Such a Nasty Woman (Miri Regev & the Intersectional Right in Israel)


Shes’ right, of course. In comparison to her, the Israeli creative class and Jewish left, those largely Ashkenazi elites, are out maneuvered and “tight-assed.” No one knows how to play the political field like Culture Minister Miri Regev, who works at the intersection of race, class, gender, religion, and ideology. Has the left given up on the game, as if unable to understand the rules by which the political game works? For now without leadership, the left in Israel is sad and impotent. In politics, imagination still trumps reason. No, none of this is simple, but truth is not at issue. The first rule in politics is that you want to avoid shitting on the powerful constellation of symbols, myths, and narratives that motivates large sectors, if not a majority of the country. “Such a nasty woman,” her very physical presence is charismatic. Read her profile here in the NYT Sunday Magazine. “In person she is warm; after two minutes of conversation she will call you kapara(‘sweetheart’ in Jewish Moroccan dialect) or neshama (‘soul’ in Hebrew). Yet in public life she comes across as crass and hotheaded.” There she is at the “wearing an all-black ensemble and crimson lipstick, a murmur swept through the auditorium. She is a striking, fiery presence with wide-set eyes, prominent lips and dark hair streaked with reddish highlights.Standing in front of the audience, her expression set between a smirk and a scowl.” In the article, she comes across as something of an opportunist. Is it true that she flirted with the left before joining the Likud? She is the new Israeli Jew.



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Nothing New Under the Sun (Apple Orchard)


Rising this way, going that way, turning and turning. Today in the synagogue, the intermediate Shabbat of Sukkot, from Ecclesiastes chapter 1:

4A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth endures forever. דדּוֹר הֹלֵךְ וְדוֹר בָּא וְהָאָרֶץ לְעוֹלָם עֹמָדֶת:
5The sun rises and the sun sets, and to its place it yearns and rises there. הוְזָרַח הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ וּבָא הַשָּׁמֶשׁ וְאֶל מְקוֹמוֹ שׁוֹאֵף זוֹרֵחַ הוּא שָׁם:
6It goes to the south and goes around to the north; the will goes around and around, and the will returns to its circuits. והוֹלֵךְ אֶל דָּרוֹם וְסוֹבֵב אֶל צָפוֹן סוֹבֵב | סֹבֵב הוֹלֵךְ הָרוּחַ וְעַל סְבִיבֹתָיו שָׁב הָרוּחַ:
7All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full; to the place where the rivers flow, there they repeatedly go. זכָּל הַנְּחָלִים הֹלְכִים אֶל הַיָּם וְהַיָּם אֵינֶנּוּ מָלֵא אֶל מְקוֹם שֶׁהַנְּחָלִים הֹלְכִים שָׁם הֵם שָׁבִים לָלָכֶת:
8All things are wearisome; no one can utter it; the eye shall not be sated from seeing, nor shall the ear be filled from hearing. חכָּל הַדְּבָרִים יְגֵעִים לֹא יוּכַל אִישׁ לְדַבֵּר לֹא תִשְׂבַּע עַיִן לִרְאוֹת וְלֹא תִמָּלֵא אֹזֶן מִשְּׁמֹעַ:
9What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. טמַה שֶּׁהָיָה הוּא שֶׁיִּהְיֶה וּמַה שֶּׁנַּעֲשָׂה הוּא שֶׁיֵּעָשֶׂה וְאֵין כָּל חָדָשׁ תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ:
10There is a thing of which [someone] will say, “See this, it is new.” It has already been for ages which were before us. ייֵשׁ דָּבָר שֶׁיֹּאמַר רְאֵה זֶה חָדָשׁ הוּא כְּבָר הָיָה לְעֹלָמִים אֲשֶׁר הָיָה מִלְּפָנֵנוּ:
11[But] there is no remembrance of former [generations], neither will the later ones that will be have any remembrance among those that will be afterwards. יאאֵין זִכְרוֹן לָרִאשֹׁנִים וְגַם לָאַחֲרֹנִים שֶׁיִּהְיוּ לֹא יִהְיֶה לָהֶם זִכָּרוֹן עִם שֶׁיִּהְיוּ לָאַחֲרֹנָה:
12I am Koheleth; I was king over Israel in Jerusalem. יבאֲנִי קֹהֶלֶת הָיִיתִי מֶלֶךְ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּירוּשָׁלָ ִם:


