Rosh Hashanah and the Primal Prophetic

Israel/Palestine
on 16 Comments

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

As Rosh Hashanah arrives, the Jewish Reform movement debates the detrimental aspects of the Bar Mitzvah event – citing rote memorization and synagogue leave-taking after an often lavish ceremony. Proposed instead is immersion in further education and social action, without, of course, considering Palestine. God forbid.

That the latest edition of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process is dead in the increasingly bloodied Middle Eastern water seems beside the point.  Or that many Jewish groups are claiming the moral high ground and joining the Obama/Kerry/McCain war chorus with regard to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.  To bring up the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the continuing Nakba as essential to the education Jews need – or the knowledge Jews need about Israel’s use of chemical agents in its weapons of choice in Gaza and elsewhere – raises the stakes of Jewish identity beyond the thinkable.  At least for those running the sinking ship called Jewish education.

Or is Jewish life itself sinking by turning its back on its own prophetic destiny?

With Rosh Hashanah, the Days of Awe and Repentance are upon us.  The end point is Yom Kippur, the day of confession and judgment. It’s only fitting to focus on Jewish identity and the education that informs Jewish commitment during these days.  Nonetheless, the elephant in the Jewish identity room isn’t coming of age rituals.  What Jewish leadership refuses to talk about, let alone admit to itself, is the imperial and colonial part of contemporary Jewish identity.  This the crucial confession Jewish renewal keeps missing.

Instead of focusing on the education of the young, Jewish adults need to come of age.  This is more difficult than programs and innovation for the young.  A Jewish coming of age means admitting that we are no longer innocent, that Israel isn’t our redemption and that we now purposefully and continually enable the violence we once suffered from.

We should consider this startling fact:  The contemporary Jewish safe harbor has become violence against others, all the while claiming the moral high ground of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.  Now we must ask the question as how this strange reversal took place.  Is it permanent?

There’s no reason for Jewish identity discussions without justice – the justice we owe Palestinians.   For the prophetic has always been the heart of Jewish identity.  Palestinians are now at the heart of the Jewish prophetic.  The connection is obvious.   Whether we acknowledge it or look away, the fact remains.

Most Jews who carry justice for Palestinians into the political world – Jews of Conscience – aren’t involved with Jewish religious establishments of any kind.  Why would they be?  In Jewish institutions, the prophetic is routinely derided.  Palestinians are as well.

Does that mean Jewish identity is beside the point?  Not by a long shot.

Just because Jewish leaders of all stripes refuse to understand who we have become as a people doesn’t mean Jewish identity is passé. To merge Jewishness into some undefinable universalism that is rootless and prone to the same colonialism and imperialism under a secular name is a huge mistake.  More than ever, a deep, considered, confessional, prophetic Jewishness is needed in the world.

Outside of Jewishness, where else can the prophetic be spoken and lived in its primal formation?  Outside of Jewishness, where else can the primal prophetic be spoken and lived in concert with other prophetic voices around the world?

As Jews around the world begin a new year, we should ponder our present plight – and the plight of others.  Our destiny cannot be wrapped in the flag of colonial and imperial power forever.  Instead, we must respond to the prophetic call essential to what it means to be Jewish.  Then our path with others, especially the Palestinian people, will be self-possessed.

What other reason is there for being Jewish?

During these days of reflection, we should think deeply about this assertion:  There is no other reason to be Jewish but to ponder, embrace and enact the prophetic call at the heart of our formation and tradition as a people.

The prophetic is our great gift to the world.  It is the Jewish indigenous.  And with Jews of Conscience gathering in ever greater numbers today, we once again bear witness to the startling and irreducible fact that the Jewish prophetic will never die.

Embracing the prophetic is the Jewish coming of age we need today as a people.  Then our young will be well educated in the ways of being Jewish and primed for their contribution to the world.  For after embracing the prophetic, all things Jewish fall into their rightful place – for ourselves and for the world.

About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is retired Director and Professor of Jewish Studies at Baylor University and author of Burning Children: A Jewish View of the War in Gaza which can be found at www.newdiasporabooks.com

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16 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    September 4, 2013, 5:11 pm

    Power corrupts and the near-absolute power of AIPAC et al. surely corrupts absolutely.

    Therefore, let the non-powerful among us rise up and learn the truth, hear the truth, speak the truth — even if the truth be truth of EVIL — and try to drown out the voices of the rich and powerful, the voices of the irrevocably corrupted, the voices of those who revel in their corruption.

