Monday, October 22, 2007

Battle of the Court Jews

I know, it's not nice to call people Court Jews. Or Uncle Jakes. Or suck-ups, or pansies, or whatever. And, to be fair, Shmuley Boteach isn't always a Republican/Christian tool. He's just generally weird.

Anyway, it's interesting to compare Shmuley's reaction to Ann Coulter's bit of theological opining with Dennis Prager's and Yaakov Menken's. And fun to see who can be more simplistic and self-righteous. Let the games begin!

We start things off with one of the lesser-predictable CJs, Shmuley. Though actually, in cases of perceived antisemitism, Shmuley has a pretty well-established track record- he usually gets very mad, very loud, and more than a tad off-track. Not that it's a bad thing to get mad, just that he often goes on to say things that make the situation worse (see his famous "Jews aren't the problem in Hollywood, SECULAR Jews are the problem" riposte to Bill Donohue). Thanks for representing the tribe, Shmoo.

Shmuley, understandably, is a tad pissed by Ann's dopey comments. Unfortunately, his response does not involve calling her a media-whoring jackass, which she is, or identifying that, as her defenders are saying, this is a fairly incontrovertible position among traditionalist Protestants, and thereby use it as an opportunity to discuss some of the stickier issues in the Protestant-Jewish alliance. No, Shmuley always has to go for the one-up-manship. He does this by trying to demonstrate that he is more knowledgeable about Christianity than the Coulters of the world- specifically, that Jesus was a Jew, and exclusively practiced and preached Judaism.
Jesus derived all his principal teachings from Judaism. His aphorisms are restatements of earlier biblical verses, and his allegories are mostly teachings of the rabbis that are found in the Talmud.
Pretty much, but this isn't the same as:
Judasim was the faith practiced by Jesus for his entire life, and from which he never wavered.
This discounts all the areas of the Gospels where Jesus and his disciples deliberately break the law. I wrote about this subject a number of times in college, and basically concluded that the problem is a lack of clarity from Jesus on how he defines the law. Shmuley quotes extensively from the Sermon on the Mount to demonstrate how Jesus cribs it from rabbinic sources, but clearly doesn't understand how it functions rhetorically. The Sermon is significant because it defines the contours of Jesus' teachings as going even farther and stricter than the rabbis. Now, this does not preclude Jesus from still upholding the law, in fact it strengthens many of them- at least, the ones he mentions. But most of Jesus' supererogatory amendments are to ethical, not ritual, laws, and there's nothing, other than his ambiguous statement that "I have come to fulfill, not destroy" that tells the reader where he stands on ritual law. By contrast, the Gospels record quite a few occasions where Jesus and his followers violate associated purity and Shabbat laws, with nary a cross word from the big guy.

Shmuley goes so far as to bring out the big gun, the best example of Jesus breaking Shabbat, the cornfield incident. Shmuley tries to maintain that this still demonstrates Jesus' Jewishness because he uses a Jewish argument to justify himself.
In trying to prove Jesus' break from the rabbis and tradition, the New Testament relates that Jesus allowed his apostles to desecrate the Sabbath. But in justifying the desecration, Jesus famously says: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." This pronouncement is actually a classic rabbinic statement.

Jesus' disciples were in a field and they picked corn, which indeed violates biblical law. And while the New Testament does not give us the story's background, the nature of Jesus' answer to the critical "Pharisees" seems to supply us with a clue.

He refers to an incident in the book of Kings where David is fleeing his enemy with a few loyal men. Their lives are in danger and they have no food. David allows his men to eat the showbread in the Temple in order to save their lives, even though they were not priests and were thus not permitted to eat the showbread. What Jesus is thereby inferring is that he has allowed his students to break the Sabbath and pick corn because their lives are in danger and they are in desperate need of food.

The Talmud says, 'The Sabbath was handed over to you, and you were not handed over to the Sabbath.' This maxim, directly echoing Jesus' words, is found throughout the Babylonian Talmud, for example in Yoma 85b. The Talmud takes it for granted that human life must be saved at all costs, and the question of keeping the Sabbath when life is endangered is quickly brushed aside.

