Judaism, Pandemic, and Race-Terror (Susannah Heschel)


Simply one of the best things out there from a Jewish perspective tying together into a single word a response to the Coronavirus pandemic and to the pandemic of anti-black racism in America. Susannah Heschel posted it here at Immanent Frame.  She takes her cue from Ashkenazi folklore to challenge the Jewish community to get its own moral house in order. A response to pandemic and plague, the inversion of the so-called Black Wedding, the wedding of orphans in a cemetery mimics the rot it is meant to ward off.

“The central question is whether Jews have anything to contribute to ending our racism crisis or whether we have rendered ourselves irrelevant. Without mobilizing principles of justice, we will emerge from this pandemic in a far deeper epidemic, sickening and bringing death to Jewish principles. Perhaps fear of the virus made these panelists unable to mobilize their conscience. We may look down at the foolishness of a shvartze chasene, but perhaps it is alerting us that fear must not smother moral courage.

Our society is also inverted. Police, sworn to uphold the law, lynch people in front of video cameras. The president foments violence while holding Bible for news media. The eyes of justice wink at the politicians, and pride gloats where shame should drown us.

I’m not advocating a revival of the shvartze chasene but take a lesson: that all the rational advice of doctors, epidemiologists, and virologists is not sufficient. Racial terror and the terror of mass death are also epidemics needing our attention. There is one cure for the epidemic of fear: justice, the assurance that we live in a society rooted in moral values, that health is the concern of all, that everyone’s family is secure and will never be abandoned, but always cared for, and that all human beings are equally precious.”

[[image: Mayer Kirshenblatt: The Black Wedding in the Cemetery, ca. 1892, 1996, acrylic on canvas. From the book They Called Me Mayer July: Painted Memories of Jewish Life in Poland Before the Holocaust by Mayer Kirshenblatt and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (University of California Press, 2007).]]


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. http://religion.syr.edu
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