A history lesson in Jerusalem

on 44 Comments

My wife left Jerusalem two days ago after her first visit here. It meant a lot to me to see this place through her eyes. So what did she think?

She fell in love with Jerusalem and vows to come back here soon. It wasn’t just the antiquity and the architecture, but the spiritual resonance of the place. Jerusalem calls to people whose values are not strictly materialistic. My wife reveled in that. We spent one day in Tel Aviv and she wanted to get out of there quickly. She told me that Jerusalem is in her roster of favorite places in the world, along with Rome, Venice, Mysore, and Antigua Guatemala.

She preferred East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem, and Palestinian life in the Old City to the posh, middle-Europe flavor of West Jerusalem. Of course there is a political component to these feelings; she saw the injustice of the political arrangement here, and she took greater interest in the people whose culture is indigenous. She enjoyed the company of Palestinians and European intellectuals, seekers, and eccentrics who flock to East Jerusalem.

She shocked me by saying she would consider converting to Judaism. I am pretty sure it was notional, but she said that she has never been excited by the Christian theology in which she was raised, she prefers a more ancient wisdom tradition, and that tradition is alive here. She loved the western wall and walking through the Jewish Quarter. There was a political component to this declaration. During a conversation with a Zionist friend, my wife was offended that she doesn’t get to register an opinion about Palestine because she’s not in “the club.” She has a mind to join the club so she can speak out.

The conventional wisdom is that Israel/Palestine is a tough place, and my wife shares it. Everywhere you go you sense hostile feeling, and it all comes to a head along the dividing line. “Jerusalem is haunted and tough,” she said.

I said, “It’s always been tough. It’s a jewel of civilization and three religions are focused on it. It’s always been conquered by one power or another, then occupied and ruled. The Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, the British, the Jordanians, and now it’s Jewish. I don’t know that this will ever change; and frankly [I channeled Jeffrey Goldberg] maybe this occupation is less oppressive than earlier ones.”

My wife said, “Then you’re giving up hope. This problem can be solved. We’ve seen worse problems solved that people thought would never change. South Africa, and slavery and segregation. Women couldn’t vote in our country till 100 years ago. When our country started, it was all for men. Black people didn’t even count as human beings.”

I wonder what she thinks about the two-state solution, I look forward to discussing this when I get home. I have a feeling she’s for one state, because of the understanding that the Old City is the beating heart of this country, and it cannot be divided or monopolized.

44 Responses

  1. LanceThruster
    September 23, 2010, 3:32 am

    …she prefers a more ancient wisdom tradition…

    She should seriously consider giving Hinduism a look then.

    • radii
      September 23, 2010, 3:39 pm

      you have to be born a Hindu, they don’t take conversions … but if that celebutard Julia Roberts can call herself Hindu I guess anyone can

  2. Citizen
    September 23, 2010, 3:42 am

    She thinks one has to be “in the club” to discuss facts on the ground she could see with her own eyes? If she means, she must be “in the club” to be heard, does she realize this itself is a major problem not solely conditional on being a member of the club? Does she think she needs to be “in the club” to apply
    the trolley analysis?
    link to wired.com

    Is Zionism an ancient wisdom? What would Joshua say? What would Jesus say? Hillel? Nietzche? Arendt? Is the tribe more important than the individual, or visa versa? Who was more the individual, Jesus or his adversaries? What group did Jesus join? What view should an agnostic take? Why?

  3. Richard Witty
    September 23, 2010, 5:17 am

    She was in Jerusalem at a particularly spiritual time as well. Rosh Hashana -> Yom Kippur is cathartic.

    Let her learn about Judaism, and more deeply than the political, independantly of the political.

    • Chaos4700
      September 23, 2010, 9:25 am

      Did you miss the part where she valued the Palestinian section of the city more than the strip malls (and the strip clubs…) of West Jerusalem?

  4. Madrid
    September 23, 2010, 6:57 am

    Judaism is only notionally and textually more ancient than Christianity. According to most respectable religious history scholars, the two religions developed in roughly the same historical period– the same 300 or 400 years or so.

    Your wife sounds like the typical baby-boomer who needs to discard her past in order to find herself. Sad that more Christians don’t identify with all that the Palestinian Christians there lost. Elite Christians discarding their faith and traditions– how many do I know that marry Jews and suddenly find a desire to join the exclusive club. Just one more sign that universalism is out and exclusiveness is in.