All of this is technically true, but Shmuley himself is brushing aside the larger question of what this example means. At best, Jesus is playing rabbinic pilpul. At worst, he's acting like a Jewish Rasputin or Jacob Frank, claiming to be fulfilling the law by violating it. Suggesting that this definitely proves his position on Jewish law one way or the other seems quite a stretch.

What I find so annoying about all this isn't just Shmuley's lazy scholarship, but the fact that he's side-stepping the issue. If what Coulter said was offensive, then he should talk about that on its merits, not waste his time trying to show that she's a poorly-educated Christian because she doesn't know how Jewish Jesus was. It makes no different if he was an Orthodox Jew or a Hare Krishna, that isn't the point. The answer to assholery is to identify it as such and explain why, not cry that Christians should be nice to Jews because they kind of are Jews, kind of. We don't need to prove Jesus' Jewishness to justify ourselves to Christians, and the implication that we do is a very old world, shtetl-ish, "please, benevolent Christian lord, save us from the mob" kind of thinking that I for one find rather unattractive.

Now that we've dipped our toes in with Shmuley, it's time to really go for a dunk in the Minstrel Mikvah. Yaakov Menken, you're up!

What happened was that Donny Deutsch, a Jewish talk-show host, asked her what her dream America would look like. And she said it would "look like New York during the Republican National Convention." Note, of course, that for her to want everyone to be Republican is not considered offensive. No one would dare condemn her for thinking her political ideology is correct. After all, Teddy Kennedy and have the same flaw in a very different direction.

This is crap. See the longer Prager fisking below.

But Deutsch isn't satisfied with the answer. He says no, no, not just the politics, what's the country going to look like. And she says "Well, everyone would root for America, the Democratic Party would look like Joe Lieberman, the Republican Party would look like Duncan Hunter…" Hey, did you notice? Her model Democrat is a kike!

Hang on, Cross-Currents censors comments like Satmars burn billboards, but KIKE gets in? Nice quality control there, guys. That's super heimishe for the frum yiddishe bochers. And what a coincidence that her model Jew is perceived by many as a total stooge for the Republicans and their Judeo-Christian hegemony. Isn't that a little like Bill Donohue saying his favorite Jew is Cardinal Lustiger? Or Shabbetai Zvi?

Deutsch isn't done, so he keeps after her until she says "Well, OK, take the Republican National Convention. People were happy. They're Christian. They're tolerant. They defend America, they…" and we'll never find out what else they are, because that's when Deutsch leaped down her throat.

Truly, the greatest tragedy for man's intellectual advancement since the day Moses smashed the tablets, or Dickens' wife burned the first draft of Tale of Two Cities. Maybe someone should write a piyyut about it for Yom Kippur Yizkor Service: Cossacks, Inquisition, Hitler, Ann Coulter getting interrupted! Gasp! ("Forgive us, pardon us," Thump, thump, thump.) Or it could go in the Al Cheit.

In reality, Coulter shows a pretty liberal Christian perspective. Deutsch says to her "So I should not be a Jew, I should be a Christian, and this would be a better place?" Her answer: "Well, you could be a practicing Jew, but you're not." Catch that? Her view is that a better America would be a more religious America.

Cop-out. She goes on to say that the ideal model is Christianity.

She also says, "We believe your religion, but you have to obey." Judaism isn't wrong according to her version of Christianity (as I said, she is pretty liberal).

Compared to who, the Klan? Most Christian denominations believe some version of this, even Catholics. They also have the good sense to shut up when it comes to "who's really right," knowing it doesn't go anywhere good.

Is this a surprise? In the words of Iago, the obviously, stereotypically Jewish-sounding parrot in Disney's Alladin—the Jewish character is the one with the mile-long shnozolla, and no one gets upset at that—"I think I'm just going to die from that surprise!" [Yeah, he's Jewish all right.]

