IN OTHER WORDS

By Oren Rawls

Published June 27, 2003, issue of June 27, 2003.

The ‘The’: It’s not often you read articles about articles — the parts of speech, that is.

Leave it to Midstream, a monthly Jewish review, to wash away any pretense of innocence on the part of the word “the.”

“There is a conceptual, cultural, and, finally moral issue that bears directly on antisemitism in the common linking of the definite article ‘the’ and Jews — that is, in ‘the Jews,’” Trinity College humanities professor Berel Lang writes in the May/June issue. “Whether the linguistic usage originated as a cause or only a symptom of antisemitism hardly matters; it has in time served both functions, and it has thus also, from both directions, extended the reach of ideology to grammar. Since ideology flourishes, furthermore, mainly by concealment, to bring into the open this secret role of the ‘the,’ trivial as it seems, may thus also contribute to undermining the many-layered foundations of antisemitism.”

The secret role of the “the,” Lang argues, is its implication of a Jewish collective responsibility: The phrase “Jews control Hollywood,” he offers as an example, asserts the belief that certain individuals control Hollywood, and that those individuals are Jewish. The phrase “the Jews control Hollywood,” on the other hand, not only asserts the belief that the certain people who control Hollywood are Jewish, but that their control of Hollywood is a purposeful, concerted act.

“A collective will is this presupposed, and so also, of course, a common responsibility,” Lang writes. “In this way, a slight grammatical gesture turns out to be no less weighted ideologically than many of ideology’s more blatant pronouncements.”

* * *

‘Checkbook Judaism’: “Like the synagogue and the Jewish bloodline,” Douglas Rushkoff writes in the June 18 issue of New York Press, “Israel has become an idol.”

In a polemic whose acerbic invective is surpassed only by the shock-value graphic art (left) that accompanies the article, Rushkoff charges “institutional Judaism” with turning Jews into fundamentalists in its practice of “checkbook Judaism.”

“Jews are afraid, and the institutions that should be helping them conquer their ignorance are instead stoking it to further solidify their grasp on Judaism’s future,” he writes. “The darker picture they paint of Judaism’s plight — the further synagogue membership dwindles, the greater Israel’s peril — the more money they raise.”

By promulgating “inviolably sacred truths,” Rushkoff writes, communal fundraisers “foster panic instead of discussion.” In violation of a 3,500-year-old tradition of debate, he charges, American Jews have meekly accepted the concepts of Jewish racial identity and chosenness.

Judaism is neither a race nor a religion, Rushkoff argues. Rather, he proposes in a postmodern fashion, it “is a process — an ongoing conservation.”

With a deft twist of the pen, he skewers the communal preoccupation with assimilation. “If Judaism is not a race, then who exactly are we not supposed to intermarry with?”

Turning to Israel, Rushkoff takes aim at the Zionist principles on which the Jewish state was founded. “We must entertain the possibility that Israel, the nation, may not be the ultimate realization of Jewish ideals as much as a necessary compromise.”

Declaring “the self-imposed death of institutional Judaism” at the hands of “suicide Jews,” Rushkoff issues a call to Jewish arms to revive “the inquiry and activism that are truly central to Judaism.”

“Resistance is our tradition, and it’s worth fighting for,” he admonishes. “At this point, it’s more important to me that I do Judaism than that I get to call myself Jewish.”



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