Antisemitic Jews, Pro-Vaccine Orthodox Rabbis, and Internet Nazis
(It sounds like the world's worst bar mitzvah, but is just another very normal edition of this newsletter)
The Rabbinic Pro-Vaccination PSA You Didn’t Know You Needed
This week, a group of Orthodox rabbis from New York’s Five Towns and Rockaway area released a powerful PSA encouraging their communities to get vaccinated. Come for the message, stay for the hats, the accents, the one rabbi doing his part in full sermon voice, and the South African rabbi named Ya’akov Trump:
As the son of an Orthodox rabbi, this is basically the perfect microtargeted content for me. But given the many religious references and Yiddishisms sprinkled throughout the video, I suspect many of you only understood half of what was said. So here’s a little glossary explaining most of the terms, which help illuminate the message:
“Ribono shel olam”: Creator/master of the world
“Simchas”: Joyous communal occasions
“Genug shoyn”: Enough already!
“What’s the shaylah?”: What’s the question?
“Rachmana litzlan”: God forbid
“Ve-rapoh yerapeh”: A reference to Exodus 21:19, seen as the biblical mandate for the medical profession
“Davening in shul”: Praying in synagogue
“Yeshivos, Batei Knesiyos, Batei Midrashos”: Religious schools, synagogues, and study halls
“Take achrayus for your neighbor’s health, as well as your own”: Take responsibility
“‘Nafshoseichem’ is in the plural”: A reference to Deuteronomy 4:15, “Be very careful for your own sake,” understood as a commandment to take care of one’s health, but which is written in plural in Hebrew, and thus interpreted here to refer to one’s entire community
“Gedolei yisroel”: The great rabbinic scholars of the generation
Can Jews Be Antisemitic?
What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.
Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.
An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible.
Karl Marx was ethnically Jewish, though his father converted to Christianity. When a Jewish person or someone with Jewish heritage expresses anti-Jewish ideas, is that antisemitism? It’s a question that understandably puzzles many, but as history and scholarship attest, the answer is clearly yes. From the Middle Ages until the present day, there are plenty of examples of people perpetuating antisemitism despite being Jews themselves.2
My latest antisemitism explainer video unpacks this phenomenon and some of the reasons behind it:
Making Friends on the Internet
This guy stopped writing back, presumably because he had to go change his water tank.
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Rachel Rosenthal, “But What If I’m Not Ready?”: “Perhaps the person who is most unworthy to beseech God is the one is certain that they are worthy. Humility allows us to see our weaknesses, and acknowledging those weaknesses is what allows us to strive to change and do better.”
The conclusion of Marx’s “On the Jewish Question” essay is a chilling one. Emphasis in the original:
[N]ot only in the Pentateuch and the Talmud, but in present-day society we find the nature of the modern Jew, and not as an abstract nature but as one that is in the highest degree empirical, not merely as a narrowness of the Jew, but as the Jewish narrowness of society.
Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become impossible, because his consciousness no longer has an object, because the subjective basis of Judaism, practical need, has been humanized, and because the conflict between man’s individual-sensuous existence and his species-existence has been abolished.
The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.
Marx’s later writing on Jews and Judaism, while still rooted in antisemitic assumptions like the equation of Jews with finance, did move away from some of this essentialism.
You’ll notice that I use the terms “antisemitic Jews” and “Jews who say antisemitic things” rather than the somewhat more common “self-hating Jews.” Though serious scholars have employed the latter, I avoid it for two reasons. First, because the Jews in question here rarely hate themselves; they hate other Jews. Second, because the term “self-hating Jew” is too often deployed as a term of abuse that simply means “a Jew I disagree with,” and I don’t want to evoke that discourse.