    • gingershot
      September 4, 2013, 7:25 pm

      very well said, pabelmont

    • RoHa
      September 4, 2013, 11:58 pm

      I agree. Very well said indeed.

      • mcohen
        September 5, 2013, 3:32 am

        Pablemont

        does “aipac et al” include those in syria that used chemical weapons against there own people

  2. anthonybellchambers
    September 4, 2013, 8:26 pm

    Both French and American presidents are prepared to start a possible world war because the line that Assad has apparently crossed by using chemical weapons instead of the more usual bombs, missiles, guns, shells and bayonets to kill, maim, liquidate and vaporise civilians – is horrific. That is, more horrific than decapitating a child with an explosive shell or grenade or blowing both legs off a woman by a tank or being burned to death by a drone delivered missile.

    The difference is difficult to ascertain although Messrs Obama and Netanyahu are apparently adamant that there is a correct way to take life and that is by using a methodology whereby the victim’s fatal suffering and agony is not too apparent to the one who presses the trigger, releases the incendiary bomb or fires a missile into the school playground.

    Meanwhile, it would be interesting to know how many chemical and biological weapons do France, America and Israel secretly hold, and for what purpose?”

    Rosh Hashanah is essentially about peace and goodwill to all men, even towards Muslims, Christians and those of no faith. But that requires integrity and a commitment to the sanctity of life.

  3. RoHa
    September 5, 2013, 12:36 am

    “Just because Jewish leaders of all stripes refuse to understand who we have become as a people”

    What does “who we have become as a people” mean? I really do not understand this phrase. Does it mean “what sort of people we have become individually or collectively”?

    “doesn’t mean Jewish identity is passé.”

    And what is “Jewish identity”?

    Without a clear meaning for these phrases, this looks suspiciously like vague waffle.

    “To merge Jewishness into some undefinable universalism that is rootless and prone to the same colonialism and imperialism under a secular name is a huge mistake.”

    because

    “More than ever, a deep, considered, confessional, prophetic Jewishness is needed in the world.”

    What for? To produce the primal prophetic? (And what is that?)

    “Outside of Jewishness, where else can the prophetic be spoken and lived in its primal formation? Outside of Jewishness, where else can the primal prophetic be spoken and lived in concert with other prophetic voices around the world?”

    So other prophetic traditions are not “primal”? (Whatever “primal” means in this context.)

    “What other reason is there for being Jewish?”

    Mooser did tell me that, once, but I’ve forgotten what it was. Something to do with Hammond organs and girls, I think.

    Ah! Here it is. Nothing to do with the organs.

    link to mondoweiss.net

  4. MahaneYehude1
    September 5, 2013, 2:00 am

    Thank you very much, MW, for a very nice article as a nice gift for Rosh Hashana. Since we are in Yamim Noraim, the ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipur, days of confession, I expected to read an objective article. An article about the suffering of both peoples in their tiny homeland, an article show we are both victims of the endless evil of the leaders of both sides. But not – as usual – only one side is the aggressor while the other side is a victim with no responsibility to this disgusting long conflict.

    In your nice article, you ask how this strange reversal took place. Is it permanent? So, fortunately, it is not permanent at all. This situation will end when both sides treat each other as human being, when Israel withdrawal from the OT, when the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, when Israel let the Palestinians declare their independent state, when both nations here will realize that Israelis and Palestinians children suffer the same, bleeding the same. When people here will stop dancing when they hear on terror attack and will stop their will to kill each other.

    Wish you all, MW, Happy New Year
    Shana Tova and Kul Sana Wuintum Salmin!!!

    • french_jew
      September 5, 2013, 11:56 am

      The problem is that, as much as it feels good to believe that the situation on the ground is somehow balanced, it just isn’t the case. There is a clear Dominant side and another which is clearly Dominated. There is a disproportionate quantity of suffering on one side compared to the other….

      Once the evidence of the structural inequality on the ground has been established, once the ideological defenses we have constructed to “protect” ourselves from objectivity, presenting the oppressed as the oppressor have been taken off. What do we do, as jews?

      This text is interesting because it opens a few paths which can help open new jewish perspectives on this issue.
      This is important because, in my opinion, too often are “progressive” or “antizionist” jews just western leftists/liberals who happen to be jews: they are (and I am too, I admit) just as mentally colonized and maranos as is mainstream and zionist jewry. If I were to mix marxist and postcolonial vocabularies, I’d say that the jewish critique of zionism is too often both colonized and alienated…

      How can we pretend to start “decolonizing” judaism if we can’t even do it with ourselves? This is where perspectives such as that of this article, even if far from perfect, become interesting.

