would choose to live. You do it with your raw hands and your once strong back, but the effort is always accompanied by a vivid imagination. You are lyrical even when you insist on being prosaic. You are impassioned even when you disdain passion for lost causes. And you are very funny, even in your dour seriousness.

But it would help if you allowed yourself to become intoxicated with the words of Dylan Thomas, with the musical language of his writing, with the surrealism all life has to offer even as one steeps oneself in its harsh reality. If only you would allow yourself to be embraced by the past, by your beautiful past, instead of rejecting the cold harshness of the Welsh coal town. For Wales also offers a place of beauty, overflowing with life and love and, yes, with tradition, for its towns are also as full as a lovebird’s egg. I believe you have always longed to get back, and are exercising that longing and desire to return to the “limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.”

Just remember that the image of Dylan Thomas was on the Beatles album cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. Bob Dylan was always searching for his father and made Dylan Thomas his spiritual father, his muse. In the poem, “The Follower,” Seamus Heaney offers a funerary monument to his father. I know what it is like to reject one’s father. The rejection rather than the love lives on in your heart and corrupts the core of who you are. Learning one’s tradition is a step towards one’s grandfather and great-grandfather so that, once again, one can meet one’s father in a new bespoke suit.

FOLLOW-UP

There was an unusual amount of response to my letter to my friend. I include only two, one relatively critical of my response and then an email from my friend after he received my analysis. Before I print them, I first want to put the issue of an appropriate tone for critique, which I personally have great difficulty achieving, in a larger context. How do you engage in critique of another while enhancing the other’s ability to absorb what is said?

RELIGIOUS CONTEXT

On this past shabat, in synagogue we began reading the fifth book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. Further, this coming Tuesday is Tisha B’Av, the holy day set aside in remembrance of the destruction of the Temple. I have always been puzzled. If Deuteronomy is a text that introduces hermeneutics at the core of Judaism as Moses reflects on his memories and the deeds of his people as they are about to enter the promised land, if the volume lays more stress on a God of love and justice than a warrior, angry and very reluctantly forgiving God, if God in this text is more removed from the world and primary responsibility is placed on humans themselves for what happens to them, if the text prepared the groundwork for the shift from the emphasis on ritual and sacrifice to the stress on reading and interpreting text, the shift from Judaism as a priestly religion to a prophetic and rabbinic Judaism based on a sacred text, its study and interpretation, why mourn the destruction of the Temple which was the key act that allowed rabbinic Judaism to supplant priestly Judaism?

I will not answer the question, but I offer a direction for finding an answer. We mourn most, not what we have lost, but what we failed to achieve. Tisha B’Av, for me, is more about the situation that led to the destruction of the Temple than its physical demolition. We mourn so that, in the current iteration of disastrous behaviour, we once again do not miss out and allow catastrophe to overwhelm our commonweal.

Our rabbi offered a commentary on one word in Deuteronomy along these lines. The key line is chapter 1, verse 9 of Genesis when God asks Adam, “What’s up?” as if Adam were a mischievous child caught in the crosshairs of a knowing parent. The Hebrew word is אַיֶּכָּה, translated as, “Where art thou?” or, more colloquially, “Where are you at?” This sweet concern combined with the buzzing threatening sting in this word is echoed again in Deuteronomy 1:12.

יב  אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא, לְבַדִּי, טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם, וְרִיבְכֶם. 12 How can I myself alone bear your cumbrance, and your burden, and your strife?

Again, there is the word.אֵיכָה.

The word only appears 16 other times in the whole of the biblical text. In Deuteronomy it appears as a considerate and compassionate query into the emotional mind and mindset of the Other instead of merely a seemingly innocent probe with a lining of menace. Lamentations begins with the same word – אֵיכָה – an inquiry into “How” Jerusalem became a faithless city. Again, the tone of hurt combined with rebuke is apparent. Isaiah (1:21) echoes the same sense of wailing reprimand.

The champion boxer, the Louisville Lip, Muhammad Ali, offered words that are most frequently quoted when he promised to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” The words of reproof by God, by Moses, by Isaiah, and by Jeremiah, are admonitions in the form of loving criticism, the very opposite of critique designed to shame and humiliate. It is what a professor ideally does when he critiques a student’s or a colleague’s work, or what a psychoanalyst tries to do with his or her concern and probing queries.

 

CRITIQUE: THE FOLLOWING TOOK ME TO TASK FOR MY RESPONSE.

