Getting down to the core of being Jewish

Douglas Ruskoff and I are engaged in a rather heated discussion over on Daniel Septimus’s MyJewishLearning blog, Mixed Multitudes.
At the core of my argument is the following:

For me, defining Judaism is crucial only insofar as it is a value set that keeps the Jewish People one piece. It is the people, not the religion or its values, that are the core we should seek to preserve: the living blood is God’s, the rest is only a plaything for good times, dynamic depending on the season. Being loyal to an idea over a fellow comrade is one of the greatest regressions thinking humans have undergone: it causes violence and oppression all in the name of an abstract philosophical concept that’s relative to frame, anyway.
Thus, Zionism is the understanding that Jewish people can generate their own interdependent community, governed by their particular set of values, only in the land of our birth as a People.
How was that people born as a particular entity? Sure, it had a bit to do with amalgamation. Historically, if we take hints in the early books of the Torah to be telling some truth about our ancestry, we come from Iraq. But more than that we don’t know, and it does not matter much. What seems to have happened was that a community developed naturally, as many communities do, through oaths and pacts and intermarriage. Then, once formed into a confederation–or a nation–they viewed themselves as one People, thereby birthing Israel.

Rushkoff, in opposition, seems to be more interested in Torah as an intellectual exercise:

I, personally, see the nation state as a social construction. (I believe “nation” means something entirely differnet in Torah than what we now think of as nationalism.) And I believe that accepting the contemporary definition of nation state, as well as all that goes with it, may have been a necessary compromise of Jewish ideals for the sake of survival.
I don’t think it’s easy. Many people and nations, throughout history, have sought nothing but the destruction of the Jews. It’s sheer luck that I’m not living in Kishnev with my grandfather in 1904, or at pretty much any other time or place in diasporic(sp?) history.
But what are *they* really so pissed about? Our existence as a people? I think not. I think it’s what we bring with us: iconoclasm, true abstract montheism, and social justice. It’s that we have embodied the stiff-necked resistance to tyranny – whether in Egypt or Europe.
I think that resistance to tyranny *is* life itself. Yes, we need people to do that. And yes – so far, Judaism may have been the best medium yet for preserving and expanding on this human ability to remain conscious in the face of death (Pharaoh, Crusades, Hitler, terrorism…take your pick).
But by confusing the practicalities and necessities of state warfare with the more important job of maintaining our dedication to LIFE, we can end up becoming the thing we were born to resist.

Follow the debate and feel free to weigh in.


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