Pharyngula

A curious perspective

This interview with a Rabbi Sacks is rather hard for me to wrap my brain around. The first part is about something Sacks is very concerned about: Jewish continuity. He seems strangely concerned about Jewish young people marrying outside their group, and has run ad campaigns to convince young Jews to raise their children in their faith. It’s all very weird; I know my grandmother was concerned that her grandchildren marry good Scandinavians, and I even got admonished about what ethnic groups I could date when I went off to college. I’m afraid that when my Norwegian/Swedish grandmother did that sort of thing, we just called it bigotry and ignored her.

Even now, I can’t quite imagine telling my kids who they are allowed to marry, or being concerned with maintaining an ethnic bloodline. Be different and unique, I say — no one should try to be who their parents and grandparents are, but should follow their own path, and we parents and grandparents should reconcile ourselves to our progeny’s independence.

There is one odd moment in the interview. I don’t sympathize at all with the ethnic purity angle, but this part I actually liked:

In the question and answer session that followed Rabbi Sacks was asked how he would convince someone like scientist and atheist, Richard Dawkins of the benefits of religious identity.

Mr Sacks responded: “We need atheists to remind us things are not God’s will, God does not want hunger, injustice or violence. I am quite happy Richard Dawkins stops us having too much faith. There’s a lot more religion in the world than there was 25 years ago and there’s a lot more violence in the world than there was 25 years ago.”

I suspect that while I enthusiastically agree qualitatively with Rabbi Sacks, we might disagree on how much religion is too much — I’d say anything above zero.

Comments

  1. #1 synapse
    April 28, 2007

    Is there really more violence in the world now than 25 years ago?

    Also, maybe it’s the late hour here, but I don’t quite understand what the Rabbi means. What does he mean by “too much faith,” and why is that a bad thing for a believer? Does he mean that being a fundamentalist and denying things like evolution is bad? If so, what does that have to do with violence, hunger, and injustice? Does the rabbi mean that people of faith can’t just be complacent that the way things are now is God’s will and that people should fix the world? The connection to atheists there is tenuous- being an atheist is independent of being a social activist. I really don’t get it.

  2. #2 pablo
    April 28, 2007

    I suppose there are many reasons why people want to see continuity, whether in bloodlines or faith or politics, but at least one of them must be insecurity. If I hold fast to some absurd religious creed, for example, and at some level I know it is absurd, then the more people I can convince to join me in the creed and agree to its “validity” the less I will feel the fool for embracing the absurdity. Many of the advocates of “tradition” may claim to be upholding centuries of unchanged continuity, but I think that is false. In most cases I have observed, the “tradition” seems to be whatever the status quo was at the time the advocate was a child, just beginning to grow into and recognize the tradition. The relativity of this absolutism always strikes me as funny.

  3. #3 tsig
    April 28, 2007

    any god that wants
    aint a god

  4. #4 hyperdeath
    April 28, 2007

    Replace the words “Jew” and “Jewish” with the word “White” and you get an idea of how ridiculous and offensive his beliefs are. Once again, religion is given a special dispensation regarding bigotry.

  5. #5 Aris
    April 28, 2007

    PZ,

    I find it disturbing that in order to accuse Rabbi Sacks of bigotry you had to preface your comments by bringing in your grandmother and acknowledging her own bigotry. If Sacks was an Anglo-Protestant arguing that Anglo-Protestants should marry only other Anglo-Protestant lest this particular ethic-religious group walks “into the abyss,” would the inherent bigotry in such a statement be any less obvious? The rabbi is an old-fashioned bigot, plain and simple, and we should be able to state that without having to couch it in personal stories so we don’t get accused of antisemitism.

    On the other hand, an acknowledgment of the correlation between piety and violence by an official religious person is encouraging; and he also seems to disavow the use of the insulting term “the chosen ones.” He seem more nationalistic than religious about Jewish identity — he makes a point of not including Noam Chomsky in the pantheon of significant Jewish cultural figures because he’s been critical of Israeli government policy. I’m not sure what’s worse sometimes, nationalism of religion?

  6. #6 Mark Borok
    April 28, 2007

    Generally Jews aren’t concerned with whom you marry so long as the kids are brought up Jewish. My father remarried a non-Jewish woman and my grandfather wasn’t entirely happy, but at least, as he put it, my father had had two “Jewish” children (doesn’t matter that neither my sister nor I are religious or in any way interested in our Jewish heritage, apart from a general feeling of solidarity with other Jews).

    My atheist Jewish friends have circumcised their sons and hold passover celebrations out of a general respect for tradition while completely denying any basis for the traditions.

    I’m told that Judaism considers anyone who never doubts God at all to be kind of crazy. Nor does it require belief in God, only good behavior. This might explain the rabbi’s last statements.

  7. #7 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Old-style Judaism is inherently bigoted, holding that a religious faith and its attendant traditions and obligations are transferred genealogically. Its practices serve to keep its in-group distinct, both culturally, socially, and genetically.

    Modern flavors are much less objectionable, but they still retain many of the factors that made the old-style tribal so practices so offensive.

  8. #8 xebecs
    April 28, 2007

    I think I know what the Rabbi is trying to say. People excuse selfishness and apathy by claiming that the world’s injustices are god’s will. Because atheists don’t make that error, we can be a catalyst for change and help address those issues and shame the theists into action.

    I guess it comes down to atheist keeping theists honest — forcing them into reflection and study.

    I have it! Atheists are the “Murder Board” for theists!

  9. #9 Mark Borok
    April 28, 2007

    I should also add that, while PZ’s grandmother might have favored marriage to other scandinavians, it is a lot easier for a gentile to convert to Judaism than for someone to become Swedish.

    “Old-style Judaism is inherently bigoted, holding that a religious faith and its attendant traditions and obligations are transferred genealogically.”

    What do you mean by “Old-style”? By law and tradition converts to Judaism are considered equal with those born Jews. Not that there isn’t a genealogical component, as anyone who is born to a Jewish mother is automatically considered Jewish. Unless that person converts to a different religion. However, a Jew who renounces religion entirely and becomes an atheist is still considered a Jew, for some reason I haven’t been able to fathom.

    Anyway, your description applies equally to any tribe or ethnic group. Humans are tribal animals. That’s not something that can be extirpated. However, it doesn’t mean that a tribe is always limited to those who are born into it.

  10. #10 David Marjanovi?
    April 28, 2007

    Is there really more violence in the world now than 25 years ago?

    Is there, for that matter, more religion in the world now than 25 years ago? I suspect the opposite.

    However, it doesn’t mean that a tribe is always limited to those who are born into it.

    Bingo. Think football.

  11. #11 David Marjanovi?
    April 28, 2007

    Is there really more violence in the world now than 25 years ago?

    Is there, for that matter, more religion in the world now than 25 years ago? I suspect the opposite.

    However, it doesn’t mean that a tribe is always limited to those who are born into it.

    Bingo. Think football.

  12. #12 Brian Coughlan
    April 28, 2007

    Dear PZ, I’m plagarising you in this video …. hope thats ok:-/??

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elEYKpo7kFk

    I thought you should know.

  13. #13 Miguel Garcia-Blanco
    April 28, 2007

    I wonder how successful the ad campaigns would be if Sacks included this slogan: “Endogamy. Because ethnic purity is more important than individual identity.”

  14. #14 John C. Randolph
    April 28, 2007

    I have a couple of acquaintances, Larry and Sue. When they got married, Sue’s parents quit talking to her for a couple of years because Larry’s not Jewish. Then, her brother got engaged to a lovely Korean woman, and they realized that they had to cut that shit out, and learn to cope with their son and daughter’s decisions.

    The very idea of anyone putting their superstitions ahead of their own children absolutely disgusts me. When anyone tries to tell me that Abraham was a virtuous man because he was ready to obey the voices in his head telling him to murder his son, it simply boggles me.

    -jcr

  15. #15 quork
    April 28, 2007

    Scientologists visiting Va. Tech to help

    BLACKSBURG — Brian Grogan, 26, was chomping on a hot dog before heading to work Wednesday when he noticed people in canary yellow T-shirts handing out religious pamphlets.
    .
    A moment later, he realized they were Scientologists.
    .
    “They’re leeches,” Grogan said. “They show up wherever something bad happens and use that to spread their propaganda.”
    .
    Scientologists say they’re no different from the Southern Baptists, Catholics or Buddhists who’ve given solace since the April 16 shooting spree on the Virginia Tech campus.

    They’ve got a point there.

  16. #16 PZ Myers
    April 28, 2007

    That’s not plagiarizing, that’s quoting — no problem.

  17. #17 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Old-school Judaism is also very concerned with ‘purity’, of all kinds and types.

  18. #18 CalGeorge
    April 28, 2007

    Mr Sacks responded: “We need atheists to remind us things are not God’s will, God does not want hunger, injustice or violence. I am quite happy Richard Dawkins stops us having too much faith. There’s a lot more religion in the world than there was 25 years ago and there’s a lot more violence in the world than there was 25 years ago.”

    We need atheists to remind us that THERE IS NO GOD.

    We need theists to understand that things never were God’s will.

    I don’t want to be accommodated this way, thank you very much.

    Ethnicity and tribalism are the bane of modern existence.

  19. #19 Marcia
    April 28, 2007

    “but this part I actually liked”

    It’s a very important part of the article. Will you hear this at your Catholic service, megachurch, or mosque, this weekend? I doubt it.

    I had a secularist Jewish upbringing. That Judaism was and is about culture, education, family, a common history.

    Rabbi BRAD Hirshfield(The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership): “One can be fully, absolutely, deeply, richly, you pick the word, Jewish and it has nothing to do with belief.”

    So, despite scoring a 6 on the Dawkins scale and marrying outside the tribe, I can still say we had Einstien.

  20. #20 windy
    April 28, 2007

    “my Norwegian/Swedish grandmother”

    Oh, so Norwegians and Swedes get to mix? 😉

  21. #21 Divalent
    April 28, 2007

    Hmmm. The good rabbi’s desires are not so unfathomable. Think memes and genes. It’s undoubtedly 1) a manifestation of an important element of any good complex meme, coupled with 2) a bit of the “clan” genes having their say.

    Successful complex memes (such as religions) almost always have to do something to ensure their survival, and an explicit belief that “survival of the meme is important” is one way to do it.

    Similarly for genes. Members of any “traditional” group (Jews or Scandinavians, or white protestants) are more likely to share similar genes, and the strength and cohesiveness of the clan that contains those genes is one way to assist their continued replication.

    The utility of the “clan” concept in capturing related gene pools may be may be less useful in today’s society, but the urge to do so was just too important and so deeply embedded in our behavior to be easily discarded.

  22. #22 PZ Myers
    April 28, 2007

    Well, there is some mild fractiousness about it — Norwegians are rude brutes, you know, while Swedes are soft and effete — but that degree of miscegenation is tolerated. Danes, though, are outside the pale, and Finns … oh, man, you might as well marry a monkey as a Finn.

    (Note that I do not hold those views, but was always bewildered as a young fellow at these attitudes about people who all looked the same to me. The Finns at least had those funny long polysyllabic names to distinguish them, but otherwise we were all pale white people speaking English with sing-song accents.)

  23. #23 windy
    April 28, 2007

    “No Finns or Indians allowed”, eh?

    But sing-song accents? I thought we Finns speak in a monotone that would make Schwarzenegger proud. Maybe the local Finns were trying to blend in.

  24. #24 PZ Myers
    April 28, 2007

    Maybe not so much sing-song, but all those Scandihoovians do funny complicated things with their vowels. Don’t they know they’re all supposed to be flat and nasal, like good Americans?

  25. #25 Divalent
    April 28, 2007

    “Well, there is some mild fractiousness about it — ”

    The interesting thing about that old clan feeling is that it is very fluid. It can operate on a number of levels, and one seeks out the highest common demoninator to suit the purpose at hand.

    Thus, in an outpost settlement on a remote continent, the concept of a “clan” may have to be enlarged. In northern North America, a clannish sort of person may have to use “Scandinavian”, whereas a Finn in their home country probably will have more local criteria that excludes the bulk of their fellow citizens. But it’s always subject to adjustment. (Throw a German army against the border, and suddenly all those petty regional differences get ignored.)