In response to whatever he might have said, you are critical, rather harshly, of his unique coping mechanisms. What are you trying to achieve? While we may question his ways, and think we ourselves would not go his ways, he is an independent adult who had made a choice to live life his way. Like we all did.

That he is bitter or negative about some aspects of his experiences is part of his coping: this does not mean he wants to change anything. He feels his ways work for him, so leave it at that, even if you strongly disagree. While we can and do have opinions about how others choose to live their lives, we cannot tell them that they should change, because this is in effect saying that the way they live is wrong and we disapprove of it. Such harsh criticism is not exactly an incentive for anyone to want to heed our well-meant advice. The wish to change must always come from the person himself, and if and when it does, and they need our input, they will approach us. Even if that is the case, I think it is better to employ a quasi-Socratic method in that we merely assist them in clarifying their own thoughts: the thoughts and feelings must originate from them, not from us. I know I know, I sometimes comment re: your behaviour or rather about the impression it makes on me, but I would never tell you to change: I accept and cherish you the way you are, as long as you accept the way you are. If you wish to change I am ready to listen and help you mull it over. But the initiative would have to be always yours.

Plus: in my earlier very profound dialogues with your other reader [with whom I have also corresponded], I got the impression (I can divulge this much, if this helps) that he considers you hugely superior to himself, alone for the reason that you are a famous professor with “a bunch of doctor titles” and he is just a rough and tough biker dude. Of course, you and I both agree that he is a smart and sensitive guy who did a whole lot of great things for others, so he should not feel inferior to eggheads, but he does. Once he sent me some of his stories and they were fantastic and lively, full of energy, and I said they would be well suited as comic book stories, with the appropriate sound effects in bubbles (POUF, PLAK, ZISS). I think comic books are a fantastic genre, with fast dialogues and great dynamics. But he must have thought comic books were for stupid, uneducated people and once he remarked something to the effect about you: “Why would the rabbi be interested in the comic book writer?” or some such, which aptly demonstrates how he feels about you: huge reverence for you and little esteem for himself (this remark is on your blog in WordPress, so it is public). This is one more reason why I would not overwhelm him with such a forceful answer. It would possibly just reinforce his own demons, the way he thinks of himself.

Naturally, I am not telling you what to do ;>)))). But, despite my own quitting communicating with [your other reader (for I tend to get slightly PTSD about such levels of aggression as his, even if they are not directed at me) I feel suddenly protective of him and also you. You are uniquely brilliant: you do not need to go into any offensive.  

The friend whom I addressed did not evidently regard my email as offensive. He wrote:

Well………..
That was a delightful surprise.  A philosophy professor’s take on who I am! I am feeling the love, HA.  Thankyou -a lot- for that.

And to a large extent I agree. ‘Course not the belligerent part! (which only serves to prove your point.). I am a romantic, I admit. An idealist romantic, to boot. But I think we are a dying breed, we idealists. But not extinct. We could use a few more.

And I am 100% wedded to Sally in this epic romance that is as much a journey as a love affair, as much an education as a comfort, as much a mystery as a partnership.

Thanks for taking the time to look and the extra time to comment. It is that kind of recognition and acknowledgment I respect. Acknowledgement of who I am now. It is that kind of recognition that inspires me. To what, exactly, I do not know but, you are right, it at least gives a second wind to rejoining the battle.

I do battle. Maybe too much but somebody has to do it.

Mind you, the battle-rage is abating with age. Not the causes for the rage (they seem to be increasing and ever more glaring in their proliferation and ugliness) but, rather, my ability to wage effectively against them. Thus, the retreat.

Read Dylan Thomas, eh?

I will.  No sense in having a mentor if you do not do as advised.  No sense in going to a doctor if you ignore their advice.

And, you are right again. I am uncomfortable with Xmas. I avoid it as much as possible. Feels phony to me. In fact, most rituals, scheduled celebrations and obligatory attendance events feel phony to me. I do not even like parties!

But I love intimate dinner parties where REAL communication ensues, real warmth exuded, and personal connections are made or strengthened.

I’ll give you this: it is hard to shake the past even when the past was indicative of little. The past still looms for me. I didn’t like it. I suppose even acknowledging THAT is part of what you are saying.

Thanks again for writing that.

 

Our Pristine Island and its Traditional Custodians

Our Pristine Island and its Traditional Custodians

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday morning, I received a number of acknowledgements that welcomed my return to writing. One reader suggested that our family island may have been one of the few pristine places of peace in a world that appears to be steeped in conflict. The reader implied that such a retreat may be an important ingredient for restoring one’s spirit.