    Best to your wife on her decision…

    • radii
      September 23, 2010, 3:41 pm

      I hear the Druids are back, and you can become a Wiccan, and native peoples around the world let you join in their beliefs … all far older than the newbie on the block – monotheism

  5. eljay
    September 23, 2010, 7:22 am

    >> She shocked me by saying she would consider converting to Judaism. I am pretty sure it was notional, but she said that she has never been excited by the Christian theology in which she was raised, she prefers a more ancient wisdom tradition, and that tradition is alive here.

    It’s a shame your wife would consider swapping one religious “wisdom tradition” for another. She would be better served by abandoning “faith” entirely and partaking of all wisdoms – religious and secular – based on their facts and truths, and not their pretty myths and other trappings.

    Then again, if she is simply looking for religious mythology and dogma that better suits her opinion of what religious mythology and dogma *should* be, conversion to Judaism may be the right thing for her.

    All the best to her, whichever way she goes.

  6. olive
    September 23, 2010, 7:24 am

    “maybe this occupation is less oppressive than earlier ones”

    You’re joking, right? None of the other occupations, with exception of the Crusaders (who were involved in cannibalism) match the brutality and oppressiveness of the current Jewish one.

    Give me the Ottomans any day…

  7. MarkF
    September 23, 2010, 7:39 am

    Two thoughts:

    1) She’s an American, yes? She has every right to opine because in my opinion, she’s in the club. Her tax dollars pays for the gold membership.

    2) Phil, you’ve let chumps like myself post things from time to time, how about asking your wife to write about her experiences, thoughts and opinions of the trip and posting it on the site? As long as she doesn’t rag on Ringo of course.

    • Philip Weiss
      September 23, 2010, 10:45 am

      I’m gonna

      • Shunra
        September 23, 2010, 11:42 am


        I very much want to read what she says, particularly about the whole issue of feeling silenced until she has somehow “joined the club” – which you’d think she had done by being a human being, by being American, by marrying a man who identifies as a Jew…

        There are people who want to control the conversation, and for them there is nothing – nothing at all – that makes it ok to speak in dissent to their views. Avraham Burg was Speaker of the Knesset, then head of the Jewish Agency. His birthright Jewish credentials are impeccable: his father was Josef Burg, who served as orthodox/religious member of every Israel government since the first one until his death (or very near then).

        Even Burg was not sufficiently “in the club” to be allowed to present a left-wing view.

        How would a conversion help?

        As I said, I can’t wait to read her story. (I’ve gone and gotten addicted to your blog. Silly me.)

      • Kathleen
        September 24, 2010, 8:24 am

        Hope she does some reading about the history of the situation

  8. marc b.
    September 23, 2010, 8:20 am

    She shocked me by saying she would consider converting to Judaism. . . . During a conversation with a Zionist friend, my wife was offended that she doesn’t get to register an opinion about Palestine because she’s not in “the club.” She has a mind to join the club so she can speak out.

    I say this with the greatest respect for your long-suffering wife, but that is a selfish, myopic position. The point is that she as an individual is essentially powerless, and more cynically, her conversion will not guarantee her ‘right’ to speak on the topic in any event. Her religion should be irrelevant, and her argument should be that all voices should be heard, not just those of some narrowly defined club. That argument is broadly empowering, not discrminating. (ugh. on reflection the style of my comment sounds a bit too much like that of witty.)

    • Mooser
      September 24, 2010, 10:04 pm

      “(ugh. on reflection the style of my comment sounds a bit too much like that of witty.)”

      You give yourself way to much credit. I read your comment, once, and understood clearly what you said, and except for one missing “i” (finger slip, no doubt, happens to everyone) spelling is correct. The sentences have subjects and predicates, and there’s not one, not even one, mangling of an irrelevant proverb. Not even in the same league with Witty.
      You should thank the Diety of your choice.

      • Frances
        September 25, 2010, 5:08 am

        “Diety ”

        Zing! Love that touch.

        Whenever Witty appears to vomit all over an otherwise informative post, I always remember Tobias’ gem from Annie’s post

        “Tobias May 29, 2010 at 8:32 pm

        Rachel you should know that not addressing her questions does not leave them resolved.

        What you occur, may have already, is the dismissed opposite of her sincere and relevant questions.

        Better not to fester in such a state of suspicion, it rarely leads to good outcomes.

        Questions or their marks are not to be exclaimed.

        The melting pot of syntax will endorse not resolve. Agitate this ignorance to organize.

        You may fall in. You may not. Sit astride.

        I find peculiar in reading above you. And from you.”