  26. #26 Djur
    April 28, 2007

    For shame, PZ. You of all people should know that Finns are not Scandinavian. 😛

  27. #27 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    This is a very personal issue for me. I was raised Orthodox jewish, and ever since I can remember my parents always used to tell us “if you only do one thing in your life, marry a Jewish girl.”

    When I told my mom I was an atheist, this was her biggest concern, and it still causes her immense grief. I haven’t told my father I’m an atheist for the same reason. I think chalking it up to bigotry is wrong – my parents aren’t bigoted in any normal sense. It has to do with culture and history, and a deep sense of “us against the world
    as an extremely victimized group. Being Jewish, and being tied to a Jewish culture and ethnicity, is a very huge part of what makes my parents what they are. If I were to marry a non-Jewish person, it would be to them as though I’m abandoning a core principle of what they are, and rejecting the history and values of my family.

    Now, you might want to call this bigotry, but I won’t. Bigotry implies some sort of superiority or hatred, but there isn’t any of that. There’s no ‘intolerance’ from my parents. It’s just as expectation to be true to my culture and my family’s history, and its an expectation built into my parents’ brains from when they were children.

    I don’t agree with them, and I probably won’t marry a Jewish person, but it’s not an idea to be flippantly dismissed, especially when it’s your own family.

  28. #28 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    I think chalking it up to bigotry is wrong – my parents aren’t bigoted in any normal sense.

    That is irrelevant – they are bigoted in a technical sense – the most important kind of sense.

    It has to do with culture and history, and a deep sense of “us against the world as an extremely victimized group.

    Much of that victimization is self-inflicted. As is the case with various other ethnic/religious subgroups, being a victim has become a fundamental part of the identity.

    I must say that DamnYankees’ position in the latest circumcision thread makes much more sense once you recognize that he grew up an Orthodox Jew.

  29. #29 K. Singnal Eingang
    April 28, 2007

    On a related note, I wanted to recommend a great book of sci-fi I was recently lent — “Wandering Stars”, a collection of Jewish sci-fi.

    The first story in there is by William Tenn, is called “On Venus, Have We Got A Rabbi” and it addresses the whole “bloodline” question with, as they say, hilarious results. It’s set in the latter part of the 21st century, at a time when the Jews have been exiled into space. (Something to do with a race of sentient clams who have adopted one or several Earth religions and subsequently claimed Jerusalem as their own holy land.) An intergalactic council of Jews is held on Venus – because none of the other planets wanted the trouble – and one of the contingents that shows up is a group of Rigelians – wet, pillow-shaped things with a single tentacle – who all claim to be bona fide Jews, tracing their ancestry back through a lost group of settlers who landed on Rigel IV but apparently didn’t last long. One of them proudly brandishes documents proving he’s the descendant of an assistant supermarket manager from Paramus, NJ. Of course, this contradicts all known facts of biology, but “who are you going to believe – the experimental facts of biology or a fellow Jew?”

    Anyway, highly recommended book, the intro by Isaac Asimov alone is worth half the price of admission.

  30. #30 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “That is irrelevant – they are bigoted in a technical sense – the most important kind of sense.”

    What does this even mean? “Technical sense”? What sense is that, exactly.

    “Much of that victimization is self-inflicted. As is the case with various other ethnic/religious subgroups, being a victim has become a fundamental part of the identity.”

    True or not, this is not really relevant to the emotions of my parents. They feel what they feel. To walk up to them and say “god doesn’t exist, oh, and mom, your uncle being killed by Nazi’s was partially self-inflicted” doesn’t really help anything.

    “I must say that DamnYankees’ position in the latest circumcision thread makes much more sense once you recognize that he grew up an Orthodox Jew.”

    I said it in the other thread also. I think it lets me understand religious people a little more. I’m as much an atheist as you are, my friend, but I come from a very religious community, and I have a sense of the mindset for why people do certain things. To chalk it all up to ‘believing in the sky fairy’ doesn’t work in a practical sense.

  31. #31 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    No, no – it explains your absolute refusal to even consider the possibility that circumcision is harmful.

    You may have left the fold, but your upbringing has still stunted you. Fortunate indeed is the person who can escape religion without carrying its taints with them, and rare.

  32. #32 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “No, no – it explains your absolute refusal to even consider the possibility that circumcision is harmful.”

    New conversation in this thread, brother. Let’s not drag ourselves back into this.

    “You may have left the fold, but your upbringing has still stunted you.”

    Stunted is a pretty biased word. It surely stunted me in some ways, but it also exposed me to a culture and experiential framework that others haven’t had. In net, I feel very happy that I was raised how I was. I was able to learn Hebrew, I can read and somewhat Aramaic, and I have been exposed to philosophy, culture, and intellectual rigor since I was a small child.

    You didn’t address anything about my post, by the way.

  33. #33 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Stunted is a pretty biased word.

    Pretty accurate, I’d say.

    and I have been exposed to philosophy, culture, and intellectual rigor since I was a small child.

    Oh yeah – there’s so very much intellectual rigor in theology.

    Why do you think ‘rabbinic’ is a derogative when applied to ‘reasoning’, DamnYankees? When it comes to complex rationalization, irrationality dressed up as reason, and whitewashed ‘logic’ that conceals the corruption within, Jewish theology is even worse than the Catholics’, and that’s quite an accomplishment.

    You’ve learned the methods of delusion well, it would seem.

  34. #34 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “Oh yeah – there’s so very much intellectual rigor in theology.”

    There actually is a ton, especially in the legalities of Judaism. The problem with theology is that it’s simply based on false premises. But even when you have a false premise, you can do some pretty nifty logic with it. It’s like law school prep as early as 5th grade.

    To say theology is false is 100% right. But to then say it has no internal structure which can be admired isn’t. Similarly, The Iliad is false, but it has great internal structure and is to be admired in many ways.

    “Why do you think ‘rabbinic’ is a derogative when applied to ‘reasoning’, DamnYankees?”

    I wasn’t aware it was. Sounds rather anti-Semitic to me. I’ve never heard “rabbinic” used derisively in this way.

    “You’ve learned the methods of delusion well, it would seem.”

    This is a bad thing? I think its important to know how religion and delusion works.

  35. #35 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    But religions don’t have that, either. They not only set the premises, they work backwards from the conclusion they wish to get, selectively drawing their attention to the points they wish to emphasize and away from conflicting points.

    It’s rhetoric and persuasion, not logic.

    Like it or not, DamnYankees, you’re crippled in body and mind by the way you were brought up. The body cannot be healed, and you’re the only one who can heal your mind – but first you must want to do so, and the capacity to seek sanity is the first thing religions try to destroy.

  36. #36 Mark Borok
    April 28, 2007

    “Oh yeah – there’s so very much intellectual rigor in theology.”

    Well, there can be, depending on how well you stay within the framework you’ve adopted. I would say it takes a great deal of intellectual rigor to rationalize the myriad inconsistencies in the Christian idea of “original sin”.

  37. #37 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    The comparison to law school is telling. The legal system is a morass of arbitrary and complex rulings, precedents, and contradictory principles that it is the task of lawyers to use to reach the conclusions they wish.

    As with law, theology is a system unto itself that eschews reason and clear thinking, and is usually dominated by those who best understand the exploit the irrational nature of the system.

  38. #38 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    I would say it takes a great deal of intellectual rigor to rationalize the myriad inconsistencies in the Christian idea of “original sin”.

    You have it backwards, Mr. Borok. Intellectual rigor is precisely the opposite of rationalization.

  39. #39 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “They not only set the premises, they work backwards from the conclusion they wish to get, selectively drawing their attention to the points they wish to emphasize and away from conflicting points.”

    1) This isn’t true most of the time. The legal process of Rabbinic Judaism is very similar to the kind we use in law here in the USA. People go to their Rabbi’s all the time for advice on specific laws and actions. To say there was a preset conclusion to “can you use an escalator on the Sabbath” isn’t true. You may think the question is silly, but in order to answer it satisfactorily you need a legal thought process.
    2) Even if true sometimes, you still need to use logic and brains to make the links. To say we know the conclusion and the premises isn’t a knock. It’s very similar to Darwin. He knew the conclusion (evolution) and he knew the premises (all his examples and stuff) but he didn’t know how to get from one to the other. He didn’t know about genetics. Took us a very long time to figure that out.

    The difference isn’t in logic, but in the premises we work off of. Science is true, theology isn’t. But to claim nothing in theology uses logic is silly.

    “It’s rhetoric and persuasion, not logic.”

    Ever studied Talmud? I don’t want to explain too much or too little, so it’d help if I know where you’re coming from.

  40. #40 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “You have it backwards, Mr. Borok. Intellectual rigor is precisely the opposite of rationalization.”

    You’re confusing intellectual rigor with intellectual honestly. You can have one without the other.

  41. #41 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “As with law, theology is a system unto itself that eschews reason and clear thinking, and is usually dominated by those who best understand the exploit the irrational nature of the system.”

    So do you find law useless and illogical? I don’t understand your point here. Theology is, in many ways, constitutional law with the constitution being a 3,000 year old document thought to be god-given.

  42. #42 CalGeorge
    April 28, 2007

    To say theology is false is 100% right. But to then say it has no internal structure which can be admired isn’t. Similarly, The Iliad is false, but it has great internal structure and is to be admired in many ways.

    If only everyone would treat the Bible the same way we treat the Iliad – as fiction. Ancient pulp fiction.

  43. #43 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “If only everyone would treat the Bible the same way we treat the Iliad – as fiction. Ancient pulp fiction. ”

    I completely agree. It’s not only more true that way, but much, much more interesting. Anyone ever listen to the Bible Geek, Dr. Robert Price?

  44. #44 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    You’re confusing intellectual rigor with intellectual honestly. You can have one without the other.

    No, you can’t. A person may reason accurately on a small matter with the intent to found a fallacious argument upon that point of truth, but rigor and honesty are equivalent in reasoning.

  45. #45 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    Caledonian, you still haven’t explain what you mean by “technical” bigotry, not have you addressed the immensely personal ethno-cultural aspect of religious genealogy.

  46. #46 One Eyed Jack
    April 28, 2007

    I am continually amazed by the special treatment accorded religion in the US. We are a country (like most developed countries) that has strived to remove bigotry and chauvinism from our society.

    Yet when it comes to religion we throw everything out the window. It’s OK to be a bigot… if you are religious. It is OK to treat women as second class citizens… if you are religious. It is OK to hate homosexuals… if you are religious. It’s OK to surgically mutilate your children… if you are religious. It is OK to be a small-minded, bigotted SOB, so long as you are religious.

    Yes, religion is a fine thing.

    OEJ

  47. #47 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    The comparison to the Constitution is also apt; I will presume that discussion is specifically of the US Constitution, and not those of other organizations and nations.

    The working premise of the US system is that the words on parchment mean nothing; only the ‘interpretation’ of a group of judges at the apex of a hierarchy determines the principles that the hierarchy will follow. Precedent and ideology are the prime determinants of how those judges rule. It’s about politics, not the application of reason to principles.

  48. #48 Mark
    April 28, 2007

    I’m not comfortable with the substitution “White” for “Jew” in the Rabbi’s argument. As I understand it, Jews are not a race. They are a people defined by a common set of cultural customs and/or religious beliefs and practices.

    “White” applies to people with a given set of racial characteristics who may or may not share the same set of cultural customs and religious beliefs and practices.

    Ultimately, I’m not sure how important this distinction is. The Rabbi’s comments are, if not racist, then certainly ethnocentrist and no less repugnant.

  49. #49 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Traditionally, Judaism does not distinguish between ‘culture’ and ‘race’. Children born to Jewish women are Jewish, are supposedly subject to the religious agreements made by the Jews, and so forth.

    Children sired by Jewish men are not automatically Jewish, since paternity is so uncertain. The children of Jewish women are known to have at least one Jewish parent. Thus is the purity of the tribe maintained.

    More-modern interpretations have loosened and broadened the definition, but the old tribal definition is still a very powerful one. It is also inherently bigoted.

  50. #50 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    I’m not comfortable with the substitution “White” for “Jew” in the Rabbi’s argument. As I understand it, Jews are not a race.”

    The important distinction is anyone can choose to be Jewish if they desire. A more apt comparison is if people who had PHD’s would only let their children marry people with PHD’s. It’d probably be a stupid and rather meaningless distinction to impose upon a spouse, but I don’t think I’d call it bigoted. Race is immutable, religion isn’t.

