(Polar Night) Israel Elections 2022 (Max Weber)

Thinking about “politics as a vocation” and these closing lines by Max Weber in reponse to the elections in Israel and to the rise of ethno- and ethno-theofascists both there and here in the United States. Weber recommends himself today for the combination of sober realism and utter hoplelesss that he combined with resolve. Where will be in ten years? Noting that Weber’s own use of pronouns shifts from “we” to “you” in the first paragraph tuoted below I am substituting “you” and “they” back to “we” (and “he” to “they”). I do this to undesrcore my own conviction that that we on the liberal, liberal-left, and radical left side of the political spectrum have not done well at the task of measuring up to the world as it now is and people as they are.

Now then, ladies and gentlemen, let us debate this matter once more ten years from now. Unfortunately, for a whole series of reasons, I fear that by then the period of reaction will have long since broken over us. It is very probable that little of what many of you, and (I candidly confess) I too, have wished and hoped for will be fulfilled; little—perhaps not exactly nothing, but what to us at least seems little. This will not crush me, but surely it is an inner burden to realize it…Not summer’s bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness, no matter which group may triumph externally now…And what will have become of all of you [us] by then? Will you [we] be bitter or banausic? Will you simply and dully accept world and occupation? Or will the third and by no meansthe least frequent possibility be your lot: mystic flight from reality for those who are gifted for it, or—as is both frequent and unpleasant—for those who belabor themselves to follow this fashion? In every one of such cases, I shall draw the conclusion that they [we] have not measured up to their [our] own doings. They [We] have not measured up to the world as it really is in its everyday routine.

Objectively and actually, they [we] have not experienced the vocation for politics in its deepest meaning, which they [we] thought they [we] had. They [We] would have done better in simply cultivating plain brotherliness in personal relations. And for the rest—they [we] should have gone soberly about their [our] daily work. Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth —that man [we] would not have attained the possible unless time and again he [we] had reached out for the impossible….And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men [we] will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has [they have] the calling for politics who is sure that he [they] shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants [we want] to offer. Only he [they] who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.

—Max Weber, “Poltics as a Vocation” from From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology [127-8]

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(Mishnah) Corpse Defilement (Happy Halloween)

The rabbis’ task in their reconstruction of the biblical laws of corpse impurity is to determine at which point a dead body in its fragmented and ruined state is still a “corpse” that can convey impurity, and at which point it is so disintegrated and decomposed that it can only be seen as organic matter, incapable of conveying impurity any longer. This task is taken on by creating a graded scale of corpse purity, onto which corpse parts and fragments are mapped as having diff erent degrees of ability to convey impurity.

–Mira Balberg, Purity, Body, and Self in Early Rabbinic Literature, pp.99-100

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(Pile) Autumn (Bridge)

This bridge pile supports a part of the overpass of the West Side Highway. It pile blocks, and frames the tree in the park (Riverside Park South) that now surrounds it.

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(Simulacrum) Autumn (New York City)

(Waterline Square Park)

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Stop American Nazis & Vote Democrat

As reported here, this add by the Jewish Democratic Council of America minces no words about threats to democracy and the upcoming 2022 midterm elections.

I’m posting an article here by Arno Rosenfeld who provides some backdrop to this ad. He cites Jonathan Greeblattt from the ADL who did not like the ad and Abraham Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, who thought the ad was entirely on mark. Greenblatt who actually wrote a book on this, the rise of fascism here, does not like the ad. For his part, Foxman weighs in “As a Holocaust survivor, I know why it is vital to reflect on the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. It reminds us what politically-motivated hate can lead to — the destruction of democracy and the persecution and genocide of innocent people. That’s what took root in Germany in the 1930s and that’s what’s depicted by @USJewishDems.'”

On the American the white-nationalist neofascism of the new National Conservatives now co-opting the GOP, there is a two part series at Religion Dispatches by Ben Lorber, here and here. From the Jewish right, Yoram Hazony figures in both pieces.

It is hard to remember that Nazis were not really on the Ameircan political radar before Trump’s first run for the presidency in 2015 and worth always remembering how Trump used Twitter and Big Lies to rally “the base” and raise Nazism to the manifest surface of American culture.

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The Elder of Ziyon, Jewish Studies, & Me

“Elder of Ziyon” is the nom de web of a rightwing activist. He’s including here yours truly in this piece about [1] real and imagined anti-Zionsts in Jewish Studies, [2] rightwing religious Zionists and provocative prayer in East Jeruslem and on the Temple Mount. He cites at some length an exchange between us on Twitter, which is maybe in bad form; but fair is fair; after all, we’re doing this online. But The title of the piece is “A small example of how academic Jewish studies has been taken over by anti-Zionist politics” Tags at the top of the article include: African-Americansanti-Zionist not antisemiticbigotryBLMJewish studiesJewish supremacyJoshua KarlipPittsburghPowayprovoking Arabsracismsecond intifadastereotypingwokeZachary Braiterman.

