Jewish Religiosity

Menachem Mendel Schneerson: The Expedient Messiah, Part 2


Settled with and continuing his dependence on his father-in-law, Schneerson no doubt experienced some anxiety about what to do next. Job prospects for a 40-plus-year-old refugee engineer with poor English language skills were not good. A temporary place was soon found for him, however, serving as his father-in-law’s financial emissary to Hasidim in Europe for the next seven years. Sometime during that period it seems to have occurred to Schneerson that he could compete for the plum position of rebbe of Chabad, now that the reign of his ailing father-in-law appeared to be nearing its end. Either that or he underwent an opportunely timed Hasidic born again-experience. Whichever it was, he needed to reinvent himself, to acquire the lingo and gravitas to compete against his brother-in-law, Shmaryahu Gourary, who was Yosuf Yitzchok’s apparent successor. Incidentally, Schneerson’s change of heart from secular to religious, if such it was, is not unusual in middle age. It is a common Jewish experience to identify with secular modernity in one’s youth and return to Jewish collectivism and commitment in middle age.[11]

But first he had to evade the draft. As a legal immigrant resident Schneerson might very well have been conscripted during WWII. But Schneerson no more wanted to serve in the American army than Hasidic Jews in Russia had wanted to serve in the Czar’s or in the Bolshevik army. US law required all men between 18 and 65 to register, with those aged 18 to 45 to be immediately liable for induction. Though lists his date of birth as 1902, Schneerson reported 1895 as his birthdate on his draft card. He was therefore not subject to immediate conscription as he might have been. also claims that he worked as a civilian engineer at the Brooklyn Naval Yard to avoid the accusation that he, in the habit of orthodox Jews, had evaded military service. No documents have been found to substantiate this claim.[12] Read more

Menachem Mendel Schneerson: The Expedient Messiah, Part 1

It is the committed core — made up now especially of the highly influential Orthodox and Conservative  movements- which has always been the critical force for channeling Jewish behavior in the direction of genetic and cultural separatism. … It is the radicals who have reconstituted the Jewish community and have eventually won the day.

Kevin MacDonald, Separation and its Discontents[1]

Now that sixty years have passed since Menachem Mendel Schneerson assumed leadership of the fundamentalist Lubavitch Hasidic movement of Orthodox Judaism and seventeen years since his death, it is well worth giving the Rebbe and Lubavitch Hasidism a closer look. For years bumper stickers and billboards asserting that the coming of the Moschiach (messiah) is imminent, were exhibited everywhere. These are the people responsible for the huge models of Hanukkah menorahs that are still loudly displayed in the public square. Schneerson’s influence during his lifetime extended beyond his Hasidic sect; his legacy may hold broad implications for the future of Judaism.

The Hasidim or “pious ones” in Hebrew are a Jewish sect possessing an extremely ingrained sense of Jewish identity and practicing total ethnic separatism. Hasidism was at its height in the first half of the nineteenth century, and claimed the allegiance of millions in Eastern and Central Europe—perhaps a majority of East European Jews.[2) The present estimate for Orthodox Jews in North America is estimated to be 550–650 thousand. Many of the approximately 165,000 American Hasidim in New York City, the largest concentration, belong to three courts, the Satmar in Williamsburg, the Bobover in Boro Park, and the Lubavitchers in Crown Heights.[3] Many Hasidim distrust all lists and simply ignore the census forms because they consider it bad luck to count people. At the same time, secular Jews underestimate their numbers, because they don’t want the group to appear too influential. The Orthodox converse in Yiddish, and they preserve many of the traditions of pre-war styles of clothing and the religious traditions of Eastern European Jewry. Highly cohesive, collectivist, and authoritarian, they comprise an endogamous, genetically segregated kinship group and generally have very large families. A majority of American Jews are the descendants of East European Hasidim.

Chabad and Lubavitch are now used interchangeably to refer to the Hasidic dynasty   (founded in 1796 in the Russian town of Lubavitch) of which Schneerson became rebbe. Chabad is an acronym for the Hebrew words “Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge,” while Lyubavichi is the name of the Russian town where the sect was first located at the end of the 18th century. The idea of racial superiority, which has been an underlying constant in Jewish narration, appears early in the history of the seven generation dynasty of Schneerson (also spelled Schneersohn) rebbes. Since Chabad philosophy incorporates the teachings of the Kabbalah, the Tanakh, the Talmud and the Tanya (see below), messianic thought and belief in racial superiority are intrinsic to the sect’s dogma.

