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

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Canada a Peaceable Kingdom in a World of Dramatic Change: Refugees 1979

Canada a Peaceable Kingdom in a World of Dramatic Change: Refugees 1979

Part 1V on The Indo-Chinese Refugee Private Sponsorship Program

by

Howard Adelman

In one sense, 1979 was very much like 2015, most noticeably in the number of spectacular airline crashes that took place: the American Airlines DC-10 that crashed on takeoff from O’hare Airport in Chicago killing 273 in May 1979, the collision of two Russian airliners in August killing 173, the crash of a DC-10 at the end of October in Mexico City that killed 74 and the Air New Zealand DC-10 that crashed at the end of November into Mt Erebus on Antarctica killing all 257 on board. 2015 also resemble 1979 in the number of stories of migrants fleeing on boats from Africa and drowning at sea. Otherwise, 1979 belonged to a very different world, especially in Canada, which seemed to occupy a privileged and happy Eden of its own with some exceptions, such as the train derailment in Mississauga near the end of 1979 that forced the evacuation of 200,000.

The private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees took off like a rocket in the summer of 1979. The Liberal government had committed itself to bringing in 5,000 Indochinese refugees into Canada during 1979. On 22 May of that year the government of Canada was defeated in a national election and a very young and eager Progressive Conservative Party led by Joe Clark won the election and formed a new minority government. Joe Clark at the age of 39 became Canada’s youngest Prime Minister on 4 June.

No sooner had the Conservatives come to power than they faced the question of what action to take in response to the dramatic increase in refugees fleeing Vietnam in rickety boats that were often attacked by pirates. Ron Atkey had been briefed in detail by Bud Cullen, the previous Minister of Immigration in the Liberal government, on the need to take further action. Atkey, named by Joe Clark as the Minister of Immigration, had obtained government approval to increase the total intake for 1979 to 12,000, 8,000 to be sponsored by the government and 4,000 allocated for sponsorship by the private sector. By July, the government had increased the target to 50,000, including 8,000 sponsored by the government, 21,000 additional government sponsorships on a matching basis with 21,000 to be sponsored by the private sector.

What was happening in Canada, in its cultural and political life that led the population of Canada to become so active and involved in the private sponsorship of Indochinese refugees? Before the end of the year, the Canadian private sector had surpassed the target of 21,000 sponsorships with almost 30,000. Further, the success was not only in quantity but in the successful adaptation of the refugees to Canadian life. Though Canada was a cold country, the welcome and outreach by Canadians involved in the refugee sponsorship movement was anything but.

That period in Canada was a time of dramatic political change yet unusual continuity. On 16 August 1979, former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker died but he had left a legacy of rights that infused all political parties in Canada at the time. When the short-lived Clark government was defeated in February 1980, the Liberals returned to power and they increased the total targeted intake of Indochinese refugees from 50,000 to 60,000 to ensure that the government kept its previous matching pledge.

The superficial shifting of political power did not threaten the progressive unity underneath these political changes epitomized by Bud Cullen briefing Ron Atkey in detail on the Indochinese refugee problem and the need to enhance Canada’s role. Canada was a place of calm and confidence, whatever the political shenanigans. Humanitarianism seemed to captivate the political imagination.

However, much deeper and more profound changes were underway in Southeast Asia. Following the initial Nixon initiative, the U.S. and China had exchanged diplomatic missions. On 29 January 1979, Chinese vice-premier Deng Xiaoping visited Washington.   Deng would emerge subsequently as President to initiate the most substantial changes in China to move the country from a peasant economy to an industrial and trading economic power based on private ownership and entrepreneurship while the Communist Party retained a monopoly on power.

At the same time, America had begun to deal with its own failure in Vietnam. Two anti-Vietnam war movies won top honours at the 51st Academy Awards, Deer Hunter nominated nine times and winning the award for best picture, best director (Michael Cimino) and best supporting actor for Christopher Walkem, while Coming Home nominated eight times won awards for John Voigt as the best actor and Jane Fonda as the best actress as well as the award for the best original screenplay. Shortly after the awards ceremony the world experienced the release of  Apocalypse Now with Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen.

During this very same period, Vietnam invaded another communist state, Cambodia, and captured Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia was an ally of China and China invaded Vietnam setting off the Sino-Vietnamese War. The People’s Republic of China withdrew its troops from Vietnam a month later, but not without eventually extracting severe concessions re the ownership of disputed islands and other border areas. China was just beginning to stretch its wings and joined the IOC in April. By November, China was re-admitted to the Olympics.

At the same time, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were on a long decline with some brief intermissions, the latter on a steep economic and political one and the former on a very gradual hardly noticeable retreat restricted to the international political arena. The year was an auspicious one for the United States, beginning with the major nuclear accident and partial meltdown at 3 Mile Island in Middletown Pennsylvania. America’s protectorates in the South Pacific were achieving independence, though they remained satraps of America under American tutelage and protection. On 1 October, the U.S. would return the Panama Canal to Panama. But the United States was also undergoing a major cultural revolution as the period of LGBT rights began, ironically, with the murder of Mayor Moscone of San Francisco and the passing of the first gay rights bill in Los Angeles. The beginning of the retreat from its self-perception as the world’s policeman went hand-in-hand with the beginning of a surrender of a macho culture that had built into it the repression not only of non-macho men who come out as gay or transsexual, but the oppression of women, especially lesbians.