A few things:

A- Yaakov watched a movie? Does his Rav know?

B- That movie doesn't promote Jewish values: it whitewashes Islam and the Arab world (no dhimmis), glamorizes a life of crime and homelessness, promotes witchcraft and sorcery, encourages materialism and deception, and of course, Princess Jasmine's outfit is definitely not tznius.

C- A Disney movie? Doesn't he know Walt was a huge antisemite? What's next, buying a Ford? Or maybe a Mercedes, God forbid?

D- The actor playing Iago, Gilbert Godfried, is a huge Jew, but the voice was not specially created for that character- he's like Fran Drescher; that's how he ALWAYS talks (more's the pity).

E- Parrots have large beaks. That's just the way their face looks. Are we going to claim Pinnochio is a MOT next? How about Flipper?

F- Not to state the obvious, but a parrot cannot be Jewish.

It's completely acceptable to think your politics are right and everyone else's is wrong, but to think your religion has it right is evil and backwards—even if she acknowledges that practicing Judaism would contribute just as well to making America a better place. Again, the true target here isn't Coulter, but religion, and the true intolerance here is coming not from Coulter, but from Deutsch.

Wrong again. Menken's answer to people supposedly out of context is to take Coulter out of context in order to suggest she's actually a semi-ecumenical religious liberal. Nobody's buying it. Look at the larger context of what she's saying and it seems fairly apparent she buys into a "Christianity-dominant" model of faith. Her right and prerogative, obviously, and not worth pillorying her, IMO. But to congratulate her for being a jackass and act as if she's actually pro-Judaism, as Menken seems to be trying to do, gives a whole new meaning to the term denial.

Last, and always least, my favorite whipping boy after Abir, Chuck Norris, Bill O'Reilly, and Rabbi Lazer, there's good ol' Dennis.
Those who label Ann Coulter an anti-Semite do damage to the battle against anti-Semitism.

I say this as a committed Jew, a religious Jew, a Jewish writer and lecturer, a past college instructor in Jewish history, co-author of a widely read book on anti-Semitism, recipient of the American Jewish Press Association's Prize for Excellence in Jewish Commentary, instructor in Torah at the American Jewish University, and a man who has fought anti-Semitism all his life.

Ah yes, who could forget Dennis' magnum opus, "We aren't really sure why people hate Jews but since they do, don't forget to marry one."

There is nothing in what Ann Coulter said to a Jewish interviewer on CNBC that indicates she hates Jews or wishes them ill, or does damage to the Jewish people or the Jewish state. And if none of those criteria is present, how can someone be labeled anti-Semitic?

Well, one could argue that Christian chauvanism is a form of antisemitism, which has been an accepted Jewish view for quite a while. Hence Jewish apprehension about things like Christian Dominionism, Dispensationalism, End-Times stuff, and of course the Christ-Killer myth.

And, not to contradict ol' Dennis, but while suggesting someone's entire belief system is fundamentally flawed and bankrupt isn't hate, per se, but is sure isn't a compliment. "Thank you Miss Ann, may we have another?" Besides, using Dennis' criteria, he has no business shitting on George Soros for being anti-Israel/Jewish, either.

What damage has she ever done to Jews?

Your answer to this probably depends on whether you think people like John Hagee, Pat Robertson or Tim LaHaye have ever done anything to Jews.

What is wrong with a person believing that it would be better if another person adopted their faith?

Stupid question. There's nothing inherently wrong with most philosophical positions, in theory. However, in practice, there are a number of ways in which having a "Conquistador"-style view of religion (or politics, for that matter), can be, shall we say, less-than-fantastic.

First, it demonstrates the potential to have a huge degree of self-righteousness, blindness to all one's faults, etc. Second, it suggests the possibility of a limited, simplistic, or even strawman interpretation of other positions. Not even Prager would suggest that Coulter came to her conclusion regarding Christianity's superiority to Judaism only after a careful period of religious study of the two faiths.