    “Ultimately, I’m not sure how important this distinction is. The Rabbi’s comments are, if not racist, then certainly ethnocentrist and no less repugnant.”

    I don’t think ethnocentrism is necessary repugnant, though it certainly can be. For example, I don’t think I’d want my kid to marry a cannibal from New Guinea. Even that is his culture and perfectly normal for him (though admittedly rare worldwide), I’d find his actions rather repugnant from within my culture, and I don’t think I’d want a cannibal for a son. Is that wrong of me? I don’t think it is.

    The difference between a good and a bad distinction is whether or not it’s justified. Some ethnic and cultural distinctions are justified, but most aren’t. The Jewish one isn’t, so I’m not really defending it. But to label ethnocentrism as entirely perverse is incorrect. It’s self-preservation, and can sometimes, *sometimes*, be justified.

    “The working premise of the US system is that the words on parchment mean nothing; only the ‘interpretation’ of a group of judges at the apex of a hierarchy determines the principles that the hierarchy will follow.”

    Are you an anarchist or something? This is really extreme view of constitutional law. I know some legal scholars believe this, but it’s certainly not a mainstream opinion.

  51. #51 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “Traditionally, Judaism does not distinguish between ‘culture’ and ‘race’.”

    Of course it does. It just recognizes that they overlap. But of course they are distinct, and Jews know it. Where exactly is your knowledge of Judaism coming from?

  52. #52 David Marjanovi?
    April 28, 2007

    As I understand it, Jews are not a race.

    Well, human races don’t exist in the first place, not in any genetically meaningful sense. No human population has ever been reproductively isolated for any serious amount of time.

  53. #53 David Marjanovi?
    April 28, 2007

    As I understand it, Jews are not a race.

    Well, human races don’t exist in the first place, not in any genetically meaningful sense. No human population has ever been reproductively isolated for any serious amount of time.

  54. #54 Observer
    April 28, 2007

    Damn Yankees said:If I were to marry a non-Jewish person, it would be to them as though I’m abandoning a core principle of what they are, and rejecting the history and values of my family.

    Now, you might want to call this bigotry, but I won’t. Bigotry implies some sort of superiority or hatred, but there isn’t any of that.

    Bigotry does not necessarily imply superiority or hatred, though that could be the case. The Phelps family is bigoted about homosexuality in society AND they are full of hatred.

    A bigot is: Etymology: Middle French, bigot, hypocrite, from Old French bigot Norman
    1 obsolete : HYPOCRITE; especially : a superstitious religious hypocrite
    2 : one obstinately and irrationally, often intolerantly, devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion

    I’ve been accused of being an atheist bigot, however, I started off as a child of religion via my parents and rejected that. So, your parents are clinging to some belief system, to the point of caring about who you marry. My grandparents were that way – marrying within an ethnic group – but that idea has mostly disappeared. So, it may not be irrational why they cling to this idea, but it seems that in this multicultural, global society today, that they are being obstinate. The question is WHY?

  55. #55 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    The question is WHY?

    I asked my mom, and she couldn’t answer. It’s just been drilled into her. She’s upset and doesn’t even know why. It’s sad.

  56. #56 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Judaism has old roots – very old, going back to far less-enlightened times. Some of those roots aren’t very pleasant.

    There are still many people who believe that it’s important to maintain bloodlines, and a few people who really do believe that being Jewish isn’t a matter of being raised in a culture, but is passed down genealogically.

    That sort of reasoning – that Jewish culture and ‘Jewish’ bloodlines are inherently connected – is a fundamental part of the traditional, conservative faith. Judaism is a tribal religion, and codifies principles that human tribes have used to define in- and out-groups since the beginnings of recorded history, if not before.

    Fortunately, most people have begun to move beyond those very ugly and exclusory principles. Since they’re codified in certain religious memes, however – memes that are very, very good at maintaining their own existence – they’ve tended to persist in certain sociocultural groups.

    Which is why “marrying a nice Jewish boy/girl” is such a cliche.

  57. #57 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    I asked my mom, and she couldn’t answer. It’s just been drilled into her. She’s upset and doesn’t even know why. It’s sad.

    You are her. Except that you have enough defenses that you don’t become upset. You simply disregard the uncomfortable truths.

    It’s cultural indoctrination. You absorb positions and opinions without even realizing it, and defend those concepts as part of your social identity. After a while, you feel that you can’t abandon the concepts without abandoning the identity.

  58. #58 Mark
    April 28, 2007

    It is a cliche, but it’s also an illogical statement, in that being the one (nice) has nothing to do with the other (being Jewish), which is what I think you were hinting at.

  59. #59 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    There are still many people who believe that it’s important to maintain bloodlines, and a few people who really do believe that being Jewish isn’t a matter of being raised in a culture, but is passed down genealogically.

    This is a misrepresentation and a simplification, and I’ve never heard anyone espouse this idea. Never once have I have been taught that ‘bloodline’ is important or that genetics or heredity make any difference. It doesn’t work that way, that’s not the mentality, and that’s not why people care. The mentality is something a little foreign to non-Jewish people, especially non-theists. Think of it as a ‘spiritual DNA’, which is passed down through the family, or can be acquired through conversion. This is what must be preserved, this spiritual bond to god. It makes zero difference what your real DNA is, what your race is, or what your biological ethnicity is – it’s a spiritual thing.

    Now, you can think it’s silly. I think it’s silly. But that’s the belief. Don’t ascribe things to people they just don’t believe, it undermines the argument.

  60. #60 Observer
    April 28, 2007

    DamnYankees:

    Archie Bunker serves as a good example of a bigot, btw. I would think thyat if your mother can’t examine why, she is not being honest with herself on a deep enough level. My father is bigoted on several issues; he does not have rational reasons for believing what he does. They are emotional reasons that (may) have underlying tones related to cultural superiority. I used to hear it from other relatives too. The idea of keeping any ethnic or racial group “proliferating” is an interesting discussion in itself. That many people out there still think one should marry within in their tribe is disconcerting to me.

  61. #61 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Never once have I have been taught that ‘bloodline’ is important or that genetics or heredity make any difference.

    Of course not. The traditions stem from a time long before genetics or heredity were understood.

    But your implication – that you’ve never been taught that being Jewish is not passed down genealogically – is either a lie, or you are profoundly ignorant of the faith tradition you claim to have been brought up in. See Orthodox Judaism: “Belief that God has made an exclusive, unbreakable covenant with the Children of Israel (the descendants of the Jewish patriarch, Jacob, whose other name was Israel) to be governed by the Torah

  62. #62 Mark Borok
    April 28, 2007

    “Children born to Jewish women are Jewish, are supposedly subject to the religious agreements made by the Jews, and so forth.”

    You mean like the children born to Japanese women are Japanese and supposedly subject to Japanese social customs? And the children born to Frenchwomen are French and supposedly subject to French laws? And the children born to Russian women…

  63. #63 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Hey, it’s not my religiocultural belief. Get DamnYankees to defend it.

  64. #64 dorid
    April 28, 2007

    Sure. Let’s get everyone to think the same, beleive the same, and destroy culture all together. Now, whose culture do we pick to all be?

    I can understand both the continuity of tradition and the blending of traditions. I think that the variety fosters a wider variety of thought. Sure, a lot of that thought will be error, some will be simply awful. Others will be brilliant. Think of what we’d loose if we were truly a melting pot.

  65. #65 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Sure. Let’s get everyone to think the same, beleive the same, and destroy culture all together. Now, whose culture do we pick to all be?

    I think you have a little consistency problem there.

  66. #66 AaronInSanDiego
    April 28, 2007

    Caledonian, you’re telling someone who was brought up in the Orthodox Jewish tradition that he’s ignorant of his own faith tradition, based on a Wikipedia article? That’s some chutzpah!

  67. #67 Hexatron
    April 28, 2007

    Until fairly recently, jews who left their religion did not identify themselves as jews. They felt they were the same as their non-jewish neighbors.

    Then something happened that showed this behavior was — not adaptive. So now, most jewish atheists still refer to themselves as jewish.

    And jews are concerned about being exterminated because there was one fair try at doing it, and it is still not a terribly unpopular sentiment in many parts of the world.

    It’s not as if the disappearance of the fourteen million jews in the world would leave a vast dent in the world’s population. And think of all the tenure-track positions that would be opened up!

  68. #68 Ophelia Benson
    April 28, 2007

    Ah, that’s Jonathan Sacks – he’s the one who does Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ a lot, and he’s the one who opposed a bill to legalize euthanasia by arguing in an article that he was glad his terminally ill, suffering father had not had the option to exit, because his suffering gave him, Jonathan, a chance to show his father compassion. I found that argument ethically revolting, and Saacks’s inability to see how revolting it was, rather shocking. The narcissism of it! ‘I’m glad you have to go on suffering because it gives ME a chance to show you compassion. The possibility that you would prefer to end it is neither here nor there, this is all about ME.’

    Ecch.

  69. #69 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Caledonian, you’re telling someone who was brought up in the Orthodox Jewish tradition that he’s ignorant of his own faith tradition, based on a Wikipedia article? That’s some chutzpah!

    Oh, it’s not based just on that article. It’s talking with Jewish friends… reading about the history of religion… Wikipedia… searching the Net… and all of my sources pretty much say the same thing – which is not what DamnYankees has said.

    We know nothing about what traditions DamnYankees has grown up in. We don’t even know that he’s a he, that he’s a Jew, or Orthodox specifically. What we do know is what a poster with that name has said here.

    Do you have anything to say about DamnYankees’ claim?

  70. #70 Nona
    April 28, 2007

    Would it help to have a practiving Jew in the thread? I was raised Jewish, by parents who, unfortunately, have a lot of unconsidered bias and, yes, bigotry. I have to admit to taking a certain delight, as a teenager, in asking my mother, “well, if you want me to marry someone Jewish, it’s okay if he’s not white, right?” and watching her sputter.

    The thing I always try to keep in mind is that the Torah was written by men: whether or not it’s divinely inspired, a lot of people influenced it with their own prejudices and narrow minds over the centuries. There are a lot of things about my faith I’m proud of, and a lot I’m conflicted about. The key is to consider the things Judaism asks me to do, understand them as fully as I can, and choose to do them– or not– with open eyes and an open mind.

    Fortunately, one of the things you get from a Jewish cultural upbringing is an emphasis on questioning and intellectual honesty. I’ve always felt encouraged to think about my faith, about the Torah, and about why I believe. Also, tikkun olam is the kind of concept you don’t have to be a theist to appreciate.

  71. #71 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    Stupid internet went out…

    You are her. Except that you have enough defenses that you don’t become upset. You simply disregard the uncomfortable truths.

    What? What do you believe that I don’t? I’m pretty sure we share pretty much the exact same empirical and epistemological truths. I just think that growing up around religion, I understand better why people believe the way they do, especially those in my community. I’m just explaining it.

    I’m an atheist, dude. I don’t believe in Judaism. I just think it’s sort of important and interesting to know why religious people think the way they do and believe they things they do. You seem content to just dismiss it all as unworthy of understanding (from a sociological perspective) and be pissy.

  72. #72 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    that you’ve never been taught that being Jewish is not passed down genealogically

    I didn’t say this. I said that the genealogy is not biological, it’s spiritual. It’s weird, i know. But that’s the belief.

    So now, most jewish atheists still refer to themselves as jewish.

    I this comes from persecution, especially the Nazis and the Communists so it seems very recent. Those movements killed Jews, specifically, and didn’t care what you considered yourself. Many of the Jews in Germany were thoroughly and completely secularized, and were completely German. But the Nazi’s didn’t care, and if you had Jewish blood they would, well, you know. Same with the Russians, especially the Czarist pogroms.

    Jews developed the mentality that it doesn’t really matter what they consider themselves – as long as your enemy thinks you are a Jew, you have to defend yourself as one. Telling a Nazi “I’m not Jewish” didn’t work, so the other option is to bind together with other Jews and defend yourself.

    Thus Israel.

  73. #73 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    We know nothing about what traditions DamnYankees has grown up in. We don’t even know that he’s a he, that he’s a Jew, or Orthodox specifically. What we do know is what a poster with that name has said here.

