Sunday, June 26, 2005

Functional Iliteracy is Dangerous

A well known lawyer's adage says: 'When the law is on your side, bang on the law. When the facts are on your side, bang on the facts. When neither are on your side, bang on the table.' This might be good practice in an adversarial proceeding (though, what it does for justice is another question). However, at least it presumes that the lawyer knows both the law and the facts. However, what concerns (no, terrifies) me is the fact that in current Jewish or Israeli discourse, people only bang on the table. Their ignorance of the facts (never mind the law) is abysmal and, in our case, extremely dangerous. (I guess it comes from living in a bubble.)

A few examples will suffice:

1) MK Michael Melchior, Deputy Minister of Education, was interviewed on Radio Moreshet last Sunday. He was asked about concerns that unilateral withdrawal from Gaza will cost Jewish lives, given Meimad's position that the sanctity of life is more important than the sanctity of territory. Melchior blithely replied that such a position is absolutely unfounded, as proven by the Camp David accords. So, here we have a Deputy Minister of Education for the State of Israel, which is 19% Arab, who never read the Quran, never heard of the Hadith, never heard of the Battle of Badr and has no idea of what Egypt's official policy regarding Israel. What he does do is superciliously reject anything that he doesn't like. Marvelous! (Then again, what do you want from a guy whose minister barely has a BA. Ben Zion Dinur, where are you?)

2) Gidi Gov was interviewed in Makor Rishon. He informs us that nothing taken by violence is legitimate, and that Jews have no rights to Eretz Yisrael. 'Nuff Said.

3) A persistently egregious example of all of this concerns the word 'democracy.' Everybody (both Right and Left) talks about it, but very few people have a clue what it is (especially our legislators, pundits and even our judges). [Those of us who were lucky enough to grow up in the United States and the British Commonwealth do know, but Israelis tend not to listen to us because we're not real Israelis.]
Noone has read Locke, Hobbes, the Federalist Papers, Burke, Benthem, John Stuart Mill, Oliver Wendall Holmes etc. (despite the heroic and wonderful efforts of the Shalem Institute to translate and circulate their ideas). So, the result is that everybody yells democracy, but democracy usually means 'what I think.' There is not a hint of Voltaire's famous observation: 'I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.' Instead, any hint of criticism of the dominant side becomes 'treason,' 'incitement,' 'racism' or worse.

4) This reminds me of an episode after the murder of PM Rabin, z'l. There was an assembly at Bar Ilan where all kinds of people spoke. One speech, however, stands out in my memory. Then MK Benny Temkin of Meretz (now Yahad), spoke extolling his spiritual mentor Herbert Marcuse. Temkin waxed eloquent about how Marcuse was a pacifist whose writings should be the bedrock of Israeli political culture. I thought I was dreaming! Wasn't Marcuse Angela Davis' mentor? I walked over to a colleague who was known for his left-wing political affiliations. I asked him about Marcuse. He confirmed my recollection that Marcuse preached a version of Marxist violent anarchy.
I walked away very sad. Either Temkin had read Marcuse and hadn't understood a thing he'd written. Or, he had not read him and was faking it. Or, he had read him, understood him and was consciously misrepresenting him. Similarly, since the students were lapping this stuff up they clearly hadn't heard of Marcuse either. Saddest of all, I knew full well that none of them would walk the three hundred feet into the Library from the amphitheatre in order to find out.

Ten days of Shavu'a HaSefer. What in hell are they reading?


Nachum said...

And what sort of degree does Melchior himself have?

Jeffrey said...

I have no idea. I am, however, totally underwhelmed by his secular and his Jewish knowledge.

I am of the (minority) opinion that people have the absolute right to their opinion so long as that opinion is based on knowledge and principle. Most of our public figures (including judges, I might add) lack one or the other. A judiciary which elects judges who lack a broad education is IMHO nothing more than a trade union. said...

Anyone who has been reading Amnon Lord over the last few years will see clearly that Temkin "had read him, understood him and was consciously misrepresenting him". This is part and parcel of the left's tactics and use of code words such as "peace" ,"democracy" , "rule of law", etc. etc.

Melchior was driven out of Denmark to become Rabbi in Norway, and now we are stuck with him. While some in the religious left have done a volte-face after Arafat started his war in 2000, others are sticking to their guns and becoming even more radical.

The problem with the religious left was that their pikuach nefesh (saving lives) argument (based on Rav Soloveitchik and others) was always theoretical and assumed an honest government and honest security experts telling the people the truth. Now it has been empirically tested on both planes - 1) that of saving lives - it has led to Israel becoming the valley of the shadow of death and 2)on relying on the "experts" to inform what the halachic view should be - it has clearly and convincingly shown that government security experts will lie to their people in order to advance their own corrupt agendas (I use the work corrupt purposely, and not criminal, as not all corruption is criminal as per Attny General Mazuz, but the pikuach nefesh theology IMHO holds no water when dealing with even corrupt generals).

This pikuach nefesh theology needs to placed in the same place as the study of Ben Sorer U'Morer - i.e. for the reward and pure joy of learning and studying. It has no basis in practical halacha or public policy anymore. Unfortunately, there are those like Melchior who don't see it this way. See Amnon Lord comments above for why they do it - yes, there were religious Marxists who turned on their own people. said...

Here's an example of the dangerous functional illiteracy, couched in all the correct Marxist/Leninist buzzwords of the left and wrapped up nicely in the religiosity of a kippah. This is what people like Melchior are pushing.

The only questions that I can't answer is to what extent the original Meimad people (i.e the Roshei Yeshiva) - 1) were caught up in these buzzwords in a marxist context or were naive bystanders all along and 2) to what extent they still support this message.

Jeffrey said...

I have heard a lot of people say that Meimad is a party of one. Guess who that is? said...

That may be true now - but meimad came out of a cultural milieu that produced people like Menachem Klein and attarcted people like Melchior. It's quite possible that the founders of Meimad have abandoned the rhetoric and all the Shvil Hazahav folks went off and made the Orthodox Caucus with their tails betwen their legs after Arafat "disappointed" them. But they are still out there making absurd comparisons between the hitnatkut and King Solomon that seep into the cultural mainstream. So yes - politically it may be a party of one - but culturally it's a deeper phenomenon - that quite frankly revels in casting other religious Jews in a fanatical light.

Jeffrey said...

1) The Orthodox Caucus has absolutely nothing to do with Shvil HaZahav.

2) The founders of Meimad were a multivariegated lot and many of their points were (and still are) well-taken. For example, if we hasd not exclusively concentrated on Eretz Yisrael and had devoted energy toward creating a common language with the rest of the Jews in Israel, this mass defeatism and de-judaization might not be happening. Anyway, there will always be radicals like that (Satmar, Leibovitz etc.) said...

1) No, but many of the people are the same.

2) I'm sorry - I just don't buy into the לא התנחלנו בלבבות self-flagellation. This is just political propaganda - which as I noted seeped into the mainstream (You'd be surprised as to how many "rational" "moderate" rabbis will quote radical marxist economic jargon as if it's written in the bible in black and white). The "settler" movement was involved in all areas of Israeli life - military, social, educational, political, legal, scientific - even the arts. The urban garinim toraniim didn't spring up in a vaccuum. Creating a common language is difficult when they are drifting away - how much and how far do you expect us to drift with them?