Religion as a Channel of Jewish Ethnicity

From “Accounting for Jewish Secularism: Is a New Cultural Identity Emerging?” by Bruce A. Phillips. Source: Contemporary Jewry, Vol. 30, No. 1, Special Issue: Jewish Secularism (June 2010), pp. 63-85:

All Jewish immigrants, regardless of when they came, brought with them to America the experience of religion and ethnicity as an undifferentiated whole. The American Jewish experience can be understood as a series of institutional innovations that combine religion and ethnicity in evolving Jewish communal structures. In the early years of the American Republic Sephardic Jews used the synagogue as a communal institution (Sarna 2004). Eastern European Jewish immigrants similarly “transformed the traditional synagogue when they transplanted it in New York” into a communal institution (Moore 1981). In immigrant enclaves such as the Lower East Side these “Russian” Jews created hundreds of landsmanschaften, which combined ethnic and religious functions: “the landsmanschaft shul was a community reconstituted in the form of a synagogue, a ‘synagogue-community’ serving both religious functions of the synagogue and the social needs of the community” (Kaufman 1999, p. 170). As often as not, the landsmanschaft synagogue included a “bikkur cholim” or “gmilus chesed” which were respectively a mutual aid society and a free loan society (Tenenbaum, 1993) (Phillips, p. 66)

Another passage, later in the piece:

For well over a century, American Jews have expressed their ethnicity through their religion even while maintaining a worldview that is the most secular in America save for those without any religion at all. Moreover, Jews by religion run a close second to the most secular of Americans when it comes to belief in God and church/synagogue attendance. American Jews have not been particularly troubled by the  apparent contradiction between their secular outlook and identification with a religion. This is because Judaism is based on the concept of peoplehood. Membership in the Jewish faith is conferred by birth, not belief (Phillips, p. 81).

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The ‘Nervousness’ of the Jew

Excerpt from Abraham Myerson’s “The ‘Nervousness’ of the Jew,” Mental Hygiene 4 (1920): 65–72:

It is idle, of course, to deny that the Jew has an innate character, different from that of other races, which perhaps predisposes him to psychoneuroses and other mental diseases. Unquestionably deeply emotional, clinging to belief and opinion with a tenacity unparalleled in the history of the world, extremely active mentally, and in point of intellectual achievement to be compared only with the great races of the world, he is curiously passive in his resistance and curiously indomitable in his hold on life and success. Accused of materialism and yet furnishing proportionately more social reformers than any other race; accused of materialism and yet responsible for the two most ethical religions in the world; said to be dominated by love of gain, but the birthplace of the ethics that govern his accusers, the Western peoples; a race of contradictions, inconsistencies, strongly individualistic and extraordinarily social, it may well be that such a soil would produce great failure as well as great success, psychoneurosis as well as genius.

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Jews and Race (The Brandeis Library of Modern Jewish Thought) (2011)

Jews and Race (The Brandeis Library of Modern Jewish Thought) (2011)
Edited by Mitchell B. Hart
Published by Brandeis University Press

Publisher’s Summary:

Many people think of Jews as victims of a particular sort of racism, not as active participants in the development of racial thinking in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet many Jews did take up racial discourse and used it to analyze Judaism, Jewish history, and the contemporary condition of world Jewry. Race discourse generated by Jews was in part apologetic, a response to racial antisemitism; however, it also served other political and ideological needs.

Focusing primarily on works written at the height of the racial hygiene and eugenics movements in Europe and North America, this diverse anthology shows how Jewish scholars and popular writers in Europe, North America, and Palestine developed racial interpretations of Judaism and Jewish history, thereby raising fascinating and thorny issues about the nature and history of racial discourse in Europe and America. Designed for class adoption, the volume contains annotations and an introduction by the editor.

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Is There Any Point to Protesting?

What role mass protests (and movement politics) have in our decentralized, spontaneous, cell phone era is a conundrum for both the Radical Left and the Alt Right. Though naturally focused on various Marxist scholars’ analyses, this New Yorker piece is an instructive one for anyone thinking themselves part of what might be called the Alt Right vanguard (“Is There Any Point to Protesting?”)