    I’m not sure how you’d like me to prove this to you. I can talk in Hebrew, or I can quote you some Talmudic arguments, but I don’t think you’d really care.

    Would it help to have a practiving Jew in the thread?

    I was a practicing Jew my entire life. I only became an atheist about 10 months ago. I only stopped keeping Kosher about 6 months ago.

    I have to admit to taking a certain delight, as a teenager, in asking my mother, “well, if you want me to marry someone Jewish, it’s okay if he’s not white, right?” and watching her sputter.

    I’ve asked my parents this as well. They genuinely don’t care about race. They would have zero problem with me marrying a black person or an Asian person. They just want them to be Jewish. This desire for religious marriage isn’t just a ‘cover’ for other bigotry, it’s a sincere belief, distinct from other social ills you might ascribe to mankind. Can they overlap? Sure. But it isn’t always that way.

    Fortunately, one of the things you get from a Jewish cultural upbringing is an emphasis on questioning and intellectual honesty.

    I think this is why so many Jews are atheists. Judaism fosters intense intellectualism and great education, and the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be an atheist. It’s a flaw in the system!

  74. #74 Nona
    April 28, 2007

    DamnYankees, it’s awesome to hear that my parents aren’t typical of Jewish parents.

    …In a lot of ways, actually. They’re kind of crazy. But not due to Judaism! Mostly due to not thinking about why they believe the stuff they believe. Which, actually, Judaism frowns on.

    And, yeah, we do produce some really smart atheists, huh? But it goes both ways– some of the smartest and most passionate Jews I’ve known are converts.

  75. #75 M
    April 28, 2007

    From the rabbi’s (and my parents’ I assume) perspective: there aren’t that many Jews in the world. We’re vastly outnumbered by other religious/ethnic groups (yeah, it’s bizarre how Judaism is sort of both). Unlike, say, Christianity, we’re not evangelical – if you want to become Jewish, you have to work at it.

    The point is that if Jews keep marrying non-Jews, in a few generations there simply won’t be any Jewish folk anymore.

  76. #76 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    The idea that genealogy and Jewishness go hand-in-hand is far older than the Holocaust, far older than Russian pogroms, older than the destruction of Jerusalem.

    DamnYankees, you’re either a liar, or you know remarkably little about the faith you claim to have kept most of your life.

  77. #77 Nona
    April 28, 2007

    Oh, for heaven’s sake. Caledonian, self-righteousness does not look as good on you as you seem to think it does, okay?

    Yes, Jewishness is inherited. Yes, there are some misguided Jews who think that converts are not ‘real’ Jews. They are *wrong*. According to Jewish law, there are two ways to become Jewish, and they are *equally valid under Jewish law*: birth, or conversion.

    Of course, the rules on who’s born Jewish have been subject to change. We used to determine Jewishness patrilineally, but during the Babylonian Captivity the rules were changed possibly because many Jewish men were marrying non-Jews and raising their children outside the faith. Since then, to be born Jewish you need to have a Jewish mother. So a woman who converts to Judaism would have Jewish children, just the same as I would, and anyone who says otherwise is being a *bad Jew*.

  78. #78 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    Yes, Jewishness is inherited.

    Any response, DamnYankees?

    (I don’t know about self-righteousness, but correctness looks pretty good on me.)

  79. #79 AaronInSanDiego
    April 28, 2007

    First of all, there is no central authority or rule-making entity that all Jews listen to. It is true that traditional Jews regard the Torah as the ultimate authority, but there are many different interpretations of it, not always literal, which are consistent with traditional Judaism. For nearly any declarative statement about what Jews believe, you can likely find someone who was brought up as a Jew with a different belief. The saying about getting “two Jews, three opinions”, has some basis in truth.

    As for myself, I was brought up as a Conservative Jew, not Orthodox, so the views were somewhat different. I see my current atheism as a natural progression from my combined Jewish and secular upbringing. I still consider myself a Jew (not religious), and no its not a racial identity, but not simply because of being genetically related to Jewish parents.

    I don’t want to get into details, but I will say that I was ostensibly encouraged to think for myself and develop my own views, as long as they incorporated learning about Jewish laws, customs, and traditions. On the other hand, I got mixed messages when the results of those thoughts led me away from Judaism, so my relationship with the tradition I was brought up in is somewhat ambivalent.

  80. #80 Mark Borok
    April 28, 2007

    “We used to determine Jewishness patrilineally, but during the Babylonian Captivity the rules were changed possibly because many Jewish men were marrying non-Jews and raising their children outside the faith.”

    I’d heard it was during the middle ages, when women were at greater risk of being raped by non-Jews.

    “First of all, there is no central authority or rule-making entity that all Jews listen to.”

    As Moses quickly found out (or would have found out, had he existed).

  81. #81 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    i think Rabbis Sacks and Gelman ought to take on more important issues, such as the outright discimination against women in Israel which PZ highlighted later.

  82. #82 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    When I told my mom I was an atheist, this was her biggest concern, and it still causes her immense grief. I haven’t told my father I’m an atheist for the same reason. I think chalking it up to bigotry is wrong – my parents aren’t bigoted in any normal sense. It has to do with culture and history, and a deep sense of “us against the world
    as an extremely victimized group.

    but (true) atheists have been victimized, too, and we’re told “I don’t get why you’re all so hostile.” also, the overt subjugation of children to an express lineage, in heritage or religion, is just wrong. that’s why it continues.

    also, it’s nice to write that Judaism is a religion which “requires no abdication of the mind”, except that’s a lie. i have found it does in many instances, such as the case here. sorry, that’s not acceptable. for that and several other reasons, atheism.

  83. #83 Anton Mates
    April 28, 2007

    The important distinction is anyone can choose to be Jewish if they desire. A more apt comparison is if people who had PHD’s would only let their children marry people with PHD’s. It’d probably be a stupid and rather meaningless distinction to impose upon a spouse, but I don’t think I’d call it bigoted. Race is immutable, religion isn’t.

    I don’t think immutability is particularly relevant here. Someone could have a completely immutable and untreatable mental disorder that made them prone to hallucinations and violent rages; I don’t think I’d be a bigot if I preferred them not to marry my child.

    I don’t think ethnocentrism is necessary repugnant, though it certainly can be. For example, I don’t think I’d want my kid to marry a cannibal from New Guinea.

    That’s not ethnocentrism; that’s just dislike of a specific behavior and associated attitude. I mean, wouldn’t you be equally unhappy if your kid married a cannibal from New Jersey, and happy if your kid married a kind, understanding non-cannibal from New Guinea?

    What makes the “Marry a nice Jew” sentiment bigotry, IMO, is that it’s not based on a preference for specific behaviors or attitudes, but simply for group affiliation. If your parents told you to marry a nice girl who wore a wig and believed there was precisely one god and didn’t eat seafood, well, that’d be silly, but it wouldn’t be bigotry. But they didn’t tell you to find a girl who shares some particular laudable attribute of Jewishness–they told you to find a Jew.

    I sympathize; my mother-in-law is Israeli-born, and even though she’s extremely liberal and non-religious
    (good friends with the Palestinians up the block and the African-born Muslims at her workplace, refused to make my wife learn Hebrew as a kid) there’s still that reflexive Juden-uber-alles attitude lurking at the base of her psyche. And it clearly bothers her a lot. When Israel started bombing Lebanon last year, she took to spontaneous and frequent declarations of “Robin, I just want you to know I support Israel, and I don’t want to talk about it.”

    When Robin brought me home for the first time, her mom had a moment of massive mental disorientation, because based on my looks, I could be an Israeli Jew, but I could also be a Palestinian Arab. To her credit, she suppressed that immediately and is quite content with my being neither.

  84. #84 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    I’d heard it was during the middle ages, when women were at greater risk of being raped by non-Jews.

    Why would women being raped by non-Jews be grounds for changing the definition? It seems to me that people would want to exclude, not include, any children resulting from such rapes. The patrilinear definition ought to become more important, not less.

  85. #85 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    I’d heard it was during the middle ages, when women were at greater risk of being raped by non-Jews.

    ah, that’s rubbish. the only reason for matrilineal descent in Judaism is because it’s easier to tell who the mother is than the father, since the baby is being actually born, and usually the mother is charged with raising the child.

  86. #86 Nona
    April 28, 2007

    This dates the switch to matrilineal descent to the Roman occupation. I think I may have been conflating the Babylonian Talmud, which was codified during the exile, with the descent laws.

    It was definitely well before the Middle Ages, at any rate. Although– considering how often Jewish children were either surreptitiously baptized and claimed for the Church, or outright stolen, the Middle Ages were a time when it was a good idea for Jews to have a rock-solid legal claik to their children.

  87. #87 Nona
    April 28, 2007

    Augh, that was supposed to be “legal claim,” stupid typos.

    Anyway. As far as the whole marry-a-nice-Jew thing goes: in my experience, it’s sometimes due to bigotry, yes (certainly the case in my family) but also in large part to a very real fear that we’ll simply assimilate out of existence. Not that many convert to Judaism, since we don’t proselytize, so the only way to get more Jews is for the existing ones to have kids, and–this is the important part– raise those kids in the faith. The odds of an intermarried couple doing so are significantly lower than an all-Jewish couple.

    I’m not saying that you have to applaud this motive, or find it noble, especially if you don’t agree that children should be raised in a faith at all.

    For me– well, I don’t know if I’ll ever have kids. But if I do, I want them to have a Jewish upbringing, because I want them to have the benefits I got from it. I wouldn’t want them to have the exact same upbringing I did, and I’d want them to make their own decisions about whether to be b’nai mitzvah, but I think Judaism is something that should continue to exist, and I want to be a part of its survival.

  88. #88 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    As far as the whole marry-a-nice-Jew thing goes: in my experience, it’s sometimes due to bigotry, yes (certainly the case in my family) but also in large part to a very real fear that we’ll simply assimilate out of existence. Not that many convert to Judaism, since we don’t proselytize, so the only way to get more Jews is for the existing ones to have kids, and–this is the important part– raise those kids in the faith. The odds of an intermarried couple doing so are significantly lower than an all-Jewish couple.

    i used to believe in that, too. but then i saw it for what it is: a lack of faith and conviction by Jews in Judaism itself. it was presented to me, stark and bold, by an interview i heard with a Buddhist monk. he was asked about his commitment to non-violence and in particular his opposition to killing, even in self-defense.

    “So, suppose someone was going to kill the last Buddhist in the world” asked the interviewer, “and killing the killer was your only way to stop it. Would
    you act to stop it?”

    The monk replied, “If there is any truth in Buddhism, as I believe there is, as I have devoted my life to believing, I also have to believe that if the last Buddhist were killed, Buddhism would be rediscovered by someone. And, so, I would refuse to kill.”

    that is a depth of commitment and confidence which Judaism sadly lacks, not only in response to the threat of assimilation but, alas, in its response to the Shoah which, IMO, has become a substitute for its traditional celebration of life. it is, too, sadly, the reason why public criticism of Israel is so taboo.

    that’s just wrong.

  89. #89 AaronInSanDiego
    April 28, 2007

    I don’t share that Buddhist’s faith in humanity that if a belief is true, humans will discover it and adopt it.

  90. #90 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    If science were lost, it might never be rediscovered. But if we have science, I cannot imagine any truth which we might find but be unable to find again.

  91. #91 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    I don’t share that Buddhist’s faith in humanity that if a belief is true, humans will discover it and adopt it.

    i surely respect your opinion. but that doesn’t matter to the Buddhist. and all i’m saying is that if a Jew has the same confidence in Judaism, they should have the same faith.

    the point is, as Caledonian said, real truths and real means of discovering them, if they are preserved, can rediscover anything.

  92. #92 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    Stupid freaking internet keeps going out…

    Yes, Jewishness is inherited.

    Any response, DamnYankees?

    Correct, Jewishness is inherited according to Jewish law. I never said it wasn’t. But to say it is a *biological* inheritance isn’t true. It’s an inheritance of the Neshama, the soul. That’s how people can convert to Judaism.

    The idea that genealogy and Jewishness go hand-in-hand is far older than the Holocaust, far older than Russian pogroms, older than the destruction of Jerusalem.