    • Walid
      September 5, 2013, 1:25 pm

      Mahane Yehude1, when the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, it will be the end of the Palestinians and the end of the Palestinians’ right of return. Abbas and Company may go along with this wicked wish but the Palestinian people never will.

      Happy new year to you too.

    • eljay
      September 5, 2013, 1:41 pm

      >> This situation will end when both sides treat each other as human being …

      I agree.

      >> … when Israel withdrawal from the OT …

      …and back to within its / Partition borders. I agree.

      >> … when Israel let the Palestinians declare their independent state …

      More correctly: When Israel stops sabotaging Palestinian efforts to declare their independent state. I agree.

      >> … when the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state …

      This should not happen, because “Jewish State” is a religion-supremacist construct, and no-one should be expected or required to “recognize” any form of supremacist state.

      IMO, the only thing Palestinians should be expected to “recognize” is Israel as:
      - a secular, democratic and egalitarian Israeli state – a state of and for all Israelis, equally;
      - a state that honours its obligations under international law, that accepts responsibility and accountability for its (war) crimes, and that is interested in a just and mutually-beneficial peace with its neighbouring states (including Palestine).

    • Woody Tanaka
      September 5, 2013, 2:08 pm

      “This situation will end when both sides treat each other as human being, when Israel withdrawal from the OT, when the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, when Israel let the Palestinians declare their independent state, when both nations here will realize that Israelis and Palestinians children suffer the same, bleeding the same. ”

      The problem here is that your “solution” is the perpetuation of the problem.

      Who is going to define the OT? If it’s not the green line, then you’re perpetuating the problem.

      Who’s going to define what it means to recognize a “Jewish state”? If it means that the Palestinians have no rights to that part of their homeland, then you are perpetuating the problem.

      What does it mean for Israel to let the Palestinians declare their independent state? (In fact, they already have, and they need not seek Israel’s permission to do so. All that is missing is Israel’s recognition.) Does it mean a fully free and independant state, with all the rights, responsibilities and freedoms that the israelis enjoy, including the right to bar Israelis from its territory, including the Jordan Valley? Does it mean the right to obtain any and all weapons they need to defend themselves including nuclear weapons? Does it mean complete control of Palestinian airspace, waterways, borders, defenses and the ability to enter into any treaties it wishes with whomever it wishes? If not, you are perpetuating the problem.

      And how is the world supposed to view the bleeding of these nations’ children the same when it is Palestinian children who end up bleeding more often and if more horrible ways?

      What will stop perpetuating the problem is if there is compensation for those who had land and property stolen and a commission as in South Africa to recognize and make amends for all of the crimes which were committed during the zionist era, and an end to the ideology which spawned them.

      • MahaneYehude1
        September 5, 2013, 3:42 pm

        @Eljay and @Woody Tanaka:

        I was asked for many times here in MW whether I agree to full sovereign Palestine state. I wrote it several times and ready to say it again simply and clear:

        Yes, I want Palestinian state.
        Yes, sovereign state like all states in the world.
        Yes, with full and complete control airspace, waterways, borders.
        Yes, with ability to enter into any treaties it wishes.
        Yes, Independent Palestine state!!!

        About the borders: Most of the Israelis, including me, agree that the green line is the basis of the negotiation. I know that the reality in the ground is changed and we both, Israelis and Palestinians, will have to make several compromises. I hope it will be equal and acceptable by two nations. I will accept any agreement that brings peace (There is a suggestion by several politicians for “land exchange”, for instance Ariel for us, Um Al-Fahem for Palestine, but most Israeli Palestinians oppose it).

        About Israel as “Supremacist”: Well, I don’t know how to convenience you but Israel and the Israeli society is a liberal, open society very tolerant and no many peoples feel “supremacist” on Arabs which are equal part of our society (Yes, it is not mistake). Most of us ready and yearn to do peace.

        Compensation: As I wrote earlier, I want justice to all refugees. I think the Palestinians refugees need justice. My solution is that Israel will not destroy the settlements and would give the houses to the Palestinian refugees in addition to full compensation for their properties and for years of suffering. I also want justice to all Arab Jews refugees forced to leave their homes. Justice to all refugees must be done.

