The Prayer Cemetery

Image: Soner Arkan


There must be some place in Judaism that, instead of flowing into Zionism or psychology, flows into prayer.

Since before the outbreak of the latest disasters in Israel and Palestine, a noise has been impeding reflections within the Jewish world. Public debate has turned Jewish existence into a deafening binary: we are for or against Israel, we are for or against Palestine. These categories unimpededly mix the right to Judaism, Islam, territories, the diaspora and, locally, they are linked by a certain somnambulism to the now almost nominal tensions between left and right. Experts, offended people, heroes and other types of desperate people swarm.

This text does not intend to discuss the conflict, nor to take a position in the face of the parade of horrors it has unleashed. It is intended to be a comical and belated appeal to Brazilian Jews dedicated to maintaining the value of human life. If there are fifty, ten or two, may these poor things be worth the immensity of Sodom and Gomorrah in which we live. This is where hope and commitment lie.

Right to abandon

Easy formulas make it difficult for alternatives to flourish in the confusion of internal experience. An example is the separation between Judaism and Zionism. For a Jew within his community, it is not difficult to understand the transposition of anti-Jewish rhetoric into the category of anti-Zionism. Zionists control finances, international politics, the media, follow the Talmud and not the Torah, are Khazars converted and seek to enslave, feminize and subjugate the world, encouraging mass immigration, the dissolution of peoples, capitalist imperialism, internationalist communism. At the same time, real Zionism is also an internal unknown within the Jewish world.

For a few generations, the self-declared Brazilian Jewish left has found itself in a dead end that, with the exception of moments of worsening horrors in Israel, seems comfortable. It is a self-imposed alley, a territory as simplifying as the tractor of the discursive (and not effective) separation between Judaism and Zionism. A haskalah brought with him the dark nickname of “non-Jewish Jew” which, if in the context of emancipation and antagonism to shtetl, it made sense – given the real distance between Jewish life and commerce and the ethos bourgeois of Christian Europe – has today become a weak slogan. There is no escape, assimilation won and the Jew was incorporated into the sensitive universe of the bourgeoisie. A non-Jewish Jew is nothing more than a citizen dressed up in the folklore of his ancestral culture.

It is the one who invokes their right to internal secularism that transforms Judaism into a people like others, endowed with the demand to exercise their nationalism-like-others. There remains the contradiction of a left linked to the right and ethno-nationalism. The overcoming of religion added to the maintenance of the title transforms Judaism into a mere stage in the chronology of the emancipation of peoples, when we are in good terms. The right to abandon Judaism is either absolute or terribly limited, nourished by self-repulsion.

It is beyond the sensitivity of Isaac Deutscher's apparent disciples that the foundational text of this idea begins with the figure of Acher, the nearby heretic. Ben Abuia did not become the non-Jewish Jew due to the absence of Judaism, but due to its excess, as he was one of the survivors of the pardes. If our Jewish left, armed only with the fear of death and anti-Semitism (and being fully Jewish), neither knows nor seeks to sit with the wise in a beit midrash, Acher not only sat next to the teachers but, when he got up, they fell from his lap. sefarim acherim. Riding his ass during shabbat, a non-Jewish Jew is able to link himself to tradition enough to tell his non-heretic disciple how far he is allowed to walk, given the prohibition of melachot.

If the haskalah taught us the bourgeois logic of rights, tradition teaches the Jewish logic of duties. We have the right to abandon them, it remains to be seen whether that would be humane.

A people not-like-other-people

There is a duty to immerse yourself in the liturgy. It is non-negotiable and one of the fruits from which we benefit both in the present world and in the reality to come – alongside welcoming foreigners, visiting the sick, acts of love and justice and the search for peace, to name a few. The liturgy is our palace. We repeat it, because we derive a source of life from it.

The right to abandon the liturgy, which is outdated and tied to the pre-bourgeois universe – which reminds us of the pre-citizen condition – is simultaneously the right to forget the texts and the source of life. Certain elements of this literature, on the other hand, seem interesting in light of the debate on the Jewish condition.

What does it mean to beg God to save us from people and their dynamics? What does it mean to repeat the divine mandate that the behavior of peoples is forbidden to us? Prayer wrests the demand for freedom from its abstraction. We are a people chosen to fulfill a series of arbitrary duties; among them the denial of the dynamics of peoples. This is a value that inhabits the Jewish confessional universe, not its modern forms.

The secular demand to look like others is historically fair, but religiously weak. Looking like other people implies the violence against which the Absolute, Himself, warns us in His demonstration. The liturgy also teaches us that we have no king, except Him. Our foundation consisted of our deliverance from Mitsraim, the narrow place, so that we would have free access to the cherut olam, to the vertical, broad reality, before which all humans are insignificant and equally fundamental. It is the Absolute that demands care for the orphan, the widow and the stranger – abundant beings.

We must not be a light to the people as a perfect people, but rather as the promise of anti-people. Part of historical anti-Semitism arises from the understanding of Judaism as a denial of otherness, at the same time that the liturgy imposes on us the perception that we are an eternal reiteration of cosmic otherness. We are a promise of the abolition of peoples and the preservation of peoples. These values ​​escape the rights acquired by the haskalah and make Jewish secularism less potent for transformation. Allowing Judaism as a religious tradition to circulate only in the hands of reshaim is to sign our death warrant.

The insistence of secular activists that they have something that can be called “Jewish ethics” is laughable when the discomfort with which they handle tradition becomes clear. A Jewish ethic is the result of a thought that positions itself lifnei meshurat hadin, beyond the limits of the law – that is, it depends on the law itself as a promise of overcoming the law. A militantly modern “Jewish ethics” is as Jewish as Breno Altman or André Lasjt.

The cemetery

The non-Orthodox world, the space in which a leftist Jew can experiment, is abandoned. Luxurious houses condemned to emptiness, inside which echo melodies by Debbie Friedman or Carlerbach for sad faces in search of petit-bourgeois comfort.

The responsibility for Brazilian Jewish bankruptcy lies with Brazilian Jews. If today the House of the People is a black hole that seeks to redeem itself from its own Judaism in favor of the trampled utopias of a socialist Israel or a purely secular, albeit moral and plural, Jewish civilization, the responsibility lies in the laps of those who, even who for a moment believed that Jewish consciousness resided in the blood, the cuisine, the songs, the beautiful stories or even the history of reaction to anti-Semitism.

Our hope is in a recovery. To paraphrase a young Leonard Cohen, there must be some place in Judaism that, instead of flowing into Zionism or psychology, flows into prayer.

*Ari Marcelo Solon He is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author of, among others, books, Paths of philosophy and science of law: German connection in the future of justice (Prisma). []

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