    I never said otherwise. You’re mixing up two different parts of this discussion. The Holocaust was used as a reason for why secular Jews choose to self-identify as Jews. It had nothing to do with the inheritance of the Jewish soul.

    also, it’s nice to write that Judaism is a religion which “requires no abdication of the mind”, except that’s a lie.

    Did someone claim this in the thread? I think Judaism requires you to abdicate *less* of your mind than other religion, but like all religions it does require it to some extent.

    Also, Judaism doesn’t generally care about what you believe. It’s a action-oriented religion. But that’s a whole different discussion.

  93. #93 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    and all i’m saying is that if a Jew has the same confidence in Judaism, they should have the same faith.

    the point is, as Caledonian said, real truths and real means of discovering them, if they are preserved, can rediscover anything.

    But alot of the concern isn’t about losing Jewish theology, it’s about losing Jewish culture. Culture isn’t a ‘truth’ which can be rediscovered. It’s just a way of living. The analogy doesn’t entirely hold up, though I see the point.

  94. #94 windy
    April 28, 2007

    Not that many convert to Judaism, since we don’t proselytize, so the only way to get more Jews is for the existing ones to have kids, and–this is the important part– raise those kids in the faith. The odds of an intermarried couple doing so are significantly lower than an all-Jewish couple.

    How much lower? Less than a half?

  95. #95 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    Did someone claim this in the thread? I think Judaism requires you to abdicate *less* of your mind than other religion, but like all religions it does require it to some extent.

    well, I claimed it. it is a well-known statement out there, oft quoted. and it is the reason why many Jewish folks feel consistency between their faith and their pursuit of reason-based subjects, like science.

    It’s a action-oriented religion.

    it is. but many of these actions, notably the brachot before doing almost anything, are either petitionary, and so imply a universe quite unlike senses and reason tell us exists, or are mindless ritualistic acts, done because, well, “We just do them”, or are a kind of meditation, but a meditation which could be replaced by saying “Damn Yankees”. there are also ethical acts which are obligatory. of course, there is also an industry of rebbies who indulge in casuistry to get Jews off of having to do inconvenient or expensive ethical acts, such as leaving the corners of your harvest for the “widow and the orphan”, or always paying laborers the same day they work.

  96. #96 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    But alot of the concern isn’t about losing Jewish theology, it’s about losing Jewish culture.

    what is “Jewish culture“? the Jews of eastern Europe acted quite differently than those of western Europe, down to what was considered legit for Pesach. the Jews of Iraq act very differently than those elsewhere, as do the Jews of Yemen, who, given their stories and writings, are really fate-oriented in comparison to others.

    will the real Jewish culture please stand up? it surely isn’t Borscht belt kitsch that people died for, is it?

  97. #97 Anton Mates
    April 28, 2007

    The point is that if Jews keep marrying non-Jews, in a few generations there simply won’t be any Jewish folk anymore.

    Sure, and the white supremacists believe that if nonwhites keep emigrating to Europe and the US, intermarrying with whites and outbreeding them, in a few generations there won’t be any white people left. For all I know they’re right, but I don’t really see why it’s something to worry about.

    Anyway, this seems even less reasonable for Jews than for your average racist. White physical features really could be “washed out” by interbreeding, but what prevents a Jew from teaching their kids about Judaism, even if their spouse is a gentile?

  98. #98 Ethan
    April 28, 2007

    what is “Jewish culture”? the Jews of eastern Europe acted quite differently than those of western Europe, down to what was considered legit for Pesach.

    I don’t think this is overly relevant, anymore than the fact that people in NY celebrate Thanksgiving different than people in San Diego – they all acknowledge a shared belief and a shared ethnic history. They can trace themselves back to a general historical period of the Kingdom of Israel and feel a tie to each other. My father was always very proud that he knew he could walk into a synagogue anywhere in the world and be offered a place to sleep and eat. There is a sense of brotherhood.

  99. #99 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “Anyway, this seems even less reasonable for Jews than for your average racist. White physical features really could be “washed out” by interbreeding, but what prevents a Jew from teaching their kids about Judaism, even if their spouse is a gentile? ”

    Very unfair comparison. White is a race, not a culture. If someone wanted their family to remember and pass on their Irish culture, or Polish culture, or Slovenian culture, I would think that’s wonderful. I don’t see why Judaism is any different.

    And to answer this question, the idea is that if someone is willing to marry a non-Jew in the first place, that probably means they don’t care about the culture all that much in the first place. That’s the worry. I think it’s an irrational and unfounded worry, but that’s the worry.

  100. #100 Caledonian
    April 28, 2007

    will the real Jewish culture please stand up? it surely isn’t Borscht belt kitsch that people died for, is it?

    Very likely “real Jewish culture” usually means what the individual person in question grew up in, or what they were taught was real Jewish culture when they grew up.

  101. #101 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    How much lower? Less than a half?

    noone can really know, since there is no agreement in community on “Who is a Jew?” there have been studies, many being parts of studies of religiosity in the United States over all.

    facts are, based upon what we know ever more from archaeology and scientific history, assimilation has always been an issue for Jews, as it naturally is for any minority. difference is, in the past, apparently bringing non-Jews into community through marriage and other means was practiced a good deal more than it is today. there was never a time when you had a “pure” group of Jews, apart from the enforcement of that rule of separation by Christian authorities in Europe, and in some places in the world of Islam, although far less so there.

    bringing non-Jews into the Jewish fold was very common in Roman times. Judiasm was actually a “growth religion” then, and that has been suspected of having something to do with the rapid expansion of Christianity once it came on the scene.

    from one viewpoint, a lot of the modern problem of “assimilation” is actually due to a viewpoint of a group of narrow-minded Orthodox zealots who value “purity of community” above all else, believing, as some have professed, that the Shoah was the Deity’s punishment (ever beneficent, mind you, which they will forever worship) for assimilation in Germany.

    sick, sick, sick.

  102. #102 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    My father was always very proud that he knew he could walk into a synagogue anywhere in the world and be offered a place to sleep and eat. There is a sense of brotherhood.

    yeah, but Reform Jewish women cannot pray at the Western Wall. and when they tried, they were pelted with bags of feces. how’s that for a “community” for you?

  103. #103 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    White is a race, not a culture.

    “race” is far more a cultural construct than a biological one.

  104. #104 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “narrow-minded Orthodox zealots who value “purity of community” above all else”

    Where are you getting this information? I’ve spent my entire life living in an extremely Orthodox community, and have never, never, never heard of this idea of ‘purity’, racial or otherwise. It’s an alien concept to religious Jewry, and your espousal of it sounds rather absurd. The attitude of Orthodox Jews is generally “please just let us live and leave us alone”. If you think that’s a doctrine of purity, I don’t know what to tell you.

  105. #105 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “”race” is far more a cultural construct than a biological one.”

    So? That has nothing to do with anything. White is a designation of a racial group, not a cultural group. Unless you’re a white nationalist, no one considers race and culture to the same thing.

  106. #106 Anton Mates
    April 28, 2007

    Anyway. As far as the whole marry-a-nice-Jew thing goes: in my experience, it’s sometimes due to bigotry, yes (certainly the case in my family) but also in large part to a very real fear that we’ll simply assimilate out of existence. Not that many convert to Judaism, since we don’t proselytize, so the only way to get more Jews is for the existing ones to have kids, and–this is the important part– raise those kids in the faith.

    If there’s something inherently positive about Judaism, why not proselytize? If not, why is it a problem if you’re assimilated out of existence? That doesn’t imply the forcible conversion of individual Jews, and presumably you can try to pass on particularly important behaviors and attitudes to your friends and children, just like anyone else.

    If you’re motivated by a general desire for cultural diversity, that’s one thing–though I suspect there will always be people who are pro-circumcision or anti-seafood or monotheist, whether or not these things are all packaged into a single culture. But the Rabbi doesn’t seem to be all that worried about making sure every minority culture is preserved intact.

    I’m not sure what culture I belong to, but I’m sure that in time it will vanish, either by mutating out of recognition or by losing its adherents to some other culture. That seems very natural to me.

  107. #107 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    If you think that’s a doctrine of purity, I don’t know what to tell you.

    Orthodox Jews don’t accept Reform or Conservative, they don’t recognize their rabbis, and, when there is any kind of a “community event”, it has to be on their terms.

    there’s no qualitative difference between that kind of behavior and Christian right-wingers who demand that because something is a tenet of religious faith, people oughtn’t investigate stem cells, forbid prayer in schools, or have abortions.

    does Kiryas Joel mean anything to you? special exclusion? other religious groups can’t do that. try setting up a big visible community of Muslims some place in the United States today.

  108. #108 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    If there’s something inherently positive about Judaism, why not proselytize?

    Because it isn’t necessary. Yes, there is something poisitve about Judaism, but its also a bigger burden to carry – it’s a harder life. Judaism’s idea is that Jews have certain obligations, and non-Jews have others. Both are perfectly fine and both can get into Heaven. There’s simply no need to convert people, since there’s no need to save anyone.

    That seems very natural to me.

    Doesn’t mean we can’t mourn that fact and try to resist it. I’m pretty sure that one day there will be no copies of Hamlet left anywhere and it will be totally lost to the universe. I know it will happen. Still saddens me a bit, and I’d try to do my part to put off that date.

  109. #109 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    I’m not sure what culture I belong to, but I’m sure that in time it will vanish, either by mutating out of recognition or by losing its adherents to some other culture. That seems very natural to me.

    me, too. it seems proper. and there’s more than incidental evidence that, e.g., the high rate of genetic disease in the eastern European Jewish population is due in part to insufficient diversity. whether or not that was imposed by the Christian majority is, as DamnYankees is fond of saying, not the point. what is the point is that the biological result of inbreeding is bad.

    i just happen to agreed that doing the same with cultural features is also bad, probably more so.

  110. #110 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    Both are perfectly fine and both can get into Heaven.

    sorry, that’s overt distortion. Judaism does not have and never has had a concept of “Heaven”. there is a vague notion of a “World to come”, but that could be, as well, when the Messiah arrives, when “error is no more”.

    a notion of “Heaven” is surely not accepted except by the most narrow of Orthodox folks.

  111. #111 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    Orthodox Jews don’t accept Reform or Conservative, they don’t recognize their rabbis, and, when there is any kind of a “community event”, it has to be on their terms.

    I don’t know what you mean by ‘accept’. Orthodox Jews recognize them as Jews, just less observant ones. But they don’t reject them.

    does Kiryas Joel mean anything to you? special exclusion? other religious groups can’t do that.

    Yeah, Kiryas Yoel bothers me. I don’t like it. I won’t defend it. But the amount of Jews who are like that are vanishingly small – there are probably more Mithrasists than there are Jews like that. Seems like an odd target.

  112. #112 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “a notion of “Heaven” is surely not accepted except by the most narrow of Orthodox folks.”

    Did you want me to use Hebrew? I used the simplest English equivalent. A concept akin to heaven does exist in Judaism, though its not like the Christian heaven.

  113. #113 Anton Mates
    April 28, 2007

    “Anyway, this seems even less reasonable for Jews than for your average racist. White physical features really could be “washed out” by interbreeding, but what prevents a Jew from teaching their kids about Judaism, even if their spouse is a gentile? ”

    Very unfair comparison. White is a race, not a culture.

    Well, yes. That’s why I said it makes more sense to worry about whiteness being interbred out of existence than Judaism. You can’t–at least by the definition of whiteness used by a supremacist–teach someone to be white.

    If someone wanted their family to remember and pass on their Irish culture, or Polish culture, or Slovenian culture, I would think that’s wonderful. I don’t see why Judaism is any different.

    I agree, there’s no difference. For a Pole to demand that their child only marry a cultural Pole would be equally bigoted.

    And to answer this question, the idea is that if someone is willing to marry a non-Jew in the first place, that probably means they don’t care about the culture all that much in the first place.

    I would say it’s pretty clear-cut bigotry to demand that someone place their ethnic allegiance above love.

  114. #114 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    … there will be no copies of Hamlet left anywhere …

    of course there always will be, and Shakespeare will be read in the original Klingon.

  115. #115 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    I agree, there’s no difference. For a Pole to demand that their child only marry a cultural Pole would be equally bigoted.

    Why is it bigoted? I’d agree its pretty irrational and rather stupid, but the use of bigoted seems inappropriate to me. Bigot has an implication, if not a clear definition, of hierarchical superiority.

