Yoseph Needelman-Ruiz
Yoseph Needelman-Ruiz
Maggid of Cannabis Chassidis, PopCartoonKabala

To Recover its Moral Core, Judaism Needs to Overcome its Nationalisms

All our nationalisms, not just the militant or casual extremes of Zionism. It’s a problem in Satmar. It’s a problem in Chabad. It’s a problem in Breslov, and all the Eidot Hamizrach, as well as any of the localized secular nationalisms: knowing we’re entitled to do what we want, because of who we are. On the one hand, awful to face. But on the other hand, tremendously empowering and fundamental to shared identification, and power through crowd. אלה אלוהך ישראל This is and was the way of the bull, Taur and שור face on the chariot, the self that is identified with the nation, the people. This is a redemptive thing, a crowd that can be identified with and a land secured and softened.  This is healthy, and gives kids something valorous to do, and feel, to train and care and serve.

But at a certain and hopefully immediate stage of redemption success, of comfort, glory, and relative security and blessed stability, we can feel responsible for what we do with people. Our people, extended to the unconditional other, unavoided, recognized, and some how made enough space for. Equal rights.

The irony in the tension we feel in and around Jerusalem this week has been when Jerusalem day, that most sublime of authentic celebration holidays, where so many of the kids learn to dance because the schools finally put music and time up for street parties– amidst the violence around Sheik Jarrah, the Temple Mount and Gaza unearthed and pointed to, deeply and widely noticed, acknowledged and concerned over– how awful will implementation be? Of whatever comes next, and keeps coming next because this is a legal presedent being established, one that allows for more cases and more similar events. Maybe not so bad? Maybe all our sacrifices will be worth it? Maybe.

This ease and comfort, this justifiable and tacit acceptable: “Behold, your gods Israel” the lie sang in the Biblical Northern Kingdom of Israel in the temples of all under the orthodox Bull-flag of Ephraim that rebelled against the universal aspirations of David and Solomon/Shlomo, the transcendant internationalist utopianism implict and inherent in the concept and practice of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem: a mythic capitol for anti-nationalism.

King Solomons and David are strongly identified with the mandate of Jerusalem specifically, a folk thing, pilgrim and human, to the temple and range of temples devoted and sensitive to a divine will beyond identity: A house of prayer for All Peoples. This is the holy of the holy city, what even Religious-Zionsist founding theologian Rav A. Kook acknowledges is the only redemptive ethos, the end of Nationalism, into a security and capacity for taking responsibility of the other as a kind of Internationalism, ending the fear of Balak through a love and curiousity for the other that lets them be heard, and welcomed, so unthreatening.

We’re not there yet, and maybe we never could have been before. The ultimate criticism of the administration of the Kings of Judah in the Old Testament were about how much Shlomo valued the gods and temples of his gentile princess wives, over the security, stability and local wealth of all Israel, how much the will to care about the other betrays responsibility to Us, the local and your people.  But Davidic, Rabbinic Judaism deeply comes down and has always come down, on the side of a larger and wider definition, a sharing of the treasures, Darchei Shalom as a justification for as much as Shalom Bait, Shalom justifying so much compromise, so much good will and the hope that it can finally be ok to stop hurting. This is the messianic sensetivity in Judaism, the hope of the better world where the walls are friendly, and people just love their neighbors as themselves. This is the only sacred priority in the law, all the rest are caveats and controls.

But no: the world believes in pride, and nations everywhere need to justify for themselves how they will choose what they choose, and prioritize what they prioritize in the absence of clarity. The summoning together of people wrapped around traditional identity, any and every kind, swings towards a monarchist fascism, arguably the lowest form of authority, as opposed to earned, charismatic authority, made of trust and appreciation for the word of every person.

This is a fundamental part of rhetoric since Hellenism became popular, and of reason in the absence of archaic validation for traditional assumptions and efforts around power.  The Jewish relationship to thought, responsibility and ethos, on the other hand, so radically and cognitively impact amidst the stark eloquence of our Torah: ultimately so resonant and meaningful that every subsequent literary religion around it had to frame its ostensible higher and more evolved, or at least more human, natural and accessible values system in opposition to it. In much the same way that the Torah frames its theological and moral innovation and standard in hostile contrast to Babylon and Egypt, as well as Phoenicia and Philistia. All these are rooted in a Platonic assumption, that Nation would rule, and time train all rulership, democratic and senatorial in their ways, guiding a mass army, like the bison herds them selves. Aloofim and alafim (אלופים ואלפים) This attitude crossed over through Hellenism into the Hasmonean Kingdom, Israel but not Judah, us but not them, the Edomites all circumcized and uncircumcized all purged, like under Joshua Ben Nun, also notably not from Judah.

How to overcome this awful and compelling low power, unity through familiarity, at the expense of humanism and empathy for the validity of the defeated enemy? Only first within ourselves, to remember that all people are human, even if antisemetic, all the more so maybe in light of how fundamental antisemetism has been in human langauge culture, since before Plato.  But ever after: all nationalisms, on some level, depend on Jewish Nationalisms for legitimacy: a bible that established the rule of international morality, inherent in the world and its way, somehow winds up identified with a cosmic coherent sense of collective self and purpose– what can a utopian Davidic folly do to overcome the very fundamental perspectives that our community depends on? It’s the trust in the good that we are to already be the good that makes us all better, by just being right with other people. Why should King Solomon trust his wives and their gods, when the custom was really so much to avoid that kind of thing? Because that’s what the Torah is and opens doors to, but only when understood.

This is the degree to which the highest aspirations in Judaism, its messianisms, kabbalae and hasidic revivals, have tended to identify with Judah, not Ephraim, the idealistic open and secure lion, not the obnoxious territorial bull. Because truth and humanity are so ultimately accessible, real, honored and acknowledged, the real and holy that other people are, whether we know them or speak their language or not.

It’s just been too easy traditionally, or maybe just too hard in too many other ways, to remember the human soul that we are responsible for, our neighbor everywhere. Maybe we can tone that down up, if only through breath, word, acknowledgement, that sinks into every next salvation, and every disaster not yet as bad as they can be, once no one feels wrong about the rough. It’s not too late to make space for people, and like we do to them, ‘כמוך אני ה

About the Author
Yoseph Needelman-Ruiz a.k.a. Yoseph Leib Ibn Mardachya is the author of "Cannabis Chassidis: The Ancient and Emerging Torah of Drugs" (Autonomedia press, 2012) an epic devotional study of Cannabis and other ethneogens in Judaism and its heresies throughout history, into super-modernity, in the hopes of passing on a useful counsel with regards to their use beyond "do" or "don't." He is currently working on a book about Pop Cartoon Kabbalah, and alternates between leading services and sermons in Williamsburg Brooklyn at Cong. Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom, and living in Israel's Elah Valley.
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