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

 

 

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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.

The Few and the Many: Gregory Baum and the Creation of Israel

The Few and the Many: Gregory Baum and the Creation of Israel

by

Howard Adelman

In the previous two blogs, I tried to show why Gregory Baum was wrong in arguing first, that Orthodox Jews hesitated to support Israel because they believed that Israel could only be recreated by an act of God – indeed, only a small Orthodox sect, the Neturei Karta believed that. Second, Gregory argued that had there been no Hitler and no Holocaust, there would have been no Israel. Though there is a thread of plausibility in this thesis, and a few arguments and pieces of evidence support it, and though this is a belief also widely held in the Jewish community, I offered a number of arguments to demonstrate it is an erroneous thesis.

In this blog, I want to take up the other six quantitative theses of Gregory Baum’s anti-Zionist position in a slightly different order than first presented. Before Gregory shifted to theology, he earned an MA in mathematics. Therefore, it is thus more surprising to read the gross numerical errors concerning Zionism. The six quantitative theses are as follows:

  1. The Zionist Ideology Minority Thesis (ZIM) prior to Hitler.
  2. The Few Thesis: only a “few thousand arrivals…wanted to create a Jewish cultural community in Palestine” prior to Hitler.
  3. The Arab Opposition (AO) Thesis: those few thousand “would have found a space there without gravely disturbing the local population.”
  4. The Zionist Majority Thesis (ZM): large scale migration to Palestine led to the shift to majority support for Zionism.
  5. The Creation Thesis: that mass migration led to the creation of the State of Israel.
  6. The Conflict Thesis: mass migration also led to the conflict with the Arabs.
  1. The Zionist Ideology Minority Thesis (ZIM) prior to Hitler.

Gregory is correct. Prior to Israel, Zionism was a belief held by only minority of Jews. But so was Bundism (Socialism), Communism, Orthodoxy, Ultra-Orthodoxy, Liberalism, Assimilationism, or the Reform Movement. This is certainly true compared to what emerged after the creation of the State of Israel. Zionism became the clear majority belief among all Jews; it has remained the predominant belief since then. The issue is not that Zionism was a minority ideology before 1933, but whether Zionists constituted a significant minority prior to the accession of the Nazis to power. World Jewry has never articulated its views in a single voice. Even currently, when a majority of Jews support Israel, there are many different ways in which that support is manifested and different beliefs supporting the myriad of voices.

  1. The Few Thesis: only a “few thousand arrivals…wanted to create a Jewish cultural community in Palestine” prior to Hitler.

There is a hint of truth in this thesis, but one which reveals its overall gross distortion. With the rise of Hitler, the level of support for Zionism in 1936, particularly in America, was significantly higher than in 1932. But that does not mean that Zionist support prior to the rise of Hitler was insignificant. More particularly, with the plight of German Jewry worsening and the gates closing on immigration to America, Zionists could promote resettlement in Palestine in a way they could not in the years prior to Hitler’s accession to power. Those efforts earned support among individuals who would previously had nothing to do with Zionism. On the other hand, Britain began to close the gates even more to Jewish immigration in 1935, just 3 years after Hitler was first elected. Given the growing trend in the pattern of Jewish migration to Palestine prior to 1932, and had the original number of Jews been allowed to stay alive, it is safe to assume that, by 1947, the total number of Jews interested in migrating to Palestine would have grown in at least the same proportion as it did prior to the rise of Hitler. At the very least, there would have been as many Jews in Palestine as there were after the rise of Hitler and the catastrophe of the Shoah.

My focus will be on the five decades between 1882 and 1932 to assess whether there were only “a few thousand” Jewish arrivals in Palestine during this period.

