3/11/11

Robust God-Talk and Wimpy Moral Scruples

In his essay on Jewish identity in Jewish Ideas Daily, Yehuda Mirsky makes the following comment:
the language of "Jewish identity" is at best a pale substitute for the robust God-talk whose place it tries to fill
To be fair, he does conclude that the yearning for Jewish identity is better than nothing. (He doesn't go out of his way to ground his assertions in anything more than anecdote, but I won't go into that here.) What does "robust God-talk" mean, though? This is reminiscent of similar terms, like "maximalist," "heteronomous," and "rigorous," which are thrown around by some to show how Strong and Committed they are. Religious Jews are Robust, while Jews that care about Jewish identity (as if that issue has not preoccupied Jews for thousands of years!) are decaffeinated.

Unfortunately, a lot of Robust God-Talk is indefensible. "The sole purpose of non-Jews is to serve Jews," said Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef. This talk is certainly  robust, and delivered by someone held by many to be one of God's foremost authorities. Other God-talk, similarly robust, called for Jews not to rent their apartments to Arabs.

I am sure Mirsky finds such robust God-talk repugnant. The question is, then, what robustness means, and why it is better than serious grappling with the difficult matter of Jewish identity. Mirsky contrasts the wimpy omphalocentrism of Jewish identity with "real, durable responsibilities." Which responsibilities, exactly, and what makes them more "real" then our commitments to our own ideals and the communities we inhabit by our choice?

Undefined, rhetoric like this serves only to validate a particular type of Jewish identity to the exclusion of others. Certainly we can do better.

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