Given the violent conflict in the world, given the factious situation in Washington that dominates the daily news, this is very difficult. Donald Trump most recently repeatedly dissed and humiliated the Attorney General in his government for not owing fealty to himself personally but, instead, recused himself given his obligations to the rule of law and the constitution. Further, the Republican-dominated Congress approved expanded sanctions against Russia while the Trump government forged agreements that effectively ceded control of Syria to the Russians. Even worse, in the Russian election scandal, that administration possibly was willing to trade sanctions relief for cooperation with the Russians in interfering in the American election. Given the current efforts of the Republican-dominated Congress to take away health insurance from over twenty million people in the supposed name of making up for the acknowledged flaws in Obamacare, it is hard to avoid becoming cynical and despondent.

Even our family island does not escape the troubles and turmoil of the world, though the situation on the surface was much more mundane. After almost fifty years, I have come to recognize that it is time to pass on ownership of the island. It is becoming too difficult to maintain my responsibilities for its upkeep even as I enjoy its beneficence. So I was preparing the cottage for disposition. Further, the island is not as pristine or removed from the current turmoil of our world as one might believe.

About two miles across from our family island, there is another called Grave Island. The local Ojibway claim it as an ancient burial site, though, to the best of my knowledge – which is not very extensive – no evidence has been found to support that claim. In this case, actual ownership for ritual purposes may not be the real issue. There is a much larger one – recognition of the prior custodians of all of the territory, not only where our cottage is located, but even where we live in the city.

Canadians, following the lead of their New Zealand cousins, now begin ceremonial occasions in many places and venues with a statement of acknowledgement, not simply of previous claims, but of its prior custodians. In fact, custodian may be a superior term to ownership because ownership is so specifically linked with the development of modern society.  In traditional thought, as in traditional Judaism, land in the end was owned by a world spirit and not specific human beings. We are simply the custodians of the land while we are here.

Though a close friend of mine regards ceremonial statements of such acknowledgement as empty tokenism, “politically correct” utterances and somewhat hypocritical gestures, I find they serve a number of purposes. It reminds Canadians, and new Canadians when they are taking an oath of allegiance and accepting Canadian citizenship, that long before Canada came into existence as a country, there were earlier inhabitants who lived here, “owned” the land, benefited from its bounty and carried the responsibility for continuity and prosperity. Further, the recognition of indigenous cultures and peoples is critical to understanding the history of this land which did not start, as my history books implied, with colonization and European settlement.

As importantly, such recognition is a critical ingredient in the process of transitional justice as part of the reconciliation between the indigenous peoples and Canadians who settled in Canada long after they did. The indigenous peoples were more often than not mistreated and exploited and their cultures deliberately and intentionally overridden. Currently, the infamous residential school system may simply be the best known. Further, and hypocritically, all such efforts were made in the name of bringing civilization to so-called “savages”.

If Canada is truly a multicultural society, then among the most important cultures of this land that deserve a place of honour are those of our indigenous peoples. This is not a patronizing statement, simply a statement of the historical record often, and usually, deliberately ignored by the current dominant culture. If Canada is to be inclusive, then it is crucial that we be inclusive of the original inhabitants of this land.

Public events are one important place and time to do so. And to do so formally. For formality – whether it is singing Oh Canada or acknowledging the ancestral custodians of the land – is a critical step in public education. Further, such acknowledgement fosters the idea of partnerships between a preceding system and a succeeding culture. In Judaism, when the Temple was destroyed in Jerusalem, when the rabbinic system was well on its way to displacing a religion that had Temple worship at the centre, the Levites and the Cohanim of the older cultural system who were central to worship in the Temple, were given a special formal place of honour in the new system in which the Torah rather than the Temple had become the central focus of religious practice. Similarly, the indigenous people must be treated not simply as partners in continuing the challenge of building Canada, but must be ensured a place of honour in that enterprise.

This should not be an empty gesture full of sound and absent of fury and, therefore, signifying nothing. It must be an explicit demonstration of a commitment that we not simply partner in raising the level of material and spiritual status of our indigenous peoples, but ensure that they have an honorary status and significant recognition for being the true historical pioneers in the country.  That status must be given substance by ensuring that each and every member of our indigenous peoples be given an opportunity to achieve excellence in whatever they aspire to do, and that we learn from them as much as they benefit from the training and education that must be available to all Canadians.