While all this turmoil was underway abroad and nearby, Canada was going through very peaceful elections that produced an upset and the displacement of the long ruling Liberals with the conservatives in power. In South East Asia, Vietnam, in part in order to pay the large costs of its war, began to confiscate the wealth of its ethnic Chinese and South Vietnamese entrepreneurs, encouraging their flight while charging them a “tax” to take leaky and unseaworthy boats to escape. The North Vietnamese had evolved into a regime that stole from the rich in multiple ways and pushed the ethnic Chinese minority and subsequently Vietnamese businessmen out of the country.

In the meanwhile, though U.S. turmoil had ended in Southeast Asia, in the near east, events were not as tranquil. The year had begun with the flight of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to Egypt and the interim Bakhtiar government was soon displaced by the return of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini from Paris, who declared an Islamic Republic on 1 April. Iran was in turmoil and that turmoil allowed OPEC over a period of three months to raise the price of oil by 30%. The Iranian government was at war with its Kurdish population; a virulent pogrom was launched against Iranian Kurds and its own non-Kurdish population as book burnings and mass executions took place over the next six months.  On 4 November, 400 radical young Islamists raided and occupied the American embassy in Tehran taking many of the diplomatic personnel hostage, though some escaped to Canadian facilities. Female and black employees were soon released. Khomeini assumed absolute control and declared America to be the “Great Satan.” The U.S. responded to the provocation, not by bombing Iran to smithereens for such a provocative action, but by freezing Iranian assets and stopping the import of Iranian oil and gas. Iran reciprocated by cancelling all American contracts.

While Iran was a bubbling volcano and while a war had broken out between North and South Yemen that would continue with periodic eruptions to the present day, Israel and Egypt were forging a peace agreement that took effect on 25 April. The oil fields that Israel had seized in 1967 were returned in November and Israel transferred back the Sinai, or almost all of it. The unbelievable had happened. The most powerful state by far in the Arab world, the centre of Arab filmmaking, book publishing and intellectual creativity, had given up on its ambition of becoming the regional hegemon. Who knew then that Iran and, to some extent Turkey, would attempt to move into the vacuum left in the wake of the Egyptian retreat.

In the meanwhile, Latin American dominoes seemed to be falling into communist or fascist hands. The New Jewel Movement overthrew the Gairy dictatorship in Grenada and the Sandinistas took power in Nicaragua as dictator Anastasio Somoza fled to Miami. In El Salvador, it was another story as a military coup forced President and General Carlos Romero to flee. In contrast, in Africa things seemed to be looking up, with the emphasis on “seems”. Tanzania invaded Uganda and the mad man of Africa, President Idi Amin, fled the country. In Rhodesia, finally a black government replaced the repressive white minority and Bishop Muzorewa assumed power. Even the Congo adopted a constitution, but it, like many reforms in Africa, would prove to be mirages though everyone was pleased to see the last of Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic, overthrown in a coup. Perhaps after Rhodesia, the most hailed event was the accession to power in Angola of José Eduardo dos Santos.

While the United States was in turmoil overseas, Britain was in lock-down mode at home. 10,000 public sector workers went on strike. The IRA violence was rising and Richard Sykes, the British ambassador to the Netherlands, was assassinated in The Hague. In late March, Airey Neave, a British parliamentarian, was killed by a car bomb outside of Westminster. As bombs were going off all across Northern Ireland, as members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary were being murdered and British soldiers were being ambushed, as the violence culminated in the assassination of Earl Mountbatten in September, Margaret Thatcher had become the first female Prime Minister of Britain after the James Callaghan government had collapsed in May. She would set off a political revolution that Britain had not seen for a century, providing a preview of what would happen when Ronald Reagan won over the incumbent Jimmy Carter who had so bungled the Iran file. To top the humiliating period the UK was going through, Sir Anthony Blunt, art advisor to the Queen, was outed as the fourth member of the Soviet spy ring. Is it any wonder that, compared to Canada’s success, Britain’s program of resettling Indochinese refugees went so badly, quite aside from the foolish decision to resettle the refugees in vacant public housing, that is, precisely in areas with very high unemployment levels.

Even though the Red Army hockey team beat the New York Rangers, the runner-up in the Stanley Cup contest, by a score of 5-2 in Madison Square Garden, by year’s end, the U.S.S.R. had made the fatal mistake that would doom the Soviet empire when at the end of the year, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, overthrew President Hafizullah Amin and seized the presidential palace in Kabul. The fall of the Soviet empire had probably already been triggered by the visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland in June. At the height of all this publicity in Canada about the Boat People and as Canada was in transition from a Liberal to a Tory government, the world seemed to be going through hell as well as growing seeds for a new future.

All that is to say is that Canada was a peaceable kingdom engaged in peripheral and irrelevant debates over whether to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as the U.S., U.S.S.R., China and France seemed to be racing each other before the Salt II test ban treaty took effect to test and explode as many nuclear weapons as each could, weapons that were useless if ever used and only of use in deterrence if they were never used. It was indeed a mad mad world and Canada seemed an island of tranquility in a global epidemic of insanity. The sign – sports. The NHL was expanding to absorb the four teams in the World Hockey Association – the Oilers, Jets, Nordiques and Whalers. On 21 May when the news o the boat people was reaching a fever pitch just two weeks before the Tories were to take power, the Montreal Canadiens beat the New York Rangers 4 games to 1 to clinch the Stanley Cup. It was great time to be a Canadian and a relatively easy time for a Canadian to be a humanitarian.