    Why can’t something just be stupid without being bigoted?

    I would say it’s pretty clear-cut bigotry to demand that someone place their ethnic allegiance above love.

    Why? Again, it’s stupid, but why is it bigoted? There’s no hatred involved, no denigration, no intolerance. Just a preference as to someone having a specific trait in regards to a specific action in life. I don’t see it as any more bigoted than demanding your daughter marry someone who has a mustache.

  116. #116 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    @DamnYankees,

    But they don’t reject them.

    so, how do you explain the treatment of Reform women at the Western Wall? it’s not even a damn shul.

    i’d say your presentation, sir, is 70% PR, that “Oh, we’re so misunderstood.” no you’re not. from the perspective of Reform Jews, many Orthodox Jews are bigotted. not against Muslims or Christians, but against their “fallen by the wayside”, “less observant” coreligionists. who the hell puts Orthodox in the role of defining what is a Jew or not? there’s no more “preserved lineage” in Orthodoxy than anywhere else. that’s an Orthodox myth devised to maintain political power. there’s no central authority.

    and it’s the same reason why the Orthodox have such a stranglehold over Israel and, incidently, my American tax dollars.

  117. #117 Hexatron
    April 28, 2007

    ‘Purity of community’ is false.
    Witness the Falasha.

    (Tho Israel contains some noxious racists, as do, I believe, many other countries)

  118. #118 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    so, how do you explain the treatment of Reform women at the Western Wall? it’s not even a damn shul.

    I’m not sure what exactly you’re referring to, but that’s not being anti-reform. That’s being anti-woman. It’s sexism. But as horrible and backward as that is, it’s not the same thing.

  119. #119 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    @DamnYankees,

    Why? Again, it’s stupid, but why is it bigoted? There’s no hatred involved, no denigration, no intolerance.

    because we fortunately believe that separation of community is intrinisically unequal.

  120. #120 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “because we fortunately believe that separation of community is intrinisically unequal.”

    Unequal? I don’t know what that means in this context. It sounds as though your against anyone who would want to maintain their cultural identity.

  121. #121 Hexatron
    April 28, 2007

    Dear ekzept and your beloved tax dollars:
    Orthodox control of many civil institutions in Isreal is a regrettable fact of life there. But it is a regrettable fact in the United States too, the native home of your tax dollars. There’s a relevant bible quote about motes and beams…

  122. #122 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    I’m not sure what exactly you’re referring to, but that’s not being anti-reform. That’s being anti-woman. It’s sexism. But as horrible and backward as that is, it’s not the same thing.

    of course it is, since in Reform and many Conservative congregations, women can not only participate in full, they can be rabbis.

    the Orthodox in question are/were not accepting the authority of the Reform and Conservative in religious matters, and insisting only they have control over the Wall. no, that’s not intolerance, sure.

    references here and here and
    here.

  123. #123 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    It sounds as though your against anyone who would want to maintain their cultural identity.

    basically, i am.

  124. #124 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    the Orthodox in question are/were not accepting the authority of the Reform and Conservative in religious matters, and insisting only they have control over the Wall. no, that’s not intolerance, sure.

    Well, of course. But this isn’t what you said. Orthodox Jews won’t recognize the authority of a Conservative or Reform Rabbi, but that’s very different from not considering them Jews. Similarly, I wouldn’t recognize someone with a homemade gavel who called himself a judge, but he’s still a citizen.

    So yes, of course the Orthodox don’t recognize the legitimacy of Reform and Conservative theologies and the connecting institution, but that’s a far cry from not considering them Jews.

  125. #125 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    here, for the readership is the report of the specific instance,

    Unfortunately, this has already happened twice in the past few months. On Shavuot, last June, a group of Conservative Jews went to the Western Wall to pray together. Because men and women are no longer permitted to pray side by side at the wall, the group decided to hold their service on a platform well behind the wall. Within minutes groups of ultra-orthodox had surrounded them and started to heckle them. It wasn’t long before they began to shove and spit on them. The police moved in and insisted that the group leave. They claimed that they could not assure their safety. As they were escorted through the passages to the gate, they passed under the window of an ultra-orthodox yeshiva. Rocks and human feces were thrown upon them from the windows above. Taunts about the legitimacy of Liberal Jews were shouted. Yes, because of other Jews, a group of Jews could not celebrate Shavuot at the Western Wall.

    no, that’s not intolerance. sure.

  126. #126 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    basically, i am.

    Okey doke. At least we got down to the core difference between us.

    🙂

  127. #127 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    no, that’s not intolerance. sure.

    Of course it’s intolerant, and its disgusting. But it’s not what you originally claimed. If you keep setting up straw men and knocking them down, it’s not hard to win and feel quite contented doing it.

  128. #128 Nona
    April 28, 2007

    I think a lot of this post is going to wind up being me going “what DamnYankees said,” but here I go anyway.

    what prevents a Jew from teaching their kids about Judaism, even if their spouse is a gentile?

    Nothing, other than the fact that many of them don’t do it. I don’t have a specific figure, but I believe it’s more than half. Personally, I think a better way to keep these families in the Jewish community is to welcome intermarried families and make it easier for them to raise Jewish children, rather than looking down on them, but unfortunately no one asked me.

    As it stands, it takes a lot of effort for Jews who marry Gentiles to instill a sense of Jewish identity in their children, often in the face of diapproval and judgement from other Jews. This is because religions are made of people, and people are often stupid.

    As for why Jewish identity is worth preserving, well, for me it’s because this is my faith and my culture, and I find value in it, and I don’t want it to die. Isn’t that enough?

    If there’s something inherently positive about Judaism, why not proselytize?

    Well, if we proselytized, we… kind of wouldn’t be Jewish anymore. It’s something of a design feature. Part of it is that Judaism isn’t supposed to need mass conversions, because one of its tenets is that non-Jews can be any religion they like, and as long as they’re good people God will be perfectly happy with them. Heaven and hell don’t come into it, really; what matters is the here and now.

    Also, we don’t seek converts because, as DamnYankee says, it is *harder* to be Jewish, deliberately so. Jews are supposed to follow rules that non-Jews don’t have to follow, and to a certain extent potential converts are asking for a more difficult life. That can certainly be interpreted as Jews holding themselves superior, though I’ve never felt it to be the case: for me, it’s that G-d asked the Jewish people to set themselves apart, and we do so as a sign of respect for Him. The trouble is, the Torah didn’t anticipate the current rate of assimilation.

  129. #129 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    So yes, of course the Orthodox don’t recognize the legitimacy of Reform and Conservative theologies and the connecting institution, but that’s a far cry from not considering them Jews.

    your Orthodoxy shows what Judaism — or for that matter — any religion becomes when it is so wrapped up in itself, it disregards the world about it. you are exclusive, biased, self-absorbed, parochial, and you just cannot understand why you cannot get along. if you ain’t gonna get along with Reform and Conservative, y’don’t have much chance with children of Moloch. that’s because your model is religious, and it is incredibly buggy.

    enjoy.

  130. #130 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    I’m an atheist. I’ve said that like 80 times.

    And your snarky little condemnation aside, that post had no substance. You could say that exact same paragraph about anyone who believes anything.

  131. #131 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    The trouble is, the Torah didn’t anticipate the current rate of assimilation.

    what, the Product of an Infinite Mind missed something? maybe that explains why some of humans features — like the infamous male genito-urinary tract — seem so silly from an engineering perspective. bad day, i guess. the Deity must have been drunk.

  132. #132 ekzept
    April 28, 2007

    I’m an atheist. I’ve said that like 80 times.

    yes, one who keeps his I Ching toe bones atop his Talmud.

  133. #133 DamnYankees
    April 28, 2007

    “yes, one who keeps his I Ching toe bones atop his Talmud.”

    I have no idea what this means. I’m too well versed in the ?? ? That sentence is very confusing.

    /sorry, I’ll take any excuse I can get to break out the Mandarin! I rarely get to use it. 🙂

  134. #134 Nona
    April 28, 2007

    your Orthodoxy shows what Judaism — or for that matter — any religion becomes when it is so wrapped up in itself, it disregards the world about it. you are exclusive, biased, self-absorbed, parochial, and you just cannot understand why you cannot get along. if you ain’t gonna get along with Reform and Conservative, y’don’t have much chance with children of Moloch. that’s because your model is religious, and it is incredibly buggy.

    ezkept, since DamnYankee is, as he has mentioned, an atheist, I’m gonna go ahead and take that personally.

    I’m not Orthodox. I was raised Conservative, I had a bas mitzvah, my shul’s head rabbi is a woman. The ultra-Orthodox piss me off just as much as they apparently do you– in fact, no. They piss me off more, because they make the rest of Judaism look so bad.

    I understand perfectly well why Jews can’t get along: religions are made up of people. People don’t get along, frequently and often acrimoniously. Atheists squabble too.

    Unfortunately, people who think they have God on their side tend to take the fight to an unacceptable level, which is the problem with the ultra-Orthodox. That doesn’t mean that Judaism fails as a religion. It means some of the people who practice the religion have lost sight of what they should be doing, which is making the world better than it was when they started, not tearing it down with internecine feuding.

  135. #135 Anton Mates
    April 28, 2007

    Why is it bigoted? I’d agree its pretty irrational and rather stupid, but the use of bigoted seems inappropriate to me. Bigot has an implication, if not a clear definition, of hierarchical superiority.

    a) Bigots worldwide employ separate-but-equal rhetoric. “We don’t think we’re better than them, it’s just that we have our place, and they have theirs. Incidentally, they need to get out of our place and back to theirs, or there’ll be trouble.”

    b) The Rabbi is not, apparently, trying to preserve minority cultures in general. He doesn’t seem to be talking about the need for that, either. His efforts are devoted to maintaining the numbers of the one particular culture of which, as it happens, he’s a member. Don’t you think this suggests that he considers that culture to be superior?

    c) Listen to the Rabbi’s description of one of his anti-miscegenation ads. “The one that changed everything showed a group of nice young Jewish men and women walking across a floor into the abyss. It said ‘Anglo-Jewry has been losing 10 Jews a day for the last 40 years’.”

    Into the abyss. Any implication of superiority there?

    Why? Again, it’s stupid, but why is it bigoted? There’s no hatred involved, no denigration, no intolerance.

    “You can’t marry my daughter” is tolerant?

    Just a preference as to someone having a specific trait in regards to a specific action in life.

    No, that would be “I want my daughter to marry someone who thinks circumcision is ethical and really enjoys matzoh.” This is different. This is “I want my daughter to marry someone from a specific ethnic group,” which is a far more general demand.

  136. #136 Nona
    April 28, 2007

    And, while I’m at it:

    what, the Product of an Infinite Mind missed something? maybe that explains why some of humans features — like the infamous male genito-urinary tract — seem so silly from an engineering perspective. bad day, i guess. the Deity must have been drunk.

    I’m not a damn creationist, thank you very much. One of the neat things about Judaism is that it doesn’t require you to treat God like a D&D player who painstakingly paints every miniature before setting up the next campaign.

    And, as I believe I mentioned before, I don’t think the Torah is the infallible Word of God. Whatever divine inspiration it holds has been filtered through an awful lot of fallible, free-will-possessing humans, and the book as it exists today reflects every prejudice and unthinking assumption they ever held. That doesn’t mean I’m going to throw away the whole thing.

  137. #137 DamnYankees
    April 29, 2007

    We don’t think we’re better than them, it’s just that we have our place, and they have theirs. Incidentally, they need to get out of our place and back to theirs, or there’ll be trouble.”

    Very good point. I’ll have to think on it.

    Don’t you think this suggests that he considers that culture to be superior?

    I think it means he cares about his own. I don’t really think that’s equivalent to superiority.

    Into the abyss. Any implication of superiority there?

    No, there isn’t. The abyss represents the loss of Jewish identity. I don’t see how wanting to preserve something is an indication that you think its better than anything else. It’d be a shame if we lost Yosemite, but that doesn’t mean its better than Yellowstone.

    “You can’t marry my daughter” is tolerant?

    It’s not amazingly tolerant. But neither is it bigoted or hateful. There’s a big difference between tolerance and embrace.