One of the authors profiled cites as a paragon ‘success model’ (wherein optics were carefully orchestrated by vanguard leaders for maximum effect) the arrangement of a now-iconic incident:

Tufekci describes weeks of careful planning behind the yearlong Montgomery bus boycott, in 1955. That spring, a black fifteen-year-old named Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a bus and was arrested. Today, though, relatively few people have heard of Claudette Colvin. Why? Drawing on an account by Jo Ann Robinson, Tufekci tells of the Montgomery N.A.A.C.P.’s shrewd process of auditioning icons. “Each time after an arrest on the bus system, organizations in Montgomery discussed whether this was the case around which to launch a campaign,” she writes. “They decided to keep waiting until the right moment with the right person.” Eventually, they found their star: an upstanding, middle-aged movement stalwart who could withstand a barrage of media scrutiny. This was Rosa Parks.

The piece has some other fascinating details about MLK’s March on Washington, which similarly involved careful planning and concern for optics.

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The Alternative Hypothesis

After reading this Alt-Right-inside-baseball interview with Ryan Faulk (aka The Alternative Hypothesis), I checked out his YT channel: The Alternative Hypothesis.

Check out this stellar 13 min video. Great stuff.

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Wolfson – The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow: Heidegger, Nazism, and the Jewish Other (2018)

The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow: Heidegger, Nazism, and the Jewish Other (2018)
By Elliot R. Wolfson
Published by Columbia University Press (2018)

Publisher Summary:

Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) is considered one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century in spite of his well-known transgressions—his complicity with National Socialism and his inability to show remorse or compassion for its victims. In The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow, Elliot R. Wolfson intervenes in a debate that has seen much attention in scholarly and popular media from a unique perspective, as a scholar of Jewish mysticism and philosophy who has been profoundly influenced by Heidegger’s work.

Wolfson sets out to probe Heidegger’s writings to expose what remains unthought. In spite of Heidegger’s explicit anti-Semitic statements, Wolfson reveals some crucial aspects of his thinking—including criticism of the biological racism and militant apocalypticism of Nazism—that betray an affinity with dimensions of Jewish thought: the triangulation of the concepts of homeland, language, and peoplehood; Jewish messianism and the notion of historical time as the return of the same that is always different; inclusion, exclusion, and the status of the other; the problem of evil in kabbalistic symbolism. Using Heidegger’s own methods, Wolfson reflects on the inextricable link of truth and untruth and investigates the matter of silence and the limits of speech. He challenges the tendency to bifurcate the relationship of the political and the philosophical in Heidegger’s thought, but parts company with those who write off Heidegger as a Nazi ideologue. Ultimately, The Duplicity of Philosophy’s Shadow argues, the greatness and relevance of Heidegger’s work is that he presents us with the opportunity to think the unthinkable as part of our communal destiny as historical beings.

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Darwin on Dysgenics

“With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”

— Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871), vol. I, p. 168.

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On The South & Intolerance

From Stark & Bainbridge’s The Future of Religion (1985), a seminal book in sociology of religion:

The South is overwhelmingly Protestant, and southern Protestantism is so overwhelmingly Baptist and Methodist that southerners have had little need to accommodate even many major Protestant denominations, let alone Catholics or Jews. Thus, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism are relatively common in the South, as they are in very Protestant areas outside the South.

It is not that Protestantism causes religious intolerance; religious intolerance is central to the entire Judeo-Christian tradition. It is not difficult to understand why religions holding that they alone possess the true faith are intolerant of “false” faiths.  (Stark & Bainbridge, p. 90).

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NYT: “Bavaria: Affluent, Picturesque — and Angry”

This modern horror tale, written by Katrin Bennhold, begins:

MUNICH — All seems well in Bavaria.

The streets are clean, unemployment is practically nonexistent, social benefits are generous and a vibrant sense of identity infuses small villages and big cities alike: Even teenagers sometimes don dirndls and lederhosen for a night out at the disco.

Yet this is the new angry center of Europe, the latest battleground for populists eager to bring down both Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and the idea of a liberal Europe itself.

