Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Judaism According to the "Times" 2

Second in a series. (Previous article here.)

Two columns in the Times this week caught my attention. Both relate to the interesting and unusual (and rather sad) perspective on Judaism so prevalent in the Western World. It's a sort of love-hate relationship - a love of Judaism and staunch protectionism, but a rather visceral recoil from any sense of obligation.
Roger Cohen, writing about being Jewish in London, addresses the ongoing court case addressing the question of defining Judaism as a set of beliefs or a genealogical reality. (See my post on the matter here). Cohen writes,
I won’t go into the case here but will say that I found the court’s ruling that the criteria for Jewishness must be “faith, however defined” — rather than family ties — quaint. Nobody I know ever defined a Jew, or persecuted one, on the grounds of whether or not he went to synagogue regularly.
His argument seems two-faced. On the one hand, he rejects the notion that one's Jewishness must be defined by his behavior. He's a Jew - and no court in England has the right to question that fact, whether he attends synagogue, eats bagels on Sundays, or davens thrice daily. (I have no idea what he does or doesn't do. But I have a strong suspicions that the "thrice daily" thing isn't likely.) It's in the blood. But then he concludes:
Openness has grown. Bigotry’s faint refrain has grown fainter still. But I think my old school should throw more light on this episode. And I still believe the greatest strength of America, its core advantage over the old world, is its lack of interest in where you’re from and consuming interest in what you can do.
One second. Several paragraphs before he demanded to be defined as "Jewish" because of his lineage. Behavior didn't matter. Blood did. But now he's lauding America as the place where your lineage matters not at all. All that's important is "what you do."
Is it just me, or Cohen trying to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to be Jewish because he is. But then he wants to say that it doesn't really matter what you are, it matters how you act. Which is it?

Maureen Dowd, writing about Washington Wizards (although to me they'll always be the Bullets) owner Abe Pollen after his passing records Pollen's son's words:
Bob noted: “My mother and he always celebrated Shabbat dinner on Friday night. And they always had lobster.” As strongly as Abe Pollin felt about Judaism, Bob said, it was not the rituals that he considered important so much as “leading a moral life.”
I'll let the Shabbat-lobster issue go. I don't understand, but we all pick and choose. But it's Bob's words that I really don't understand. If Shabbat was really that important, and they always celebrated dinner on Friday night, why would Bob then say that rituals weren't important? Clearly they were very important to Pollen.
Of course "leading a moral life" was important to Abe Pollen. But so was Shabbat. It's a shame he could never communicate that fact to his children.