Sunday, December 24, 2017



A year ago, I critiqued a major essay in the New York Times' philosophy section by Omri Boehm, who teaches at The New School. Using arguments that wouldn't pass a first year logic course, he argued that Zionism was racism.

Now he has moved into critiquing Judaism itself.

In an article in the Los Angeles Review of Books, which was translated and published by the major German newspaper Die Zeit, Boehm argues that thousands of year of Jewish attachment to Jerusalem is really bogus, and any Jew who thinks that Jews should control Jerusalem are tantamount to idolators.

The name of the article is "Jerusalem, Our Golden Calf."

Yes, a lesson in Judaism from a person who hates Judaism.

OK, this should be fun:

[T]he heart of our heart is the Torah, and Jerusalem is not mentioned in it even once. Other municipal centers play in the book significant theological roles: Hebron is strongly associated with Abraham’s figure; Shchem, more familiar today as Nablus, functions as the Promised Land’s gate; and it is in Beit El that Jacob is renamed, very symbolically, as “Israel.” Clearly, Moses has never heard of Jerusalem, and Joseph never dreamt of it in his dreams. As the Torah’s literary theology unfolds, Jerusalem remains conspicuously absent.
Because, perhaps, Jerusalem's role is only as the capital of the Jewish nation that had yet to be born? And its prominence is obvious to anyone who glances at the Hebrew Scriptures outside the Pentateuch? (Not to mention that Jerusalem's spiritual centrality is strongly hinted in the Bible as well, as the place that God will choose to place the Temple.)

Nah, this is not important.

 When the city does gain prominence, its role emerges directly from the Israelites’ demand to become “like all the other nations” — to be ruled by an earthly political authority, rather than directly by God (1 Sam. 8:5). Samuel interprets this request as an idolatrous act of betrayal, and God unequivocally shares the same judgment. Comparing it to the Israelites’ “worshiping other Gods” and “forsaking” him in the desert, God explains to Samuel that the Israelites are  rebelling directly against the deity: “It is not you that they have rejected; it is Me that they have rejected as their king” (1 Sam. 8:7-8). Indeed, alongside the infamous incident with the Golden Calf, the Israelites’ request to be ruled “like the nations” has become one of the Bible’s prime examples of idolatry.
One can argue as to exactly God meant when he used those words. But Boehm, knowing his readers won't bother to look up the verses, purposefully omits what God said immediately afterwards. In the very next verse, God tells Samuel "Now therefore hearken unto their voice; howbeit thou shalt earnestly forewarn them, and shalt declare unto them the manner of the king that shall reign over them."

God and Samuel definitely have a problem with the way the people request a king, but clearly they don' t have a problem with the concept of a king. After all, the Torah mentions that Israel should have a king, explicitly, in Deuteronomy 17 - even using the words that the nation will want to be like the nations around them. Choosing a king is considered one of the commandments of the Torah.

To flatly call this request "idolatry" is absurd, because this means that, according to Boehm, God is instructing the Jews to worship idols.

What does this have to do with Jerusalem? Not much. But the "philosopher" will twist the truth to pretend it is, with more absurd interpretations that fly in the face of normative Judaism:

 It is from this paradigmatic idolatrous moment that Jewish politics would be subsequently centralized in Jerusalem — a king’s earthly capital — and the city’s Temple would be built, consolidating its political-theological sway. These idolatrous origins have left on Jerusalem an enduring stain: an adequately Jewish relation to it can be at most one of ambivalent love, mixed with suspicion. Not one of enthusiastic identification.
 Not surprisingly, Boehm doesn't bring any verses from any prophets that describe this supposed ambivalence or suspicion.

It is common to mention that for 2000 years, Jews have recited Psalms 137 in wedding ceremonies: “If I forget you Jerusalem, my right hand forget its skill, my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.” But this is misleading, because for 2000 years Jews have recited this while rejecting the establishment of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem as an abomination. Indeed Jewish law strictly prohibits Jewish rule over Jerusalem before the Messiah’s arrival and the fulfillment of Isaiah’s aforementioned prophecy. In this light, not just Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — but also Ben Gurion’s declaration of Israel’s independence — stand in sharp contradiction to the Jewish religion.
There is not one source in codified  Jewish law that says that Jewish rule over Jerusalem is prohibited before the Messiah's arrival. Nowhere in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, nowhere in Shulchan Aruch, nowhere. (There have been some anti-Zionist rabbis who make such an assertion, but there is no basis in Jewish law for it.)

This entire essay is complete garbage. Boehm's entire thesis is literally made up, using cherry-picked Biblical quotes and assertions that have no basis.

And, as we have seen, even Boehm doesn't pretend to have proven that attachment to Jerusalem is akin to idolatry. He makes a false assertion that desiring a king is idolatry, he associates that with Jerusalem without any proof, and voila!  An essay that gets published in prestigious journals based on nothing but hot air.

You cannot call Boehm ignorant. He knows very well he is twisting the Bible and Jewish law in ways that are utterly antithetical to what anyone with any knowledge can see what they say. He knows very well that God told Samuel to listen to the people and establish a kingdom. He didn't stop reading the verses at the point that shows him to be a liar - he just stopped quoting them, because intellectual honesty is exactly what Boehm is not about.

He is a fraud.

However, you can call the Los Angeles Review of Books and Die Zeit ignorant for publishing such blatant lies by a confirmed anti-Zionist  a hater of Judaism, talking about Judaism and Jerusalem without doing the least amount of fact checking.

How does this happen? How can otherwise responsible publications allow something that is literally based on easily-refuted lies to be published? It isn't hard to open up a Bible and read the context of the verses, nor is it difficult to notice the other logical fallacies in Boehm's article.

The answer,  I think, is that here is another example of things that are too good to check. Jews have been wrong about the holiness of Jerusalem for thousands of years! We have a Jewish scholar who says so! And he is a philosopher, which gives him some extra special credibility, because we really don't know much about that field but it sounds really prestigious!

So I don't blame Boehm for widely spreading his anti-Israel and now anti-Jewish hate. That's what he is about. But I do blame periodicals and newspapers to blindly believe his lies without even bothering to call up a local rabbi who might know a thing or two about the Jewish scriptures to save themselves embarrassment.





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