Sunday, March 11, 2007

Conservative Apikoris on the Parsha -- Ki Tisa

OK, I'll admit, I'm not being proactive, as this is last week's parsha. So go sue me.

Anyway, I didn't get my revelation until I was sitting in shul, bored out of my skull, reading the commentary from Chumatz Etz Hayim, the official chumash and commentary of Conservative Judaism.

So here goes:

It is written: (OK, printed, in Etz Hayim.):

Verse 10: And He said, "I hereby make a covenant; before all your people I will perform wonders such as have not been created in all the earth or for any nation; and all the people in whose midst you are, will see how awesome is the deed of YHVH which I will perform for you.

Verse 11: Preserve for your own sake that which I command you today. I am driving out [from] before you the Emorites, the Canaanites, the Chitites, the Perizites, the Chivities, and the Yevusites.

Verse 12: For your own sake, be careful not to make a covenant with the people who live in the land to which you are coming, lest it be a trap in your midst.

Verse 13: Rather you must shatter their altars, break down their monuments, and cut down their asherah-trees.

Verse 14: For you must not prostrate yourselves to another god, because YHVH---Jealous is His Name--- He is a Jealous Almighty [G-d].

Verse 15: [Take care] not to make a covenant with the people who live in the land, and go astray after their gods [religions], and sacrifice to their gods, [for he] will then call you and you will eat of his sacrifice.

Verse 16: You will [then] accept his daughters [as wives] for your sons. His daughters will stray after their gods, and they will lead your sons to stray after their gods.

-Exodus, Chapter 34

Etz Hayim provides the following "D'rash commentary" on verse 13:

Why this troubling emphasis on destroying the holy places of the Canaanites and shunning their sacrificial occasions? The Israelites were a young, impressionable nation and the Torah is concerned that the highly sexualized, orgiastic fertility cult of the Canaanites would be irresistibly seductive for them [as the incident of Ba'al Peor in Numbers 25 attests.] Even decent people can be vulnerable to sexual temptation, which is why the Torah speaks out in such extreme uncompromising terms against the Canaanite cult.

This commentary begs the question of why the "orgiastic fertility cult" of the Canaanites is so bad. Is it because the cult is an "orgiastic fertility cult" or is it because this cult involves the worship of idols instead of YHVH exclusively? After all, why shouldn't YHVH be OK with an orgiastic fertility cult in which YHVH was the sole subject of worship? It would certainly so wonders for shul attendance, and maybe even kids wouldn't drop out of Hebrew school.

There;s another problem with this Torah passage: The eminent Israeli Holocaust historian Yehudah Bauer wrote the following about the causes of antisemitism:

It seems that cultural, political,economic, or theological crises can all be causes [of antisemitism], or part causes, of a phenomenon [antisemitism] that cannot be explained monocausally. At the basis, and this of course is an attempt to answer the famous $64,000 question (don't worry, I won't get the money), is, I think, the fact that the Jews produced a civilization that differed in some central aspects from the civilizations around them. Monotheism may have been invented by the Egyptians during the times of Akh en aton, the Sabbath may originate in Babylon (the name shabbat sabbatu is Babylonian), others may have tried to limit or abolish slavery, Hebrew social legislation may have some precedents elsewhere, but nowhere were all these, and other, elements, combined in a religious ethnic social ideology that was formulated over a long period of time and as a result of considerable internal conflicts. On its basis there developed a way of life, with changing, but clearly defined customs that solidified into laws sacralized by religious belief.

Jews were certainly no better or worse than others, but they were different in the way they conducted their lives. Had they stayed in their hilly land, they would have been another interesting and peculiar tribe; but they spread, not necessarily by expulsion from Palestine—there was never a mass expulsion of Jews from there, either by the Babylonians or by the Romans—but rather by conversion of others to their ethnic religion, or if you like their religious ethnicity. At the beginning of the first century there were about 4 million Jews in the Roman Empire; at its end their numbers are estimated at between 8 and 10 million, despite the destruction of the Temple and the rebellion against the Romans. That was not the result of natural Increase, but of a wave of conversions. Everywhere the Jews went they carried their distinctive civiIization with them, which marked them off against their environment. Crises of whatever source could, and sometimes did, cause this basically defenceless, well known yet strange, minority to be seen as the reason for the crisis, and therefore they were subject to discrimination or attack. Jew hatred is the oldest group hatred that exists, it precedes racism, because as we know, Blacks who acknowledged Roman gods and were free men, could be and did in fact become Roman citizens of equal status. Jews were intensely disliked—they refused to acknowledge the gods, they would not share in the food with their neighbors, and on the whole they kept themselves separate. This solidified in the theological power dispute with Christianity, and later Islam. The economic stresses came later, and contrary to Marxist interpretations, they were the result of the theological tensions, not the
other way round.

So basically, what we have here is one of the world's most pre-eminent experts on Jew hatred and the worst example of Jew hatred in history teaching us that the original and basic cause of Jew hatred is, indeed, the sort of religious separatist ideology espoused in this selection for the parsha. Why would God give us a Torah that contains commands to do stuff that will cause the goyim to hate us? (and, incidentally, make it ver hard for Jews to observe it?) Were we set up as suckers by God, accepting a covenant that is impossible to observe and that seals our doom? Why didn't God give us our own orgiastic fertility cult, and while He was it it, why didn't He also command us to have a really good Winter Solstice festival that would be better than Hannukkah at competing with Christmas?