Friday, August 26, 2005

Secular Jewish Culture--from Haaretz

Found this, this morning, in Haaretz. Worth reading. Too much of our "Secular Jewish Culture" discussion (here in America, at least) takes place as if Israel never happened--or, at least, as if Israel were simply an embarassment, at best another Orthodoxy to resist and at worst the "termination of the Jewish dream & possibility set forth in these pages" (as Jerry Rothenberg puts it in the Introduction to Exiled in the Word). One gift of Ari Elon's From Jerusalem to the Edge of Heaven, at least to me, was its reminder of just how secular and how radical much of Zionist thought once was. Any account of "secular Jewish culture and radical poetics" that doesn't include Israeli poetry--books like Aharon Shabtai's Begin, or even his Love, and Lord knows how many others--begins to look pretty provincial to me.

A Cultural Defeat, Too

By Gideon Samet

The evacuation of Gaza was, of course, a cultural war too. But in this war, the sides spoke in different languages. Their formations were armed with weapons of completely different kinds. Seemingly unbalanced forces: A heritage of thousands of years, with its sacred tools and entire canon, steadfastly facing what religious propaganda describes as a barren field of screwed-up secular culture. But in the cultural terms of the new Israel, the battle was decided before it began. The evacuating majority, even if few among them are able to quote a line from Dalia Rabikovitch, approached the campaign with a cumulative advantage. In the last 30 years, the right has made hardly any contribution to the intellectual elite and Israeli cultural creativity.

It is impossible to name more than a handful of right-wingers and religious individuals who have left their mark on the Israeli cultural expanse during this critical period - not a single significant poet, not a single author of durable value, not a single rock artist with resonance aside from Ariel Zilber. When it comes to songwriting, there was Naomi Shemer. Yosef Ben-Shlomo is perhaps the only philosopher of Judaism whose influence spilled over the cultural boundaries of the orange. The Torah sages garnered support from the depths of the religious community. But which of them, aside from Avraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook and his son, left a mark outside the high walls of religious faith?

You can read the rest over at Haaretz--along with a few real doozies in the "commentary" talk-back section, like this from a fellow in Pennsylvania: "The only culture that matters is the family culture and its silent, unseen fruit to society. [...] Culture is for people who appreciate other pursuits than tending to their moral responsibilities." (Not that he's reaching for his gun or anything....)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"SJC is the broad category of which 'religious Jewish culture' is the subset, albeit a subset which has, for some twenty centuries, seized most of the institutional power within the Jewish world"

I've been trying to make sense of this and cannot. Could you elaborate?

It would make sense, I think, if you were saying that Judaism is an ethnicity only partly determined by religious practice--but then, secular practice would also be a part only.

I will say this: the secular-religious or worldly-spiritual distinction seems predicated on a very un-Jewish notion of religion. Speaking solely for myself, and as an American of Ashkenazi descent: I consider myself a secular Jew only because I make my life in a society dominated by Christianity; I'm secular because of my acceptance of that society, not because of any rejection of religion.

But I would like to understand Rothenberg's point.

Ben Friedlander