    No, that would be “I want my daughter to marry someone who thinks circumcision is ethical and really enjoys matzoh.” This is different. This is “I want my daughter to marry someone from a specific ethnic group,” which is a far more general demand.

    But the ethnic group is spiritual – Jews have different souls. I clearly don’t believe any of this, but that’s the belief.

  138. #138 ekzept
    April 29, 2007

    That doesn’t mean that Judaism fails as a religion.

    Nona, i respect your viewpoint. but i have problems with Judaism. one is its inability to answer the implicit challenge posed by the Buddhist monk in my posting above. the other is its failure to deal with extremists in its midst.

    to say, “Well, that’s how people just are” abrogates, i believe, the responsibility of moderates to curtail and contain extremists in their midst. sure, they do it out of desire to “maintain community”, and “not speak ill”, and sometimes out of fear, but it remains an ethical responsibility nonetheless. indeed, this reluctance — or inability — of modern religionists to curtail their harsh extreme wings is a central problem of modern religion. it’s curious that everyone seems more willing to call on the carpet the more liberal people, but they have a hard time with the terrorist zealots.

    why is that?

  139. #139 DamnYankees
    April 29, 2007

    one is its inability to answer the implicit challenge posed by the Buddhist monk in my posting above. the other is its failure to deal with extremists in its midst.

    That’s just part and parcel of any revelation-based religion. I don’t think it’s much of a challenge, frankly.

  140. #140 ekzept
    April 29, 2007

    That’s just part and parcel of any revelation-based religion. I don’t think it’s much of a challenge, frankly.

    it should be a challenge for someone who, by admonition, does not believe in Revelation.

  141. #141 DamnYankees
    April 29, 2007

    “it should be a challenge for someone who, by admonition, does not believe in Revelation.”

    But if you don’t believe in revelation, you’re not going to be Jewish or Christian anyways. So then its just preaching to the converted.

  142. #142 Nona
    April 29, 2007

    ezkept, I think the Buddhist’s monk’s challenge is… hm. The trouble with it is, how on earth is a religion to be preserved, other than a) converts, and b) more people being born into the faith? Should we just hope that, after assimilation causes us to cease being a living faith, someone will just spontaneously decide to pick it up again? I don’t expect God to make that happen. That’s not his job. It’s our job, as Jews who are alive and fighting to keep our culture vital and relevant.

    to say, “Well, that’s how people just are” abrogates, i believe, the responsibility of moderates to curtail and contain extremists in their midst.

    You know, I absolutely agree. When I said “religions are made of people, and people are often stupid,” I didn’t mean to throw up my hands and say that can’t be changed. I believe it can be changed, and I hope that I’m doing my part to change it. I certainly don’t condone or support the ultra-Orthodox in their efforts to make me conform to their idea of Judaism.

  143. #143 Anton Mates
    April 29, 2007

    As for why Jewish identity is worth preserving, well, for me it’s because this is my faith and my culture, and I find value in it, and I don’t want it to die. Isn’t that enough?

    Well…obviously it’s reason enough for you to do it, but no, it doesn’t seem like a reason why anyone else ought to support it. If so many elements of Jewish identity aren’t attractive even to the gentiles who are in love with a Jew, and the people who were raised that way don’t value them enough to argue for them even to their own kids, and they’re irrelevant to being a good person, and God himself doesn’t care one way or another…then where’s the benefit?

    Not that there has to be a benefit–encouraging Jewishness is as reasonable a hobby as any, and I’m not trying to condemn you for that. But I don’t think it justifies telling people that most of the population of the planet is off-limits as potential life partners, as the Rabbi does.

  144. #144 Nona
    April 29, 2007

    Well…obviously it’s reason enough for you to do it, but no, it doesn’t seem like a reason why anyone else ought to support it.

    Oh, I’m not asking you to! It’s hardly your job, after all. The Jewish community has to be responsible for itself, and find ways to keep Judaism vital. Rabbi Sacks thinks the solution is to prevent intermarriage. Personally I think that’s a losing battle, and we’d be better off making sure that those who intermarry, and their families, still feel welcome.

  145. #145 Caledonian
    April 29, 2007

    I certainly don’t condone or support the ultra-Orthodox in their efforts to make me conform to their idea of Judaism.

    You really can’t see the contradiction in this?

    The ultra-Orthodox are trying to do to their version of Judaism what you want to do with yours – keep it vital and alive.

    And that means inhibiting change at all costs, which is the same as you’d have to do if you fought to keep your version functioning as a distinct culture.

    If you regard your rejection of their efforts as appropriate, will you also regard the even-more-liberal Jews’ rejection of your efforts as appropriate?

  146. #146 Caledonian
    April 29, 2007

    it’s curious that everyone seems more willing to call on the carpet the more liberal people, but they have a hard time with the terrorist zealots.

    why is that?

    The same reason bullies find it convenient to pick on the weak and helpless – those who will not fight back, and those who cannot fight back.

    ‘Liberality’ is often used to disguise ineffectualness and weakness as the virtue of being broadly tolerant. It’s not that the people involved actually tolerate things they dislike, but that they don’t have the power to do anything about it.

    “Verily, I have often laughed at the weaklings who thought themselves good because they had no claws.”
    –Pt. II, On those Who Are Sublime

  147. #147 Mark Borok
    April 29, 2007

    “the other is its failure to deal with extremists in its midst.”

    Why do you think they have failed? Are secular Americans to blame for failing to “deal with” the religious wackos in their midst? If someone speaks out against religious extremism but their words have no effect, does that mean they have “failed to deal with” religious extremism? Does that mean PZ is at fault for “failing” to contain creationists?

    “b) The Rabbi is not, apparently, trying to preserve minority cultures in general. He doesn’t seem to be talking about the need for that, either. His efforts are devoted to maintaining the numbers of the one particular culture of which, as it happens, he’s a member. Don’t you think this suggests that he considers that culture to be superior?”

    No. Acting in self-interest (on behalf of a group in this case) has nothing to do with superiority. Do the Palestinians consider themselves to be superior to the Tibetans because they protest only their own occupation by the Israelis and not the occupation of Tibet by China? Do you have any reason for thinking that the Rabbi in this article has not spoken out on behalf of other minority cultures that are under threat? There is no reason for assuming either way.

    “it’s curious that everyone seems more willing to call on the carpet the more liberal people, but they have a hard time with the terrorist zealots.

    why is that?”

    Because the terrorist zealots don’t listen or care, so it’s a waste of time.

  148. #148 Anton Mates
    April 29, 2007

    No. Acting in self-interest (on behalf of a group in this case) has nothing to do with superiority. Do the Palestinians consider themselves to be superior to the Tibetans because they protest only their own occupation by the Israelis and not the occupation of Tibet by China?

    What does self-interest have to do with this? The Rabbi isn’t being forced to convert from Judaism. Trying to prevent other Jews from discarding their ethnic identity doesn’t benefit him at all, except possibly by upping the attendance at his talks and such.

    Do you have any reason for thinking that the Rabbi in this article has not spoken out on behalf of other minority cultures that are under threat? There is no reason for assuming either way.

    Looking over a few of his speech transcripts strengthens my impression. In fact, when discussing Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, he deplores the fact that they’re not more assimilated.

  149. #149 Anton Mates
    April 29, 2007

    No. Acting in self-interest (on behalf of a group in this case) has nothing to do with superiority. Do the Palestinians consider themselves to be superior to the Tibetans because they protest only their own occupation by the Israelis and not the occupation of Tibet by China?

    What does self-interest have to do with this? The Rabbi isn’t being forced to convert from Judaism. Trying to prevent other Jews from discarding their ethnic identity doesn’t benefit him at all, except possibly by upping the attendance at his talks and such.

    Do you have any reason for thinking that the Rabbi in this article has not spoken out on behalf of other minority cultures that are under threat? There is no reason for assuming either way.

    Looking over a few of his speech transcripts strengthens my impression. In fact, when discussing Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, he deplores the fact that they’re not more assimilated.

  150. #150 Mark Borok
    April 29, 2007

    “What does self-interest have to do with this? The Rabbi isn’t being forced to convert from Judaism.”

    I said “self-interest on behalf of a group”. Protecting the interests of one’s group, whether that is a family, ethnic group, nation-state or whatever.

  151. #151 Dustin
    April 29, 2007

    ‘Liberality’ is often used to disguise ineffectualness and weakness as the virtue of being broadly tolerant. It’s not that the people involved actually tolerate things they dislike, but that they don’t have the power to do anything about it.

    That, for example, is why Caledonian thinks the IHOP is a space in which to swing at the noses of homosexuals. It makes him feel manly.

  152. #152 Arnosium Upinarum
    April 29, 2007

    …’yawn’…

    …ahem…glad to see such passionate debate amongst (mostly, apparently) “atheists” over microdetails. I’ve seen this effect countless times elsewhere: it appears that one’s religious upbringing has a stronger and often more insidious (however diverse) effect on our atheistic world views than even “we” popularly imagine.

    WHY? WHY are so many of us compelled to justify ourselves almost exclusively with respect to religion? WHY are we chronically on the defensive when most of us are more than smart enough to notice the pernicious effect of allowing religion to monopolize the discourse, in almost every aspect of the debate? WHY aren’t atheists as a GROUP suitably comfortable in this society?

    You know what the problem is? Basically, as a rough guide, here’s a clue: religions are (for the most part) attractors. “Atheism” on the other hand (for the most part, so far) is a repellor…of religion. The very WORD “atheism” is a refutation of religion, not an AFFIRMATION of anything, let alone science…unfortunately, too many atheists use the defense cruch to support their views.

    If that is the extent of the unifying principle behind atheism, it obviously leaves a great deal to be desired. Too many atheists tiresomely and routinely make themselves vulnerable to THAT criterion and that criterion alone for their self-definition and justification.

    As it is, there is no unifying consensus in sight, except for the exclusionary type most atheists obsess over. Consequently, and not the least bit surprisingly, we see just about as many “kinds” of atheists as there are religions and their subset doctrines all the way down to the arcanery of what individual families raise their children on.

    The kind of enlightenment which we would like to see in society which opens people’s minds to the liberation of atheism in most cases therefore amounts to a kind of attrition. That’s a lousy way to expect to gather adherents. But then, we wouldn’t find it necessary or even ethical to lower ourselves in order to evangelize our position onto others, now, would we? Would we?

    Where is our attraction? Well, most of us already realize one needs a significant education in science in order to gain enough fortitude to begin asking the kinds of penetrating questions required to satisfy the demands of honest doubt. But that is obviously an intellectual discipline far beyond the scope of the average person. So the society is understandably weighed down by religion…which requires almost no thinking whatsoever.

    I’m not saying I think this situation is necessarily so or fixed. I’m just saying that this situation is at least apparent to those on both sides who are in a position to exploit it – and lots of folks a lot dumber than we suppose we are take magnificent advantage of it. (So who are the REAL dummies?)

    Ever try to squeezing a balloon into a desired shape? Time to think outside the balloooooon…..

  153. #153 twincats
    April 29, 2007

    Going back to the Scandahoovian thing – Why, exactly are Danes “beyond the pale”? If it weren’t for the Danes, the rest of ’em would likely have become German. Now, THAT’s beyond the pale!

  154. #154 Mark Borok
    April 29, 2007

    “I’ve seen this effect countless times elsewhere: it appears that one’s religious upbringing has a stronger and often more insidious (however diverse) effect on our atheistic world views than even “we” popularly imagine.”

    Speaking for myself only, I was born and raised an atheist (in the Soviet Union). I had no religious upbringing at all and never encountered a religious person until I emigrated at the age of 7. Until that time I thought religion was extinct throughout the world, except maybe among primitive tribesmen and backwards country folk.

    “That’s a lousy way to expect to gather adherents.”

    I’m also not one of those atheists interested in gathering adherents. I leave the proselytizing to the religious. My only interest is in being able to speak openly about my atheism and treating anti-atheists to a dose of whoop-ass.

    “one is its inability to answer the implicit challenge posed by the Buddhist monk in my posting above.”

    Kind of a belated response to this, but it reminds me that the Dalai Lama invited a group of Jews to Dharamsala (sp?) to consult with them. He was interested in learning from the Jewish experience of surviving and keeping their culture intact in exile. Wanted to apply that to the Tibetans.

