Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Friday, 19 February 2010

Is There A Secular Jewish Culture

Haaretz recently ran an editorial accusing the Chareidi community of trying to monopolize Jewish culture all to themselves.  Apparently this was the triggering event:
At the Herzliya Conference, former Shas leader Aryeh Deri took part in a panel on education toward Jewish identity, and two of his points made it into the headlines. He said that until two centuries ago, religion simply was the Jewish culture. Since then, he says, secular Jewry has given us education but no culture, and he basically equated Jewish secular culture with reality TV. As a result, he thinks that the only common denominator for a dialogue on Jewish identity needs to be that God created the world and that the Torah was given to us by God. Everything else for him is barren.

The editorial goes on to make some valid points about the existence of what it calls secular Jewish culture.  Have certain forms of culture appeared in the last two centuries because of the initiative of various Jewish groups looking to express themselves?  Certainly.  Are these forms examples of Jewish culture?  Ah, now that depends.
For folks like Aryah Deri, as well as most observant Jews, the definition of Jewish culture is radically different than the one used by the secular population.  It is important to remember this when listening to statements made by folks on either side of the divide.  What Haaretz has done is to insist that their standards are somehow universal, that Deri should acknowledge that and therefore admit he, and all those who hold like him, are wrong.
Simply put, for religious Jews any culture which lacks an acknowledgement of God as the Creator of the universe and the giver of the Torah at Har Sinai cannot be considered a Jewish culture, even if its membership is 100% Jewish.  From the observant perspective, there is no such thing as secular Judaism.  The two terms contradict one another and I am certain that Deri is working from this perspective.
From the secular perspective, standards are a lot looser.  It seems that pretty much anything that is dominated by Jews eventually gains the Jewish adjective.  Woody Allen films are an example of Jewish culture, Israeli heavy metal music, general literature and television shows are as well for the secular population if only because it's Jews producing them, the sina qua non of calling something Jewish.
For Haaretz to criticize Deri is to arrogantly decide that their perspective is the perspective that all groups must see the world through.  This is patently unfair as it denies freedom of choice to any groups that disagree.  If it was Chareidim doing it, well fine and dandy.  Modern day Chareidim is about lack of choice and freedom of thought.  However, when such insistence comes from the sector of society supposedly championing intellectual inquire and freedom of belief, it simply stinks.

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