Arnon Grunberg



On being naked for God and other ideals - Eli Zaretsky in LRB:

“The history of the American university is full of examples of wealthy, powerful men – often called ‘trustees’ – bullying the professoriate over what to teach and how to teach it, so there is nothing new in the recent successes of Marc Rowan and William Ackman in toppling the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. What is new is the extent to which this was done in the name of fighting antisemitism or protecting the rights of Jews. The incidents point to the terrific pressure to curtail support for the Palestinians that has emanated from Israel and the American Jewish establishment. The pressure also comes from outside the Jewish community. Jürgen Habermas, for example, has argued that because of Germany’s special responsibility to the Jewish people, Germans should not raise the question of genocide regarding Israel’s current behaviour.”


“One of the epigraphs to Magid’s book comes from Eugene Borowitz: ‘Anybody who cares seriously about being a Jew is in Exile and would be in Exile even if that person were in Jerusalem.’ As Magid’s intervention shows, the question of loyalty to Israel rests on a prior question: namely, what is a Jew? This question is also relevant to the German situation, since it is unclear why German responsibility to the Jews should be equated with responsibility to Israel.”


“Around 1910, the philosopher Ernst Bloch faced a similar dilemma, when many of his fellow Jews, torn up by antisemitism, became Zionists. Bloch opposed Zionism, claiming it would substitute ‘mere nationality’ for ‘chosenness’. By ‘chosenness’, Bloch explained, he meant Judaism’s oppositional intellectualist culture, which embodied a clear opposition of ‘the good and the illuminated against everything petty, unjust and hard’. Chosenness v. nationality may be a better starting point for understanding the current dilemma.”


“The contradiction between Jewish chosenness, on the one hand, and universality, on the other, deepened with the rise of Christianity. The Christian claim that Jesus, the Messiah, was a Jew buttressed the Jewish claim to being special. At the same time, the Jews rejected this claim, which led to their being especially derided by Christians. Jews thought that the Christian apparatus of God having a son, of Mary and the Holy Ghost, of relics, saints, martyrs and so on, was a digression from the main point, which was to be naked before God. But many Christians – such as Augustine, Luther and Pascal – thought similarly, as did Muhammad. And Jews were in no position to criticise the idea that God had a son, much less an only son, since the idea that God had a chosen people was a version of the same idea.”


“I would identify three currents of contemporary thought that remain inflected by the original Jewish sensibility: intellectuality, messianism and cosmopolitanism.
Intellectuality. What’s distinctive about the Jewish tradition of intellectuality is that it has nothing to do with calculation or instrumental reason. Freud, in Moses and Monotheism, called it Geistigkeit, meaning a disposition to conceptual thought about the sacred, and the rise in self-esteem that comes with it. Freud traced Geistigkeit to the conceptual leap of the original monotheism. Walter Benjamin regarded Adam as the first philosopher. His concept of ‘aura’ – fundamental to the whole of modern film and media studies – is a direct descendant of the Bilderverbot. Both Freud and Benjamin paid dearly for their Jewishness. Benjamin died by suicide while fleeing the Nazis. Criticism of psychoanalysis has been plagued by antisemitic tropes, such as the idea that it is pessimistic, anti-social or sex-obsessed.
Messianism. While Marx’s theory of capitalism does not have particularly Jewish roots, what would Marxism be without its messianic dimension, according to which the proletariat, which was nothing, shall be everything? Certainly, this has Christian roots as well but, as Weber wrote in Ancient Judaism, the ancient Israelites generated the idea of a paradise in the past (the Davidian monarchy) projected into the future.”


“Isaac Deutcher’s 1958 essay ‘The Non-Jewish Jew’, which has been adopted as a talisman by many secular Jews, gives six examples: Spinoza, Heine, Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky and Freud. They were all Jewish by birth and their thinking began with Judaism but, in Deutscher’s words, all ‘went beyond the boundaries of Jewry. They all found Jewry too narrow, too archaic, and too constricting. They all looked for ideals and fulfilment beyond it, and they represent the sum and substance of much that is greatest in modern thought.’ In Freud and the Non-European (2003), Edward Said (a Christian Arab) praised Freud for putting Egypt (i.e. ‘otherness’) at the center of Jewishness. Jacques Derrida, born in Algeria in 1930, was a schoolchild when the German occupation of France led to the introduction of new anti-Jewish legislation. Derrida lost his French citizenship, but his work forged an enduring critique of all forms of identity, including Jewishness.”

Read the article here.

First, Habermas, the letter is a bit more nuanced than Eli Zaretsky’s summarization. See here.

Habermas and two others take the position that Israel has no genocidal intentions. Discussion is possible of course, but the main part of the letter is about antisemitism in Germany.

There is a story in Jewish mythology that God went to all people on earth and asked: ”Do you want to be my people?” They all said: “No.” And then the Jewish people answered: “Okay, we will do it.” Which leaves the ambiguity open, is being chosen a curse or a blessing?

Jewishness came into existence at a certain point in history, apparently at a point where religious practices and traditions were not sufficient anymore to give meaning to the word Jewish.

See this conversation, in Dutch only.

That Israel and Zionism slowly but steadily became a burden to the concept of Jewishness is clear.

Also, because the Zionistic project opened the gates for Messianism, and more specifically political Zionism.

Judaism has been always very much obsessed with postponing and avoiding the coming of the Messiah.
It’s clear why.

Sooner or later Messianism turns out to be a catastrophe.

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