    The need to adhere to a cultural identity is common (probably universal) and is most likely an ineradicable part of human nature. We form into groups based on perceived shared attributes, and those groups max out at a certain size; the mass of humanity will never identify themselves as members of the human race first and foremost. They will always form tribes. I read that in Desmond Morris’ “The Human Zoo” a long time ago.

  155. #155 Dustin
    April 29, 2007

    …’yawn’…

    I don’t think anyone is prepared to believe that you’re bored and disaffected if you go on to write a freaking dissertation. If I wanted rehearsed apathy, I’d go hang out at the Hot Topic.

    Anyway, you seem to be concerned about the fact that the only thing that consolidates atheists is their opposition to religion. That, I’m afraid, is what you’re going to have to expect when you fall in with people who think for themselves, rather than relying on a central canon.

  156. #156 Anton Mates
    April 29, 2007

    I said “self-interest on behalf of a group”. Protecting the interests of one’s group, whether that is a family, ethnic group, nation-state or whatever.

    But the self-interest of the group isn’t involved here either. The Rabbi is trying to fight voluntary departure from the group by its members and their children; the group itself has determined that ethnic identity is not particularly important to it.

  157. #157 windy
    April 29, 2007

    Going back to the Scandahoovian thing – Why, exactly are Danes “beyond the pale”? If it weren’t for the Danes, the rest of ’em would likely have become German. Now, THAT’s beyond the pale!

    “Become German”? What? When? How? Did the Danes stop an invading horde of blancmanges from turning everyone into Germans?

  158. #158 Mark Borok
    April 29, 2007

    “the group itself has determined that ethnic identity is not particularly important to it.”

    The ethnic identity is what defines the group. Not to be melodramatic about it, but trying to persuade a bunch of people not to abandon their cultural or ethnic identity is similar to trying to talk someone out of committing suicide. Bad comparison, I know, but I didn’t have time to think of a better one.

    Also, apparently he has been having some effect, so it may well be that some of the people “voluntarily” leaving the group hadn’t been doing so very consciously. They may not have given the matter much thought.

  159. #159 Nona
    April 29, 2007

    But the self-interest of the group isn’t involved here either. The Rabbi is trying to fight voluntary departure from the group by its members and their children; the group itself has determined that ethnic identity is not particularly important to it.

    Well, this is where it gets tricky. To a certain extent, the American Jewish community is bearing the fruits of a few generations of indifferent religious upbringing, especially among Conservative and Reform congregations. The ultra-Orthodox have an easier time holding on to their young people because they’re so insular; Conservative and Reform Jews are so assimilated already that it often doesn’t feel like a big step to leave. Making matters worse, much of the older generation looks down on those who intermarry despite not being terribly observant themselves.

    This is certainly the case in my community, and within my own family. My mother was never bat mitzvah’d, and my father was raised Reform and doesn’t know a word of Hebrew. Partly this is due to the major pressure to assimilate my grandparents and great-grandparents felt: the more American they were, the easier a time of it they had. That’s why Yiddish died out so quickly, among other things.

    But they still wanted to be as Jewish as they could, under the circumstances, so they told their children to marry Jewish. My parents’ generation got all the pressure to be insular, but much less of the culture and sense of community. It would have been very easy for them to throw up their hands, marry Gentiles, and forget Judaism entirely. Many did. Fortunately for me, my parents didn’t, and they worked to give me the religious education they didn’t get, and as much of the culture as they had to pass on.

    So now my generation has a lot of tough decisions to make. What does it mean to be an American Jew? Should we sequester ourselves from the rest of the culture, or embrace it? How much? What does Jewish identity even mean now, anyway?

    So you know, in the face of all that? We’re not doing too badly.

  160. #160 Jud
    April 29, 2007

    Whew, seems like a lot of intolerant comments claiming to see intolerance in other comments on this thread. 🙂

    Re Anton’s comments about wanting children to marry “whites” – try changing that to “blacks,” or another historically persecuted group, and you’ll get closer to the thinking of Jewish people like the Rabbi who was quoted in PZ’s post. When nasty folks try to wipe you out, the people who experienced it tend to keep exercising the “we must survive” reflex even after the nasty folks (the Confederacy and Klan, the Nazis) lose most of their power.

    (Somewhat tangentially, re proselytizing – it’s hard to be certain, but one possibility for Jews’ reluctance to proselytize is that it was a capital offense where most Jews lived, either legally or practically, until just a few generations ago. Again, hard to switch off those survival instincts.)

    Does this excuse the anger and sorrow the “survivalists” inflict on “outsiders” who love members of these historically persecuted groups? No, of course not. Can those who hold tolerance (or empathy, which I personally like better because it smacks less of noblesse oblige) as a moral good seek to understand what motivates the “survivalists” so as to find them not worthy of hate and anger, while opposing the exclusionary acts to which those motives lead? I hope so.

  161. #161 Mark Borok
    April 29, 2007

    “Somewhat tangentially, re proselytizing – it’s hard to be certain, but one possibility for Jews’ reluctance to proselytize is that it was a capital offense where most Jews lived, either legally or practically, until just a few generations ago. ”

    I think it’s because gentiles are only required to obey the 7 laws of Noah, Jews the 613 commandments of the Old Testament. Therefore if you convert a gentile to Judaism he has a lot more to answer for and more chances to “sin” as it were. Thus the rabbis dissuade all but the most determined from becoming converts.

  162. #162 Caledonian
    April 30, 2007

    Not to be melodramatic about it, but trying to persuade a bunch of people not to abandon their cultural or ethnic identity is similar to trying to talk someone out of committing suicide.

    Very poor comparison, indeed. Unless you’d intended to suggest that not identifying as Jewish is like being dead – there are rather a lot of people who would object to that characterization.

    The real issue isn’t whether people identify themselves as Jewish – lots and lots of non-observant people identify themselves as such even though they may not satisfy the formal rules as such – but that people won’t obey the rules that this subculture thinks should constrain their actions.

  163. #163 ekzept
    April 30, 2007

    @DamnYankees,

    Well, of course. But this isn’t what you said. Orthodox Jews won’t recognize the authority of a Conservative or Reform Rabbi, but that’s very different from not considering them Jews.

    and if they won’t recognize their authority, they won’t recognize any conversions they do. hence, the people converted are not considered “real Jews”. hence, you contradict yourself. Orthodox therefore do not accept all Reform and Conservative Jews as Jews.

  164. #164 Keith Douglas
    April 30, 2007

    Aris: Of course, Chomsky isn’t a very traditional Jew, is he? (He’s on record as being more or less an atheist, for one.)

    windy: Oh no! Interbreeeding between Norwegians and Swedes? Will there be no end to the perversity of people associating with those who are so UNLIKE US?

    DamnYankees: I’ve seen the same attitude from my raised-jewish friends’ parents. Lines like there being “so few of us left” that to leave would be basically antisemitic or worse. Like you I am sympathetic, after a fashion, but when I see it slides from there to bigotry simplicter … I have a friend who’s grandmother still (well, as of 10 years ago, admittedly) hates all Germans. A good opportunity for “do you want to be like them” …

    Mark Borok: Actually, for the clearest example, read Aquinas on the trinity (and the incarntation). You see you are dealing with a brilliant guy who desperately also believes, and the contortions he goes through to try to explain, nay, deduce the trinity from reason and “the light of faith” – without appeal as much as possible to scripture – is in a way breathtaking. Mind you, he also admits he will discuss it only so far as he is able – it seems clear he regards it (rightly) as somewhat absurd.

    AaronInSanDiego: About the rediscovery – that’s what makes him religious. (And similar things make a friend of mine religious in a strange, Minbari sort of way – I see it from time to time …)

  165. #165 Anton Mates
    April 30, 2007

    Re Anton’s comments about wanting children to marry “whites” – try changing that to “blacks,” or another historically persecuted group, and you’ll get closer to the thinking of Jewish people like the Rabbi who was quoted in PZ’s post.

    I don’t think it really changes the thinking much. The white racists also hold a strong belief in the historical persecution of their race–they just happen to be wrong.

    When nasty folks try to wipe you out, the people who experienced it tend to keep exercising the “we must survive” reflex even after the nasty folks (the Confederacy and Klan, the Nazis) lose most of their power.

    Certainly. The problem here is conflating “we, as human beings, must survive” with “our set of cultural practices must survive and be practiced by our descendants.” It’s a perfectly natural jump to make–most humans in history have probably done it, since we easily think of ourselves as cells of a tribal organism–but I think it’s morally problematic.

    What made the attacks on Judaism of the Nazis, the Klan and the Catholic Church so atrocious was that actual individual Jewish people were harmed–killed, driven out, forced to convert, and so forth. The mere fact that a culture might cease to exist, as its members and their children chose to do something else with their lives, doesn’t seem at all regrettable to me except perhaps from an anthropologist’s perspective. Cultures come and go.

    (Somewhat tangentially, re proselytizing – it’s hard to be certain, but one possibility for Jews’ reluctance to proselytize is that it was a capital offense where most Jews lived, either legally or practically, until just a few generations ago. Again, hard to switch off those survival instincts.)

    It’s possible, but I doubt it. The Jews don’t ever have seemed very interested in proselytizing, even before the Romans crushed Judaea. And AFAIK most of their successful holy wars, as depicted in the Tanakh, resulted in the deaths or enslavement of their enemies; they weren’t very interested in conversion.

    Nor have most religions been, to my knowledge. Christianity and Islam are exceptionally concerned with convincing everyone else that they’re correct, which is doubtless a big factor in their current success.

    The modern Zoroastrians are even more disinterested in proselytization–there’s no more than a million or two worldwide, possibly only a few hundred thousand, but for the most part they just don’t care. They follow the correct religion, but apparently God doesn’t need it to thrive or even continue to exist for much longer. C’est la vie.

  166. #166 Caledonian
    April 30, 2007

    The Jews don’t ever have seemed very interested in proselytizing, even before the Romans crushed Judaea.

    Not quite. They were very interested in proselytizing within the tribe. Instead of spreading wildly across the population as Christianity and Islam try to do, Judaism seeks to perpetuate itself down through time by ensuring that the descendents of its carriers are also carriers. It’s just r-vs.-k strategies.

  167. #167 Anton Mates
    May 1, 2007

    Not quite. They were very interested in proselytizing within the tribe.

    Does that really count as proselytism, when their kids were raised as Jewish from birth? As a cultural survival mechanism it may be equivalent, but I think there’s a big philosophical difference between “Force everyone you meet to convert to your religion” and “Raise your kids within your religion, then kill them if they stray.”

    A number of sects coexisted reasonably peacefully in ancient Judea, as well; they didn’t mix much and sometimes fought, but also didn’t consider themselves obligated to convert one another the way the early Christian sects did.

  168. #168 Caledonian
    May 1, 2007

    Yes: it’s prosetylization across generations and time, instead of person-to-person.

    It’s what any culture must do if it wants to survive. The Shakers abolished sex and relied on accepting unwanted children and orphans in order to replenish their numbers – when that resource dried up, they’d developed inadequate alternatives to sustain their numbers.

    Meanwhile, consider the implications of all the dietary rules on socialization with people outside the group. Consider the implications of being the “Chosen of God”. What groups today tell their members that they are specially chosen of all-powerful authority figures?

  169. #169 ekzept
    May 1, 2007

    Meanwhile, consider the implications of all the dietary rules on socialization with people outside the group.

    yes, indeed, i have long felt the primary reason for the really oddball rules of Kashrut is to keep the tribe to themselves, and yet appear hospitable. after all, guests can eat at your home, but eating elsewhere is basically out.

    when strictly enforced, kashering a non-kosher place is really evidence of some truly primitive thinking. like at a “joint” activity here in town, after the kitchen was appropriately “cleansed”, someone was put on guard to be sure it wasn’t re-sullied. when i went in to warm some water for my wife using the microwave (she had developed a cough), i was told i could not open or operate the microwave because it might contaminate the venue. heck, those damn non-kosher ghosts might come out, don’t ya know.

    how’s that for embracing the Jewish value on life and health, eh?

  170. #170 Caledonian
    May 1, 2007

    What is usually implied by holding oneself or others to a higher/more stringent standard?

  171. #171 ekzept
    May 1, 2007

    What is usually implied by holding oneself or others to a higher/more stringent standard?

    you mean apart from oversocialization?

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