Allies (Code Pink + Neturei Karta)


The question is whether one should expect more from the anti-Zionist left than one would from the Neturei Karta in terms of political and moral judgment. Only a universe composed of infinite possibilities can do justice to the alignment of Ariel Gold from the feminist activist group Code Pink joining up with representatives from the Neturei Karta, along with Miko Peled. No, this is post is not about American Muslims, but about Jews. This ad hoc group all showed up, at the same time,  and created a little media circus at the Congressional office of Rep. Rashida Tlaib. The Congresswoman has since clarified that they came unannounced, took the photo, and left. For her part, Rep. Ilhan Omar has apparently refused to meet with the Neturei Karta. And Codepink? Gold herself has since tried to walk the episode back. Over the top, this little demonstration was not about the occupation. When you hate something so much, this is what can happen. As a piece of political ephemera, what’s noteworthy is what can go wrong, the strange conjoining of contrary forces around a single inflection point, namely deep-seated wells of animus for the State of Israel.

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(2’s) Jews & Muslims & POC


This is the pattern:

More and more, Jews and Muslims and POC are going to be bound together at the hip in an incredibly complex and painful dynamic of twos.

[1] Prominent Muslim Americans and people of color say dodgy to anti-Semitic things about [2] Jews and/or about Israel.

This provokes [1] the expression of genuine anger from liberal and liberal-left Jews, and [2] racist backlash from the right.

Combined together, these create splits in liberal and liberal-left political communities down the middle between [1] the advocates of one community and [2] advocates of the other community.

This is the gift brought by [1] the anti-Zionist left and [2] rightwing support of rightwing and racist Israeli politics.

All of this has been volatized by the global spikes in [1] anti-Semitism and [2] Islamophobia.

There is no unexposed middle ground on which to hash out these differences.

It won’t stop until someone steps into the breach.

No one has that moral authority and political weight to carry that weight.

The rest of us left flailing [1] backwards and [2] forwards to no good end and with no end in sight.

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The Gentile (Jewish Invisibility & Disappearance)

ts elliot

There are how many books about Jews and Jewish identity? Cynthia Baker wrote an important book, Jew and the Jew and the Jewish question and problem are historical objects.  But what about gentiles and the Gentile? Or is it impolite, not genteel to ask about the Gentile? Black Critical Theory has developed sophisticated theories of Whiteness. Is there a place for Jewish Critical Theory, and would it not have to advance a theory about this particular figure? As opposed to gentiles, namely ordinary people, the Gentile as a theoretical subject positioning does not refer to real people as such. The Gentile splits into two figures. The one is the Gentile who actively fears the Jew, hates the Jew and or holds them in contempt. The Jew and Jews do not and should not belong. The malevolent Gentile is the more dangerous and the least interesting. The other type of Gentile is the indifferent one who simply doesn’t see the Jew, who doesn’t think the Jew really matters, but who doesn’t actually know what they’re not seeing and what they don’t know, and doesn’t really care. Putting “himself” forward, the Gentile is the condition of Jewish invisibility and Jewish disappearance, but, ironically, the Gentile stands in sharpest profile when Jews are made most visible and exposed.

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The Jews are Not The Nation Without Art (Hertz Pentateuch)


I thought I was done with the Hertz commentary, that he has nothing much to say after a few things. But then there was this important surprise in these comments about art in his famous Pentateuch & Haftarahs from 1936. What follows are his comments and, in bold, my own super-commentary. Hertz will, by the end disappoint, falling back into pat moralism. But he also tugs against the moralism. It turns out he had forward thinking things to think about art, art in the Bible and Judaism, about senses and sensualism, against theories of race privileging Greeks, against aniconism, even against ethics, and about the non-radical difference between image and word, between visual art and poetry. His comments anticipate arguments by Rudolf Arnheim, Kalman Bland, WJT Mitchell, and Margaret Olin (from whose work I grabbed the title for this blogpost)

Commentary to Exodus 35:

35:31: Wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are displayed in artistic skill

35:32: “To devise skillful works” is better translated, as per Hertz, as “to think thoughts.” He insists, “In all True art, there is a vital underlying thought, and artists have accordingly been among the great thinkers of mankind.”

Plastic art is not just sensual or imaginative. Its production involves thought and thinking. What follows in the Hertz and what I’m not citing in full is moralizing content. Art has to be “solemn” and ennobling.” There is simply no way beyond this bourgeois value schema. But psychologically, Hertz anticipates an argument made by Rudolf Arnheim in his his classic Visual Thinking and in postwar art trends like Conceptualism, where what matters is the idea or concept, a thought, not the work-object itself

35:33: “We are accustomed to limit Divine inspiration to thoughts expressed in words. This is not the Scriptural view. The worker in metals, the cutter of precious stones, and the cover of wood can likewise produce work that is inspired.”

Note here how Hertz stands against the privileging of language. Note too that what Hertz calls “divine inspiration” is what philosophers like Buber and Rosenzweig call revelation. According to Hertz and more boldly than these two, revelation takes shape not just in word by in metal, stone, and wood work.

