79 Chrystie St (between Canal & Hester Street)
Lower East Side
79 Chrystie St (between Canal & Hester Street)
Lower East Side
In solidarity, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has put up in “Gallery 800” this painting by Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi.
This scene shows a sunset over the river Dnieper, which originates west of Moscow and runs south into the Black Sea. Kuindzhi was born along the coast in Mariupol, when the Ukrainian city was part of the Russian Empire. The minimalist composition and dramatic light, color, and clouds exemplify the artist’s style. Earlier in his career, in the 1870s, the artist was associated with the Peredvizhniki (sometimes translated as the Wanderers), a pioneering independent exhibition group. In the 1890s, he taught landscape painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Dismissed for supporting student protestors, he ultimately founded his own artists’ society. Today, Kuindzhi is celebrated in both Ukraine and Russia.
Scholars and non-scholars, Jews and Christians, owe a great debt to the work of scholars working in the Lutheran tradition for preserving these texts by Luther that they recognize as odious. Given that they are hard to find in one place, I have assembled at this one place these PDFs and my own annotated digests of writings by Luther about the Jews. Along with a few other items, I am including the main texts: “That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew,” “On the Jews and Their Lies,” and “Vom Schem Hamphoras.”
About the Jews themselves living in his own time, I would only suggest that the temper in Augustine is relatively sedate, even confident. For Luther, Christian contempt against Judaism and Jews bleeds into abject fear. There is the fear of being under the power of Jews who conspire at home and in the synagogue to rob, murder, and otherwise abuse “the goyim.” Attached to this fear is another fear, which is the mortal fear of the devil, sin, judgment, and the power of death. In Luther, anti-Semitism is bound up with the torment of being a Christian.
What is new about the Luther is the apocalyptic animus. Luther writes against the idea of Jewish election and other Jewish “lies” about circumcision, works, Jesus, Mary, God, the Messiah, and the New Testament. Luther promotes the burning down of synagogues, schools and homes, removing protections for Jews on the road, forbidding usury and seizing Jewish money in escrow, putting Jews to hard agricultural work, expelling them from the country.
“Modern” in Luther is the attention to the widening fifteen-hundred-year passage of historical time since the crucifixion of Christ, the public sphere and the private sphere, territory and politics, physiology, and eliminationist solutions to the “misfortune” represented not just by Judaism, but by the Jews themselves. Observed in the scholarly literature is the effect of early modern print media in amping up the scale of anti-Semitic animus. Oberman notes the importance of pamphlets, which were cheap, readable, ideal for informing, alarming and mobilizing the public. Pamphlets focused not on individual sin but the crimes against a society and the enemy within. For more on pamphlets and other printed texts, see this bit here at Marginalia Review of Books. Luther and the Reformation show how, in the modern period, anti-Judaism scales up into anti-Semitism, feeding into the paranoid style in modern Christian apocalypticism. Modern anti-Semitism exemplified by Luther is crude, vulgar, vernacular. I would stress the terrifying bitterness saturating the literary art of these ugly pages.
Below are links to the primary and secondary source material and digests with my very light annotations in parentheses.Continue reading
Our moment of madness in the United States of America lies in the sudden massive churn against liberal-social order after a long pre-meditated buildup going back decades. Of a whole piece are the more recent Trump attempted-coup on January 6 and the successful Trump-McConnel insurrection at the Supreme Court, keeping Garland off the Court and replacing him with Gorsuch, followed by Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett to add onto the revanchist right represented by Thomas and Alito. Part of the same anti-liberal warp and woof of unchecked ultra-conservative Christian power at the Supreme Court are extremely permissive rulings about guns and Christian prayer in school + extremely restrictive rulings against privacy and the reproductive liberty for women. The moment is marked by a legal lawlessness that eviscerates boundaries between public and private life. The Supreme Court renders the public sphere safe for no one: women, racial minorities, and non-Christians especially.
