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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Antisemitism in America

Antisemitism in America

by

Howard Adelman

Has there been a significant increase in acts of antisemitism in America? If so, were they Type A, B or C? As a separate question, what has been the corresponding reaction to those incidents by the politicians in Washington, especially by Donald Trump? Whatever the pattern, what is its significance?

To recall, Type A antisemitism is divisible into subtypes. It stands for various forms of anti-Jewish antisemitic speeches and actions that took place before the nineteenth century, including the antisemitism of the Enlightenment itself that declared Judaism anti-reason. Enlightenment antisemitism was not based on Jewish dual loyalty charges, as in the antisemitism of Haman (Type A1). It was not based on Christian theological antisemitism (Type A2) that defined Jews as Christ-killers, condemned to be eternal sojourners with no loyalty to place or polity, purveyors of usury as partners of the devil and guilty of blood libel. In this version, Jews allegedly murdered Christian children to use the blood of innocents in grotesque rituals. Jews were not allowed to own land or to engage directly in commerce. Jews were “unnatural.”

Enlightenment antisemitism was a visceral hatred of Jews purportedly founded on the antisemitism of rationality (Type A3) as taught by Voltaire or Diderot. In an age of Enlightenment, in an age of tolerance, in an age where Jews could gain citizenship and theoretically pursue any profession, Voltaire condemned both Christianity and its predecessor, Judaism, for spreading intolerance, for failing to follow the laws of reason, and for failing to derive the laws of man from the laws of nature.

Though Gotthold Lessing and Christian Wilhelm von Dohm advocated equal rights for Jews, Voltaire, in contrast to Montesquieu as well, in the name of reason, accused Judaism of being the root source of Christian anti-reason and of general intolerance. Jews were purveyors of superstition born of a slavish mentalité that could be traced back to being nurtured in the bosom of Egypt. Jews, in fact, were the most irrational of all backward peoples.

Like Martin Luther, Voltaire viewed Jews as “unnatural,” but not because they rejected Jesus and allegedly had him killed, but because the Jewish belief system in its very foundation was irrational. The ritual laws Jews followed had to be banned or, at the very least, exorcised from the public sphere. Jews were a vile people and Diderot said of them that they confused reason and revelation, gave preference to obscurity and based their beliefs on an irrational foundation that led to zealotry and fanaticism. The charges are very similar to those brought against Muslims in Europe in the present.

Type B antisemitism emerged in the nineteenth century and defined Jews as a race that itself was rooted in the virulent undercurrent of antisemitism pervasive in Christendom. Unlike the plague of theological antisemitism of the mediaeval world and the Inquisition, or the Enlightenment antisemitism described above, racial antisemitism insisted that the behaviour of Jews was written in their genes. Jews could not escape the charges through conversion to either the religion of Christianity or the religion of rationality, but was rooted in their biological make-up, itself traced to charges of unnaturalism among Jews made by both Martin Luther and Voltaire.

Following the end of WWII, a new form of antisemitism began to emerge. Instead of arguing that Jews were not worthy of full participation as members of a state for “rational” or theological reasons, it argued that Jews, among all peoples, were not entitled to exercise self-determination or to have a state of their own. When Zionists insisted on having one, the charges motivating Type B antisemitism were directed against the Jews. They were the racists. They were the ones that practiced apartheid. They were the ones guilty of discrimination. Currently, it is the fundamental driving force behind the BDS movement, though I hasten to add, most supporters of BDS seem to be fellow travellers rather than ardent believers in Type C antisemitism.

Hasia Diner, to whom I referred to in an earlier blog, is a Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and History and a specialist in American Jewish history. In the special Moment issue on antisemitism, she railed against labelling the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as antisemitic since it is perfectly acceptable to criticize the Israeli government and its policies. As she correctly argued, there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a political and ethical stance that criticizes policies of the Israeli government and concludes that they are reprehensible. Further, these BDS supporters insist, again correctly, that economic boycotts are a legitimate way of expressing dissent. There is no question that some have tried to paint all or any criticism of Israel with the broad strokes of antisemitism or insisted that dissent is disloyal when Israel and Jews in North America are secure and strong enough to listen to and hear many voices about the policies and the status of democracy in Israel.

Criticism of Israel does not constitute antisemitism. But running such a campaign under the label of the BDS movement means associating with antisemites who would deny Jews the right to self-determination in their homeland, would deny Jews the right to have their own state. This a movement with a huge disproportionate focus on Israel, on its faults and, ultimately, its right to exist.  What makes it difficult to have a critical conversation about Israel under the BDS banner is not simply that one is immediately, and in most cases, falsely accused of antisemitism, but that one has chosen to forge one’s critique under a label rooted in the denial of the right to self-determination of the Jewish people.

