Friday, September 29, 2006

The Ten Worst Jews

I thought it would be a useful idea before Yom Kippur to try to work out who were the worst Jews in recent times. The blogosphere is so busy, talking about rabbis, rabbis, rabbis, the tail-end of Jewish life is not being adequately covered. I think of it as a sort of anti-rebbe baseball cards. The exercise is not that easy, so I want to confine my first set of awful Jews to ten. I’m looking for ten people who were famous and acted in such a way that they were a shame to the Jewish people. I’m not interested in some isolated Son-of-Sam- like psychopath. There are 3 subcategories, the mass murderers, the apostates and the self haters.

Let’s start with Lev Davidovich Trotsky. I would start with Lenin, but it’s only a rumor that he’s Jewish. Trotsky is all ours. Even though in his last years he became an opponent of Stalin, he was the people’s commissar for war and the commander of the Red Army during the Russian Civil War. In these positions, he managed to make his own unique contribution to the history of mass slaughter. He was a leading player in the dictatorship that led to Stalin. Stalin killed forty million people. A pox on all three of them..

Rosa Luxembourg, the fiery communist leader of the German communist Party is my next choice. She was a true believer in communism, which in my book is not a sin and doesn’t qualify one for a 10 worst list. She joins this elite group because of her Bolshevik politics of refusing to join with other democratic socialists. Her legacy together with Trotsky’s was felt in the 30’s when the German communists adopted the cynical slogan that the worse things get, the better it will be. Their refusal to join with the socialists led to the electoral victories of the Nazis and allowed Hitler to come to power. Communism deserves some of the responsibility for Hitler gaining control. 10 million dead here, 10 million there, after a while it adds up.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Everyone of a certain age knows their story. At the time there were some questions concerning the case, but over the years the evidence has accumulated that they spied for the Soviet Union and were responsible for transferring hydrogen bomb secrets to Stalinist Russia, which in turned triggered the Cold War and a huge arms buildup. I can understand people being communist; I can not understand how people could have spied for Stalin.

I would say the most self hating Austrian Jew of the 20th century period was either Karl Kraus or Otto Weininger. Kraus wrote a satirical anti-Semitic magazine that was witty, sharp and appealing to German speakers. Today it is difficult to know what all the fuss was about, but everyone including Freud and Wittgenstein read him diligently. He converted to Catholicism and was not fond of Jews to say the least. Weininger wrote a major anti-Semitic and misogynist work, Sex and Character. Here once again, everyone from Freud to Wittgenstein read the book, and it was widely used by proto Nazi groups. He committed suicide, not a minute too soon.

The case of Freud is different. He certainly was no tchachke. He married his wife partially because he was attracted to her lineage as the granddaughter of Chacham Bernays, the Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Hamburg. Once married, he didn’t allow his wife to light candles on Friday night. His mother spoke only Galitzianer Yiddish, lived with him to a ripe old age, yet he always denied knowing how to read Hebrew letters. I think he was lying so as to make himself appear more assimilated. As he got older, he got a little better. He said a nice word or two about Zionism and he never denied being a Jew. There was a fair amount of Jewish self-hatred in Freud, but I would not consider him one of the ten worst Jews, if for no other reason, that his discoveries changed the world and Jewish life for the better. He analyzed the great Jewish feminist Bertha Pappenheim, and he helped the 5th Lubavitcher Rebbe, the RaSHa’’B, overcome his depression. His self-hatred was not much worse than the young Herzl or the novelist Arthur Schnitzler

My next choice is a triplet of important Jewish women philosophers, Simone Weill, Edith Stein and Gilian Rose, all of whom became apostates. There is a large literature on Weill. Alasdair MacIntyre has just written a philosophical appraisal of how Stein came to be a Carmelite nun. Stein was murdered in Auschwitz and was later canonized by Pope John Paul II. In a wonderfully erudite and learned review Rabbi Arnold Wolff wrote of Rose “In the last hours before her death, Rose was received into the Anglican church. Her admirers, particularly her Jewish admirers, were and remain dumbfounded, since she had professed a critical loyalty to Judaism for all of her adult life.” I learnt a lot from Gilian Rose, and continue to think about her. Shame on all of them.

Hannah Arendt is my next choice as a self hating Jew. She is only a temporary member, depending on how it all turns out when her correspondence is unsealed. I will write more about her in future blogs..

Dorothea Mendelsohn was the daughter of the famous philosopher and student of Reb Yonason Eybischutz, Moses Mendelssohn. After she married Simon Veit, she flipped her sheitel and ran off and married the romantic poet Friedrich Schlegel. She wasn’t the only Orthodox women in the Berlin of the 1790’s to leave their husbands, convert and marry a German Christian. Six of her Orthodox Jewish friends converted. What earns her a special place in Jewish history is that she convinced her siblings and nephews and nieces to do the same. The more I read about her and the other Berlin salonieren the more problematic they become. Something was very wrong in the Orthodox Jewish community of 1790’s Berlin. I have no clue what caused these rich, educated and cultured women to convert. I believe the Rav of the community at the time was the author of one the side commentaries in all the standard editions of the Yerushalmi, the Korban Haedah. He must have been clueless.