The numbers of Jews and Arabs in Palestine who arrived in each of the following decades after 1880 before the rise of Hitler is a matter of some controversy. So are the Jewish and Arab percentages of the total population. I do not intend to sort through the various positions. Nor do I have to, for it takes very little effort to demonstrate an overwhelming consensus that the claim that, prior to the rise of Hitler, only “a few thousand arrivals…wanted to create a Jewish cultural community in Palestine,” is false. The claim is not only demonstrably false, it is so erroneous, regardless of the estimates used, that it constitutes a gross misrepresentation and misperception.

Without getting into the variation in estimates, in 1880, only 3% of the population of Palestine was Jewish out of a total population of about 450,000; 94% were Arabs. Jews lived in Safed and Jerusalem and constituted the largest plurality in the small populations in those two towns at the time.

In the Third Aliyah between 1917 and 1923, in spite of quotas imposed on Jewish immigration to Palestine, 40,000 more Jews migrated to Palestine, bringing the total number by 1923 to 90,000 halutzim or pioneers who had resettled in Palestine (see the August 1925 “Report of the Executive of the Zionist Organization.”) It was a period when marshes were drained, roads built and towns established. Even critics of the Zionist figures, such as Justin McCarthy, agree with the British census that the total population of Palestine had risen to 725,000 by 1922 of which 84,000 or about 12% were Jewish. Other estimates offer a percentage of 12.4% or 90,000.

In the Fourth Aliya from 1925 to 1931, another 80,000 Jews resettled in Palestine. The number of Jews had doubled and the percentage of the total population had increased to over 16%. Of the almost 225,000 Jews who resettled in Palestine in the Fifth Aliya between 1931 and 1939, in the first two years an estimated 60,000 more had arrived. Thus, Zionist migration to Palestine probably totalled about 230,000 by then. This is not “a few thousand.” In the next fifteen years, in spite of the British barriers to migration imposed in 1935, the total Jewish population of Palestine had risen to 630,000 representing almost 32% of the population by 1947.

Without the rise of Hitler, given the rate of increase of the Jewish population over the previous fifteen years from 1917-1932 and projecting forward, without even considering the constant acceleration in the number of arrivals, the Jewish population would have doubled again to 460,000 rather than 630,000. If the rate of acceleration is taken into account, bracketing the war, the Holocaust and British barriers, it is estimated that about the same numbers would have arrived that actually did. That is, without Hitler, without the Holocaust, the number of Jews in Palestine would have been at least as many in 1947 as ended up there.

  1. The Arab Opposition (AO) Thesis: those few thousand “would have found a space there without gravely disturbing the local population.”

Quite aside for the number of Jews numbering far more than a few thousand, the thesis that if only a few Jews had migrated into Palestine, the Arab populations would have received them in peace is even a larger falsification. First, the Jews who arrived did not displace any Arabs prior to 1947. Though there is a debate over numbers, there is a general agreement that the booming Jewish economic sectors in Palestine attracted an in-migration of Arabs. Yet, in spite of the economic benefit, in spite of the fact that in 1922 Jews only constituted 12% of the population and totaled only about 80,000 to 90,000, Haj Amin el-Husseini emerged as the radical voice of the Palestinians. He organized fedayeen (suicide terrorists) who began to attack Jews in 1919.

Thus, Gregory perpetuates a double misrepresentation. First, that Jewish immigration prior to the rise of Hitler was small. Wrong! Second, that the initial reception of Arabs was peaceful. Wrong again! The leadership was violent even when the in-migration of Jews, though significant, was not threatening at all. In 1920, the first of a series of Arab riots began during Passover. Attacks increased in 1921. In spite of that history, in spite of being arrested and sentenced for sedition, in 1922, the British government released el- Husseini and appointed him Mufti.

Further, from that position, he consolidated power over the Arab community, taking control of all the assets and income of the mosques as well as controlling the educational system and the administration of sharia law. Like many dictators in the Arab world that succeeded him, like Erdoğan in Turkey or Putin in Russia, and, frankly, consistent with the actions of Donald Trump currently, no one could hold a position unless personally loyal to the Mufti. Given the power he accumulated so quickly, the British mandatory authority tried to assuage him by restricting Jewish immigration to “absorptive capacity.” But even that was not sufficient. Husseini insisted on zero immigration. Gregory Baum’s thesis on this issue is just balderdash.

