Algorithms pushed this blog. YouTube knew I needed to hear Tim Snyder’s 2016 lecture about Putin and his idealogue Ivan Ilyin. Some readers perhaps know his brilliant (as usual) article in the New York Review called “God is a Russian.” It came to me just after the Yom Kippur incident in Tel Aviv and various reactions to it that I have been garnering. I admit to having audited Snyder’s Yale course on the Ukraine last year.
This morning, however, a light dawned on me that I want to share – as a thought. A very disturbing and frightening thought. Ilyin’s claim is that it is normal for God in history to create authoritarian states (Ilyin learned Hegel from Husserl, said Snyder). Russia has the best crack at preserving this because it has been free of the contaminated Western thought called Enlightenment. Contaminated by whom? – you guessed it, Jews! Let Synder tell you the rest about Ilyin.
I want to think about our current crisis in Israel. And, for transparency, I admit to having some of these thoughts as I dutifully went over today’s daf yomi in my sukkah in Israel’s southern district. The thought is this: We are heading for an antisemitism from within. However what happened this past Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv happened, the coalition has been happy to use it as proof that the “Leftists, Anarchists” are also mere “Israelis” and not real “Jews.” This has been simmering for a while, but the excrement has hit the proverbial fan and is now is our faces.
Here’s where Ilyin helps me along. The coalition, – as I understand it, with no claim to better truth than anyone, but also no worse – needs to delegitimate a form of democracy that issues from Enlightenment thinking about things like social contracts and rights. Well, we could say that these are “goyishe kop” (Gentile wrongheadedness) but the rest of the authoritarians in the world blame us Jews for it. Scratching one’s “yiddishe kop” (Jewish clever headedness) we have a solution. The “Israelis” are responsible for the Enlightenment. Well not exactly today’s Israelis, but let’s say “proto-Israelis,” not Zionsists but post-Zionists who preceded Zionism (and, oops, created Zionism, but that’s semantics for effete snobs). In short, you know, those “Jews” who never celebrated Maimuna (never heard of it, actually, because they were busy reading Chekhov). The question of how our long-persevering PM can hang out so easily with pretty openly antisemitic authoritarians might just have an answer here – we are all opposed to “Israelis”, not real Jews.
Israelis are not real Jews! Well, the American “Jews” who are not even Israeli, are also probably not, except when they fund honest-to-that-Jewish-God projects like rebuilding the Temple, terrorizing Palestinians, you know, real Zionism=real Jews = whatever today’s holy “majority” proclaims to be Jewish.
So I am supposed to choose between being Israeli – for the last 40 years of my life -and being a real Jew. That is where I draw the line- and invite like-minded Israelis who are dedicated to Torah observance to draw a loud and vigorous line. The Torah and its Sages NEVER suggested that disagreement or lack of observance would put your Jewish identity in question. There was a time where in a coherent community renegades were treated in some ways like non-Jews, like laws of Jewish wine and preparing food on Holidays. The great 19th century scholar David Zvi Hoffman decided that this would no longer apply to a community that was no longer coherent. And in the 20th century the revered Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote in his short comments on Bava Metsia (Ch 2 #77, pp 356-7) that the only exclusion to the absolute adherence to “loving your Fellow as yourself” (true it shows up in the Enlightenment here [Kant] and there but it belongs to real Jews) would be a direct inciter to idolatry. Feinstein finds evidence that Maimonides also thought this way. And, finally, Lubavitch’s universally revered founding Alter Rebbe stressed in the Tanya that every Jew possesses a “hidden love of God” without exception- no matter how deeply hidden.
SO I asked myself what would be our erstwhile coalition’s “Urtext” like (lehavdil) this Ilyin that Putin had exhumed from Switzerland to rebury in Mother Russia. Not the Bible – the most anti-human-authority work ever composed. Not the Talmud – the most pluralistic work ever composed, preserving every opinion as precious to understand. Nu, so what then? I admit I thought of the Zohar. There is one great scholar there – Shimon Bar Yohai – and look what goes on at his grave in Meron every year! The Zohar is a work of answers, not questions, a book of poetic inspiration but hardly encouraging rational discourse. And if Israel has one additional spiritual hero, he is Rabbi Nahman of Bretslav, also a singular figure who to the best of my knowledge doesn’t quote his contemporaries and surely has singular answers and poetry. And look what goes on at his grave in Uman every year.
Of course, I do not draw a line that excludes such monumental works as the Zohar and Rabbi Nachman. God forbid! But I draw a line where a lack of proportion and context misuses such works to create division among Jews. I don’t think Rabbi Akiva was kidding when he elevated love for one’s fellow as an overarching principle of our Holy Torah. I would like to say clearly that in my view the misappropriation of the Torah for divisiveness comes close to desecrating the Holy Name and the inevitable boomerang of making the Jews you try to exclude nauseous to the point of vomiting the Torah. And then what – you say QED, it proves that’s who they are? It proves who YOU are and I cry at the top of my lungs: STOP!