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Beauty, Eros, & Natural Law (David Novak)


Natural law as form of Jewish social ethics, rests on images of the imagination. That is almost the way David Novak defines it in Jewish Social Ethics, not as the “[deduction] of conclusions from the rules at hand but, rather, to perform the more imaginative intellectual task of attempting to gain insight into the principles that inform and guide the whole normative Jewish enterprise in dealing with political and social issues” (p.5). The project reflects upon “the active process of imaginative human interpretation” based on “the passive process of obedient acceptance (qabalah) of the Torah as the word of God” (p.7). One way or another, a theory of Jewish social ethics will depend upon the imagination imagining things like Torah, God, nature, and the human subject.

As Novak himself mentions, the Greek terminology that supports “natural law” theory is not indigenous to Jewish tradition. The same, he says, holds true for “social ethics.” The admission puts the burden on the creative act of interpretive imagination and philosophical finesse insofar as one wants to construct these out of the sources of Judaism (pp.vii, 3). What results is a creative Jewish-Catholic hybrid created for these purposes, in which Jewish philosophy is mixed in with Aristotle, Newhouse, and Heidegger. From Aristotle, Novak introduces the idea that higher ends and purposes are that which structure human desire. End and purposes are stood up against Kantian subjectivity whose only end is itself (see especially p.63 and also discussions of sexuality and technology in separate chapters; on desire, see pp-51-6). The Heideggerian ontology at work in Novak’s natural law theory is presumes that being is received, and that nature is a living organism in which human subjects participate (pp.17, 58).

The hierarchies that define Novak’s theory of natural law structure stipulate the need for the validation of social ethics by a higher order. In this view, ethics needs a theory of the good embedded in the higher orders of nature (natural law) and religious revelation in order to be “complete.” Against juridical models of (positive) law, only the sense of law as part of a larger system of ends allows for the recombination of old rules to meet new situations and difficult cases (pp.14-19). The hierarchy is structured as follows: ethics justifies and limits social and political power, including the sovereign autonomy of the liberal subject, while religion grounds ethics. For Novak, the logic and axiology are both top-down and uni-directional. In this theonomous construction, only God is ground, enveloping nature, which envelops human social ethics and politics.

What grinds down this structure of Jewish social ethics is the author’s grudging acknowledgment that classical natural law is based on an outmoded Aristotelean teleology. For Aristotle, intelligent beings desire to know higher intelligences, arranging life accordingly, i.e. intelligently. This is the position undercut by modern science when now the only recognizable end of reason is reason itself as a constructive and active principle (chapter 3). Novak’s statement that we are “for the time being at least” stuck with Kant’s critique of natural teleology supposes the possibility that perhaps one day new trends in contemporary science will restore some modified view of natural teleology (p.142). In the meantime, we are left with revelation with which to piece together a natural law theory, assuming with a confidence that will escape many readers that religious systems are more coherent than naturalistic ones –coherent in the sense that these are able to “[reconstitute] most aspects of [a] problem with the fewest assumptions” (p.77).

In a previous post, I mentioned the argument by Christine Hayes in What’s Divine about Divine Law that the rabbis did not recognize natural law in the way understood in Greco-Roman antiquity. The argument is directed largely against Novak, who, in fact, ascribes to a model of natural law that is more modes (less comprehensive) than for Cicero, according to whom nature envelops both the non-human in nature, the human, and the divine). For Novak, in contrast, nature is not the ground so much as the background for Jewish social ethics (pp.15, 31-32). It is this modesty that lends this modified model of natural law the coherence it enjoys. Nature is not so much the source of moral value and ethical system as much as its horizon.

