Israel’s struggle over Jewish identity

Over the years I have maintained that however “Jew” be defined by various religious strains within Judaism, Zionism defines “Jew” according to a “higher” criterion, that of physical survival. My friend and participant on my long-standing JPost blog, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival, a thinker for whom I have much respect but often also find myself disagreeing with has, for years, challenged my definition of “Jew.” In fact challenges whether my position even does define “Jew!” My recent blog on JPost, off-topic regarding Jewish identity, still inspired “Philosopher” to again raise the challenge. My response, containing the elements of his challenge, follows:

Wrong on multiple counts, “Philosopher”, including logic. You are suggesting that Germany between 1933 and 1938 did not create laws defining “Jew” by bloodline; maintaining that the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 did not isolate Jews from the German “volk” as alien; suggesting that the Die Nurenberger Gesetze, illustrating degree of Aryan as “four Aryan grandparents,” and Mischlinge (crossbreed) by degree back to a single Jewish grandparent is a propagandist fabrication meant to make Germany “look bad.” This appears to be your position. And then you represent German law as applied to category “Jew” being one who “practices” the religion in order to identify it with you conflict with Israel as a “moderate” medieval throwback, a taliban state in which Orthodoxy defines Who is a Jew.

I am as opposed as you to Haredi efforts to limit Israel to members related to their identity of Jew with orthodox religion. I would oppose Atheists on the same basis. But you are fixated on this single issue, have conflate “Israel” with “United Torah” and confuse the one with the other.

Israel is not as you describe it, may have experienced it which colors your view. Neither does Israel fit my own Ideal (or that of most pre-Holocaust Zionist leaders and theoreticians. It has more than exceeded Herzl’s vision where its residents (Jews) are not identified by their religion, but by their lifestyle. It is a state where politics is a struggle to compromise between sometimes contesting and opposing groups with particular interests. Where sometimes, due to the mechanics of “coalition” government creation extremist Orthodoxy is in a position to demand more by way of Who is a Jew (to say nothing of social demands regarding welfare for large families, and draft exemptions, to name but two recent prominent social protest issues).

“Philosopher”: “Whether you like it or not, Jew, Christian, German, Polish, etc. etc. are meaningless reifications, which unfortunately govern our reificatory world, shattering it with innumerable genocides, including the Shoah.”

DT: From Day One, “Philosopher”, this has represented our point of difference that you are wedded to “logic” in categorizing antisemitism. While I do not argue against reification as an academic concept, is in fact important to understanding all sorts of categories at an academic level, I have always insisted that at the popular level, that level at which nearly all Mankind resides, relies on stereotypes rather than scholarship in understanding the world and its competing groups and interests. At this level the image “Jew” in the West conjures up such images as “banker,” “Communist,” etc. That level of perception and conception does not care about such as a reificatory category defining that which you would have me agree with.

Jews, in the popular imagination, are a series of stereotypes residing in the subconscious of Western society (those stereotypes broadcast further afield through the world-wide-web), a cultural inheritance of modern Christendom (Europe and its post-colonial territories from the Americas to Australia). Scriptural in origin and magnified as “explanation” by two-thousand years of theological exegesis as the Jewish Problem it threatens the Jewish people entire, whatever definition one relies on, with extermination.

As I wrote Day One you joined this blog, “Philosopher”, MY audience is Amcha, not Academia. Which, for me, defines a Jew according to the simple definition, imperfectly applied as criterion for immediate elimination during WWII but nonetheless German law and precedent for the future, as my guide. It is the same criterion embodied in the State of Israel’s Law of Return/Grandparent Amendment. It is the classical Zionist definition of Who is a Jew.

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.