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Friday, 20 April 2012


Mannie Sherberg
As long ago as 1892, Ahad HaAm -- one of the most perceptive of all modern Jewish writers, and a thinker who is, sadly, neglected nowadays -- wrote that "Our greatest need is emancipation from self-contempt." There are, as far as I know, no statistical studies on this topic, but, if there were, I suspect they'd show that self-contempt among Jews is as prevalent today as it was in 1892 -- or maybe more so. The founding of the state of Israel was supposed to take care of this problem, but, even there, the self-contempt of much of the Israeli Left verges on self-loathing. In America, of course, the affliction now known as Beinartism is both widespread and, seemingly, viral. A condition this common and this long-lasting must have deep historical roots -- and that is certainly the case with Jewish self-contempt, the beginnings of which are intimately intertwined with the onset in the 18th century of the Jewish Emancipation movement. Moses Mendelssohn, a founder of the movement, strongly and proudly identified as a Jew; his children converted to Christianity. From that point on, Jewish self-contempt proliferated in a variety of directions. From the standpoint of Jewish history, there is nothing strange or even unexpected about an organization like J Street; Jewish self-abnegation has been a constant for well over two centuries. Speaking of centuries, we are now roughly 20 centuries away from Hillel, who asked: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?" Sadly, one cannot be for oneself unless one first has a self -- a solid core of belief of which one is proud. Today, for many Jews, there is no such core; there is only a vague list of cliches and abstractions -- universalism, progressivism, one-worldism, multiculturalism, postmodernism -- all of which make the whole idea of being a part of the Jewish people sound provincial, narrow, and reactionary. We self-respecting Jews have been fighting against this way of thinking since Ahad HaAm's time and even longer. Plainly, we have a long, long way to go.
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