Third, and perhaps most important, lies in the delivery and the audience. The lack of a martyrdom and persecution tradition in Hinduism probably means they don't react to conversion talk in the same way as, say, Hugenots.

Is there one liberal who doesn't believe that a conservative would be better -- "perfected," if you will -- by embracing liberal beliefs and values?

This reminds me of the time Dennis said that smearing someone's good name was equivalent to raping them. On behalf of all the liberals I've met, and I've met a lot, let me be the first to call Dennis Prager a giant moron. While many liberals (and conservatives, for that matter), may think their political opponents are wrong, I don't think I've heard anyone used the "perfected" line. But that's bullcrap hyperbole strawman rhetoric for you. I'd also point out that usually there's a substantial difference from talking about perfection or, say, damnation in political contexts versus spiritual or religious ones.

Why is it laudable for a liberal to hope that conservatives convert to liberalism, but dangerous and hate-filled when a Christian hopes that Jews or anyone else will go to heaven (that is, after all, Ann Coulter's and most other Christians' primary concern) by believing in Jesus?

Actually, both are problematic because both are either-or scenarios. A better alternative is suggested by Judaism, with its scenario of a base consensus of agreed behavior and laws, which creates in effect a broad coalition of the righteous, all of whom will be rewarded. A sort of common-ground bipartisanship, if you will. An example might be Dems & Reps working together on Health Care, Natl Security, or reminding the Prez that he wasn't elected Pope of America. Forget turning everyone liberal. I neither need nor particularly want that to happen. I'm not on a crusade to turn Alabama into San Francisco. I'd settle for common sense and civil discussion back in politics and government. If we can't agree on abortion or gay marriage, let's at least try to fix public education or housing, or SOMETHING. I'd prefer negotiated and principled compromise to forced conversion. But maybe that's just me.

I have read Jewish and non-Jewish writers who argue that Ann Coulter's words will lead to another Auschwitz. How does one respond to irrationality? How does one respond to hysteria?

First, who actually said that? Are you sure it wasn't just the voices in your head? Second, how are you responding to Coulter?

There is also a move to boycott Ann Coulter, so dangerous are her words. Of course, there is no such Jewish or liberal boycott of former President Jimmy Carter, who has done real damage to the Jewish people by describing Israel as an "apartheid" state in the very title of his anti-Israel book... But for many Jews and liberals, real hatred, real damage to Jewish security can only come from the right, especially from Christians on the right. So Ann Coulter, who has done nothing in her life to compromise Jewish welfare, is to be boycotted, but Jimmy Carter is worthy of invitations to speak. Jewish groups even invite John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, the authors of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," which is essentially a tempered modern-day version of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." But Ann Coulter is beyond the pale. And she said nothing to harm Jews.

Prager's right that boycotting is a stupid move from the ADL. Blanket labelling of people as anti-semites is also a bad move. Much better would be a detailed analysis and explanation of why something or someone is antisemitic, or a debate. That goes for Carter, W&M, and Coulter. Hell, throw Ahmedinajad in there, too.

She said she believes that Jews who accept Jesus as their savior are "perfected." I fail to see why this is some form of hate-speech, let alone the basis of anti-Semitism, as stated by Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, which often defames conservative Christians, whom he and his organization hold to be the greatest domestic threats to America.

Take your Jewy well-poisoning elsewhere, Dennis. The reason the comment is offensive is fairly obvious; if Jesus-accepters are perfected, where does that leave the rest of us? She doesn't say, but chances are it's somewhere below perfection. That's her perrogative, but it's hardly surprising that this might raise some people's hackles, particularly given her delivery.

As a practicing Jew, I do not agree with Ann Coulter's theology any more than those attacking her do. But I am neither offended by her nor frightened by her or her beliefs. She believes that Christianity is better than Judaism. So what? Why is that in any way different from liberals thinking that liberalism is truer and morally superior to conservatism? Or conservatives thinking that their values are superior to liberal values?