Academic Religious Studies in the North America still generates a lot of talk about how liberalism misconstrues religion because it seeks to restrict religion to the private sphere. This mis-construal is twofold. First, neither religion nor the private sphere is neither never not social nor autonomous and set apart, not even in liberal society. American liberal legal theory does not necessarily reject the free and reasonable expression of religion from the public sphere. Second, society or the public sphere is much broader than the narrower domain of the political sphere. The public sphere is better maintained for everyone when religion is limited to its own distinct social competence, kept far from the circus of political life. What the recent SCOTUS rulings on guns, abortion, and prayer more than reveal is the precarity of the larger public good and the preciousness of privacy along with other liberal things like individual dignity and bodily autonomy. What these rulings underscore is that the privacy and the right to be left alone by religious bullies in the public sphere are hard fought social goods.
The ruling by the conservative majority of the Court are based on a fiction. This is the notion that rulings are meant to protect the interests of peaceable American citizens who go about their business presenting no threat to the public good embedded in securing the private liberties and personal autonomy of other people. In each of these three cases, the liberal dissent is focused on the broad and destructive social impact of the majority. In liberal legal theory, there is a history and tradition of expanding rights. Unenumerated constitutional rights have their own origin and coherence, bundled up together over time. The conservative majority rips up a half century and more of legal traditions, overturning in an arbitrary way rules and rule-based precedent. Especially lawless is the sudden inversion of boundaries meant to secure and protect public safety, privacy and autonomy, and the relation between religion and state. The bald coherence in conservative legal practice is to claw back the rights that conservatives reject (reproductive freedom and personal autonomy) and to carve out space for the ones that they want to advance (public religion, open carriage of guns in public).
Broadly interested in the public sphere and religion, below are my own non-expert collection of links to and digested material from the rulings with my light annotations in bold:Continue reading
It’s no news that contemporary Orthodox Judaism has cascaded into the reactionary world of rightwing politics now overwhelmed by MAGA and with no end in sight. This cri de coeur by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko posted here at the Times of Israel gives strong insider dissident expression against that political drift in America.
What caught my attention is Poupko’s keen attention to life and death. He identifies the coupling that is the rabid anti-Semitism in GOP-MAGA world now tolerated by mainstream orthodox Judaism + gun violence + the gutting of abortion rights + the fatal response to Covid:
The branding of extreme GOP politics as normative Orthodoxy while ostracizing everything that is taken for granted by Jews in every other Western country, such as the right to vote, the right to healthcare, and your children’s right to not get shot up in school or somewhere else in a mass shooting, hurts us all. If you thought that being a thoughtful armchair conservative who is “just concerned about the judiciary” from your home in New York, this week’s Supreme Court decision is delivering open carry handguns to a subway or street corner near you. If you are an Orthodox woman in Florida who was “just concerned with how woke the country has become,” the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and their promise in the decision to change much more will jeopardize the health, maternal mortality, and life expectancy of Orthodox women in red states in ways that most people in our community cannot begin to imagine. There is good reason for the double-digit gap between life expectancy and average income in New York and many other red states. Public policy, investments in health and education, and regulations that are shared with the rest of the developed world make a difference and have real outcomes.
The fact that Americans died from COVID at the rate of three times more than in other countries and that the Orthodox community has died at an even higher rate than the general American population, is another one of the prices we pay for political extremism in our community. These are not abstract discussions
By way of postscript and going forward, I will be adding links to articles about pushback within Orthodox communities to this rightwing political drift.
At issue is the direct threat to women’s lives. This one published here “Leading Orthodox groups cheered the end of Roe v. Wade. Many Orthodox women are panicking” concerns pro-choice modern orthodox women and splits within modern orthodox communities after the Supreme Court overruled Roe. There are multiple links all worth reading, including this one here by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, a prominent report that aggregates orthodox women’s stories about abortion.
What were the actual talmudic texts that Christians found so irksome? What do we actually learn about Talmud from its most caustic critics, the elite Christian accusers from the High Medieval Age?