        The meaning of negotiation, IMO, is that both sides have to do painful compromises. I know and recognize the fact that since Israel is in control and military stronger than PA, we have to do most of the compromises. All we ask from the Palestinians and from all nations to recognize our tiny small piece of homeland as a Jewish state – not to be supremacist, but to be sure that the Jewish people will never experience again the evil events accrued in the past centuries.

        Hope peace come soon. Kul Am Wuantum Salmin.

      • Woody Tanaka
        September 6, 2013, 9:03 am

        Well, if you’re okay with a Palestinian state armed with nuclear weapons, you may be the only one of your Jewish countrymen who is.

        As for borders: What does it mean to say that the green line is the “basis of negotiations”? Because unless the Palestinians can say “no, we’d like the green line, in toto” and have the Israelis agree, then the basis of negotiations is really “whatever the israelis want beyond the green line, but they’re not going to actually tell anyone what that is.” Because, you see, if the offers of land exchanges made by israel don’t benefit Palestine, (i.e., aren’t mutually beneficial to both sides) and Palestine is not permitted to turn down the offer, you have a mafia-style offer you can’t refuse, not a basis for negotiations. Again, that’s a perpetuation of the problem.

        And the notion of violating the rights of the Palestinians in Um Al-Fahem stinks of the worst kind of racism. When a bunch of Jews in the Israeli government is oh, so willing to ship a bunch of minorities out of the country against their will, that is a sickening attempt to make the Palestinians partners in their own people’s ethnic cleansing. If the Israelis get to pick what part East of the green line THEY want, then why not let the Palestinians pick which portion THEY want? Why? Because the basic problem in that region is the belief by the Jews there that they do not have to treat the Palestinians fairly as human beings. It was the problem in the dawn of the 20th C., the problem in 1947, the problem in 1967 and the problem today.

        ” liberal, open society very tolerant and no many peoples feel “supremacist” on Arabs which are equal part of our society ”

        That is a load of nonsense. There are regular postings here of governmental and non-governmental benefits and privileges that are available to some Israelis and denied others simply on account of whether they are Jews. That’s a supremacist society, even if it doesn’t want to admit it or not.

        “The meaning of negotiation, IMO, is that both sides have to do painful compromises.”

        Oh, yes, yes, yes. We’ve heard this mantra before. But the Israelis aren’t agreeing to any compromises. Your idea of “compromise” is “we will be less evil than we have the military might to be.”

        “All we ask from the Palestinians and from all nations to recognize our tiny small piece of homeland as a Jewish state – not to be supremacist, but to be sure that the Jewish people will never experience again the evil events accrued in the past centuries. ”

        Oh, horseshit. You ask a hell of a lot more than that. Primarily, you ask the Palestinians to ratify the theft of their homeland, and you ask the world to ratify an evil event that, if the situation were reversed, you would consider among the “evil events accrued in the past centuries” if it happened to the Jews. Again, you’re perpetuating the problem by failing to face the truth of the evil that is at the heart of the zionist ideology. You have no right to take over another people’s land for your “homeland.” None. Until you people understand that fact, and it’s implications, you will always be perpetuating the problem.

      • eljay
        September 6, 2013, 10:23 am

        About Israel as “Supremacist”: Well, I don’t know how to convenience you but … Arabs … are equal part of our society (Yes, it is not mistake).

        This does not strike me as equality: Discriminatory Laws in the State of Israel

        >> All we ask from the Palestinians and from all nations to recognize our tiny small piece of homeland as a Jewish state – not to be supremacist …

        The only way for “Jewish State” not to be supremacist is to make “Jewish” a bureaucratic nationality – like American, Canadian, German, French, Italian, etc. – and to make all citizens of and immigrants to “Jewish State” fully and equally Jewish.

  5. just
    September 5, 2013, 5:36 am

    President Rouhani:

    “Amid a global exchange of greetings and good wishes to mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, which began at sunset on Wednesday, there was one from a particularly surprising quarter.

    The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, tweeted: “As the sun is about to set here in #Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah.”

    The tweet was accompanied by a picture of an Iranian Jew praying at a synagogue in Tehran.”

    link to theguardian.com

    I wonder why this is “surprising” to anyone.

    • Woody Tanaka
      September 5, 2013, 7:48 am

      “I wonder why this is “surprising” to anyone.”

      Because since the New Hitler (TM) in Egypt was coup’d, aside from the New Hitler (TM) in Syria, he’s the most New Hitler-y of all the New Hitlers (TM). I’m surprised you didn’t know. AIPAC sent out a memo.

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