Friday, January 9, 2015

Shemos: Delegitimations

Rabbi Ari Kahn posits how the Divine measure for measure may have been meted out to the purported three Pharaonic advisers at the beginning of the Exodusian enslavement:  Bilaam was killed for advocating for genocide; Iyov, who theoretically did no evil but manifested indifference, suffered so that he would develop the empathy he lacked; and Yisro, who at least actively manifested some form of protest, begat descendants who would continue along that line of thinking.

The first question would be: does Rabbi Kahn overstate the case by claiming Jethro “is forced to flee when his advice is sneered upon”?  Does the text in Sotah 11a indicate that he lodged a protest before, or even upon his way out?  It actually may not matter: the distinction between Iyov and Yisro isn’t in the verbal silence that both may have manifested, but that Iyov thought that a noncommittal approach would allow him to maintain an ostensibly moral stance while maintaining his position, while Jethro realized that it would be impossible.

In theory, a similar thing happened even among the Hebrews themselves.  The Netziv writes in his haggadah that the reason G-d had to—as it were—remove the Jews from Egypt with a “strong hand” [yad chazakah] AND “outstretched arm” [zeroa netuya] was because there were almost two classes of Hebrews at the time: the slaves in eternal peril who needed to be rescued, and the ones with more privileged positions who needed to be pried out because they were too confortable to leave.  [And…that didn’t even take into account the 80% [or 99.97%?] that didn’t make it out and supposedly all died during choshech.]  In theory, the “comfortable” ones who were redeemed [Malcolm X would have called them the “house slaves”] might have been reluctant to jeopardize their more privileged positions, but didn’t actively undermine their brethren or resist the opportunity to leave [even if it was coerced], while the ones who met their demise during the plague of darkness may have gone over to the “dark side” one way or another.

So how were they distinguished?  As I’ve discussed before, there was a tension between how the enslaved Hebrews maintained their ethno-cultural and religious identities [not changing their names, clothes, or language] and still finding themselves steeped in such a spiritual morass that on the eventual eve of their departure they’d gone as far down as they could go.  

This leaves us with several parallel tensions both within the character of the people as a group and between the various groupings among the people.  It got me thinking about a contemporary parallel of two Jewish subgroups that don’t easily overlap but that might be equally loathed from varying quarters: for arguments sake, call them the black-hat orthodox on one side and the Zionists on the other.

The irony here is that everyone outside seems to want to “deal wisely” with all of the groups, while each group here from within seems to want to “deal wisely” with the other [not to the same genocidally oppressive extent, to be sure, but with some element of deligitimation].  The question in this case would be: is there a difference between the kind of pressures dealt with by the attempts to delegitimize the Zionist project, and attempts to delegitimize the—for lack of a better term—the “black hat” project?

The difference is striking: the Zionist project was theoretically to create a state for the Jews the same way other nationalities had their states, exemplifying the commonalities with the world at large; the “black hat” project ostensibly adheres to “hivdilanu min hato-im”, and their cultural patterns are supposed to exemplify the clear distinction—one that is Divinely ordained.

Which raises the question: why would it be legit to criticize a “black hat” culture for its ostensible foibles [I’m not even going to get into what they are, but here’s one], and not criticize Israel for hers?  Simple: the Zionist project doesn’t announce that it’s on a higher moral plane.  Pum farhkehrt.  “Black hat” culture—even its artifacts—are outgrowths of “hivdilanu min hatoim”.  So it does announce that, even tacitly.  [L’havdil: a smiliar thing happened during a Bowl game when BYU players got into a fight with Memphis State players and BYU came in for more criticism—to the point that people were agitating for shutting down the BYU football program.  So sometimes it isn’t just us.]

In short: some groups take all criticism as a prelude to “hava nitchacma lo”.  It isn’t always.  And yes—I’ll go out on a limb here, in case I’m being too subtle—even the more trenchant criticisms of “black hat” cultural artifacts are more salient than criticisms of Israel.