There is another dimension to this anti-Zionist battle. Jewish students on campuses across the U.S. have been demonized and viciously, though almost always only verbally, attacked because they are supporters of Israel. Type C anti-Zionist antisemitism is particularly potent on some campuses while absent from most. Students who defend Israel, who have strong religious and cultural connections with Israel, are accused of being racists and are identified as supporting an illegitimate racist, and sometimes even Nazi apartheid regime. These deeply politicized attacks go well beyond simply debates and criticisms of Israeli government policies. It is not as if these parties attacking Israel also attack the human rights records of Iran, of Hezbollah or even of the Palestinian Authority. The attacks are both single-minded and go well beyond critique.

The absence of historic racist or Christian theological antisemitism does not mean an absence of antisemitism per se. Nor does the enormous success and achievements of Jews in North America. According to the Pew Foundation study on 9-13 January 2017, non-Jewish Americans feel “more warmly” toward Jews than toward any other religious group in our society, outside of their own. However, within the last few months, there has been a noticeable increase in antisemitic incidents with tombstones toppled in Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester. There have been well over 100 bombing threats against Jewish community centers. They have become almost a daily occurrence.

Is there any sense that these virulent strains of antisemitism are prevalent in the U.S.? Certainly, since the American election in November of 2016 and even before, there has been a significant increase in hate crimes in the U.S. targeting Jews and Jewish institutions. They have run the gamut from toppling tombstones in Jewish cemeteries to bomb threats mentioned above, largely against Jewish community centres rather than synagogues, forcing their evacuation. Part of the difficulty of analysis is a situation where many strains of antisemitism may be active at the same time.

In the U.S., there is currently a remarkable decrease of Christian theological antisemitism and even its almost total disappearance from public view. However, theological antisemitism has shifted to Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. It is difficult to separate this current strain of theological antisemitism from anti-Zionist antisemitism since Louis Farrakhan has said, “I want to disabuse the Jews today of the false claim that you are the chosen of God — that Israel or Palestine belongs to you.” A critique of chosenness is equated with the Zionist claim of the right to establish a Jewish state in the Middle East. In the National Conference of The Nation of Islam held last month in Detroit, Farrakhan’s critique adopted some of the most prominent elements of racial antisemitism, such as the charge of seeking world domination. “You that think you have power to frighten and dominate the peoples of the world. I’m here to announce the end of your time.” After all, as Farrakhan has claimed many times, Jewish “bloodsuckers” already dominate both the U.S. government and its banking system.

The United States also has a small movement of racist antisemites, such as those in the resurrected KKK and White Power movements once led by David Duke. Much more significant are the Enlightenment antisemites often linked with the BDS movement and anti-Zionism. When do, usually Jewish Enlightenment academics, cross the line between a critique of the irrationality of the Jewish religion and/or a critique of Zionism to become guilty of antisemitism? Alan Dershowitz in a 2011 article in the New Republic (“Why are John Mearsheimer and Richard Falk Endorsing a Blatantly Anti-Semitic Book?” – 4 November), claimed that they clearly crossed the line when they endorsed a blatantly antisemitic book by that proud self-hating Jew (his own words), Gilad Atzmon, called The Wandering Who?

Like Voltaire and Diderot, Atzmon is a strong critic of “Jewish-ness.” Atzmon, like the Nazi racial antisemites, tries to convey the message that Jews are out to control the world. Not some Jews. Not a Jewish elite, but the Jewish people. “American Jews do try to control the world by proxy.” The American media controlled by Jews failed to warn the rest of America in 2007 and 2008 about the impending economic disaster which Jews played such a leading role in bringing about. In thoughts going back to Haman, Jews were the enemy within.

Jews are accused to leading the trade in body parts, echoing the charges of barbarism leveled at Jews in the Middle Ages. But Atzmon’s critique, however much it overlaps with anti-Zionist expressions of antisemitism, however much it picks up themes from racist antisemitism, focuses on Jews as “an obscure, dangerous and unethical fellowship.” For Atzmon, “The history of [Jewish] persecution is a myth, and, if there was any persecution, the Jews brought in on themselves.” Jews are the goy-haters and purveyors of a racist ideology. The Jewish God is an evil deity.  Atzmon even reaches back to the antisemitism of Haman and insists, “The moral of the Book of Esther is that Jews ‘had better infiltrate the corridors of power.’”

The significant increase in antisemitic incidents has come about at the same time Donald Trump assumed the presidency of the United States. What type of antisemitism did these acts of vandalism represent? Is there a correlation with the ascension of Donald Trump? Is there a connection?

Tomorrow: Donald Trump and Antisemitism in America

 

With the help of Alex Zisman