But can even a modified theory of natural law create a binding grounds that legitimate a system of social ethics? If nature is a background, that has to mean the only ground for social ethics can be God and those scriptures that members of different interpretive communities will agree between themselves and amongst each other constitute authoritative bodies of divine revelation. The problem is philosophical, political, and hermeneutical. If God is groundless (as per the mystics) or fundamentally simple and unknowable (as per the rationalists) than God cannot truly serve as a ground for human social ethics; and even if members of interpretive communities can, in an ideal political world, come to an agreement about which scriptures will count as authoritative, that is not to say that they won’t get hopelessly lost in thickets of near infinite interpretation. In this version, natural law has as its source not nature but Scripture.

In his own argument against natural law in Judaism, the late Marvin Fox argued that the law is first revealed by God at Sinai before it is recognized as rational. Arguments about natural law are here shown to be based on claims regarding temporal-logical sequence. Which comes first, law or reason? Novak argues against Fox to say that the sequence tracked by Fox is true regarding hukkim (i.e. statutes in Jewish law such as kashrut that make no immediate rational sense), but  not true regarding mishpatim (i.e. those laws, like that prohibiting murder, that make immediate rational sense). By Novak’s reading, God is first revealed to Israel as “good” at the Red Sea and it is this good that constitutes an a priori, independent ground upon which the people then accept Torah at Sinai (pp.26-9). But this is a rather strange assertion, given the pronounced grumbling and murmuring on the part of Israel after the revelation of God at the Red Sea before the revelation of law at Sinai. The revelation of divine goodness at the Red Sea (or is it power?) grounds and determines nothing beyond the event of its own sheer presence or happening.

The following aside in Jewish Social Ethics is not merely incidental. The basic components that a system of ethics would have to synthesize are identified by the author as the true, the good, and the lawful (p.14). I would again point readers back to the argument by Hayes that these things do not necessarily cohere in the rabbinic legal-literary sources. I would also raise the observation that the introduction of law into this triad disrupts the more classical version that posits the true and the good, not in relation to law, but in relation to the beautiful. About this one might say one of two things. Either the substitution of law for beauty is both abrupt and rude, almost unlovely; the author would seem to obscure the place of beauty in a philosophical system of culture; this should not go lost to any reader of Hermann Cohen, for whom aesthetics was the crowning part of a larger system. Orr it might rather be the case that David has simply obscured the very beauty that makes compelling his own theological thinking, steeped as it is in the image and the imagination, in nature and theological desire.

So let me pick a fight. Is eros ever natural? My own suggestion would be that the artifice of aesthetics and the interpretative imagination are bound up in the very relation they simultaneously confuse between ethics, law, and nature. Not just in natural law, the harder one tries to argue explicitly otherwise will only underscore why the delineation of norms will always appear if not show itself to be an arbitrary philosophical gesture.

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Gershom Scholem Sitting in a Sukkah


In good faith, the antinomian sits in a sukkah. Is this an expressionist or surrealist sukka? The scene is super modern. An angel lurks in the back under palm trees. Please send my way any information you have about this 1926 photograph. Joshua Schwartz  has written in at FB noting that Lilit is mentioned in the wall-placard, which seems to be part of a Jewish-gnostic formula.

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Un/Natural Law & the Rabbis (Christine Hayes)


Christine Hayes puts the kibosh on the notion that there is a recognition of natural law in “Judaism.” She is, of course, careful to draw her analysis closely around a circumscribed group of sources. While arguably most medieval and a few contemporary Jewish philosophers recognize natural law as a basis for revealed law, the same cannot be said of the rabbis. This philosophical revelation about the history of Jewish thought appears in her recent What’s Divine About Divine Law? Early Perspectives.

Relying on Cicero, for Hayes what counts as natural law is set at a high bar. It might be argued against her that the bar has been set, indeed, too high. As distinct from conventional (positive) law, natural law is defined by Cicero as follows. “[T]rue law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging, and everlasting…We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times” (Republic 22.211). As as per Hayes, natural law is invariable, universal, and embedded in nature (p.355). To that one might add: immediately intuited. Presupposing a system without significant gaps between its various component parts, the definition assumes a basic and necessary harmony established between the human person in community with the order of nature writ large.