To a certain extent, it's not, not that this necessarily justifies it, as I said above. However the fact that it's about religion and identity rather than merely, "If Democrats had brains they'd be Republicans" makes it substantially more PERSONAL, particularly given the bad track record Jews have had with Christians thinking they were less than perfect due to their position on Jesus. It's an old wound, and apparently still pretty raw. It doesn't make her antisemitic, but it does suggest she either isn't that bright, or revels in being an asshole (or some combination thereof, which, based on past behavior, seems pretty likely).

Liberals not only believe that conservatives are philosophically imperfect, but they often believe that conservatives are bad human beings (something in no way implied by Coulter about Jews).

Now we get to jump off the deep end. Yes, Dennis, all liberals think conservatives are eeevil- totally unlike the firebrands on the right, especially the nutjob Protestants like Robertson, Dobson, Falwell, Reed, and so on. They just love liberals, right? Ask someone who calls abortion "a Holocaust" how they feel about liberals; I guarantee you you'll be in for a treat.

Howard Dean has said that conservatives don't care about children who go to bed hungry.

So you have a thick skin as a Jew, but not as a conservative? Conservatives say Hillary's the godamn anti-Christ!

Liberals yearn for a world without conservatives at least as much as most believing Christians want a world without non-Christians.

As usual, Dennis is now applying characteristics that may apply to a group of liberals to the whole, something just fine for him to do but which would cause him to scream bloody murder were anyone to do it to his beloved Christians or Conservatives. The only argument left is his cherished chestnut, "but wait, liberals also do STUFF!"

The difference is many liberals are immeasurably more likely to impose their views on others than Christian Americans are.

Uh huh. So slavery, Jim Crow, Nativism, hell, restricting abortion and gay rights, those are all liberal causes? Yeah, Dred Scott, that was one hell of a liberal decision, Dennis. Come off it. Everybody in any position of power generally uses that power to advance their ideological views. Go tell a Planned Parenthood worker in the South (or a gay couple) that Christians don't impose their views on people. You self-righteous, hypocritical, totally oblivious, black-pot-kettle doofus.

Liberal judges impose their views -- e.g., on same-sex marriage -- on society.

Judge. Roy. Moore.

And liberal educators force young students to watch Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth," the former vice president's hysterical beliefs about impending doom -- and offer no countering viewpoint.

Abstinence-only sex-ed. Intelligent Design. "Evolution is just a theory" stickers in biology notebooks. And of course, bezerk PTA Moms petitioning school libraries to remove Harry Potter books.

Next he'll be complaining liberals solicit money over the Internet.

this past Sunday night I was the keynote speaker at the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Since 1981, the church, led by Pastor John Hagee, has had an annual "Night to Honor Israel." ...Those are Ann Coulter's people, and they are, by and large, the best friends the Jewish people have today. And since Judaism teaches that we judge others by their behavior, not their beliefs, this Jew thanks them. And fears those who fear them. One day, God forbid, should there be real anti-Semitism in America, these hysterics will have cried wolf so many times that no one will listen.

Fair enough, don't call things antisemitic if they're just assholeish, but also don't whitewash the complexities of Jewish-Christian interaction in America just because John Hagee likes dancing the horah. Uncritical friends of America, or Jews, IMO, are not particularly valuable or useful- or, frankly, sincere. Like Jews for our accomplishments. Like us because we're nice people. Like us for philosophy, or even our religion. Don't like us because you think God will squish you if you don't. The issue is about respect. It still is unclear why and how conservative christians like Jews so much- and for many of us, the answer seems to be that they see us as reflections of themselves, and God's chosen people, and all the rest of that end-times stuff. Great. But that means they don't see us as real people, and don't see our religion or beliefs as authentic or worthy. And yes, that is sort of a problem if you're going to present them as our new best friends because they don't say we're going to hell (exactly), and they give money to Israel. it reduces us to cartoon characters and, bluntly, Court Jews, Jesters.

And that isn't a relationship I think is good for us to be in.

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