  1. The Zionist Majority Thesis (ZM): large scale migration to Palestine led to the shift to majority support for Zionism

This causal analysis reminds me of the tale of the scientist working on the causes of drunkenness. He conducted an experiment giving his subjects equal amounts of gin and water on day 1, bourbon and water on day 2, vodka and water on day 3, scotch and water on day 4, and rye and water on day 5. After he observed that the subjects became equally intoxicated each day, the scientist concluded that the cause of the intoxication was the water.

Gregory’s error was rather more egregious, for there is a temporal factor. Mass migration took place AFTER the creation of the State of Israel with the huge influx of Jews from Arab lands as well as a good part of the survivors left in the DP camps in Europe. Yet evidence suggests that the support for Israel became a majoritarian perspective with the creation of the State of Israel. Majority support for Israel preceded large scale migration.

  1. The Creation Thesis: mass migration led to the creation of Israel

This is virtually the same issue, but applied to the non-Jewish world. Britain prevented mass migration to Israel from 1935 to 1948. The migration that took place mostly occurred in spite of British policies. In 1947, the UN members offered majority support for creating the State of Israel to get rid of the 250,000 refugees in the camps as well as for a host of reasons within Palestine. The creation of the state and the Arab resistance to that majority decision, the invasion of the nascent State of Israel by Arab states and, mostly, the persecution of their own Jewish citizens by those and other Arab states, led to the mass migration. Mass migration followed and did not precede the creation of the State of Israel.

  1. The Conflict Thesis: mass migration led to the conflict with the Arabs.

The above account also demonstrates the perfidiousness of this final thesis. I want to end, not by summarizing, but by asking how such a genuinely good man could arrive at such heinous conclusions. They are not the conclusions of Gregory alone, but of leaders in the United Church in Canada and of my other three friends and colleagues who joined with him in writing the terrible 1970s ecumenical paper based on more or less these same arguments.

One explanation is that none of the four were historians. But most of the information cited above was publicly available. One did not have to be a historian to avoid such egregious errors in judgment. Another approach to find an explanation examines the development of their ideas in the context of their personal and institutional histories. Gregory’s position must be viewed in such a context. He is a Roman Catholic. However, there has been a movement of reconciliation with Judaism in the last fifty years among Catholics. On the religious level, Gregory played a leading role. But not on the political level! The Holy See established formal relations with Israel only in 1993, well after Gregory’s influence had waned. Historically, the papacy had been consistently hostile to Zionism as an ideology. The Church actively opposed diplomatic efforts to promote the Zionist cause through resettlement of Jews in the first decades of the twentieth century. (Cf. Sergio Minerbi, The Vatican and Zionism, Oxford U.P., 1990)

However, I believe the main cause is mindblindness, an inability or unwillingness to see what is in front of you plainly in view. One final example. In that older seventies paper I recall one of the arguments was over the Crusades, an argument in which Gregory expressed a specific Christian responsibility for the Crusades that was the exertion of Western power against the Arabs in the Middle East. Whatever the value of that thesis, most noticeable was the omission of any effects of the Crusades on the Jews who had been devastated by pogroms perpetrated by the Crusaders.

When guilt over the Crusades was married to guilt over the desire to ethnically cleanse European Jews, the two premises were synthesized in the willingness and desire to dump Europe’s problems with Jews onto the Arabs. Whether or not neo-colonialism should be viewed as a modern extension of the Crusades, the assumption of guilt for pushing the Jewish problems onto the Arabs seems totally unwarranted, especially given that almost half of the Jewish population in Israel is made up of Jews forced to flee Arab countries. However, I do not believe that mindblindness should be viewed as a form of antisemitism.

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.