Response to the article on whither masorti

Response to the responders to whither Masorti

My comments are heavily based upon “Would that they would forsake Me but observe my Torah”, Midrash and political authority, Chap. 4 in Mourning Becomes The Law: Philosophy and Representation by Gillian Rose, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996,  p. 77 – 100. Rose summarizes modern writing on Judaism’s political character, a subject profoundly neglected until recent times,

Until the modern period Judaism’s political character relied upon negotiated authority with surrounding powers, which included, or assumed as a given, authority of Jewish inner powers, primarily rabbis. In classical political terms, political authority is the legitimation of domination and its coercive means. The sources of domination were not dispersed in classical Jewish societies. But, in the modern period they became dispersed. This led to a desire to conceive of coercion and law as absolutely distinct from the good and the community. The consequences were the separation of types of legitimate authority from judgments concerning the goals or values of the exercise of power, knowledge of coercion from practical interest in the good. It is this separation which gives “politics” a bad name.

This separation is exacerbated in diaspora communities by Judaism being seen as a modern religion, practiced according to private inclination and interest by individuals defined as legal persons, bearers of rights and duties … within the boundaries of civil society separated from the modern state. The modern separation of state and civil society implies that each individual now has in principle and in law control over his or her movement and his or her property and his or her belief. To this extant Israel is not a modern society, and this explains why authority is so important to the rabbinate and why they must fight to the death to preserve it. It also shows the dilemma of those who want a ‘modern’ society which presupposes freedom etc. The test of the separation of state and civil society is the battleground for Israel, and the key area of battle is religious pluralism, from which all civil liberties and the elevation of civil society to the main value and good of society will follow as sure as sunrise follows the night. It is the most difficult battle, but until that battle has been won, or resolved by satisfactory negotiation (Image of beachhead, crossing of Suez Canal, Nahshon jumping into sea, battle for survival of Judaism … actual phrase used by Meir Batz “you are the beachhead ….”

which might include the legitimate use of coercive violence, e.g. Eisenhower’s national guard against the miners, or Ben Gurion’s sinking of the Altelena”, civil society will never be possible!}

But in reality in classical Jewish literature Ethics and domination, the good and violence, the community and the law, do not belong to two worlds, to two cities, to two different methodologies. We thus need to strive mightily to make an intrinsic part of our political agenda the difficulty of “relating political goals to means, the idea of the good to the reality of the monopoly of the means of legitimate violence”. We need a “realism about power …. Taken in the light of their commitment to values, and make our central enterprise to become the cultivation of an inner brokerage or the participation of virtuous citizens in the good.

The paradox is that only by becoming ultimately involved in the difficult negotiations of power and coercion can one hope to achieve a political consciousness and culture that will NOT separate coercion from values. In the past we have idealized Midrash and halakha beyond any question of domination or power, and thus denied any interest in power. This is our failure as a movement. We have used Midrash, i.e. Jewish texts, as purely ethical light and goodness denying that we have any interest in power. This is an offense against the covenant of torah which is meant to have power in the world.

 The struggle for recognition is a drama in which the good (full mutual recognition) and the means (the varieties of misrecognition) engender each other and may be negotiated but only by acknowledgment of mutual implication in the violence of misrecognition.” (my bold) p. 98

We have only ourselves to blame for not being politically involved in the Zionist enterprise. But, even that response of self blame has the psychic and political function of asserting one’s own agency in the face of disaster. We would be guilty if we remain self defined solely as survivors. To survive — to live again — demands a new tale: a new prayer to be found, a new polity to be founded. It demands a willingness to participate in power and its legitimate violence for the sake of the good. Not as a sanctified, holy Israel,… but as the risk of recognition — the risk of coming to discover the self-relation of the other as the challenge of one’s own self-relation. I have told the tale. Midrash is not beautiful, it is difficult. (my bold) p. 100