Rich, religious and on the southern border, Bavaria is the Texas of Germany. It is a conservative bastion of the nation most associated with Europe’s open-door migration policy and the ultimate prize in a culture war that has seen populism chip away at consensus on the eastern flank of the 28-member bloc.

I wonder if the reporter is a liberal?

The horrors continue:

Markus Söder, the Bavarian premier, speaks of the end of “orderly multilateralism,” and has ordered that Christian crosses be displayed in every state government building.

And continue:

Alexander Dobrindt, the Bavarians’ parliamentary leader in Berlin, predicts a “conservative revolution.”

And continue (with Voldemort entering the picture):

Viktor Orban, the semi-authoritarian prime minister of Hungary, has been a regular guest of honor of Bavaria’s conservatives, as has Sebastian Kurz, the chancellor of Austria who governs in a coalition with the far right. There is talk of “an axis of the willing” that also includes Italy’s new far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini.

And (in the caption to an accompanying photo) continue in the most self-parodying form:

Nationalism comes easier to people in this former kingdom, which has nurtured a distinct culture over the centuries…

Meditate on that one.

I was quite struck with this passage:

“Populism has arrived at the heart of Europe,” said Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European history at Oxford University. “You now have a major European party endorsing the Orban program on migration.”

Bavaria may seem an unlikely home for populism. Nearly a third of Germany’s blue-chip listed companies are based here, unemployment is below 3 percent and economic growth has exceeded that of other German regions for the past eight years.

The reporter simply cannot comprehend the possibility that Bavarians might be in a position to see precisely what is at stake, what can be lost, due to mass immigration. Bavarians have not yet acquiesced or been stunned into resignation by the sheer displacing momentum of multiculturalism. Early naivety on the matter is more quickly corrected by a rational response:

A melting pot of Slavic and southern European influences for centuries, Bavaria has also been more successful than many other German regions at integrating newcomers. Munich, for example, is far more multicultural than Berlin….

Refugees were welcomed with applause at train stations. Sport halls were transformed into makeshift camps. Soup kitchens were manned by local residents.

But three years later, the mood has shifted, particularly in areas close to the border where the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has made the most of its gains.

Huh. It’s almost like either the refugees’ behavior was something different than what is portrayed by the MSM, or native Bavarians suddenly erupted into spontaneous irrational spasms of xenophobia at the coaxing of the dastardly AfD “stoking diffuse fears of Islamization and warning of migrant crime and terrorism.”:

“Our perfect world was shaken,” said Hans Ruppenstein, 76, a member of a local shooting club in Baierbrunn. “People have become scared.”

Of what, exactly, no one is quite sure.

Yes, it’s a complete mystery.

Lastly, there’s the obligatory Hitler reference (“Hitler started his political career in Munich.”)

Sigh.

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Lots of Bergs

Recent NYT political-diversity hire Michelle Goldberg defends recent public uncivility to various Trump admin personnel because of…. muh abortion bombings from 30 yrs ago! “It’s a little more complicated when the professional racist is the president of the United States”, she writes. In such cases, there’s a “moral and psychic cost” to treat such persona as anything less than villains.

She then pulls out every timeworn trope of the past year and a half, throws them into a blender, and spits out the following, rather confused, NYT op-ed version of autistic screeching:

I don’t blame staff members at the Virginia restaurant, the Red Hen, for not wanting to help Sanders unwind after a hard week of lying to the public about mass child abuse. Particularly when Sanders’s own administration is fighting to let private businesses discriminate against gay people, who, unlike mendacious press secretaries, are a protected class under many civil rights laws.

Whether or not you think public shaming should be happening, it’s important to understand why it’s happening. It’s less a result of a breakdown in civility than a breakdown of democracy. Though it’s tiresome to repeat it, Donald Trump eked out his minority victory with help from a hostile foreign power…

[M]illions and millions of Americans watch helplessly as the president cages children, dehumanizes immigrants, spurns other democracies, guts health care protections, uses his office to enrich himself and turns public life into a deranged phantasmagoria with his incontinent flood of lies.

Brave op-ed, Michelle! Way to challenge conventional NYT wisdom! Please, next time let us all know if you think there’s a Trump-Hitler parallel: we’re dying to know what you think about this controversial position!

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