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Exile and the Prophetic: No prophet spoken here

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

Sally Ride, America’s first woman astronaut, has died. Another obituary.

I read obituaries carefully as you may have noted. They reveal and hide. Revealing/hiding, such an interesting part of life. The great art is hiding as you reveal. It’s a technique known today as “transparency.”

I don’t exempt writing. What interests me most about writing is the act of revelation. It is creation ex nihilo. Sort of. I am not arguing a blank slate sensibility. It’s just that in writing the page is adorned where before it was blank. The source behind that adornment is the mind. Yes. What is behind the mind?

No matter how much one reveals, a hidden dimension remains. That dimension becomes smaller over time – the more revealed the less hidden – and somehow larger. Or deeper. The place that we seek to discover – hiddenness as the place of revelation – is elusive. The more we say the less we know about the hidden places. Which means that coming out in any aspect of life is only the first step. As in, OK, now what?

So Sally Ride and her partner of many years, Tam. Yes, a woman’s name. The New York Times just states it without explanation. The New Yorker is running with it.

Coming out as the first step. Best if it is at the right time and place, if there is such a thing. How to judge the right time and place? What is the difference between coming out and being outed once the deed has been done?

Sally Ride remained in the closet, at least on the larger public stage. Believe me, the closet is full where I hung out for the last dozen or so years. More of that later.

Orthodoxy of every sort is closets full mode. I’m referring primarily to the sexual stuff, though hiding sexual orientation is only a drop in the sex bucket. Closets full has a much more extensive geography than the sexual geography of any institution or culture. Hiding corruption and disguising it as faith is an art form. There isn’t much light between the ideological fudging that has been so richly documented and religion that is so easily seen as hypocrisy.

The Bible is full of closets. Probing the Bible reveals some of what it seeks to hide. Yet my experience is that when you get out of the Bible as lessons or the Biblical law category, which really are hilarious, there is hiddenness in the Bible as well. That hiddenness may be due to the ancient quality of the text. Or that the Bible is communicating something it doesn’t quite understand. Which means that we need to approach the Bible with a critical eye and with detachment. What we think we know is there might be found. Still, there are other nuggets to be explored. They may be hidden in plain sight.

The prophet within – the Bible. Is that the same prophet – within us? Here we’ve moved from whom Sally Ride held at night to who or what has a hold on us. Something within us that is difficult to find or define. Difficult to speak. Difficult to live. Because the surface prophet stuff is just that, surface. Tip of the iceberg whether it is solid or melting.

We don’t get far with the prophet iceberg stuff. Either we live by anger or we ritualize it by the camp fire, both of which have their place. A life they do not make.

Sure, the prophetic needs to be outed in Jewish life. Empire closets won’t hold the hidden forever. Nonetheless, the clenched fist is also a closet. What is underneath, around, the prophetic within?

Judaism as a closet. That hides the prophetic.

Judaism as a closet. Within which is the prophetic.

Judaism as a closet. It keeps the prophetic hidden by ritualizing it.

Judaism as a way of disciplining the prophetic. Imposed from above.

Rabbis, calling the prophets out as violating the closets full code. Imagine the Rabbis as spanking the prophetic. Within.

What does this say about the inner life of our spiritual leaders? Shall we out the Rabbis who are (prophet) closeted? Or shall we respect their reticence and wait for their decision? After all, coming out has to be the person’s choice, since the cost is high. Rabbis who come out of the (prophet) closet may even lose their jobs. Imagine that.

Oh me, Oh my! Imagine the Rabbi unemployment phone lines lighting up. Imagine the training necessary to counsel Rabbis who are contemplating the (prophet) coming out that will change their life. Will there be degrees offered at Jewish Theological Seminary or Hebrew Union College? Once you name the shame you’ve felt, there’s no going back. What shall the (prophet) coming out counseling degrees be named?

Rabbi counseling. Counseling the counselor. Teaching the teacher. Admonishing the admonisher.

But then, note that many Rabbis can come of out of their gay and lesbian closet as long as they stay in the prophet closet. Which brings me back to Standing Again at Sinai. Perhaps a more accurate title would substitute sitting for standing. Or absent. Absent Again at Sinai?

You see it is more than possible – it may even be mandatory – to sit when you should be standing or be absent as you raise your voice from a safe distance. Feigning presence is a clergy thing in general but certainly it isn’t restricted to men and women of whatever cloth a particular community ordains.

Yes, I’m obsessing. The mezuzah on the beach. Occupied by a Rabbi. If he’s employed by a congregation, which I assume, hence his beach house perk, I assume he’s hiding the prophetic within. And making sure that his congregation does as well.

Everyone knows the prophet silencing drill by now anyway so I doubt that there is a need to have it written into the Rabbis contract. It’s part of the hidden negotiation in hiring the Rabbi and renewal contracts that follow.

Sign language for “No Prophet Spoken Here”?

How about a sign on every synagogue entrance?

My childhood synagogue – Beth “No Prophet Spoken Here” Torah.

My last one – Temple Rodeph “No Prophet Spoken Here” Shalom.

Like Oprah’s (Good Housekeeping) seal of approval. No offense given. Promise.

Interesting, the recent translation of Elie Wiesel’s Night receiving Oprah’s blessing. Look at the cover if you don’t believe me. Is that because Wiesel has observed and enforced the “No Prophet Spoken Here” discipline that defines Empire Judaism?

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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One Response

  1. W.Jones
    W.Jones
    July 30, 2012, 12:14 pm

    Prof. Ellis:

    You wrote:

    The Bible is full of closets. Probing the Bible reveals some of what it seeks to hide. Yet my experience is that when you get out of the Bible as lessons or the Biblical law category, which really are hilarious, there is hiddenness in the Bible as well. That hiddenness may be due to the ancient quality of the text. Or that the Bible is communicating something it doesn’t quite understand. Which means that we need to approach the Bible with a critical eye and with detachment. What we think we know is there might be found. Still, there are other nuggets to be explored. They may be hidden in plain sight.

    The Bible is full of closets.

    I happen to agree. In it, Pharaoh and Nebechudnezzar have dreams and Joseph and Daniel interpret the dreams for them, respectively. And the dreams are similar to the kinds of images we find elsewhere in scripture. For example, Nebechudnezzar in one dream sees a huge tree, and the dream has images of animals, a messenger, fruit, etc. It opens to me the question of how many other places in the Old Testament are dreams with images that are metaphors for other things, even when they do not appear explicitly so.

    For example, the Book of Jonah appears to be presented straightforwardly as the story of a prophet who succeeds in converting Nineveh to belief in God. There is no introduction to the story though, explaining whether this was a true story. No do other Biblical books discuss whether this story was a myth, vision, or literal historical account.

    In fact, history records no instance when Nineveh, the capitol of Israel’s opponent and eventual conqueror, the Assyrian empire, converted to belief in Israel’s God. If it had, it seems unlikely they would have conquered Israel. Furthermore, while it seems perhaps possible a whale or shark could swallow a whole person, it seems too unlikely that the person would survive after being in the whale or shark’s belly for 3 days.

    It seems to me likely therefore that this is in fact a dreamlike vision too. On one hand, it seems it could just be intended as a fictional myth that does not match up with real events and whose purpose is to teach a moral lesson. But on the other hand, like the dreams of Pharaoh and Nebechudnezzar, what is the probability Jonah could also be a vision corresponding to real events “hidden” in its images?

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