Anthologizing American Jewish Thought (NYU)


The swing of Jewish thought and philosophy out of Germany and into America starts with anthologies. Here’s what Michah Gottlieb is up to. It’s of a piece with anthological/editorial volumes organized by Ken Koltun-Fromm and Leonard Kaplan, Martin Kavka and Randi Rashkover, Aaron Hughes and Hava Tirosh-Samuelson.

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America First (American Jews & American Nazism)

america-firstPreparing for a faculty workshop, I was asked to comment among a collection of texts on the idea of Jewish peoplehood. One set of readings were taken from C.B. Sherman’s The Jew Within American Society, a text from 1965, with which I was unfamiliar. The material was only so-so, until this precise point, where the author hit the mark of our own contemporary moment circa 2016. Sherman argues that Jewish group identity solidified in the inter-war period in response to the rise of Nazism in Germany. Writing about the “Effects of Anti-Semitism At Home and Abroad,” Sherman writes, “Nazism suddenly confronted American Jews with the fact that Jewish life is nowhere fully secure, that thre is no land immune to Jew-hatred.” He goes on to warn that it would be wrong to overlook indigenous anti-Semitism articulated in “American slogans,” “American traditions,” and “the peculiarities of the American mentality.” Writing about the frontier suspicion “otherness in spiritual matters,” Sherman tags Lindbergh and the open embrace in the late 1930s and early 1940s of anti-Semitism as a part of the “America First Program” (pp.201-3). Indeed, to quote the good Dr. Seuss, whose anti-Japanese racism should not be forgotten, this joining together continues to “mystify the mightiest minds of the land.”


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What’s Wrong with Revolutionary Love at the AAR (Laura Levitt)


This year the theme at the American Academy of Religion took a robust theological turn, focused on “revolutionary love.” Does such a rubric make room for non-Christians? Is the AAR losing its way? Responding to a keynote address by Michelle Alexander, Laura Levitt weighs in on the scholarly organization as a site of Christian political resistance. You can read the whole thing here from online at the Bulletin for the Study of Religion. One can suppose that this country is a deeply Christian country and the AAR has always reflected that fact. Speaking as it does to the question of being caught up short in the world, this is the bit that caught my attention:.

“And then the conversation took, what was for me, an unexpected turn. All of a sudden the revolutionary who had sung the praises of the Black Panthers, shifted gears. The revolution became spiritual, and, more specifically, a proclamation of the power of “the Church,” of Jesus’s suffering on the cross, on the brother/sisterhood of humanity, all of us “children of God.” This was a decidedly Christian universal message. Just as Alexander proclaimed the bankruptcy of American democracy she proclaimed the revolutionary power of the Church. I could not help but hear a call to crusade, a sacred revolution in the name of Jesus Christ and I was no longer a part of this story. The discourse had shifted, profoundly. I was in a different universe.”

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(Executioners) Martyrdom of St. Sebastian (Cecco del Caravaggio)


It might have been a a mistake to hide the martyr’s face behind the shadow of his right arm. But clearly, the attention in this painting attention goes, not  to St. Sebastian,  but to his executioners, and to the combined brutality of their work and calm facial expression. Not by the famous Caravaggio, they were painted  by an important follower, Cecco del Caravaggio, who worked in the early 17th century. It’s now on view at the Met as part of an exhibition of paintings by another late follower of Caravaggio, Valentin de Boulogne.

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(Trans-Arabian Pipeline) Steel Rings (Rayyane Tabet)


The fall landscaping at the Highline in New York covers up the idea of abandoned historical remains expressed in the form of simple steel rings. This is what can be done with minimalist/conceptualist sculpture. Historical memory comes into and out of view. As described by the curators of the Wanderlust exhibition, it is a contribution, “Rayyane Tabet’s (b. 1983, Lebanon) work explores paradoxes in the built environment and its history. For Wanderlust, Tabet installs a new iteration of Steel Rings, a sculpture that replicates forty kilometers of the defunct Trans-Arabian Pipeline, a 753-mile-long American venture that transported oil by land from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon through Jordan, Syria, and the Golan Heights between 1950 and 1983. Due to sociopolitical transformations of the region, the company was dissolved and the pipeline abandoned. Today, it is the only physical object that crosses the borders of five countries in a region whose population is highly conscious of its demarcated boundaries.

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Have Your Cake & Eat It (Right Left Anti-Semitism at Tablet)

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Tablet Magazine is a platform for the neo-conservative Jewish right. It always has been, like its sister site at the mostly defunct Tikvah Fund, mixing political content into parve Jewish cultural content. As a case in point, for anyone wondering where they want to take the discourse in the Age of Trump, reading online today, the day after Thanksgiving, was an eye-opener. Looking past the slick, hip graphics, check out the consistent counter-line intended to establish a false equivalence between the Nazi-alt-right and the more or less marginal phenomenon of anti-Semitism on the  left.

You can read examples by lead Tablet writers  here and here. In the first, a paragraph (maybe two) is given to the current surge of racist rightwing anti-Semitism without a mention of Stephen Bannon’s installation at the very center of American power. The writer goes on to opine about the marginal case of Joy Karega, the professor who actually lost her job at Oberlin for pushing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Oblivious to scale, the writer wants us to know that there is a “confluence” between the alt-right and progressive left as if one could compare the power of the one with the impotence of the  other. As readers of this blog will recognize, I have been more than exercised by anti-Semitism on the left and against BDS and will continue to be so –but not without recognizing the seismic shift and re-alignments represented on the political landscape by Trump’s election.

Throwing dust, Tablet wants us to think that the problem is just as big on the Democratic side of the aisle as it is on the Republican. For that, expect to see more like this article and this article on Kieth Ellison and his alleged ties with the Nation of Islam and “Muslim Brotherhood groups,” and alleged support of BDS –all of which stand in contrast to the confidence given to Ellison from stalwarts like Chuck Schumer, Harry Ried, not to mention the Minneapolis Jewish community (such as here in Haaretz) and the ADL. To be sure, Ellison will have to address these issues himself, but neither author give any expression to those voices from within the Jewish community that have come out in support of him. Expect more hatchet work and innuendo. Because the last thing the neo-conservative right wants to see is American Jews and American Muslims coming to decent terms over Israel and Palestine while building bridges to address what for us, over here, are more pressing concerns in the wake of this election.

That’s how they want to have it at Tablet. The neo-conservatives, primarily Jewish, have taken an honorable stand against Trump and the Nazi-alt-right, which we on the left should appreciate. But they are not about to give up on flailing the left on trumped up charges. At Tablet, they want to have their cake and eat it too.

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(About Death) Thinking (Canaanite Figurine)


What’s on this Canaanite fellow’s mind? The main body of the decorative figurine is formed out of the neck of a Bronze Age pottery jug, to which the arms, legs, and head were added. He’s almost 4,000 years old, uncovered at an archeological dig in Yehud. Also found at the site were daggers, arrowheads, an axe head, animal bones from sheep and maybe a donkey. Excavation director Gild Itach suggests that some of these might have been funerary offerings. Clearly then, out man  is contemplating death? That is the object of his intentional consciousness. (I grabbed all this from the article that appeared online at Haaretz here.)


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