Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Forget The Moslems, What Is Pope Benedict's Message For Jews?

Caroline Glick writes in The Jerusalem Post:
Benedict's overarching message in that lecture was that to survive, a culture must be willing to embrace its identity, for if it does not, it won't even be capable of understanding why it should survive.
But that means our having the strength to define ourselves, and not allowing others to define who we are. Thus
the best way to safeguard our freedom and our heritage, is to embrace and celebrate our identity as Jews. As Elie Wiesel once explained to me, the key to defending ourselves is to never allow our haters to tell us who we are. "Hatred only defines the haters," he said.

..."We Jews," Wiesel explained, "have always defined ourselves as the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Indeed, at Mount Sinai, in our acceptance of the Ten Commandments, the Jewish people became the first nation in history to self-consciously define itself. And each subsequent generation of Jews has remade that choice. Jews do not exist, as Jean-Paul Sarte ignorantly argued, because anti-Semites exist. The leader of the existentialist movement should have understood; anti-Semites exist because anti-Semites choose to exist.
It is the ability to define ourselves as Jews that will enable us to counter the attacks of our enemies in every generation.

But it might be at this point, at the end of her argument, that Glick overlooks someting. She writes:
Pope Benedict is able to discuss Islam because, secure in his Christian identity, he has a clear basis for judging the goodness or unreasonableness of Muslim values and behavior. Whether we agree with his judgments or not, through his willingness to judge, Benedict capably defends and advances his faith.
This is all well and good, but if you read Glick's article, and look at her definition of being a Jew, it is a cultural-nationalist definition:
  • "...the state in which we live is one of the most vibrant, optimistic, "happening" countries in the world."
  • "We are one of the most highly educated societies in the world."
  • "Israelis are among the most patriotic citizens in the world."
  • "Jewish life blossoms in Israel as it has nowhere else in our history."
  • "Israel's success stems from its serving as a vehicle that allows us to express our heritage in all facets of society."
  • "The Jewish people gave humanity the concepts of God, liberty and law."
  • "All of the ideals that Israel represents, both spiritual and physical, have formed the foundations for human progress and freedom throughout the world for millennia."
True, "Pope Benedict is able to discuss Islam because, secure in his Christian identity"--because he is secure in his religious identity, the Pope can discuss Islam.

As described by Glick in her article, what prepares Jews for a similar discussion?

And if we are not ready for such a discussion, perhaps our enemies really have succeeded in defining us after all.

Update: On the importance of a religious worldview, check out The Reality of Religion by Michael Ledeen:
But despite the fundamental importance of religion, most of our sages and scribblers are poorly equipped to deal with it, as you can see from the awkward coverage of the pope’s speech at Regensberg. It was, as you’d expect from a pope, a religious text, but the religious content was rarely reported, aside from Benedict’s remarks about Islam — themselves a part of a broader religious message aimed primarily at Europeans.

...But I’m afraid that we’re not engaging this debate, because our leaders are afraid to do so, and poorly equipped to participate. Our educational system has long since banished religion from its texts, and an amazing number of Americans are intellectually unprepared for a discussion in which religion is the central organizing principle.

...Ignorance of things religious is terribly damaging for other reasons as well, not least of all because it prevents us from understanding the nature of our most dangerous enemies.
All the more reason for an understanding of things Jewish, to understand both ourselves, the world, and our place in it--and with Islam.

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