On the one hand, Elder of Ziyon thinks my case is an example of anti-Zionism in Jewish Studies, whereas I think ethno-religious fanatics like Kahanist Ben-Gvir have taken over Religious Zionism and that Jews like Ben Gvir and Elder of Ziyon who go up tto pray at the Temple Mount are religious pyrohmaniacs. What Elder of Ziyon really doesn’t like is this. He claims that it is I and people like me are the ones who have put all Religious Zionists in a “racist bucket,” when, in fact they have placed themselves there all on their own. He also probably knows I’m right. What happened to the National Religious Party from days of yore? Which are the Religious Zionist parties in Israel for a moderate Religious Zionist to vote for? He knows that there are none. On the other hand, Elder of Ziyon also claims at the end of the piece that I could not be an anti-Semite because of the time I spent working through the Sefat Emet.

Poltics and religion aside, one other thing that separates us is that Elder of Ziyon writes in the virtual world behind an anonymous cover, My own presence online is transparent. Elder of Ziyon can address me by name, whereas I have no idea who he is in the actual world. I don’t know his actual name or where he works on in what city he lives. Is he young, old, or middle age? Does he have a beard? Is he tall or short like me? Is Elder of Ziyon a man or a woman or non-binary? I know nothing about “him” beyond “his” being a digital cipher for dangerous forms of rightwing religious Zionism threatening to push Judaism and Zionism and Israel over the brink.

About his remaining anonymous, he posts this at the FAQ at his blog. :

Q: How old are you? How many kids do you have? Where do you live?A: I am not keen on giving out personal details, although long time readers would figure some of the answers out. I have mentioned Mrs. Elder, my children, the beautiful and talented Daughter of Ziyon and Junior Elder, and Elder Brother of Ziyon in comments sometimes. I do not, unfortunately, live in

Q: Why do you want to remain anonymous?A: It is not because of fear of death threats or anything that dramatic. It is simply because I have a regular professional job in a high tech field and I don’t want any prospective employers to Google me and find tens of thousands of posts about the Middle East; they would assume (correctly) that at least some of those are written during work hours. If I am still blogging when I retire (seems doubtful, but it is a fun hobby), then maybe I’ll start using my name.

(2021) I need to update this answer. Pro-Israel social media personalities have been subject to huge amounts of abuse – when they use their real names. It is especially a problem for women. While I might not mind it myself, I do have to be concerned about haters harassing my family members. My job used to be the main reason I wanted to remain anonymous, but this concern has overtaken it. 

A part of me can appreciate the levity, but I also want to push back. Weall have families and jobs. Some of us actually don’t have a lot or any job security, including junior colleagues and gradauate students in Jewish Studies who all write under their own actual names and suffer huge amounts of online abuse which is painful on its own and which always threatens to spill over into the actual world offline. At any rate, it’s also true that I enjoy the attention but not necessarily when people, presumably rightwing nutjobs send me hate-email calling me a “Kapo.” Had i chosen to remain anonymous this would not have happened. But anonymity makes for very “bad faith” and very bad Judaism. A good name is all we have in the end.

[h/t Jeff Weintraub]

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(Red Line) Liberal Jewish BDS (On the Cusp)

The Religious Zionism party in Israel is an anti-democratic National-Judaism-Religious-Zionism hybrid. It is dangerous and racist. Jews in the diaspora will have to figure out how to respond if they are brought into a governing coalition led by Netanyahu and the Likud in tandem with the ultra-orthodox parties.

This editorial is a sign of things to come if the Religious Zionism party enters the government as a major coaltional partner with up to 12-14 seats after the upcoming elections.

“It raises a question that British Jews have perhaps been ignoring for too long: how do we respond? There is no question of diminishing our support for Israel as a country, but for the first time we face the prospect of that country being represented by intolerance.

If Bezalel Smotrich or Itamar Ben-Gvir visits Britain as ministers, some of us might be tempted to overlook their views and welcome them as representatives of the State of Israel. Some may even encourage the British government to do the same. We must stand against that.

Hatred is a powerful tool. Jews need no lessons on what can happen when it is allowed to flourish. It is difficult to stand up to odious views from within our own community but that is why we must find the courage to do it. Israel is on a dangerous path and we must not ignore it.”

Communities are determined by political and ethical redlines and the taboos that shape them. You can read the entire editorial here and coverage at Ha’aretz here.