  9. Les
    September 23, 2010, 8:25 am

    Emo Philips reminds us that there are really no ancient traditions in popular Christianity in his great tale of how Americans practice their Christianity, when he encounters a suicidal man on the the Golden Gate Bridge.

    “Do you believe in God?” Philips asks the would be suicide.

    “Yes,” comes the reply.

    “Me too! Christian or Jewish?”


    “Me too! Protestant or Catholic?”


    “Me too! “What franchise?”


    “Me too!” “Northern or Southern?”


    “Me too! Reformed or Fudamentalist?”


    “Me too! Great Lakes Region or Eastern Region?”


    “Me too! Council of 1879 or Council of 1912?”


    “Die heretic!” Philips yells, pushing him off the bridge.

  10. Richard Witty
    September 23, 2010, 9:05 am

    Thats a load of ….

    Judaism has written documents dated at least to 800+ BC.

    • Richard Witty
      September 23, 2010, 9:06 am

      Confirmed by external authoritative references.

      • MRW
        September 23, 2010, 2:32 pm

        No they are not confirmed, Witty.

        The religious view is that the earliest documents were written as early as 1400 BC, but there is no physical proof. There is just ‘it had to have been written then’.

        The Dead Sea Scrolls date to earliest 200 BC.

        The Torah was to have been written down for preservation in the Alexandria Library possible as early as 300 BC, but before 140 BC.

        From the Israeli archeologist, Ze’ev Herzog:

        The question about the date at which monotheism was adopted by the kingdoms of Israel and Judea arose with the discovery of inscriptions in ancient Hebrew that mention a pair of gods: Jehovah and his Asherah. At two sites, Kuntiliet Ajrud in the southwestern part of the Negev hill region, and at Khirbet el-Kom in the Judea piedmont, Hebrew inscriptions have been found that mention “Jehovah and his Asherah,” “Jehovah Shomron and his Asherah, “Jehovah Teman and his Asherah. […] These inscriptions, from the 8th century BCE, raise the possibility that monotheism, as a state religion, is actually an innovation of the period of the Kingdom of Judea, following the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel.

        And when was that? No body really knows.

        David and Solomon were the rulers of tribal kingdoms that controlled small areas: the former in Hebron and the latter in Jerusalem. Concurrently, a separate kingdom began to form in the Samaria hills, which finds expression in the stories about Saul’s kingdom. Israel and Judea were from the outset two separate, independent kingdoms, and at times were in an adversarial relationship. Thus, the great united monarchy is an imaginary historiosophic creation, which was composed during the period of the Kingdom of Judea at the earliest. Perhaps the most decisive proof of this is the fact that we do not know the name of this kingdom.

      • radii
        September 23, 2010, 3:46 pm

        the written word can be politicized (and often is – we all know the adage histories are written by the victors) and often incomplete – especially when the texts are so old and in conflict with one another … what matters more, Witty, is the archaeological evidence, which shows fire pits from thousands of years ago in the region of Palestine that prove the precursors of both jews and muslims did not eat pork … so at least that tradition pre-dates any monotheism

      • Mooser
        September 24, 2010, 10:09 pm

        Oh please, Judaism, like every other religion, invents itself anew every morning, in response to ( if you want to take a generous view,) the day’s exigencies.

  11. sasha
    September 23, 2010, 9:26 am

    On universalism vs. exclusiveness:
    When a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to help her daughter,
    what she heard first was “It is not fair to take children’s food
    and throw it to the dogs”. An (admittedly, non-canonical)
    interpretation would be that after saying these words, Jesus
    understood what shame is.
    Why on earth would one want joint any club…

    • radii
      September 23, 2010, 3:44 pm

      speaking of the Canaanites, what happens when they show up and say they want “their” land back?

      • potsherd
        September 23, 2010, 4:33 pm

        They’ve always been there, and they’re saying it now.

      • MHughes976
        September 23, 2010, 4:50 pm

        That is the truth and the heart of the matter.

  12. Kathleen
    September 23, 2010, 9:53 am

    Great to hear about her perspective. At first I found it odd that you first described her as feeling empathy for what the Palestinians were and continue to go through switching quickly to “She shocked me by saying she would consider converting to Judaism” Think her feelings about this would be interesting to dig a bit deeper into.

    Phil “she prefers a more ancient wisdom tradition, and that tradition is alive here.” Just where did she witness that alleged “ancient wisdom tradition” being practiced or manifest?

