American Liberalism (Syria) (Yom Kippur)

yom kippur

Famous in among Jewish art aficionados, almost all the adult figures in Maurycy Gottlieb’s 1878 painting of Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur are looking around this way and that. They are either introspecting or missing the main subject, which perhaps only the figure in the center of the frame (a self-portrait of the artist) seems to understand. But even he avoids a direct gaze because the truth is too horrible. The painting reminds me of liberals trying to make sense of Syria, about which maybe I’ll stop posting after the Fast. I’ve probably said all I have to say. All I can claim to “know” is that I don’t think the problem is not chemical weapons per se, but the Assad regime and its brutal suppression of the opposition from day one of the rebellion. Pick your poison. Clearly, a military action right now in Syria could turn into a disaster, that there are no good options, etc., etc. But in general, it’s always safe to suspect that conditions in the Middle East always get worse than they already are. This might very well and probably mean that what the “international community” doesn’t do now will have to be done later at much greater political and moral cost. Apart from that cold calculation, there’s only revulsion and shame, the sense that a sacred human trust has been violated, morally and politically. In averting our eyes for the last two years,  “we” have done something very wrong. I beg anyone’s forgiveness whom I’ve hurt or otherwise wronged this past year, and for all the the stupid things I might have said here at JPP about Syria or anything else.

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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