Monday, June 18, 2018

Michael Chabon's Nihilism

HUC honorary PhD recipient, Chabon and his sponsor Tamara Eskenazi (JTA)
Pulitzer Prize-winning author,  Michael Chabon, has made quite the splash in the Jewish media.

I hadn’t paid much attention to him since he is outside of my Orthodox Jewish orbit. I usually don’t lend much credibility to statements about Judaism from an avowed atheist. His views are unlikely to have any impact on me or my beliefs.  I was sure I would disagree with him but that hardly mattered. 

Although I do on occasion pay attention to what some non Orthodox Jews say, it is usually either because they have made comments in concert with Orthodoxy (eg. Jack Wertheimer and Daniel Gordis), or because those comments did somehow impact us and required a response (as in challenging the religious status qou in Israel). Otherwise I tend to ignore them. I believed that a Jewish atheist giving an address at the commencement exercise of a Reform seminary (HUC) was completely irrelevant to authentic Judaism as Orthodoxy defines it.

Michael Chabon’s views certainly qualify as having no relevance to the Torah; my beliefs and way of life; or to anyone who believes in the truths of the Torah. So he fell easily into my usual practice of ignoring them. That was the case until I happened to read an editorial by Chicago Jewish News publisher, Joseph Aaron. (It was about having compassion for Roseanne Barr ...which I actually agree with him about – but is beside the point of this post). He mentioned Chabon in passing. Here is what he said that precipitated my discussing it: 
Michael Chabon …delivered a diatribe against Jewish inmarriage. Chabon, author of several acclaimed novels, spoke about how he once wanted his children to marry Jews, but now opposes the idea of Jews marrying Jews. He also spoke of his own atheism and dislike of obligatory Jewish rituals, and asserted that the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt was fabricated.
As for Jewish inmarriage, he called it a ‘ghetto of two’ and said, “It draws a circle around the married couple, inscribing them and any children who come along in the figurative wall of tradition, custom, shared history and a common inheritance of chromosomes and culture.” He added that “Any religion that relies on compulsory endogamy to survive has, in my view, ceased to make the case for its continued validity in the everyday lives of human beings.” 
One may be surprised to find that I actually agree with him - if you do not believe in God or in Judaism as defined by Torah.  Why indeed perpetuate a people based on common chromosomes or culture?  Marrying your own kind under these conditions is racist - is it not? If I were an atheist. I would be cheering him on… saying that in-marriage is counter to the universal principle of equality.

When HUC was challenged about allowing Chabon this kind of abhorrent rhetoric – even giving him an honorary doctorate - they responded that they invite political debate at a Jewish university!  But I must ask them why they continue to promote Judaism for at most cultural reasons based on a racist ideology?

Is the Jewish view of marrying in all that dissimilar from the Nazi version of Aryan race forbidding the taint of non Aryan marriage?  Where they wanted to keep the race pure - free of being contaminated chromosomally or culturally?! Of what value is Jewish culture? Is it so much greater than that of other cultures that it must be saved and carried forward genetically? And for what purpose? The purity of the Jewish race?! If the Torah doesn’t matter what possible justification can there be for perpetuating a form of racism?

Chabon’s comments directly challenge Reform Judaism’s raison d'être. Reform does not require belief in the Torah – nor do they even require belief in God. More than any other denomination they define Judaism culturally – seeing tradition as a means of Jewish identity.  By ‘doing Jewish’ we can propel ourselves into the future. They now realize with without any tradition at all; by just assuming the ethics without any of its unique practices - they will end up without any Judaism at all. Whoops! There gores the entire movement! They therefore now urge (but do not require) observing as much of Jewish tradition as they can as a means of perpetuating their Judaism.

I actually believe this is a positive step for them. But without believing in the Divine nature of the requirements of Halacha and Jewish traditions, why bother? Who needs Judaism? Why give in to what is an obvious racist mentality? Once you realize that, then the State of Israel ends up being a racist society as well!

While one may justifiably point to the fact that the creation of Israel gave survivors of the Holocaust a place to go, surely that is no longer the case. Besides even if you don’t believe in Judaism you can still create a humanitarian state that would do the same thing.  One that will always give safe haven to the persecuted. Why limit it to only Jews? Isn’t THAT racist too?

If you do not believe in the Torah and the uniqueness of the Jewish people as chosen by God to follow His word - what justifiction is there for a State to be Jewish? Is it so that we can perpetuate the joy of Gefilte Fish?! Well… guess what. You can still enjoy Gefilte Fish even if you are an atheist!

The ONLY reason to oppose intermarriage is if you believe in God and His Torah. Which tells us that we – His chosen people - are a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation’.  And that the value in maintaining and perpetuating our people into the future is a matter of God’s will.

One might say that such beliefs are racist. To a certain extent they are. We believe that we are a better people because our beliefs and practices are based on a Godly mandate for His people.  This might be called ‘positve racism’ as opposed to ‘negative racism’.  

First because it isn’t entirely based on genetics. Those not born Jewish may convert  based on the desire to serve God at the higher level of being a Jew. Through conversion they become part of our ‘race’ equal in stature to those born Jewish.

Furthermore we do not persecute non Jews. We are required to see them all for what they are:  created in the Image of God - each having the ability to serve God through the laws mandated for non Jews (The Noahide laws).  We are required to treat all of mankind with the dignity and respect all of God’s human creations deserve.

That being said, I admit to still being appalled that a Jew has become such an antisemite! He might have a point – allowing his perspective.  But for a Jew to so reject his heritage to the point of hoping it disappears  from the face of the earth (even though he might deny that - it is impossible not to draw that conclusion) just makes me sick!