(A note about the difference between rabbi and rebbe: while a rabbi is hired or appointed by his community, a rebbe’s commission is by acclamation and his position powerful and lofty. He is considered to be an intermediary between the divine and his community; his position accords him an unprecedented role in his followers’ lives and his word about all matters is final.) Read more

Christmas Phobia in Israel

It’s well-known that Jewish groups and activists have been the main force behind the war on Christmas and in generally getting Christianity out of the public square. So it’s no surprise that in Israel, Christmas fares even worse. In Jerusalem a large group of Heredim are threatening to boycott a fancy shopping mall. Why? Because it looks too Christmasy.

The ads – titled “Is Jerusalem becoming Christian?” – were signed by the Rabbis’ Committee for the Sanctity of Jerusalem. They stated that “if this idol worship is not removed immediately, we will declare a consumer boycott against the mall …”

The location of the mall near the Western Wall forces passersby to “real paganism”. Read more

Projection: Who Were the Victims in the Ukraine?

The current TOO blog by Kevin MacDonald addresses Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Chapter 19 of Solzhenitsyn’s book on Jews and Russians, 200 Years Together. The main point is that:

The decade of the 1930s was tragic almost beyond description. . . . However, the suffering of Jews pales in comparison to the suffering of the Ukrainian and Russian farmers undergoing forced collectivization. Moreover, Jews were never targeted as Jews, and in general Jews remained vastly overrepresented in elite positions throughout the period, even after the purges.

MacDonald notes that “Solzhenitsyn emphasizes the culpability of the West.” In particular, we have this damning point:

In 1932–33, in Russia and Ukraine —on the very outskirts of Europe, five to six million people died from hunger! And the free press of the free world maintained utter silence… And even if we take into account the extreme Leftist bias of the contemporary Western press and its devotion to the socialist “experiment” in the USSR, it is still impossible not to be amazed at the degree to which they could go to be blind and insensitive to the sufferings of even tens of millions of fellow humans.

One powerful clue we have to this twisted mystery is the effort even now to grotesquely turn the genocide of Ukrainians in the 1930s into a story of the victims themselves slaughtering the actual murderers. In a review of a new book, Professor David O’Connell, writing in Culture Wars, finds that canny efforts by those in the Jewish community have again succeeded in getting a Catholic spokesman to do the propaganda bidding of the Jews. Read more

Uri Avnery on Religious Jews

Uri Avnery is an insightful observer of the Israeli scene and Judaism in general. In a recent column, he notes that the early Zionists were anti-religious, at least partly because prominent orthodox rabbis were anti-Zionist. But David Ben-Gurion subsidized “a few hundred” Yeshiva students so they could spend their time studying rather than working or joining the military. Now, these “Torah-shielded parasites”  “constitute 13% of the entire yearly crop of those liable to the draft. Moreover, 65% of all Orthodox male citizens do not work at all and live on the public purse.”

Photo from article on U.S. State Dept. Report criticizing Israel for favoring Orthodox sects (see below). Note the very close social bonds and close physical resemblance among these young men. This doubtless reflects their close genetic relatedness, their similarities accentuated by their common dress. It's an excellent one-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words snapshot of traditional Jewish collectivism that has become politically and culturally dominant in Israel.

However, a small group of nationalist religious Jews were also encouraged by Ben Gurion. This group has prospered as well, giving rise to Gush Emunim (“the Bloc of the Faithful’), “the ideological core of the settlement movement. Nowadays this camp is directed by Rabbis whose teachings emit a strong odor of Fascism.” Read more

Kevin MacDonald: The Coen brothers' "A Serious Man"

Kevin MacDonald: I happened to see A Serious Man, the Coen brothers’ meditation on Jewishness, at the same time that Peter Beinart’s now  famous article is making us think about the future American Jewish community as more nationalist and ethnocentric. A Serious Man is really about the consequences of the breakdown of the traditional Jewish community in the  Diaspora.

The movie opens with a scene from a traditional Polish shtetl community in which the wife stabs a man that she thinks is a dybbuk — the point being that  these people had strong unquestioned beliefs and were willing to act on them.

But fast forward to 1960s, and things are falling apart. The main character, Larry Gopnik, is undergoing all sorts of crises–his wife’s affair and her desire for a religious divorce so she can marry another Jew; his troubles at his job; his brother’s health and psychiatric problems; financial problems, his own health.

But the three rabbis he goes to for help are completely useless: The young one mixes platitudes with irrelevancies about the parking lot at the synagogue. The middle-aged rabbi tells him a weird, pointless story about a non-Jew with Hebrew lettering on his teeth; the letters don’t make any sense but he translates them into a phone number — of a grocery store. The old rabbi won’t talk to him because he’s “thinking.”