35:34: “Proper understanding and appreciation of these verses should modify current view on Judaism and its relation to Art. The opinion is often expressed that there is no art in Judaism; that the Jew lacks the aesthetic sense; and that is largely due to the influence of the Second Commandment, which prohibited plastic art in Israel.  Defenders of the Jew and Judaism usually reply that Judaism was determined to lift the God-idea above the sensual, and to represent the Divine as Spirit only; that art was not Israel’s predestined province; that that whereas the legacy of Greece was Beauty the mission of Israel was Righteousness. Neither friend nor foe do full justice to the facts of the case. There is not such a clear-cut difference between the races as is generally assumed. Greek art is itself and now seem to be of Semitic origin whole; and Semites have produced many a monument of surpassing beauty in the world of Art. And is not poetry, too, a province of Art? Surely, the Books of Psalms Isaiah and Job need fear no comparison with any literary product of man. And the above applies not merely to the Bible age. The rabbis too had a passionate love of beauty. They prescribed a special Benediction at the sight of a beautiful tree or animal, as well as on beholding the first blossoms of spring (Authorized Prayer Book, p.291). Some of them conceived the whole of Creation as a process of unfolding beauty; and spoke of God as the Incomparable Artist. (ein Tzur k’Eloheinu – ein Tzayar k’Eloheinu). The highest artist, in the eyes of Jewish teachers of all generations, is not the master in self-expression but in self-control; he who fashions himself into a sanctuary. Such a view sounds strange in modern ears.”

This is Hertz’s major statement on art and the arts in the Bible and in Judaism. What follows in the commentary is more moralizing cant about art and the perversion of youth. But the main body of comments cuts against the conventional grain held by the Jewish bourgeoisie and even modernist avant-gardists like Adorno who make too much of the second commandment. (Ben Schachter has written about this in relation to contemporary art and contemporary Jewish art). These may sound strange to his own contemporaries. It is strange to find this kind of thinking about art, Judaism, language, and race in this commentary. What can explain this? Perhaps what were once considered strange thoughts were propelled by the biblical text and the desire on the part of Hertz to understand it on its own terms, even as they collide with understandings contemporary to his own time and place.

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(Tabernacle) Jewish Art is Jewish Feminist Philosophy (Exodus 35-36)


When art is the subject, and art and Judaism, it’s time to retire the Second Commandment and the Golden Calf. Look instead to the concluding chapters of the book of Exodus for a theory of Jewish Art. The first thing to note is that, rhetorically, the description of the Mishkan (Dwelling Place) (Tabernacle) is written in such a way as to deliberately confuse the reader. The reader gets lost, is supposed to get lost in a small infinity of color, metals, woods, stones, woven materials, oil, light, beams, sockets, partitions, screens, loops, curtains, clasps, walls, pins, pillars, cords,. The imagination cannot encompass this mass. That is the point. When I asked students to draw what they read straight from the text, the astute ones focused on particular objects like the Tent or the ark. They were unable to grasp the whole.

But this is only the non-semantic part of the point made by the biblical text. The female and male artisans, including the master artisans Bezalel and Ohliab, are all described in terms of their wisdom (hochmah) and understanding (tevunah) and knowledge (da’at). They are possessed of wise hearts (hahmat lev) (Ex 35, starting at verse 25). Moreover, what gets translated, perhaps accurately by the philologists’ rule, as “devising skillful works would be better translated in terms of the ability to “think thoughts” (laḥshov maḥsavot) (v.32). (This is Hertz’s formulation in a note to Ex. 35:22. The intensive combination of attributes reflecting wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and heart is then reiterated in the opening verses of chapter 36. Throughout these chapters, the key verb is “to make.”

About the peculiar phrase, “the men upon the women (ha’anashim al ha’nashim) in Exodus 35:22 (translated, no doubt correctly as “both men and women,” is interpreted by Ramban, who pays attention to the peculiar phrase in the Hebrew) to to mean, first the women and then the men. He does so on solid philological footing. For his part, Rashi notes about the skill of the embroiders that the women wove the wool right off the backs of the living goats. On women and biblical “house religion,” see this piece here by Elizabeth Willett and, of course, Spinning Fantasies, about women and the Mishnah, by Miriam Peskowitz.

What these chapters in Exodus contain in potential form is a theory of art and a theory of philosophy. Not simple sensation, art is also wisdom, understanding, knowledge, the thinking of thoughts; perhaps in the image of God, male and female. The philosophical takeaway is to insist that ethics and law are not first philosophy, that first philosophy, including first Jewish philosophy, is art and craft, and that there is no philosophy without these,  and they start with women’s work. When I originally posted this post, it was given the title Jewish Art is Jewish Thought. After a little reflection I changed the title to Jewish Art is Feminist Jewish Thought, in order to better stitch the material together. And then I upped the ante and called it Feminist Jewish Philosophy.

(About the early 20th C. oversized, 16 by 18 feet, Bezalel carpet, see more here.)

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(Bar Yochnei & Gigantic Rotten Egg) Medieval Hebrew Duck


“This is bird that’s called Bar Yochnei”

BL Hebrew Project‏ @BL_HebrewMSS

FollowingFollowing @BL_HebrewMSS

#duckweek This duck can be seen in the North French Miscellany (Add MS 11639 f.517v, 1277-1324). Technically it is the Bar Yochnei, a mythical bird large enough to block out the sun, with a rotten egg. Looks like a duck to us though. #HebrewProject …

10:37 AM – 20 Feb 2019

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Netanyahu & The Face of Jewish Fascism (Kahane Lives)


Deranged, bizarre, and dangerous. You can catch up on this story about Netanyahu trying to rope in the racist fringe on the Israeli political and religious spectrum into the mainstream in order to secure electoral advantage. This piece was written by from the center by David Horovitz at the centrist Times of Israel. You can read here for the analysis, and here for profiles of leading party figures. What caught the interest of the blog are the photographs featuring fringe, fascist Kahane and his ilk today and standing before the Knesset. These photos appear here as portraits of religious fascism in Israel. Netanyahu wants these people as part of his governing coalition.

jewish fascists

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