04 June 2009

Faces in a Book

Yesterday, between meetings and phone calls, I pulled an old favorite article off the shelf, the late historian Gerhsom Scholem's essay entitled, "Who is a Jew?" Originally an address he gave to the meeting of the Central Conference of American Rabbis at their Jerusalem conference that year, Scholem's essay is a favorite of mine for its bold willingness to think beyond the classic definition which comes from Jewish law--a Jew is defined as a Jew when he/she comes from a Jewish mother.

Scholem was given to thinking in radical historical terms, a personal perspective which led to his becoming a Zionist, an historical and ideological position that then further shaped the thinking in this article.

Two favorite quotes from the piece:

"During the last hundred years, following the full achievement of emancipation in Western world around 1860, there has set in a new historical process which has profoundly changed our self-definition as against that of the Halakhah."

and

"The question is whether the definitions found in sacred books are really decisive for most Jews in the determination of a personal affiliation to the Jewish group."

In any case, in a quick gesture, I posted to my Facebook page the quote: Andy Bachman is re-reading Gershom Scholem's 1970 essay, "Who Is A Jew?" If you don't have it, I'll send it to you. Great stuff.

In moments, I had nearly twenty responses requesting the article along with several private emails asking for it. It was an astounding example of the power of this tool not just for social but for intellectual organizing (an oxymoron?) The challenge here will be to see if and how people respond and to figure out how, if at all, we all talk about the content of the article.

Maybe no discussion will ensue--that would be a loss and proof of one of the great overblown exaggerations of the connected on-line world--or maybe the pdfs will fly and others, across the land, connected by their faces in a book, will take Gershom Scholem's words and have a great talk somewhere that will lead to something and we'll all be the richer for it.

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