Regarding the rabbis, one of the more important prooftexts typically adduced to support the claim that they recognize natural law is from Sifra, the tannaitic commentary to Leviticus. That text reads, “‘You shall observe my judgements (mishpatim)’ –these are matters in the Torah which –had they not been written—it would be logical (=din) to write, such as robbery, sexual violations, idolatry, blasphemy, and bloodshed. If they had not been written it would be logical (=din) to write them. And those (i.e. ukkim) are the ones that the evil impulse and the idolatrous nations of the world object to, such as the prohibition against eating pork and against mixed seeds, and [ḥalitza], the purification for scale disease, the scapegoat ritual. The evil impulse and the idolatrous nations of the world object to them. Scripture says, ‘I am Yahweh’ meaning, you are not permitted to object to my statutes (uqqotai)” (Sifra Aḥarei Mot 9:3) (Hayes, p.250).

Articulated first by Saadya Gaon, the distinction in medieval philosophy, between rational commandments (mishpatim, usually translated into English as ordinances) and non-rational or even irrational ones (uqqim, usually translated as statutes) have their rabbinic source here. Against the assumption made by contemporary natural law theorists, Hayes makes the counterintuitive case that the mishpatim do not meet the standard of natural law. As understood by her, reading the rabbinic source in context shows that at stake is God’s exclusive sovereignty over Israel, that Jews are not supposed follow gentile customs, even if they are more attractive, and that much of God’s law does not agree with human nature. The very laws that would seem to be rational turn out, according to the rabbis, to be matters of divine fiat or decree (pp.248-60).

As for the so-called seven laws said to have been revealed by God to Noah and which are supposed to bind the nations of the world, Hayes argues that this is not “natural law.” In an early source such as Tosefta Avodah Zarah 8(9):4-9, these laws are not held up as invariable or universal. They are revealed by God, not by reason. And according to the early sources, Jews are not bound by the Noahide law (e.g. with respect to murder or robbery) in their relation with idolaters. Jews and non-Jews are enjoined to obey different prohibitions; in those cases that Jews and non-Jews fall under the same law, they suffer different punishments for violating the self-same law; after revelation at Sinai, Jews are not commanded to observe these ordinances. Hayes concludes that instead of constituting a common and basic form of shared natural law, the Noahide laws are instead “utilized precisely to inscribe rather than erase differences between Jew and non-Jew” (p.359-61).

The same is said to hold true for the discussion of the Noahide laws in the Babylonian Talmud (especially tractate Sanhedrin 56a-60a). In the famous story in which gentile nations refuse God’s Torah, they do so because they are addicted to basic prohibited acts like adultery, robbery, and murder. Again, the story’s point is that Jews and gentiles do not share a common human or natural moral constitution; those very laws that would seem to provide fundamental controls to human social life are seen as conventional positive law, not natural law (pp.366-8). As formulated in the rabbinic sources, even the Noahide laws have nothing to do with nature.

Hayes argument is not to address the coherence or incoherence of natural law as a theory. It is only to say that the theory has nothing to do with the rabbinic sources and “the Judaism” represented therein. Against Hayes, one could very well argue in the interest of a modified theory of natural law that what we mean by “nature” and “human nature” is nothing like what they were presumed to have been by Cicero. But what interests us is just how “unnatural” divine law or Torah turns out to be as presented by Hayes. No doubt, we’re un-romantic, more skeptical about nature as a value; and more modern and postmodern in our regard for artificial environments. Independent of the rabbis, what remains to be argued is a theory that splits the difference, that takes into account the blending in together of artificial and natural environments.

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Bright Fog (Fall Morning)


the views were spectral, but i was unable to catch with the camera just how bright the light was caught up in a thick mass of fog this morning on rt 81 driving south somewhere between Syracuse and Binghamton.

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Trump Nazis Hate Media

A Trump supporter left behind this sign on media table in press pen. Shows swastika with word “media”

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