I don’t do politics here, but I do worry about Jewish identity here. I put that disclaimer in
Shmura Matzo – Creative Commons Licensed Image
because I’m going to talk about a political person, but not a political issue.
I encountered someone’s opinion on Bernie Sanders’s perceived authenticity as a Jew that, frankly, has me uncomfortable–not for its political content, but for its take on what it means to be Jewish.
On a Facebook post on a friend’s wall, a friend of this friend said that Sanders always seemed to be a “convenient Jew.”
This critique, for some reason, just struck home with me. I mean, it’s a logical fallacy wrapped in a larger one: whether he was or was not correct isn’t affected by the sort of Jew he is (that’s the “big” logical fallacy–an ad hominem argument), but there’s also the suggestion that Sanders isn’t Jewish enough (that’s a “no true Scotsman” fallacy). It’s that second one–that maybe Sanders isn’t Jewish enough–that struck me.
What exactly does that mean?
I think, picking away at the paint on the statement, what we’re really talking about is something like this: Sanders’s statements on Israel (the comment was in response to an article on Sanders’s statements on fatalities in Gaza) aren’t…something (?) or something enough (?)…and so Sanders’s Jewishness is a thing that’s convenient to trot out when it serves his purposes, but otherwise is not important to him.
That definition makes it so that Jewish identity’s primary arbiter is not the sum of one’s attachments and actions. It’s…something else. A demand that a Jew in public life be loud and proud about her or his identity? I’m not sure.
But ignoring the whole person’s attachments and actions with respect to Jewish life is a problem.
Secular Humanistic Judaism has long held to the following definition:
In response to the destructive definition of a Jew now proclaimed by some Orthodox authorities, and in the name of the historic experience of the Jewish people, we, therefore, affirm that a Jew is a person of Jewish descent or any person who declares himself or herself to be a Jew and who identifies with the history, ethical values, culture, civilization, community, and fate of the Jewish people.
If you meet this? You’re good with me. And we ought to be opening the gates wide, mindful that it will soon be Passover: “All who are hungry ― come and eat. All who lack ― come celebrate Passover.”
All the rest is commentary.
And if this makes me an INconvenient Jew? Well, I’m good with that, too.
(Also: I’ll mod the living beeswax out of your political comments on this post. I’m not having a political discussion here. To paraphrase Lesley Gore (also Jewish!), it’s my bloggy and I’ll mod if I want to.)