Benjy Forester

Judgement Day

The end of days started with a Facebook post. It was intended innocuously, but it’s hard to know intentions on social media. It garnered ‘heart’ and ‘anger’ reactions from the likely suspects, with many more neutral ‘likes’ from the mob of half-mindful scrollers. A few people shared the post, prompting more reactions, and giving way to debates in the comments section. Soon B-list Jewish twitter circulated the post, graduating to actual Jewish celebrities, and spilling over into the mainstream media ether. The Forward first picked the story up and regurgitated the excitement back into Social Media, now with links to journalistic analysis. Soon, every news outlet weighed in, with columns by both reporters and editorialists alike.

The initial post was shared by a rabbinical student in hopes of challenging and provoking, but this pupil had not yet harnessed his rabbinic voice. Ironically, he was slated to begin Zooming into his ‘Rabbinic Communications’ class just a few weeks later.

The post was a quote. Posts these days usually amplify the voices of their own echo chamber, so that those uncontroversial but inspiring words can bounce between the legions of like-minded peers. This quote was different, because rather than citing one side of a disagreement, it quoted the debate itself. This type of meta perspective is so often lost, thought the poster.

Here is the quote. A Baraita cited in the Babylonian Talmud:

The Sages taught: For two and a half years, Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel disagreed. These say: It would have been preferable had man not been created than to have been created. And those said: It is preferable for man to have been created than had he not been created. Ultimately, they were counted and concluded: It would have been preferable had man not been created than to have been created. However, now that he has been created, he should examine his actions that he has performed and seek to correct them.

The debate is presented in the rabbinic mind as a hypothetical thought experiment. That’s probably what the rabbinical student intended as well in his resuscitating the ancient controversy.

But in 2020, the stakes have moved beyond thought experiments. The life and death themes of holy liturgies break through the realm of abstraction and enter the reality of every single person in America, as battles rage over an invisible virus and obscured systems of injustice. In a world in which virus and justice divide amongst partisan ranks, this bygone debate fared no better.

Amongst those who voted for humanity’s creation, there was a range of perspectives on humanity’s merits. Some were more bombastic — Humans have created tools, buildings, weapons (for self-defense, say the proponents), as well as legal and religious order. Others had a gentler outlook — Humans love, collaborate, and care, explore, imagine, sow and harvest, and bring honor and purpose to the created world.

Those with a darker outlook on humanity still disagreed on their final stance. Some saw a broken world in constant need of fixing, giving its protagonist species a perpetual mission. Others scoffed at all the aforementioned pride and/or optimism, and sided firmly with human erasure. There is nothing civil about civilization, and it’s (past) time to end the long, oppressive, misguided, mistaken human project.

Hashtags abounded, and Twitter reported the most successful trends as #CancelHumanity and #HumanityAlways. Each side tallied a similar volume of activity, although a morally neutral algorithm kept each side from glimpsing into the head of the other.

It is either cliché or poetic that this cultural ‘perfect storm’ butted heads with an actual perfect storm. An undersea earthquake off the coast just south of Los Angeles shook land and sea and sent rumbles and waves ashore. Angelinos braced for the damage, but emerged from their temporary hiding places demoralized and desperate. The next day, with streets still awash with piles of wet rubble and discarded palm tree branches, the first #CancelHumanity march organized and gained traction. By the end of that day, similar marches dotted the country. 3 days later, nearly every major US city, as well as scattered suburbs and towns, had their own #CancelHumanity rallies. The original LA protestors argued that humans had caused global warming, which was destroying the world and all its inhabitants. But these marches weren’t actually about climate change, nor were they about racial disparities unmasked by the storm’s damage. No, these marches traced themselves back to that first Facebook post. These protests were a referendum on humanity itself.

Disturbed pro-humanity syndicates speculated whether God had sent the storm as punishment to this anti-humanity epicenter for its heresy. Others simply decried the newly-mobilized movement, and wondered out loud whether the protests had murderous intentions in hopes of actualizing their movement’s message of ending human history. That wondering quickly transformed into accusation.

Some on the anti-humanity side embraced this accusation, and openly conveyed their hopes of destroying humanity. Their plan wasn’t clear, but their values were unequivocal. They said they were starting a revolution that nobody could stop. Their zeal was convincing. Others tried staying aligned with the cause, but distanced themselves from those more radical preachings.

Religious leaders used their pulpits to advocate any and all positions. Most aligned with some gradation of either side of the debate, while some simply tried to hold together the pews of splintering ideologies. Scriptures of all sacred texts were offered in support and in rejection of every possible stance on humanity’s creation. The texts themselves seemed torn on the issue.

On the 6th day of national protests, a pro-humanity advocate approached protestors outside a Des Moines, IA courthouse and shot an anti-humanity woman wearing a t-shirt that said “I Never Should Have Existed.” That night, weapons-wielding anti-humanity actors killed pro-humanity supporters in over a dozen cities. It wasn’t entirely clear whether they killed in retribution or in hastening their kenopsic eschatology. Or perhaps they killed two birds with one stone, so to speak.

By the 8th day, proponents of both war and peace populated each camp of the humanity debate. For some, the whole debate had gone too far, and they just wanted to go back to how things were. For others, the battle needed a victor, and the verdict on human existence needed an answer.

On the 10th day, one could hardly find two like minds on earth. Each person had their own values and vision, as well as their own enemies. This ubiquitous disunity against a backdrop of precipitous violence and rage meant that nobody was safe, and the original two-sided debate unfolded into a numbing cacophony of shouting voices. Paranoia and anger defined the human condition. Each human body was somebody else’s target, and each human mind languished in its cranial cage. The human condition had become unbearable and untenable.

At that moment, the rabbinical student took his shofar and sounded a pure, desperate note. The blast rose in volume, until it had consumed all the other sounds of the world in its singular defiant wail. The note stretched through all time and all space, holding in it everything that is, was, and will be, and all of the world rested in its vibrating warmth. And after it stopped, there was silence.

About the Author
Benjy Forester is the Rabbinic Intern at Sutton Place Synagogue. Benjy will receive rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Jewish Theological Seminary this May.