Gaslighted; or, counting backwards from 3

According to the Wikipedia definition, gaslighting “is a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or members of a group, hoping to make targets question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.”

In certain cases, it would seem the aforementioned target has been especially effectively gaslighted when: the identity of the manipulator no longer clear; the target begins to use its own principles to doubt itself; and uses those same distorted principles to manifest antagonism towards its own and its allies rather than its enemies.

It’s possible that Rabbi Donniel Hartman’s admonition to “count to three” in these pages demonstrates how effective the gaslighting has been: religious Zionist Jews sometimes will co-opt their own religious tenets to essentially hand talking points to our sworn mortal enemies.

Ironically, Rabbi Hartman himself seems to have “counted to three” in his piece; using the Judaic concepts of “ger”, “chaver” and “whole Torah”, he has all but made it not only a moral, but Judaic imperative to equate Palestinian nationalism and Zionism: what else could it mean when he says “[i]f Palestinians must accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state, it seems self-evident that Israel must reciprocate in kind. This is not a concession to Palestinians, but a commitment to the core teaching of our tradition”?

Examine first the oft-mistranslated “what is hateful unto you, do not do unto others.” The word “others” is a mistranslation of “chavercha”, which is likely better translated as “friend” or “fellow”, which implies a relationship of some collegiality rather than outright eliminationist hostility.  That should be independent of questions of religious affiliation or denomination.  Different rules might apply when the ostensible “chaver” might qualify more as a “[ha]ba lehargecha”, even moreso when that intention is declared and celebrated.

Next examine the now-universal expansion of the concept of “ger” to anyone who is an ostensible “other”.  There has been enough ink spilled about how this has been defined down from its original halachic provenance, especially with regards to immigrants and refugees.  Suffice it to say, however, that, like the “chaver”, a “ger” even by Rabbi Hartman’s definition wouldn’t ab initio advocate for the abolition of their hosts’ national and civil right as a sine qua non of the definition of theirs.

Finally, and likewise, the concept of “whole Torah” essentially mandating granting parallel national rights to the Palestinians.  That “implies” something other than what Rabbi Hartman wants: that we have no choice as Jews but to be complicit in our own destruction.  If there is any principle in the “whole Torah” that is as absolutist as Rabbi Hartman’s admonition, it stands to reason that it would rather mandate our preservation rather than our destruction.  It was Gandhi who thought that the Jews’ most sublime expression of spirituality would have been to willingly go to their slaughter during the Holocaust, even to the last Jewish soul.  But Gandhi at least didn’t claim that his principles were Torah principles.

It is an open question whether Rabbi Hartman has taken Jewish concepts from ostensibly Judeocentric sources and universalized them.  It’s a further open question whether using concepts that should apply to Jews first and then assume they might bind Jews in their relations with their external negotiating partners, especially if said negotiating partners have consistently made statements as a matter of policy that advocate for Judeocide.  It is as if we are required to not only negotiate on their behalf as well as ours, but also to tip the negotiations to their benefit.

What that starts to resemble is another concept: anavtut; or, loosely, humility.

The kind of humility where one can be gaslighted into paralysis.

The kind of humility where one not only cannot take one’s own side in a fight, or sometimes even admit that one is in a fight, but might even assume that one’s own side is the wrong side according to its own principles.

The kind of humility where a rigid adherence to assumed definitions of various religious concepts end up ennobling our eliminationist enemies from both within and without: when Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkilus vetoed a series of possible corrective actions during the Bar Kamtza episode due to their religious and/or ethical questionability, his colleagues and history were both unsparing: “R. Johanan thereupon remarked: through the “anvatanut” of R. Zechariah b. Abkulas our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.” (TB Gittin 56a).


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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