Required Reading for Rick Sanchez and Jon Stewart

What to make of Rick Sanchez’s bizarre and self-destructive anti-Semitic outburst? Well, Jon Stewart, who was the Jewish synecdoche in his rant, made some gentle fun of it and Rick Sanchez on his show Monday night. Yes, he made Sanchez look foolish, but Sanchez had already done that on his own. At the end, he pretty much lets him off the hook by stating, “I’m not even sure Sanchez believes what he’s saying.” There were some follow-up columns today, word of an apology and the whole affair seems ready to fade as its Friday to Monday lifespan expires.

Capitalism and the JewsBut missing in the ensuing fallout has been the more delicate question, not of whether Rick Sanchez believed what he was saying, but why, throughout the ages have similar charges been levelled at Jews and believed in the first place? Why is it that the refrain of “Jews control (fill in the blank: CNN, the media, the banks, all of capitalism)” has such durability?

There are two parts to that answer, and the first is the acknowledgement that Jews have been very succesful in the media and in Western capitalism generally. Prominently successful? Definitely. Disproportionately successful? Perhaps. And at times that success has made Jews a target for groups that are dissatisfied and under duress (and when your show is getting the shove for Eliot Spitzer’s comeback, you’re definitely under duress). While that explanation satisfies the sociological explanation of how one group comes to blame another, it sidesteps a more delicate question: Why are Jews more or more prominently successful in capitalist societies?

That is the question at the heart of Jerry Muller’s suddenly all-too-timely Capitalism and the Jews which is being featured on October 25 as a part of our Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival. The title itself is provocative because the Jewish community has been reluctant to discuss its own success so publicly. Muller writes in his introduction, “some Jews regard the public discussion of Jews and capitalism as intrinsically impolitic, as if conspiratorial fantasies about Jews and money can be eliminated by prudent silence.” In its willingness to look studiously at the history of Jews and the rise of capitalism, this book reminds me a lot of An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood by Neal Gabler, which tackled the history of the Jewish moguls who established the film industry as an economic and cultural force in American life.

While Gabler structured his book around the biographies of the Hollywood moguls and the studios they created, Muller breaks his study into four sections: “The Long Shadow of Usury,” which examines the rise of capitalism and Jews’ early roles in it; “The Jewish Response to Capitalism” which further explains the success of Jews in modern capitalist societies and the communal response to this dominant ism; “Radical Anticapitalism” which looks at what Muller calls “the dialectic of disaster; anti-Semitism led Jews to prominent positions in Communist movements, and their very salience in a movement that threatened existing society provided new fuel for anti-Semitism.” Finally, Muller looks at the sometimes lethal mix of capitalism and nationalism — and the important ways in which nationalistic kinship can both shape and be shaped by economic development and disaster.

Of course, a logical exposition of the history and consequences of Jews and capitalism should be all that’s needed to put to rest these silly conspiracy theories and fury-fueled anti-Semitic rants.

Then again, maybe Jon Stewart should have Jerry Muller on his show. They’d have a lot to talk about.

A Blog Post About Circumcision That Resists the Temptation to Use the Word “Cut” in a Pun, and Ends Up Promoting a Washington DCJCC Program After-All

My wife is a blogger. She blogs mainly about family building and infertility and there are two topics she has learned to studiously avoid: breastfeeding and more to the point here, especially circumcision.  Why? People’s opinions on these two matters become quickly polarized and flame-filled comments inevitably ensue [ see below].

So it is with some hesitation that I even bring this up, but today’s Washington Post article about Intactivists by Dan Zak got me thinking. Particularly this excerpt:

Spend some time with intactivists and you will hear how circumcision is responsible for, among other things, the oppression of women, sexual disharmony, deforestation, militarization, the rise and fall of empires and the invasion of foreign lands for oil.

Here’s a little experiment. In the above paragraph substitute the words “intactivists” and “circumcision” with “anti-Semites” and “Jews” respectively and tell me if the result isn’t something that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Aryan Nation website.  I’m in no way equating the anti-circ crowd with anti-Semites, but the breadth of “crimes” that each assigns to their adversary is certainly resonant.

It also seems to me, reading the article that Zak went out of his way to avoid using the “J” word. (Acutally, Zak’s article basically read like an excuse to repeatedly print the word “penis” in a family newspaper.) Certainly both Muslims and Jews practice male circumcision — according to Wikipedia 68% of circumcised men are Muslims. But there has historically been an anti-Semitic fetishization of Jewish circumcision and Jewish sexuality. All sorts of nineteenth and early-twentieth century literature speaks of a close tie between Jews and the transmission of syphillis. Among the more hysterical claims was that circumcision was actually a means of transmitting sexual diseases for which Jews had developed an immunity. The explicit claim was that Jewish sexual diseases were infecting a pure culture from within, and that circumcision was both tactic and strategy in this conquest.

Anti-circumcision activists are more than conscious of this history and go out of their way to disown those who would conflate Jews with circumcision. And yet… It still sits weirdly with me. Does the article say that Jason Siegel and Zachary Levi Balakoff, two young men who are on a hunger strike to expose male genital mutilation, are Jewish? No. But, come-on.  And I immediately think, what better prop to deflect charges of anti-Semitism than two young Jewish men outraged over their mutilated genitals. Lots of young Jewish men like myself are circumcised, have had quite nice sex lives thankyouverymuch, and have chosen to circumcise our sons. It’s hard not to be defensive in the face of Misters Siegel and Balakoff’s outrage. But hey, we all have our conspiracy theories.

In any case, how you feel about circumcision is probably something you should work out with your mate prior to marriage, and hey, we just happen to be offering a Tying The Knot: Premarriage Workshop in April. If this is a more pressing issue for you, which is to say you’ve got a bun in the oven, then you can also puzzle through the bris issues in our two-part workshop L’Amazing Baby: Childbirth Preparation with a Jewish Twist which is coming up in June.

Our First anti-Semitic Comment

This afternoon we got a clearly anti-Semitic comment on our post about Jewish refugees fleeing the fighting in Georgia. The commenter was responding not so much to the post, as to another comment that asserted (somewhat hysterically in my opinion) that a cataclysm of even greater proportions is awaiting the Jewish community in America.

I deleted the comment because I don’t think that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have a place on this blog. However, after hiting the delete button, I had a moment of doubt. Had I done the right thing? Should I have let the comment stand and responded? What kind of meaningful response was really possible with someone who hoped that Israel would be drawn into the Georgian-Russian War and that Putin would then, “fulfill Irans [sic] dream and most of the rest of the worlds[sic]” ?

Still, I do want this to be an open forum– I wouldn’t delete the comment of someone who had a legitimate gripe with the Washington DCJCC.  But I’m uncomfortable giving bandwidth to someone with such a hateful worldview. I wouldn’t have thought twice about deleting the comment if it had been racist towards blacks or another minority. So why should I second-guess this decision?

The reality is, if you want to find anti-Semitic canards on the web, you don’t have to look very far. Just type “Jew” into Google and see what you get. Of course, there is an argument to be made for confronting the hate-mongers head-on. I can see the logic there, and it may feel good in the moment to call a whackadoo a whackadoo. But what does it really accomplish?

What do you think?

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