Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hating the Orthodox/Hating Orthodoxy (Part I)

A wise Rav once called my attention to that fact that the Midrash refers to Amalek both as a fly and mad dog (Tanhuma, Ki Tetzeh no. 12). These, he offered, refer to different types of Amalek. A fly, on the one hand, is attracted to an open wound. It is drawn to attack corruption. Similarly, there are times when the failings, failure and corruptions of the Jews invite attack from those who search out our failings. Regarding this type of Amalek, the Torah commands us (Deut. 25, 19): 'Thou shalt utterly wipe it out.' It is our responsibility to tend to the festering wounds on the body politic of Israel, and to destroy the Amalek who alights upon them.

There is another type of Amalek, though. Like a rabid dog, its hatred of the Jew is irrational. His is a pathological loathing that no amount of explaining, no amount of attempted (re)conciliation and no amount of self-correction can calm. It matters not whether the Jew is fully observant, or totally assimilated. The very presence of the Jew ignites a deep seated dread and animosity before which the Jew is powerless to act. It is regarding this, senseless, pathological loathing of the 'Eternal Jew' (Der Ewige Jude), that the Torah promised (Ex. 17, 14): 'Verily, I will utterly wipe out the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens.' There is nothing one can do to address, much less to eradicate this type of Jew hatred. God Himself, in all of His Glory and Power, will undertake that task.

This dual typology is not restricted to anti-Jewish sentiment on the part of Gentiles. It is fully relevant to intra-Jewish relations. In particular, it is manifest in the attitudes of non-observant Jews to their Orthodox brethren. Many, far too many, non-Orthodox Jews relate to observant Jews on a spectrum ranging from cordial dislike to intense animosity to absolutely pathological hated.

Here, too, the Amalek dynamic engenders the animosity. There are numerous open wounds and corruptions that invite (and partly justify) the intense attacks of non-Orthodox Jews upon us. Tomer Persico has recently highlighted this aspect of the dynamic in an essay to which the second portion of this posting will, אי"ה , be devoted. We must forthrightly take responsibility for these festering wounds, these cancers on the body politic, which engender (or give succor to) hatred of Torah and its adherents.

On the other hand, there is an odium religionis judaeorum, a pathological hatred of Orthodoxy and of Orthodox Jews about which we can really do nothing. No amount of civility, no amount of self-adaptation will defuse this type of ingrained hostility. When confronting this type of hostility, one can only stand proud on one's principles, and put one's faith in God that in His good time, such judische selbst-hass will cease to exist.

The challenge, the wise Rav observed, is to have the wisdom to know the difference.


Ariel Serra said...

Dear Rav Woolf,

You write "[W]e can really do nothing. No amount of civility, no amount of self-adaptation will defuse this type of ingrained hostility." Well: You are essentially right. But let me try to see things from another angle and share my opinion with you. The Catalan poet Josep Carner, a Christian anti-Fascist and a Catalan patriot, in his marvelous long poem Nabí, written between 1932 and 1938 in Hendaye, Beirut and Paris (English translation by Joan Gili: Anvil Press Poetry, London 2001; ISBN 0856463302), put it in clear terms: "No one confronting Zion will outlast her, / enclosed or dispersed." [Canto VII, page 85].

The poem considers the problems of human mission, defeat, exile, and forgiveness, and is based on the Machzor of Yom Kippur, Judah HaLevy songs and some piyyutim of Tisha b'Av. Its final motif is Redemption from the Jewish, hence general, point of view -- a strange idea for a Catholic-born person who loved the Catalan Christian traditions. Shavuot shares the very last verse line with Rosh HaShana. It identifies Catalonia with Israel, or Zion. It is indeed a universal poem based on Jewish grounds, the most important poem written in Catalan during the last century. In Catalan, my mother tongue, it sounds great. I think that Nabí is more beautiful than the Eliot's Four Quartets -- an Anglo-Catholic four-folded poem based on universal grounds (the two poets knew the other's work, at least to some extent). Unfortunately, the English translation of Nabí loses some important aspects contained in the original, and I don't recommend the Introduction -- shortcomings that may be attributed to the sad fact that Catalan culture is fading.

There has been real gentile love for Israel. Of course, this is an exception that shows that there is much work to do.

Anonymous said...

One need only experience the 'triumphalism' or the not so subtle 'smug superiority' of many in the Orthodox community to understand this sad disdain. In the diaspora there are far too many communities in which the 'Orthodox' will not participate in a Board of Rabbis, sit at a meeting to solve communal problems with non-Orthodox colleagues, or even respond to a greeting from a non-Orthodox colleague.

Add to this the intense politicization of Orthodoxy played out in Israel between the 'secular',the 'Sefardic [I would say non-Shas] traditionalists, the 'modern Zionist Orthodox' and the 'Haredi /support me while your sons and daughters defend me / you owe me support because I am studying Torah for you', and you begin to appreciate the vehemence of the anti-Orthodox sentiment.

All of this is, of course, grossly oversimplified and is referenced - "Open wounds and corruptions."

It is the depth of those corruptions however that must be addressed, not the least of which returns to the smug 'I know God's truth' and 'you' not only don't, but cannot.