Margherita Sarfatti was an Italian Jewish woman who was Mussolini’s mistress from 1911 well into the 20’s. In turn, she became an important writer and cultural advisor for Italian fascism. Susan Sarendon portrayed her in the Tim Robin’s movie “The Cradle will Rock” (1999). She was colorful, very bright, but she was also an apologist for some very bad people. She managed to live through the Second World War by going into exile in Argentina and lived to a ripe old age.

The Jewish husbands of Alma Mahler namely Gustav Mahler and Franz Werfel. Mahler was a great composer who converted to Catholicism ostensibly because of his desire to advance his career. I’m not so sure. If one listens to the early symphonies, it is possible to detect fragments of nigunim. By the time you get to symphony 8,9, and 10, they sound, at least to my ear, very much the sort of music one would write if redemption in the Catholic sense was on one’s mind. Schoenberg, an equally impressive composer, after converting to Protestanism saw his mistake and returned to Jewish life. One has the feeling with Mahler that as the years went by he entered into the Catholic mind frame. Franz Werfel was a novelist and a screenwriter. He lived with Alma Mahler during World War II. Alma was a Nazi sympathizer. He also wrote the book and the screenplay for the Catholic propaganda movie “Song of Bernadette.” Not nice for a Jewish boy.

10 My last choice is Rabbi Kaufman Kohler and the other authors of the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform. I ask the interested reader to compare the 1885 platform with the new much more mentschlich Reform Pittsburgh Platform adopted in 1999. It took Reform Judaism fifty years and more to recover from the hatred of ritual and the anti Zionism of the 1885 platform. The goals of the Hamburg reformers in the 1810’s were truly modest in comparison to the radical revisionist ideas that culminated in the 1880’s. I would be interested in hearing from readers that have a different take on the consequences of the anti Zionism, pro-assimilation ideas of classical reform.

The best example of a Jewish self-hater was John, the author of the fourth Gospel, the Logos guy, but that’s going quite a ways back. It is true to say, however, that if it weren’t for John, there would have been far fewer inquisitions and pogroms over the years. In general, Jewish self-hatred is more of a European phenomenon, and is not so obvious in America or Israel these days. Why this is so is a longish story, but essentially it has to do with the conditions that the Germans set for entry into the body politic. It bent many Jews out of shape.

Finally I offer an alternate candidate a man who in the mind of far too many is a good man, a hero…Dr. Baruch Goldstein. I figure the crowd that rejects Kohler and Co. will have no problem with Goldstein and vice versa.

The new field of ‘debit Jews’ is wide open (ARE THEY the Ketanim? Sounds odd. Maybe the PC word ‘challenged’ would work. Also dopey. Let’s say the optimal name is one more unsolved problem in this burgeoning science). I welcome all suggestions. It is still possible to get in on the ground floor.

A gemar chasima tova to all.

10 Comments:

At 2:12 AM, Blogger Greg said...

"Weininger wrote a major anti-Semitic and misogynist work, Sex and Character."

There is nothing misogynistic in 'Sex & Character'.

 
At 9:51 AM, Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Chacham Bernays, the Sefardi Chief Rabbi of Hamburg.

Slight, pedantic correction. Haham Isaac Bernays was not Sephardic. He took the title Haham possibly because he felt it was less charged than the title rabbi, which was then at a low point in the esteem of the people. Another reason is that when he was hired he felt that too many limitations would be imposed upon him the community he served as rabbi--if he would serve as rabbi. So he chose to be Haham Bernays instead.

See http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=884&letter=B

 
At 10:31 AM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Greg,I'm so pleased there is someone in the world who has an opinion on Weininger, but I'm really puzzled why you say he was not a misogynist. If Jews are inferior to Aryans because they are like women, aren't women inferior to men because they are like Jews? Isn't that misogynist?

Mississippi Fred Macdowell...Thank you for the correction. I really knew this; I would attribute my forgetting to a senior moment. But you're a hundred percent correct.

I learn something everytime I go to your blog.

 
At 11:00 AM, Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Thanks :) I really like your blog as well. Very informative and well written--a killer combination!

 
At 7:20 AM, Blogger Greg said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 7:24 AM, Blogger Greg said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 7:25 AM, Blogger Greg said...

"If Jews are inferior to Aryans because they are like women, aren't women inferior to men because they are like Jews? Isn't that misogynist?"

It is certainly the case that women are inferior to men in certain respects and from the perspective of certain values. One always judges something from the perspective of one's values. Weininger judges women with the values of genius, rationality, individuality, freedom and greatness and finds them lacking in comparison with men. Is this misogynist?

 
At 9:39 AM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Yes...I would think since it is driven by false beliefs about women, the purported diffrentials in rationality,etc, that an impartial observer would see to be false. In addition there are independent biographial considerations to believe he was misogynist.

 
At 10:53 AM, Blogger Greg said...

Which biographical considerations are you thinking of?

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Greg-Perhaps you should take a look at Otto Weininger-Sex, Science, and Self in Imperial Vienna by Chandak Sengoopta and the references cited. I have no extra knowledge other than what I learnt from the book and the bibliography.

 

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