Particularism-Universalism (A Second Response to Daniel Gordis)

(Danny Caravan, White Square {?})


I’m not sure what he was expecting when he extolled the values of “tribalism” from his perch at the Shalem Center. Sort of like waving a red flag at a bullring. So Daniel Gordis’ response at Commentary to articles critical of him by JJ Goldberg, Facebook conversations with Shaul Magid, and my own criticism at JPP is worth looking at.

I find interesting and appreciate the attempt to walk-back the assertions of tribalism, back into the more familiar territory of “particularism.” “Tribalism” is a bad concept. I had argued in my first post “Tribal” at JPP that once you invoke the language of tribalism, you better distinguish yourself from the fascist varieties. That Gordis did not do so in the original article at the Jerusalem Post is a big part of the “unhinging” mentioned by Goldberg, and the hostile pushback encountered by him.

“Tribal” in ordinary usage suggests the kinds of position that Gordis himself wants to reject. So why use the term in the first place? I think more temperate language and less angry posturing vis-à-vis American liberal Jews would have gone a long way in reducing the heat here. His critics should appreciate that he comes out at Commentary in defense of the 2 State Solution and Palestinian rights.

This goes a long way to showing how universal values need to ground what in the end is liberal, garden-variety particularism. So did you ever need to leave the liberal reservation? Welcome to the Universalist Tribe, Rabbi Gordis!

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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2 Responses to Particularism-Universalism (A Second Response to Daniel Gordis)

  1. Shaul Magid says:

    I respectfully disagree Zak. Gordis uses the term “tribalism” when it fits him and rejects it when it doesn’t. He also conveniently mentions my tenure at JTS (I left ten years ago). To what end? In my mind when someone breaks confidence and prints a personal conversation (that he initiated) he loses all integrity as an interlocutor. He has done this many times before. The worst thing about not being trustworthy is that people don’t trust you.

  2. Hank Essay says:

    Gordis is a pseudo academic thug who can dish it out but can’t take it….He isn’t the first nor the last like this…Don’t spend too much time thinking about him.

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