The Trial of the Talmud Paris 1240 is a remarkable little volume published by the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies with translations by John Friedman and Jean Connell Hoff and a historical introduction by Robert Chazan. It pulls together the documents relating to the public trial of the Talmud in Paris in 1240. Included are letters from Pope Gregory IX to William of Auvergne and others, including the archbishops of France and Sancho II (king of Portugal). There is also the letter from Pope Innocent IV to King Louis IX, and a very angry letter from Odo of Chateauroux, bishop of Tusculum, written to Pope Innocent IV (after the latter rescinded a prior ban against the Talmud). Also the disputation of Rabbi Yehiel of Paris and a dirge by Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg that laments the burning of the Talmud. Arguably, the central and most interesting protagonist is Nicholas Donin, the Jewish apostate to Christianity who brought the 35 articles of the “Latin Accusations” (Bilbliothèque nationale in Paris MS Lat, 16558, fols.211b—217d).
The texts mentioned by Donin that are most easily parried by Rabbi Yehiel are those that are presumed to convey a total anti-gentile animus and those that suggest that Jews cannot be trusted to not violate oaths. Yehiel’s argument is very simple. Texts that convey anti-gentile animus refer to gentiles who are hostile to Jews, not to Christians who protect Jews. The only vows that a Jew can annul are ones expressed unwittingly which do not affect another person. Vows between a person and their fellow can only be annulled with the consent of the fellow. Much less persuasive are those moments when Yehiel flatly rejects the notion that the Jesus and Mary pilloried in the Talmud refer to the Christian Jesus and Mary. Yehiel’s basic point is that Jews put more stock in law (halakhah), not lore (aggadah), and that there is simply no way to interpret the Written Law without Talmud. Innocent recognized this point when he rescinded the ban.
Most interesting are the actual corpus of Talmudic passages cited by Donin, most of which concern Aggadah. How strange they must have looked, texts that are not. theocentric, not centered on Bible. Truth be told, these texts continue to take my students by surprise when I teach these and their like in my introduction to Judaism. They are not what they expect from “religion.” What we learn from the Christian critics at the height of their chagrin concerns the free-form of Talmud and the Judaism it reflects.
In their rough order of appearance in the Latin Accusation by Donin. “These are the articles about which Pope Gregory ordered that the books containing them be burned (p.121):
Talmud affirms the existence of two laws, not one; that the Oral Torah goes back to Moses at Sinai; the superiority of Oral Torah, the excessiveness of the Oral Torah. Talmud is full of so-called silly notions like the superiority of sages over prophets. Talmud overturns the Written Law, affirms the power of the sage over the Law itself, and warns not to stray from the words of the sages; children study Talmud, not Bible. So-called blasphemies against God include passages that tell of God regretting or atoning for God’s acts. There are oaths made by in anger by God, who says “woe is Me,” and roars like a lion because God destroyed God’s temple and enslaved his children, who lied to Abraham so as not to embarrass him, who lies for the sake of peace, who is left with nothing by the 4 cubits of Halakha after the destruction of the Temple. God engages in study, asks himself to have mercy on the Jews, prays that God’s mercies prevail over God’s anger with the Jews, who is defeated by the Jews in the legal disputations, cries three times a day. About Jews, the Talmud says that Jews who sin the sins of the body don’t suffer more than 12 months in hell, are rewarded in the world to come for the study of Talmud. Also, Adam had sex with animals and Ham castrated Noah.
The very things faulted by the Christian critics are precisely those “things” that modern Jews have come to love: the way Oral Torah exceeds “the Law,” the fables and fancies, the free and audacious authority of the rabbis assume before the law and before God. The famous story concerning the Oven of Aknai gets special notice. About the earlier form of oral teaching, the Jews hold that the teachings of Mishnah and Talmud are better than Bible “since they are learned only by heart and pass into oblivion” (p.104).