In the Haaretz report you can see the alarm indexed by a super right spokesperson responding to the editorial this way.

Yishai Fleisher, a spokesman for Ben-Gvir, as well as for the Jewish settlement in Hebron, responded harshly to the Jewish News article, tweeting that its condemnation was itself an outrage.

“How can a small Jewish paper of the smallish Jewish community of London (which is not the land of Israel) be so biased against the call of millions of Israelis who want a center-right government to defend the Jewish State from terror,” he asked.

This is, of course, a lie. An extreme right Netanyahu-Ben-Gvir-Haredi government would not be center right.

About political repreussions we have already seen comments like the ones below:





As reported in Ha’aretz:

The Jewish News’ condemnation comes less than a year after the Board of Deputies, a major communal Jewish organization in the U.K., decried Smotrich’s “hateful ideology,” as he kick-started a Europe tour to rally against efforts to end the rabbinate’s monopoly over kashrut and conversion.

In February, the group tweeted in Hebrew that they “reject his abominable views and hateful ideology,” before ordering the member of Knesset to “Get back on the plane Bezalel and be remembered as a disgrace forever” in English.

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(Before It’s Too Late) (Trump)

h/t @DanielSeidemann

God studied Torah to self-medicate God’s divine loneliness, but then light emerged and God was no longer alone. And God said “I no longer feel like wild and waste, a void.” And God beheld the Other. And God saw that it was good. Day One.

Zohar Atkins

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Sukkot Israel 1957

h/t @hungrychipmunk

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High Holidays (Sefas Emes)

[sukka in very bright light, generated at DALL-E]

The commentaries in the Sefas Emes to the High Holidays comprise different component parts in a single composition. They are the last major word of the fifth and final volume of the commentary (on Deuteronomy). In that position, they effectively constitute the last major word of both the holiday cycle (which starts with Hanukah in volume one, the commentary to Genesis) and the last major word of the entire commentary. Summing up and sealing the entire commentary, the last and final words of the Sefas Emes are the I or Anochi of God and the human neshamah, the nullification or bitul of the self before God, the renewal of the life-force or ḥiyyut, the raising up of the living human soul or nefesh, the aspect of Abraham, ḥesed, and joy over din and judgment, purity and protection against the Other Side, the life of the world to come. Hidden in the world and revealed especially on sabbaths and festivals, the inner ḥiyyut or life-force is rendered holy and separated from physical things. Note should be made that the notion of self-nullification of the self before God is paradoxical. Multi-dimensional and not abject, there is little by way of ethical self-reflection or begging before God for forgiveness. Characteristic is the aspect of joy and kindness, the utter and spiritual confidence of the Sefas Emes.


On an intimate note, the Sefas Emes introduces the month of Elul with reference to the Song of Songs, ani l’dodi v’dodi li (“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”). The month of Elul, a month of reflection, is to know that the man of Israel [sic] was created to serve his master and that there is he no other reality and need in the world. Israel awakens in teshuvah and merits by their actions the power to awaken the time of the will of Heaven. God is reconciled to Israel at the start of the month, on rosh chodesh Elul.

Rosh Hashanah

Not repentance, the focus in the Sefas Emes on Rosh Hashanah is life; not ordinary life, of course, but life clarified and purged, life purified without the waste and dross of materiality and physicality. One should not request things in this world on Rosh Hashanah; one should only want to serve God. Containing all creation, the human being is a microcosm, a little world or olam katan. The essence of the human is the living nefesh, which is the divine portion from above that is renewed on Rosh Hashanah. As it enters into the world during the year, the life force or iyyut turns from the spiritual to the corporeal, transforms and splits into different directions. Rosh Hashanah stands out in the year as the source of new iyyut, spiritual and without physical image or tziur. Perfecting creation, the nullification or bitul before God awakens and animates all creation.

The shofar sound of Rosh Hashana in the Sefas Emes relates to breath, the drawing out of life by subjugating voice and speech to Heaven. Of the three different soundings of the shofar, the tekiah blast is voice without speech, one complete single voice, gathering and connecting, which is the aspect of Abraham or love (esed). Teruah and shevarim are different kinds of shofar blasts. These are staccato voices that spread out and separate, constituting speech as it breaks and splits into different and separate movements. Pleasing God, the teruah is the tempting of God with God’s own attribute of judgment (midat ha’din). This is the confidence of the Sefas Emes. Rosh Hashana is joy and jubilee, inscribed (arut) and free (erut) from the Angel of Death and the Evil Inclination. Rosh Hashana repairs the Tree of Knowledge (din). The shofar blasts awaken covenant, mercy, renewal, Kingdom of Heaven.