Meanwhile his son and  the rest of the students are completely bored with Hebrew school–blank faces and vacant stares.  The teacher is old and decrepit, as is the school secretary. The son listens to pop music during class on on a 1960s version of an Ipod and smokes pot with his friends. His older sister has no interest in Judaism, hangs out with non-Jews, and seems to be saving money for a nose job (so she won’t look so Jewish). She’ll probably marry a goy.

The movie ends with a tornado bearing down on the school, the rabbi fumbling with the door lock and unable to protect the children, just as he and the other rabbis were unable to help the father. The message seems to be that it’s no use to look to the rabbis for help with life’s problems. The safety and security provided by the powerful traditional communal ties and strong, unquestioning belief (of the kind that motivated killing the dybbuk) are gone.

The ties within the community are fractured: The son thinks about repaying the money he owes to the school bully, but he doesn’t. Why pay him back when he won’t be part of the community in the future? The father learns that his wife’s lover was writing malicious letters to his tenure committee at the university. The Jewish lawyer he hired to deal with a property issue with his (viciously stereotyped non-Jewish) neighbor drops dead, and the Jewish lawyer he hired to defend his brother charges him $3000, prompting him to accept a bribe from a student to raise his grade.

He will have to find some other way out of his difficulties than rely on communal ties. The only help he gets from being Jewish (and this seems odd given the rest of the story) is that the Jewish department head assures him he will get tenure (even though he hasn’t published anything). But right after hearing the news, he receives an ominous phone call from his (Jewish) doctor about his x-rays. Getting tenure isn’t really going to help.

So what, if anything, does this say about the American Jewish community? Probably not a lot. Despite the main thrust of the movie, there’s still a huge benefit to Jews from ethnic networking with other Jews–the story of Elena Kagan shows that Larry Gopnik wasn’t the last Jew to benefit greatly from Jewish ties in the academic world, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

On the other  hand, Beinart’s concerns about young Jews with less commitment to Israel are doubtless reflected in the young people represented in A Serious Man — smoking pot, bored with Hebrew school, getting nose jobs, and dating non-Jews. But these reasons for this lack of Jewish commitment fit more with Steven M. Cohen‘s theory than Beinart’s: It’s not because of the behavior of Israel, but rather assimilation and intermarriage that draw Jews away from Israel. Indeed, one of the remarkable things about the movie was the complete lack of the ADL-type bunker mentality: No obsession with anti-Semitism, no mention of Israel, no gung-ho liberal politics, no mention of what an evil, racist, anti-Semitic place America is. No mention of politics at all.

If all Jews were like Larry Gupnik, the ADL would be out of business and the Israel lobby would grind to a halt. Not a bad outcome at all. But, as Beinart notes,  in the real world, the more conservative branches of Judaism are thriving and are projected to be a large and increasingly dominant segment of the American Jewish community. Quite a few Jewish children are not bored with Hebrew school, and they are the ones who are having the  children.

These are the people who staff the Jewish activist community now and in the future, so it’s very doubtful that there will be any change from its posture of strong and effective support for the dispossession of Whites at home and equally strong and  effective support for ethnonationalist Israel abroad.

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J.J. Goldberg’s Reflections on Purim

Forward columnist J. J. Goldberg is distinguished among Jewish writers for acknowledging that yes, Jews are indeed powerful. The basic message of his 1996 book, Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment,  was that American Judaism is well organized and lavishly funded. It has achieved a great deal of power, and it has been successful in achieving its interests.

Goldberg’s book is a good rejoinder to those who claim that the Jewish community is hopelessly divided on all issues and therefore doesn’t have any net effect on public policy. His book acknowledged that in fact there is a great deal of consensus on broad Jewish issues, particularly in the areas of Israel and the welfare of other foreign Jewries, immigration and refugee policy, church-state separation, abortion rights, and civil liberties. As I noted in CofC, the massive changes in public policy on these issues beginning with the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s coincide with the period of increasing Jewish power and influence in the United States.

Goldberg tackled Jewish power again in a recent Forward column, “Purim’s Lessons About Diaspora Power.” Again the point is that Jews are certainly not the weak, beset group typically presented by activist organizations like the ADL. He notes that since WWII, Jewish power increased while the enemies of Jews “declined in numbers and influence.” However, he sees a fundamental change:

Today, quite unexpectedly, we’re back where we started. Diaspora Jews still have resources to protect their interests and values, as they’ve had since World War II. But Jewish communities also face mounting threats from real enemies once again, thanks to the combined effects of the September 11 attacks, the Al-Aqsa Intifada and the Iraq War. Anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activists and ideologues have taken to claiming with unaccustomed boldness that organized Jewry controls and undermines whole governments and industries. Israel’s sworn enemies are broadening their focus and taking aim — with words and sometimes with bombs — at Israel’s closest overseas ally, the Jewish community. Perhaps most important, verbal attacks on organized American Jewish activity are no longer taboo. Diaspora Jewry hasn’t lost legitimacy, but its enemies have regained theirs.

Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities are indeed being criticized as never before. Right now, there is Israeli Apartheid Week aimed at boycotts, demonstrations, and divestment from Israel.  At this point, you would  have to be living under a rock to be unaware of the iron grip that the Israel Lobby has on US foreign policy and at its role in fomenting the Iraq war.

I would also  like to think that people are becoming more willing to openly and honestly discuss Jewish influence in the other areas mentioned in Goldberg’s 1996 book, especially on immigration policy and other areas related to multiculturalism. That is certainly what we at TOO are trying to do.

Goldberg makes two remarkable recommendations:

First, remember that [in the Purim story] Haman plotted to destroy the Jews because Mordecai insulted him. Sometimes your enemies hate you because of something you did, not just who you are. Sometimes a small concession now can save a lot of grief later.

Wouldn’t it be great if people like Abe Foxman, Heidi Beirich, and Mark Potok took that to heart? — that some criticisms of Jews are not just “canards” based on ancient prejudices but reflect real conflicts of interest in the contemporary world. But of course, it’s unrealistic. The organized Jewish community cannot acknowledge Jewish involvement in promoting the Iraq war any more than it can acknowledge its role in promoting and financing immigration and multiculturalism into Western societies. The changes unleashed by Jewish influence in America have been profound–literally transformational. Taking any responsibility would be dangerous indeed for Jews, especially as we see that American politics is increasing defined by racial identity.

Further, especially in Israel, Jewish behavior is on “feed forward” in the sense that the most committed Jews are in determining the direction of policy. It’s always been that way, and in the contemporary world, this means that the fundamentalists, the settlers, and the overtly racialist Zionists are in the driver’s seat, dominating the most right wing government in Israeli history.  The result is that Israeli expansionism, apartheid, and the oppression of the Palestinians will not be halted as a result of pressures within the Jewish community. The American Jewish community will continue to support all this — despite the glaring hypocrisy such behavior implies given the role of Jews as a pillar of multiculturalism in the Diaspora. There will be no concessions.

As a result, the ADL’s policy of condemning any discussion of Jewish influence will doubtless continue. Reasonable criticism must be completely suppressed because any leak in the dike is likely to lead to a deluge. And yet, as Goldberg seems to be admitting, Jewish influence can’t be ignored forever. I think he’s probably right. At least, I hope so.

Goldberg’s second bit of advice is: “Don’t abandon your intermarried relatives. They might save your life some day.” In other words, there is likely to be an anti-Jewish backlash at some point, and Jews had better be prepared. It’s an interesting suggestion to look to intermarried Jews for help. Goldberg’s implicit theory is that blood ties are critical in the end, and I couldn’t agree with him more.

Although intermarriage is often condemned in the Jewish community and there are high profile programs like Birthright Israel aimed at reducing it, several Jewish theorists have pointed out that intermarriage has certain strategic benefits for Judaism.  Chapter 9 of Separation and Its Discontents has the following quote from two Jewish scholars of the Diaspora:

The successful exercise of influence is best achieved in a community with a large subset of members interacting with politicians and opinion leaders. Through intermarried Jews themselves, and certainly through their social networks involving Jewish family and friends who may be closer to the core of the community, Jewish concerns, interests, and sensibilities can be articulated before a wider, more influential audience. In a recent interview, Presidential aide Robert Lipshutz traced the origin of Jimmy Carter’s concern for Israel to his close friendship with a first cousin, an Orthodox Jew (Carter’s aunt married a Jewish man, and their two children were raised as Jews). Intermarrying Jews, while perhaps diluting the community in one sense, perform compensating strategic functions in another. (Lieberman and Weinfeld, Demographic trends and Jewish survival. Midstream 24 (November), 1978, 16.)

Goldberg’s comment agrees with my conclusion:

The deepest layers of Jewish commitment [i.e., Orthodox, Conservative and other strongly ethnic forms of Judaism] constitute the long-term well spring of Judaism, with the outer layers acting as mere temporary appendages that will be cast off in the long run. This deep inner layer of very intense group commitment provides demographic vigor to replenish those in the outer layers [i.e., they’re the ones having the babies] who are gradually moving away from Judaism while nevertheless performing political and social roles that are indispensable for the contemporary vitality of Judaism. Such a perspective essentially agrees with the views of political scientist Michael Walzer (1994, 5), who notes that without radical transformation, secular Judaism cannot reproduce itself; since the Enlightenment, “it [has] remained parasitic on an older religious Judaism that it didn’t and couldn’t pass on.”

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