Included as an appendix is the dirge by Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg lamenting the burning of the Talmud in Paris. The poem gives a strong sense of the animating spirit of medieval Ashkenaz, suggesting that devotion to Talmud makes for a great freedom of words. The dirge reflects a kind of anti-theodicy that builds on the love of Talmud. With more questions than answers, there is no justification of God and the ways of God with Israel. The Talmud that comes across is earthy and direct, familiar, not formal.
Most of the dirge is addressed to the Talmud in the second person. O you consumed by the flame. How could it be and how do your mourners fare? There is a quick and cutting address to the nations, also addressed in the second person: how long will you dwell in tranquility while the children of God suffer? Addressed to God: Is this why You gave the Law in flame and fire to let it come to this, that flame and fire would edge these scrolls? Addressed to Sinai, Why give the law if this is its end? Mount Sinai should cover itself in sackcloth. Addressed again to Talmud in second person, I do not understand your ways. The loneliness of the poet is like that of an abandoned parent, like one who is stunned by the light of day that leaves him in darkness. Addressed again to Talmud, wail bitterly to God over your annihilation. And finally, the remarkable concluding image to the dirge. Speaking directly to the Talmud, the poet waits for God to renew your days; this is a lovely image of the Talmud donned in crimson with timbrel, dancing once again in the circles of a round dance.
Falling under the rubric of Reactionary Bio-Politics, a lot of this is flying online under the radar, both the discourse of transphobic activism and critical writing pushing back against it. If any of this is to be believed, there are strong links there, online and then out in the actual world, between trans-phobic activism, so-called Gender Critical feminism, Deep Green Resistance, Nazi white nationalism, and anti-Semitism. They are all anti-modern and anti-technology and anti-capitalist in their ideological orientation, obsessed by the threat of industrial cabals specializing in bio-tech, and by the threat posed especially to children by bio-tech and so-called transhumanism. Transhumanism refers to the notion that human beings are advancing beyond the material basis in bodies. The mutation of transhumanism on view here is decidedly dystopian.
That Jews tend to figure regularly in conspiracy theory is by now old news. Also old news is the figuration of modern Jews around gender and homosexuality. Jews are the anti-humanist figure par excellence in the western tradition. And the figure of perversion. Anti-Semitism speaks to the organization and weaponization of the fear people have of difference, transgression and transformation. You can read about the new mutation that is the grafting together of transphobia and anti-Semitism here in this article by Ben Lorber and Heron Greene Smith, and here at the twitter account GCAntisemitism. This, ironically, makes the anti-Semitic point, which is that Jews do actually have a stake in combatting trans-phobia. Peterson’s thread shows in particular how the Holocaust and white genocide looms over the discourse.
Recently mainstreamed at Tablet Magazine, Bilek is a go-to figure in transphobic Gender Critical feminism. You can read more about her here in this long Twitter thread. The creator of this thread, Christa Peterson, notes in particular this article here by Bilek at The Federalist. Another example of the dystopian transhumanism is the wretched piece published by Bilek at Tablet Magazine; you can find screenshots here.
It is no little irony, itself a feature of digital culture, that these kinds of hybrid anti-technological formations are themselves technological, new media products, They are the creation of the very thing feared most by the purveyors of the discourse. These formations generate first online as fringe phenomena before they make their appearance in more “normal” online digital platforms, mainstream media, the actual world of culture and politics, and into open violence against gay, queer, and trans people as per this report here.
