Rosh Ha’Shanah Days of Awe (Syria)


It’s the week after Labor Day and the Jewish New Year, the new year of creation, which comes early this year, is suddenly upon us. I know that these are the Days of Awe, but the rolling catastrophe that is Syria, the silence about it heretofore, and the arguments about it here in the U.S., all of it together fills me with loathing and disgust.

It’s my own view that the reasons to act or not act against the Assad regime in Syria from this far side of the Atlantic are a mix of strategic, political, and moral ones.  So I’m not so much of mixed mind. I don’t see any diplomatic solution on the horizon. I’ll bet there never was one. After two years of letting Syria burn, the war has gotten worse, not better; more complicated and dangerous, not less so; and there’s no reason to think that things won’t be worse, more dangerous, and more complicated still after another year of bloodshed and silence.

I understand why people think otherwise, but I do think it’s a U.S. interest, politically and morally. And there’s plenty of blood already on our hands, either way it’s looked at, because if you can act and you don’t act, you’re still responsible, just as or almost as responsible if you act and things go wrong. I understand the argument that the U.S. and Europe should just let the Syrians sort out their own problems on their own, and I’m sure this is true. Except that Syria is already destabilized and has been so for a long time. The Russians and the Iranians have seen to that. I just don’t see why it’s not the better or least bad option for Syrian people to sort through their differences on their own, and to be able to do so without Assad, not with him.

In her book on Levinas and the Crisis of Humanism, Claire Katz claims that to be human is “to be engaged in an ethical life where we cannot recuse ourselves from responsibility or from making choices, and the consequences of those choices often have damaging effects on those we care about most. My own perceived failures motivated me to ask what it means to raise daughters who will stand up for others, who will defend the victim, and who will stand against the bully. It is not enough simply not to do harm but one must also stop others who commit it”(p.xiii).

After two years and 100,000 dead and now the introduction of chemical weapons, no one knows whether U.S. action or inaction will make things simply worse than they already are. Anyone certain of their own analysis is delusional. I would like to consider the very real possibility that one way or the other, we might all be wrong, and that no matter what the U.S. does or doesn’t do, one way or the other the situation in Syria will continue to deteriorate. This realization is not as an alternative to taking a stance, just a practical complement to an epistemological and moral aporia. All of us are complicit, some more than others. This year, I’m not wishing anyone a sweet new year, just a good one.

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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4 Responses to Rosh Ha’Shanah Days of Awe (Syria)

  1. Gad Horowitz says:

    I am SO tired of the citation of Levinas to justify whatever political option suits whoever on left, right, and centre. Leave him out of it.

    • zjb says:

      i generally am also tired of Levinas, but the passage is by Claire Katz (not Levinas), and the words struck me too deeply not to cite.

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