Spiritual Mutt

US Politics
on 5 Comments

Richard asks what makes me proud of my tradition, what is in it, what other influences are in there. Truthfully I know little about Jewish spiritual tradition, though I am aware that I was steeped in certain aspects of it, chiefly the learning stuff and the family/matriarchal stuff. Synagogue was largely lost on me. Stale old men.

The 70s counterculture also formed me. Sex drugs rock and roll. I wanted a part of that, even as a nerdy Jewish kid with glasses. There was a spiritual component in that too…

A commenter with a pseudonym, maybe something "American," sorry it’s not at hand, says that I’m a mess of contradictions, and he’s right. I am both tribal and American polyglot. I think many people are American messes in the same way. Also I don’t think it’s bad to be proud of certain tribal traits. We are tribal people, anthropologically maybe biologically too, and if you are a reflective sort, you want to sort these things out. And I am very hard on my people here, you may have noticed. So when Eliot Spitzer does something that seems to me Jewish, even if it has universalist resonance, I find that it touches a Jewish chord in me. Sorry.

A digression that speaks to my spiritual identity. Last night I was reading Norman Finkelstein’s evisceration of Joan
Peters’s From Time Immemorial, in Finkelstein’s amazing book Image
and Reality
. Some readers will know that these are both hugely important books in the Jewish/American war of ideas over Israel/Palestine. They involve the narrow and now forgotten question of Whether there were "Palestinians" in  ’48, or whether those Palestinians hadn’t moved to Palestine to get in on the desert blooming at the hand of the Jews. An irrelevant argument really, today. And both books are almost impossible to read. It is very hard to keep the numbers straight, and Finkelstein is so witty and lacerating and supercilious and brilliant. To me this is pure Talmudic Jewish. It is the analytic reader gifts that Jews through our ghettoized studious history have brought to America. I have great pride in that. Though I think our spiritual confusion has to do with the fact that these gifts have become tremendously remunerative, when applied to markets and media, and they have transformed our place in society. This is what I want to help my people, and Americans sort out. I know that my elitism also has a Jewish component, though god knows I’ve come to know a lot of gentile elitists. Now I’m blathering. But you pressed me.

Finally I think it is worth noting that there were Christian and Jewish Kabbalists. This is what I learned from a Chabad rabbi last year, the brilliant Asher Crispe, himself a convert to Judaism: there was in the middle ages an intermingling of Jewish and Christian kabbalists, their ideas influenced one another. In fact at one time the Jewish kabbalists discovered many references to Jesus Christ, coded, as a false prophet, in the Old Testament. I won’t say more because I’m sure to get it wrong, but it speaks to the fact that there has been a conversation between spiritual traditions for eons, and it goes on in our hearts today.

Also I lament that while this is an elitist populist blog, it is bedevilled by a real stupid sonofabitch who has been posting in Charles’s name. I just don’t know quite what to do about this. In the meantime I’ve asked Charles if he has anything to say to email it to me and I’ll post it.

5 Responses

  1. Oarwell
    March 13, 2008, 11:05 am

    "So when Eliot Spitzer does something that seems to me Jewish…"

    Ermm, what exactly did Spitzer do that "seems Jewish?"

  2. Richard Witty
    March 13, 2008, 1:25 pm

    Spirituality is important.

    Self-inquiry, commitment, clarity, self-acceptance, love.

    In my profession (accounting, formerly as an auditor), there is a principle of "substance over form". That is that an auditor has to ask "what type of transcation is this?" In an environment in which the form of a transaction often distorts what is really going on, it demands a great deal of "cutting through the bullshit" from accountants (who often are constitutionally better at following instructions than questioning instructions).

    I apply that inquiry to religious questions.

    What is really going on here? What is intended?

    Spiritual effort is NOT about judging, its about transforming from one state to another. In personal life, from transforming oneself from self-loathing to self-accepting. From reaction to intimate responsiveness. From inaction to inspiration.

    The particular Jewish responsibility is somewhat different than that general description.

    There is no coincidence that you or I were born into a Jewish family (both by association and by direct transmission of values from parent to child).

    If one accepts their Jewishness, my understanding is that it is described in Torah "You shall be a nation of priests" (Not priest as in formal temple worship, but priest in the more substantive meaning as transformer of trivial to holy).

    But, the association element of it is that each in the lineage is requested (insisted) to take on that obligation, and the roadmap of means to fulfill it (the mitzvot).

    WE are asked to take this on, and are asked to continue the transmission of the obligation and of the means to fulfill it.

    A thousand, a million, prophets (or whatever term is applicable) have described ways that individuals and the community norms have deviated from that purpose and means.

    And, a hundred thousand, have criticized, but misunderstood the purpose and means, and ended up distracting from that purpose.

    One can only do one's best. But, that is a real bar, a high bar, not subject to rationalization.

    Many conclude that it is better to be relatively quiet, to listen more than tell.

    That is lost on me though sadly.

  3. Charles Keating
    March 13, 2008, 1:27 pm

    Hey, wait a minute! I corrected your ahistorical, illiterate and manufactured fantasy about Spitzer's "Park Avenue" youth. That makes me a real stupid sonafabitch? Did you even ask me not to blog? How do you know my name isn't also Charles Keating.
    In sum, fuck off and die asshole.

  4. Anonymous
    March 13, 2008, 4:06 pm

    "I won't say more because I'm sure to get it wrong, but it speaks to the fact that there has been a conversation between spiritual traditions for eons, and it goes on in our hearts today."

    Try Maurice Pinay if you want another perspective:

    link to mauricepinay.blogspot.com

  5. Anonymous
    March 14, 2008, 10:10 pm

    From Pinay' blog (along with a lively debate in the comment section)

    "The Rotten Fruits Produced by Dialogue With Liars"

    link to mauricepinay.blogspot.com

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