    Just because something Religious belief is “ancient” does not mean it is true or full of wisdom. Just where did she see this “ancient wisdom tradition” being lived or practiced? A nice idea but I for one think it is a myth

    “During a conversation with a Zionist friend, my wife was offended that she doesn’t get to register an opinion about Palestine because she’s not in “the club.” She has a mind to join the club so she can speak out.”

    I think this clearly points out the elitist element. As if just by “joining the club” provides one with more command over the situation. Hooey. Pathetic..

    And those that are in the “club” who express or act on reasoned logic about the situation have their opinions, logic or expressed facts listened to.

    “We’ve seen worse problems solved that people thought would never change. South Africa,” this is an odd statement.

    The situation for the Palestinians is very comparable to the oppressive, violent, and criminal situation in South Africa. I worked on this issue for years with others on college campuses in the late 70’s and into the 80’s.
    Read Nelson Mandela’s letter to Thomas Friedman
    “vulgar racism” “The so-called “Palestinian autonomous areas” are bantustans”

    link to mediamonitors.net
    “Perhaps it is strange for you to observe the situation in Palestine or more specifically, the structure of political and cultural relationships between Palestinians and Israelis, as an apartheid system. This is because you incorrectly think that the problem of Palestine began in 1967. This was demonstrated in your recent column “Bush’s First Memo” in the New York Times on March 27, 2001.

    You seem to be surprised to hear that there are still problems of 1948 to be solved, the most important component of which is the right to return of Palestinian refugees.

    The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not just an issue of military occupation and Israel is not a country that was established “normally” and happened to occupy another country in 1967. Palestinians are not struggling for a “state” but for freedom, liberation and equality, just like we were struggling for freedom in South Africa.

    In the last few years, and especially during the reign of the Labor Party, Israel showed that it was not even willing to return what it occupied in 1967; that settlements remain, Jerusalem would be under exclusive Israeli sovereignty, and Palestinians would not have an independent state, but would be under Israeli economic domination with Israeli control of borders, land, air, water and sea.

    Israel was not thinking of a “state” but of “separation”. The value of separation is measured in terms of the ability of Israel to keep the Jewish state Jewish, and not to have a Palestinian minority that could have the opportunity to become a majority at some time in the future. If this takes place, it would force Israel to either become a secular democratic or bi-national state, or to turn into a state of apartheid not only de facto, but also de jure.

    Thomas, if you follow the polls in Israel for the last 30 or 40 years, you clearly find a vulgar racism that includes a third of the population who openly declare themselves to be racist. This racism is of the nature of “I hate Arabs” and “I wish Arabs would be dead”. If you also follow the judicial system in Israel you will see there is discrimination against Palestinians, and if you further consider the 1967 occupied territories you will find there are already two judicial systems in operation that represent two different approaches to human life: one for Palestinian life and the other for Jewish life. Additionally there are two different approaches to property and to land. Palestinian property is not recognized as private property because it can be confiscated.

    As to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, there is an additional factor. The so-called “Palestinian autonomous areas” are bantustans. These are restricted entities within the power structure of the Israeli apartheid system.

    • David Samel
      September 23, 2010, 9:56 pm

      Kathleen, you have quoted this letter from Mandela to Friedman before, and I have pointed out that it is not a genuine letter. Perhaps you did not read my comment, but if you read this, you should know it was a parody. You can read about it on electronic intifada at link to electronicintifada.net. The author was a man named Fassed who published this mock “letter” under his own byline, and did not intend that anyone take it as genuine, though the points he makes in the letter obviously are. Others have mistaken the letter as authored by Mandela as well.

  13. Psychopathic god
    September 23, 2010, 9:55 am

    The Axial Age traditions are the beginnings of ethical considerations in the world’s great religious traditions. The Axial Age was a 700 year long era that saw the rise of Hindu, Buddhist, Judaic* prophetic (Jeremiah et cie), and Greek philosophical traditions. BUT THE PROTAGONIST FOR ALL OF THE ETHICAL SAGES OF THE AXIAL AGE WAS ZOROASTER. Zoroaster, the Iranian, is the great-grandfather of the ethical traditions of Judaism and of Christianity.

    *The first part of the Judaic tradition is mythological — from Genesis to slightly before Nebuchadnezzar, including Judaism’s defining moment, at Mount Sinai, when god covenanted with the chosen people, Judaism is based on myths; there is no outside written or found object that verifies the reality of that swathe of Jewish being.

  14. Taxi
    September 23, 2010, 10:41 am

    Mrs. Weiss is a sweet and soulful person – moved on her trip to Jerusalem by the romanticism of history and religion. I can understand that: the traveler’s wonderful, rosy fever.