The health and education of our indigenous peoples must be the top priority in Canadian government policy and not compromised because of other demands. In order for that to be the case, in order for the training, education and health care to be and remain preeminent in actual practice, other Canadians must learn at a very early age, and have that message re-instilled throughout their adult life, through the formal school curricula, through formal occasions in public life, that this is a necessary priority for Canadians. Just as our elders must be cared for and respected, so must our older indigenous cultural heritage.

Further, such acknowledgements, such ritual practices need not be confined to public ceremonial occasions but can be part of meetings, conferences and special functions, particularly those signifying rites of passage. Inclusion of such remarks and acknowledgements at events of a great variety should be used to instill and reinforce the values and respect we owe our indigenous peoples. No matter how small the event, room can and should be made for at least a statement of formal acknowledgement.

The issue is, however, not just formal acknowledgement, not just a ceremonial matter pledging our commitment to our indigenous peoples, but a mode of recognition of the traditional ways in which they served as custodians of this land. Respect for indigenous peoples is part and parcel of demonstrating respect for the land and ensuring that we do not continue to mistreat the environment. Formal words at ceremonial openings are but a beginning of a process of integrating the ceremonies and protocols of indigenous culture that they wish and are eager to share into the wider Canadian experience.

The broader benefits are obvious. Multiculturalism entails mutual respect for differences. Multiculturalism entails cultural engagement with the other. Multiculturalism does not entail surrendering one’s own cultural practices and commitments, except in cases where those practices are demonstrably inimical to the communal values of all Canadians, a just place for wrestling with the politics of differences.

Thus, when we open an occasion, whether it is a school day or a formal ceremony, incorporating the traditional indigenous practice of welcoming people to share the land in peace and prosperity is an important start. This can go beyond a one-paragraph short statement, though that is where it should certainly begin. It could and should develop into incorporating into such ceremonies a traditional song of welcome recited and sung in the original language.

Traditional symbols can be included. The ceremony could even incorporate a traditional ceremonial practice. These are all ways of remembering, acknowledging and offering recognition. However, none of this must be done as appropriation, but only with the full participation and endorsement of our indigenous peoples. This is written in the plural not simply in recognition that Canada consisted of many indigenous peoples with different languages, customs and practices, but in recognition that a local region may have been an area of contention between and among competing peoples. All must become part of the process.

As such processes develop, representatives of indigenous peoples will and should be given places of special honour, just as Cohanim and Levites are acknowledged in Jewish ceremonies. This will include rites of passage – such as bat and bar mitzvahs as well as weddings in my own tradition. The recognition of the time and commitment of an indigenous person is not just a matter of formal status, but compensation should be paid for that time, for the responsibility of conveying and continuing the practices, and for ensuring that the responsibilities for recognition of our full history are validated. Cultures must not simply be replaced by successive ones. Traditions must be elevated and given a place of honour as new cultural expressions become predominant among all of us. Further, such a recital should only be an initial set in integrating indigenous law, non-indigenous and international law.

When we recite at an opening ceremony a simulacrum of the following, do not be embarrassed. Do not be bored. Engage. Welcome and embrace the opportunity. The statement can be as simple as the following with, at the very least, the discovery of the name or the names of the peoples who traditionally owned and occupied the land before the arrival of European and, subsequently, settlers from all over the world.

I or we respectfully acknowledge the (in our case) Anishinaabeg as the original custodians of this land on which we are currently holding this event and consider it a privilege as a Canadian to recognize that tradition and the people(s) who served as its historical custodians. We honour an occasion in which we can express those thanks and give acknowledgement and respect for that which we have inherited.

There are other variations:

I wish to acknowledge the custodians of this land, past and present, the Anishinaabeg people as the original custodians of this land.  I recognise and respect that cultural heritage, its beliefs and the protective relationship to the land.

I acknowledge that this meeting (conference, event, wedding, etc.) is being held on the land of the indigenous Anishinaabeg people or nation, the traditional custodians of this land.

Before we begin the proceedings, I would like us to acknowledge and pay our respect to the traditional custodians of the ancestral lands on which we meet, the Anishinaabeg nation.

An Australian poet in New South Wales, Jonathan Hill, wrote:

Today we stand in footsteps millennia old.

May we acknowledge the traditional owners

whose cultures and customs have nurtured,

and continue to nurture, this land,

since men and women awoke from the great dream.

We honour the presence of these ancestors

who reside in the imagination of this land

and whose irrepressible spirituality

flows through all creation.

https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/spirituality/welcome-to-country-acknowledgement-of-country#ixzz4nvgffB7H

Embrace tradition. It can make your spirit soar.