Adult Education, or Adulteration?

Dr. Yakir Englander asks us to imagine an “adult Jewish society” that “embrace[s] the people of peace even if at times they are perceived as undermining our narratives, or even perceived as harming Jewish security.”  As he is one of the Directors at Kids4Peace, it makes sense that Dr. Englander’s ostensible adult education program as laid out in the piece might, to paraphrase Tom Lehrer, instead serve to extend adolescence beyond all previous limits.

The first hint is how Dr. Englander sets up his piece: using a “conversation I had with an Ultra-Orthodox rabbi [who] said sadly: “The Ultra-Orthodox community is perfect for raising children, but at the same time it is a bad place to raise adults.””  Mr. Englander’s introduction is a perfect set up, for two reasons: aside from immediately labeling who oppose him having a less-than-adult mindset, his conflation of Ultra-Orthodox and Zionist-Americans throughout the piece as equally unable to “assess reality with a certain distance of objectivity and can live with complex questions” is indicative of a rather less-than-adult tendency to stereotype as well as a self-imposed historilliteracy. (“Zionist-Americans [as] Neturei Karta, “Guardians of the Walls”?”  In which Messianic Era?)

Another tell is is Mr. Englander’s attempt to pretend to “not want to go into the question of whether it was right for the Jewish summer camp to raise the flag of Palestine” and then his proceeding to virtually do just that through his assertion that the camp, “in deciding to raise the flag, move[d] from a child-like Jewish space to an adult space.”  Dr. Englander’s non-validation validation of the camp’s action is—well—childish.

So too, “[t]hey decided to undermine the status quo” being the first in his list of reasons non-justifying/justifying the camp’s action indicates that he might consider epater le bourgeois a justified first resort in his adult education program because of a pressing “need [for] space to experiment with new experiences”, which leads one to believe that his  program more resembles an undergraduate revolution.

Dr. Englander’s disingenuous use of Talmudic texts to justify his program of giving succor to the Other and holding up that approach as axiomatic is belied by his own sources.  For one thing, in playing the sinat chinam/baseless hatred card, Dr. Englander surely must remember the Kamtza/Bar Kamtza narrative: Bar Kamtza ultimately engaged in quislingery after his humiliation, but this implies that said “sinah” would not have been “chinam” had the quislingery catalyzed the sinah, instead of the other way around.  In any event, Dr. Englander seems to be smart enough–or disingenuous enough–to not explicitly equate the failure to “love and [accept] the Other” with sinat chinam.  (Maybe he thinks we’re not on his madrega yet.)

Similarly, Dr. Englander cites laws regarding testimony, specifically that a “family member, as the Jewish tradition maintains, cannot take sides because it is not objective”.  Does it really bear mentioning that applying this to adjudicating between us and the Palestinians is a gross distortion—nay, perversion—of anything having to do with—well, anything in Jewish law?  That the Palestinian national movement has the same privileges under a halachic system?  That any Jewish law requires a proscription of self-advocacy to the point of possible national suicide (what else could “this position does not allow moral support for the State of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle” mean)?  Gandhi may have believed that, but we certainly are not required to.  In fact, that notion may smack more of quislingery than simply flying Palestinian colors.

Additionally, his citation of Baba Metzia 30b—“Jerusalem was destroyed only because the judges ruled in accordance with the Law of the Torah” is incomplete; he neglects to cite the Talmud’s immediate following adjustment of the statement to “they established their rulings on the basis of Torah law and did not go beyond the letter of the law.”   The word in the former statement is “ruled”, or danu, as opposed to the “established”, or he’emidu, in the second statement, implying that the problem was that one particular verdict could establish a precedent as a “letter” and not allow for later legal flexibility.   In fact, by being just as fundamentalist and unyielding in his program as his “Ultra-Orthodox”/”Zionist-American” strawman by repeatedly asserting that “Jewish assumptions must change”, Dr. Englander establishes his own inviolate “letters of law”, predetermining outcomes by pretending to complexity: “must embrace the people of peace, even if at times they are perceived as undermining our narratives, or even perceived as harming Jewish security” sounds almost like an anti-p’sak emanating from an eminence of the Ultra-Orthodox world Dr. Englander presumably left behind.

Finally, while we’re being enjoined to “consider existential questions”, Dr. Englander should consider whether his organization and those who praise the camp in question be as sanguine about analogous actions regarding, say, the Stars and Bars? As both the Stars and Bars and the Palestinian flag equally symbolize the absolute negation of the Other, even an empathy with an extracurricular flag-flying of either rag would ultimately render Dr. Englander’s profession of Other-loving as self-invalidating.

Or, since he’s so fond of Talmudisms, mezuyaf mitocho.

About the Author
Jon Taub is an ex-Upper West Sider, now-married Riverdalean who has two MA's, plays three instruments, and consults for biostartups.
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