    But there should be a museum in every major city worldwide, that shows the systematic atrocities committed by each individual religion upon mankind.

    A visit to such a museum will quickly sober up the mind. Might even save a life or two.

    It’s so annoying that rational people have to constantly step on intellectual eggshells around adult religious ‘faithfuls’ who believe blindly in what some desert men, some several thousand years ago, said on dusty afternoons.

    • Kathleen
      September 24, 2010, 8:26 am

      “ancient wisdom” over the top for me. Just because some words are “ancient” does not automatically make them “wisdom”

  15. Susan Johnson
    September 23, 2010, 11:05 am

    Thanks Kathleen for your observations and thoughts and special thanks for including Mandela’s letter.How true it is!

  16. potsherd
    September 23, 2010, 11:55 am

    First they join the club, then they pick up the club to bash those outside it. This fervor for conversion is not encouraging.

    • Kathleen
      September 23, 2010, 12:54 pm

      A myth fueled that you have to be part of a “club” to study, discuss, debate and stand up for justice in the situation. Total hooey.

  17. MRW
    September 23, 2010, 12:57 pm

    You married well.

    • marc b.
      September 23, 2010, 2:29 pm

      no, he ‘married up.’

      • Kathleen
        September 24, 2010, 8:52 am

        How about he married a woman who sounds very interesting and Phillip sounds very wise to respect and listen closely to her views.

  18. marc b.
    September 23, 2010, 2:20 pm

    a comment on the artificially imposed division and segregation of populations, and who shall be permitted to speak for them:

    [Frantz Fanon] described the broad mass of Algerian Jews (some three-fourths of the Algerian Jewish population) as “a floating, highly Arabized mass having only a poor knowledge of French, considering itself by tradition and sometimes by dress as authentic ‘natives.'”

    Fanon went further. He lets us hear the voices of Algeria’s Jewish dimension. As one Jewish group in Constantine wrote in August 1956, on the eve of the Battle of Algiers: “One of the most pernicious maneuvers of colonialism in Algeria was and remains the division between Jews and Moslems…. The Jews have been in Algeria for more than two thousand years; they are thus an integral part of the Algerian people…. Moslems and Jews, children of the same earth, must not fall into the trap of provocation. Rather, they must make a common front against it, not letting themselves be duped by those who, not so long ago, were offhandedly contemplating the total extermination of the Jews as a salutary step in the evolution of humanity.”

  19. bob
    September 23, 2010, 11:49 pm

    There was a political component to this declaration. During a conversation with a Zionist friend, my wife was offended that she doesn’t get to register an opinion about Palestine because she’s not in “the club.” She has a mind to join the club so she can speak out.

    I resent this sentiment of “the club,” passionately.
    1) If anyone has space to talk about this conflict, its an American. End of conversation.
    2) If antisemites are criticized on a point to ‘lump all jewish behavior as negatively clannish and ethnocentric,’ and these points are reinforced by “self hating”, “pressure on Jews who think outside the canon on Palestine and ‘you cant talk about this unless you are in our tribe’ tropes – please don’t reinforce them.

    • Kathleen
      September 24, 2010, 8:50 am

      “1) If anyone has space to talk about this conflict, its an American. End of conversation.”

      Where the heck have you been the last five decades? Most if not all Americans (non Jews and the brave Jews who have been focused on this issue for decades) have been slammed and slammed again for discussing, questioning the policies of the Israeli government and the American congress that has supported those horrendous policies) Where have you been?

      Phillip, Max, and Adam I am wondering what kind of heat you have personally been experiencing for your brave stands and work to shed light on this issue?

  20. Joseph Glatzer
    September 24, 2010, 4:09 pm

    Great stuff Phil. Someone from the outside can really see things and feel things we forget about or take for granted. I wonder if your wife would ever consider writing something for mondoweiss

  21. maximalistNarrative
    September 25, 2010, 12:42 am

    The Jewish nation was independent and Sovereign in Jerusalem, after this, the Land was under constant occupation, Persian, Selucid, Ptolemaic, Roman, Ottoman.

    With tens of oppressive leaders disenfranchise Jews from their rights, starting with the death of Alexander. It was still centuries until a massive exile.

    We have returned, the Bnei Menashe from India are returning, the tribe of Dan is returning from Kush and American Jews are making Aliyah.

    Our occupation of out land in Jerusalem, Hebron, Ramallah and other places in Israel will continue Baruch Hashem.

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