The shofar raising the prayers of Israel on Rosh Hashana animates both the anochi or “I” of God revealed to Israel at Sinai and the soul or neshamah of the human person, the extra soul which is the essence of the human image (tzelem). The Sefas Emes is confident that the sound of the shofar and prayer has the power to move God from the throne of judgment to the throne or mercy and esed. Israel crowns the King by accepting the Kingdom. But Israel cannot sing praise psalms or Hallel when the Book of Life and Death is open. The human neshamah is like God and judges the body on Rosh Hashana, while Abraham who does the will of God at a single moment, at the binding of Isaac, merits that esed overpowers gevurah or the power and force of God. On Rosh Hashana, the animated nefesh draws all life to creation, and the person connects all creation to the life of life, i.e. to the Tree of Life.

Shabbat Teshuva

Anochi– the shofar of Sinai awakens the heart to teshuvah (the voice of my beloved knocks; kol dodi dofek). On the ten Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the gate of teshuvah is revealed in this world, the world of action, the soul or neshamah now repairing actions and body. Shabbat helps teshuva or return, a memorial of the Exodus, of the day when all is Shabbat, by removing the screen that separates God and the human. On Shabbat, there are no requests for bodily needs, just the needs of the neshamah. The teshuvah of truth and Jacob is the faith that God is in the human being, that God is in exile with Israel. Shabbat raises the human nefesh to God from within the prison of the body. In this way, the root of teshuvah is a return to cleaving to the root that sin cannot damage. Even with sin, a divine part remains in Israel, raising the nefesh to God while still in the body.

Yom Kippur

There is nothing about the confession and forgiveness of sin, little to almost nothing by way of the reconciliation between persons. The very short commentary (!) is mostly about purity and holiness, about removing the garb of physicality from the garb of holiness on Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is total nullification before God, and a great day of joy. Negative mitzvot keep the demonic Other Side or Sitra Ara from drawing near and dispersing holiness.On Yom Kippur, Sitra Ara does not rule. The nullification or bitul of self is like immersing in mikveh; inwardness is clarified and with no garment now; the end of judgment or misphat is esed or kindness. Mending the sins between “man” and “man,” between the person and God, Israel becomes one unity on Yom Kippur. With no food or drink, the animate spirits or nefashot of Israel unify, while spirit or rua raises the nefesh of Israel to its supernal portion, the Holy of Holies, the special place and supernal root over nature. Each year, there is a bit more forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf. But one cannot cleave to this joy as one should while still in this world. Like they were before that sin, Israel are, on Yom Kippur, again like angels. Yom Kippur is the world to come, a sign that the future is holy and that Israel will return to the original Sinai rung, nourished not by food and drink but by Shekhinah.  


After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the human person-Israel is pure but cannot yet find illumination and holiness in the world. Most people don’t engage Torah full time. But the High Holidays set up a pattern which makes it hard to leave Torah or forget Torah when dealing with other matters. Yom Kippur is the aspect of din or judgment which merits esed or the aspect of kindness on Sukkot, extending the life force or iyyut that is renewed on Rosh Hashanah into the year. Sukkot is life in the world; and Torah is the essence of life. For its part, the world needs sukkah protection. For their part, Israel is consecrated to God as special possession after Egypt, the perfect point in midst of the world of creation. After Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the demonic Other Side or Sitra Ara chases after Israel, but the sukkah protects the community by gathering together all the souls of Israel. On Sukkot, God honors Israel above the nations. The four species manifest the nullification of the self for Klal Israel, the souls of Israel uniting on the festival to be one with God; their taste and smell rise before God. With reference to Temple rites, the joy of the collective gathering of Israel draws living waters. On Sukkot, Israel are guests in God’s house where they are given the desire of their hearts. Sukkot is world friendly and universal. The sukkah is the cloud of glory in whose shade Israel sits.

Shemini Atzeret

The comments regarding Shemini Atzeret in the Sefas Emes are tucked into the section on Sukkot. As Sukkot belongs to this world, Shemini Atzeret, the eight day of assembly that follows after the seven-day festival of Sukkot, is life of the world to come. Shemini Atzeret is the purpose of Sukkot. Shemini Atzeret is the life of world to come (actually or mamash). Whereas the festival of Sukkot includes all nations, all people, Shemini Atzeret is special only for Israel. Sukkot is the aspect of prayer, whereas Shemini Atzeret is the aspect of Torah. Shavuot is the aspect of Written Torah, whereas Shemini Atzeret is the aspect of Oral Torah. A miraculous thing, Israel adds to Torah like the eighth day adds to the seven-day festival. On Shemini Atzeret and Shavuot, the essence of Torah-life is revealed. That essence is the revelation itself and cleaving to God not in this world.

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