Thursday, 7 January 2010

Know thy self-haters - or be Jewishly illiterate

I leafed through Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s book ‘Jewish Literacy’ yesterday. It’s subtitled ‘the most important things to know about the Jewish religion, its people, and its history’. Comprising 346 short chapters on all things Jewish, it functions as an introductory encyclopaedia of Judaism’s essentials.

Which is why I was surprised to find ‘self-hating Jews’ among its entries. The chapter begins by defining a self a hating Jew as a Jew ‘who thinks Jews are worse than other people, and who wants to cause them harm.’ Telushkin then goes on to inform his readers that Noam Chomsky is a self-hating a Jew.

I have three problems with the self-hating Jews entry having a place in this otherwise very good and useful book. The first is the suggestion that knowing about self-hating Jews is among ‘the most important things’ to know about Jews, and an essential part of ‘Jewish literacy’. Let’s focus on the positive, please. The second is the definition the chapter offers: I doubt Chomsky and most others branded as self-hating Jews actually believe Jews to be an inferior people deserving of harm. So the application of the term ‘self-hating Jews’ by Telushkin and others doesn’t match the definition of it he gives. Finally, and for the definitional problem highlighted above, I deny the claim that Chomsky is a self-hating Jew.

The two pieces of evidence on which Telushkin bases his assessment of Chomsky are (1) that Chomsky ‘has publically argued for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state’, and (2) that Chomsky also publically attacked a French University who fired a professor who was a holocaust revisionist and that he refused to answer whether or not he believed the holocaust occured. The first piece of evidence is not evidence at all: Martin Buber, Judah Magnes, a number of ultra Orthodox Jews, the former chief rabbi of England, Hermann Adler – all these were against the idea of the Jewish state, often publically. But they, surely, are not ‘self-hating’. The second piece of evidence, meanwhile, is misleading. His public condemnation of the University is reflective of an absolutist (and I would say extreme) commitment to free speech rather than being indicative of Chomsky holding suspect beliefs on the holocaust. As Chomsky said in an interview:

QUESTION:…It's been said that Noam Chomsky is somehow agnostic on the issue of whether the Holocaust occurred or not.
CHOMSKY: My "agnosticism" is in print. I described the Holocaust years ago as the most fantastic outburst of insanity in human history

After reading Telushkin’s entry, I’m still left with questions. Whar is a self-hating Jew and why does Telushkin consider familiarity with the concept to be an essential component of ‘Jewish Literacy’?

You’ll have to wait for another post for the answers…

No comments:

Post a Comment