The story is already only just a little old already, but it’s worth chiming in about the Tikvah Fund and Gov. Ron DeSantis at The Museum of Jewish Heritage, which bills itself as A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. About moral and political boundaries, cancelling Ron DeSantis and the Tikvah Fund Jewish Leadership Conference marks everything that is right about the organized Jewish community. Because at the Tikvah Fund, the “Jewish ideas” are now promoting a radical anti-gay and anti-trans agenda as part of a full-on rightwing Christian assault against liberal values and American democracy. The Tikvah Fund is attaching its star to the up-and-coming Ron DeSantis. Unlike his more normal colleagues in the politically compromised GOP, DeSantis could not bring himself to condemn a Nazi march in Orlando Florida. His example shows the degree to which the GOP is a Nazi adjacent political part. As if condemning Nazis is some kind of a gotcha for Republican Party office holders. The Jewish right represented by the Tikvah Fund wants to draw the Jewish community into that orbit.
The Tikvah Fund has always been duplicitous about the culture and politics they promote, even today when it is more than clear that Tikvah is a rightwing outfit. That’s what they said about the their university programming, the Jewish Review of Books, and so on. Here again, they insist that the event at The Museum of Jewish Heritage was not a political event. Maybe snagging DeSantis was a last minute coup. Or maybe the Tikvah Fund deliberately did not inform the museum about the DeSantis appearance. As reported here, “It was after Cohen signed the contract that the museum learned DeSantis was a scheduled speaker, Cohen said. Cohen said he had spoken by phone with the museum’s CEO, Jack Kliger, who told him that the museum does not welcome political speakers of any ideology.”
Indeed you can see the familiar evasion that is the hiding behind “ideas” that has been a part of the DNA at Tikvah since its founding. In his response, Eric Cohen of the Tikvah Fund claimed, as reported here, that “The museum has implied that Tikvah wanted to host a partisan political event.” But Mr. Cohen said. “Our event endorses no candidates and serves no political party. It is all about ideas, just like every prior conference we have held at the museum.”
“All about ideas” is a lie. This piece here at the JTA gives something of the feel of and hearty applause given to the anti-gay and anti-trans consensus at the conference. “‘The age of Jewish liberalism is ending,’ Tikvah Fund CEO Eric Cohen said in his opening remarks. He added that conservatism is good for the Jews, as it fights for religious freedom, school choice and an independent Jewish state.” About the anti-gay ideas, you can find a report about DeSantis’ speech in this piece here, Lastly, and for his part, “Tikvah Fund Chairman Elliot Abrams, a former foreign policy official under Presidents Trump and George W. Bush, told the New York Jewish Week that he would “not discuss politics” when asked to respond to criticism that DeSantis’s rhetoric threatens LGBTQ people.”
About DeSantis speaking at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, it is worth noting an earlier refusal on his part to condemn and offend a significant part of the GOP base. The story relates to a small Nazi rally in Orlando, FL in early 2022. It would have been an easy thing to condemn, except maybe it isn’t in Republican circles. About the controversy reported here, his press secretary deflected by way of tweeting: “So – If the governor himself does not issue a public statement of specific condemnation of whoever this group is, within a time period that the Left deems acceptable, he is smeared as a Nazi sympathizer by default?” As reported here, a few days later, “DeSantis said those critics were trying to ‘use this as some type of political issue,’ adding: ‘We’re not playing their game.’” The remarks are in line with the ones about commemorating the Jan. 6 Trump Insurrection/Coup, as per here.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage was right not to play the “game” put on by the Tikvah Fund.
Museum director Kliger wrote here in response to an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal by Cohen and Abrams complaining about being cancelled. (I’d post the link but it’s behind a paywall.) In this letter he made it sound more like a logistical problem when the initial reporting suggested the decision was based on values of inclusion. But his remarks sum up a lot about Tikvah and the regnant culture of hatred on the political right. “When we declined to host the event, Tikvah resorted to threats, saying we had created an enemy. Tikvah knew that this was not about banning anyone from speaking but decided to make the false claim anyway. We will not respond to such political bullying.” And then, Kliger concludes, “We welcome Governor DeSantis and elected officials from across the spectrum to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust for a tour of our new exhibition, The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do, when it opens this summer.”
About what hate can do and the spillover these “ideas” take into the actual world, there is this article here about current spikes in anti-gay and anti-trans violence.
2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.