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  • Rob Will

I Love Jewish Folks: Happy, Happy Hanukkah!

I was just over here washing clothes and dancing around my cell while listening to a Hanukkah special on the radio. I’m still listening to it while I write this—they’re playing some Jewish folk music in Yiddish and it’s jammin’.

This reminds me of a conversation I had a while back. My neighbor and I were talking about the nature of the “role model” in society and at one point in the discussion he asked me this question: If I could have a week-long conference with 10 well known people who are alive and 10 who are dead, who would I choose?—Everyone would speak the same language and everyone would be compelled to tell the truth.

After I named my list, my neighbor—with the appropriate tone of suspicion tinged with condemnation in his voice—being the good patriotic American that he is—said: “Sure sounds like a bunch of Russians and Germans or something.” I hadn’t thought of the national origin or ethnicity of the people I named, but I quickly did so and responded to his xenophobic comment with: “Well, no, actually the majority of the people on my list are Jews. (I don’t remember who all I named but I’m sure Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Freud and other brilliant Jewish folks were on my list.).

When the conversation finished I thought of the significance of the ethnicity of the people I chose, specifically thinking of why so many of them were Jews…! I read quite a bit and I’ve always approached the investigation of ideas from a dialectical perspective—I like to take opposing concepts and examine them from all “angles” and come up with a nice synthesis. I especially like to study ideas that I have the inclination to disagree with.

I’ve read all sorts of black supremacist and white supremacist literature and listened to countless hours of neoconservative talk shows. I’ve also read a large amount of history, including many classic texts. This has led me to discover that persecution of Jewish people has been going on for thousands of years: Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Christians, etc., etc., etc.—many various groups have persecuted Jews in one form or another.

In his Histories the Roman historian Tacitus virulently condemned the Jewish people because:

…they take thought to increase their numbers; for they regard it as a crime to kill any late born [meaning posthumous or unwanted child], and believe that the souls of those who are killed in battle or by execution are immortal; hence comes their passion for begetting children and their scorn of death. [Keep in mind that it was an acceptable practice in the time of Tacitus to murder unwanted or handicapped children].

Tacitus further condemns the Jews because [They] conceive of one god only, and that with the mind alone: they regard as impious those who make from perishable materials representations of gods in man’s image…Therefore they set up no statues in their cities, still less in their temples; this flattery is not paid to their Kings nor this honor given to the Ceasars…King Antiochus endeavored to abolish Jewish superstition and to introduce Greek civilization; the war with the Parthians however, prevented his improving this basest of peoples.

It seems what brought forth Tacitus’ hatred toward the Jews was basically that they were life affirming and freethinking people. How shocking. One can only assume that Herr Tacitus would have preferred that the Jews of his day routinely murdered innocent children, composed glorious ballads in praise of oppressive rulers and constructed grand statues in honor of tyrants.

While reading a book on theology a few years ago I ran across an interesting account of the anti-semitism of the Christian theologian Berthold of Regensburg who was the most popular preacher of the 13th century. He issued an edict against having sexual intercourse with a woman who is on her period and in doing so said to his Christina brethren: “You are, after all, upright people, and you see that a stinking Jew avoids this time with great diligence.”

The reason Berthold mentions Jews is because it was believed that the reason so few Jews contracted leprosy was because of their hygienic ways which included avoiding sex with a woman when she was on her period. The “stinking” Jews were so clean that they rarely contracted leprosy. This type of schizophrenic reasoning is typical of various anti-semitic ideologies that have existed throughout history.

The Nazis were particularly bad about this. They were quite fond of condemning anything of beauty conceived of by Jewish folks—visual art, music, literature, etc.—as Entartung, or “degeneration.” Indeed, some of the most brilliant thinkers the world has known have been Jewish—and this applies to the areas of art, science, philosophy, music, psychology and so forth and so on. That is the reason why so many Jewish folks were on my list of well-known people who I would like to have a week long conference with. That also seems to be the reason why Jews have been persecuted by so many groups of people throughout history. The dynamics are very in-depth but it really seems to basically amount to a situation of jealousy and envy. I’m reminded of how Nietzsche—who despised anti-semitism— wrote that another name for anti-semitism was ‘the under-privileged’.

Well, my clothes have been soaking in the sink for a while now so I think I’ll go finish washing. I’ll be listening to this cool Hanukkah music and remembering that Hanukkah is essentially a festival honoring the Jewish people’s resilience in the face of adversity—a resilience that has created some of the most brilliant minds history has known. Happy, Happy Hanukkah! Clap, Clap! Happy Hanukkah! Clap, Clap!

!Shalom Aleichem!

Rob Will

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