Sunday, April 15, 2007

An Ethical Conundrum

Jonathan Rosenlum in a recent essay, Israel’s Bright Spot found something positive to say about Israeli society instead of his usual lament. Initially the article seemed to make sense and I was pleased that finally something positive was being said about Israeli secular society. But upon rereading the essay I found that it had the usual condescending attitude towards the non religious community while at the same time finding strange bedfellows with the believing God fearing Christian right.

It seems that to people such as Jonathan R. only religious people have a monopoly on a true transcendent value system with concern for the future, and somehow connects that to Israeli culture and the pintele yid. What about the humanists who have a highly sensitized value system? While their moral system doesn’t come in cookie cutter absolutes, they struggle with seeking solutions for complex ethical questions that require more than standard black and white answers. How would Rosenblum categorize Hashofet Chaim Cohen, z”l, a humanist, the personification of a transcendent human being while at the same time an atheist? What about Albert Einstein, a deeply principled scientist, with values far transcending” the pleasure seeking animals whose life has no purpose” that Rosenblum attributes to those of no faith. Einstein, wasn’t a believer in the God of Orthodox Judaism, but subscribed to Baruch Spinoza’s understanding of God. Would he write off Spinoza too as a man who was pleasure seeking, whose life has no purpose outside itself and ends with death?

He sings praise to the Israeli researchers who discover and design incredible life saving medical advances and scientific discovery that enhance our lives.. How can these achievements be made if all these scientists are concerned with is the here and now, satisfying our physical need for pleasure. These men of science and letters are men of conscience, men struggling with interpreting the meaning of life and its value no less than and perhaps more so than a religious Jew who carries with him a host of biases and prejudices against anyone not subscribing to their belief system. It is these prejudices harbored by the religious communities who have in the past been responsible for so much hate and violence, even on a local level, where fighting for successorship leadership is fraught with violence and malice towards one another.

To further his argument, J. Rosenblum enlists the support of Pope Benedict XVI when he says “that Europe is losing faith in its own future and seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history.” This is the same Pope who protested against Israel waging war against Hizbollah last year. This is the same Pope whose emissary refused to attend the opening ceremonial event at Yad V’shem on Yom Hashoa because Pope Pious XII wasn’t portrayed in a positive light regarding the destruction of the six million Jews.

What transcendent values is Jonathan R. referring to? Jewish blood has soaked the soil of eastern and western Europe for over a thousand years all in the name of religion, all in the name of Jesus Christ. The crusades alone give testimony to a world out of control all in the name of God. We Jews are also not too innocent when it comes to mass killing or indiscriminate killing. Just read our sacred texts and you will get quite a dose of our transcendent value system all in the name of God and religion. If one looks at history one would be hard pressed to find atheists who were responsible for most of the blood shed and wars. In fact most of the wars were the result of religious conflict either in the name of Jesus, Allah or the Jewish God.

J. Rosenblum is too quick in writing off the non orthodox Jewish community, and seems as though it were wishful thinking on his part as if to vindicate his own religious convictions. He dare claim that secular Israeli Jews have not yet concluded “that there is nothing worth fighting for in the world”. You’re damned right, J. Rosenblum. They are fighting an existential battle, but they are fighting it while at the same time maintaining a transcendent moral system, unlike many religious Jews who would prefer to kill or drive out of the land every Muslim as though they carried the stigma of Amalek. Incidentally, if it is true that Israelis, unlike their American counterpart believe in something worth fighting for, why aren’t your haredi brothers joining the battle?