Deconstructing Judaism, Pt. II

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Leo Strauss, in his noted 1962 lecture, “Why We Remain Jews,” concluded that the purpose of the Jews is to prove that there’s no salvation.

Have you ever received unsolicited advice from an embittered elder about why some ambition or endeavor of yours is futile, “don’t get your hopes up,” “don’t quit your day job,” etc.? That’s exactly what Strauss was saying. Our religion has proven disappointing, so yours must be as well. You’re just too stupid to realize it. “Why We Remain Jews” indulges a lot of maudlin high self-regard, but at bottom it’s an endorsement of total nihilism.

Not long ago, TED-talk charlatan—I mean, “public intellectual”—Douglas Rushkoff expanded on Strauss’s concept:

The thing that makes Judaism dangerous to everybody, to every race, to every nation, to every idea, is that we smash things that aren’t true, we don’t believe in the boundaries of nation-state, we don’t believe in the ideas of these individual gods that protect individual groups of people; these are all artificial constructions and Judaism really teaches us how to see that. In a sense our detractors have us right, in that we are a corrosive force, we’re breaking down the false gods of all nations and all people because they’re not real and that’s very upsetting to people.

We are nihilists, Lebowski. We suck all the enchantment out of the world and replace it with data. Leaving aside Rushkoff’s gibbering self-flattery and falsehood (Judaism “doesn’t believe in nation states” or in “gods who protect individual groups of people“?), the question arises whether, from this perspective, there is anything Jews do believe?

Well, how different is Rushkoff’s thesis from ours? Is he not agreeing that Judaism entails being congenitally more special, intelligent, persevering and misunderstood than all other peoples, with a special destiny to be vindicated before all mankind? Of course, as a good progressive, Rushkoff might not say that this is “congenital,” but if it isn’t, then we don’t have Judaism, we just have neoliberalism and granola. Irreligious Judaism simply cannot exist without the surreptitious sacralizing of congenital Jewish qualities.

But this is quite odd. On the one hand, we have Judaism, the ancient religion: insular, xenophobic, theistical. On the other, we have “Judaism”: liberal, cosmopolitan, atheistic. The rabbis (for the most part) aren’t excommunicating the atheists, and the Zionists approve of both sides. All seem to agree about little else, except that Jewishness makes us more special, intelligent, persevering and misunderstood than all other peoples, with a special destiny to be vindicated before all mankind.

What’s going on here?

(…..Part III here…..)

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