Tradition vs. Perchik
In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, which begins with the song Tradition, one of the modern obstacles that beset Tevye is a Jewish student and Russian Revolutionist named Perchik. Although his disturbance to the Jewish traditional way of life was not so devastating as that wrought by the Russian Christian peasant Fyedka, Perchik’s revolutionary fervor was perhaps more alluring, because he tried to prove the message of Marx and Lenin through the Bible. He interpreted the story of Jacob’s 14-year servitude to Laban as proof of the oppression of the worker by the unscrupulous employer, to which one of Tevye’s daughters remarked that it was an unorthodox interpretation.
In truth, the leaving of Jewish tradition imposes a burden of guilt that few Jews can withstand. To quell it, they try to find justification for their new ideology in the Scriptures, and there the phenomenon of Perchik, the scripture-quoting non-Orthodox Jew, lies. The Perchiks of today are left-wing Jews who justify their often anti-Israel, pro-appeasement stance with scriptural quotes and interpretations. This is not to say that all Perchiks are dangerous—the secular Zionists, the first Zionists, for example, were among the Perchiks of their day, justifying the setting up of a modern, socialist state for the Jews with the Torah’s promise, but G-d approved of them, and their project succeeded. (More: I surmise it was His choice for Zionism to start as a secular rather than religious movement, in order that the return of the Jews to their homeland be clean of the motive of accelerating the End of Days, which is what the Neturei Karta traitors accuse Zionism of.) But there are dangerous Perchiks today, those who justify the Gentiles’ draconian standards against Israel with scriptural passages. They construe G-d’s Word as a repository of left-wingery.
The American Left cry out, “G-d is not a Republican!” They are right: He is neither a Republican nor a Democrat; He does not adhere to any human ideology, but humans are best off adhering to His ideology. You can find in the Torah some passages beloved of right-wingers, and some beloved of left-wingers, but all it proves is the Torah’s being fully connected to the reality around us, fully relevant even though it is, to quote those who would disparage it, “a bronze age text”. It is not inconsistency, but simply the observation of the wisest man of all, King Solomon, that there is a time and season for everything. Neither the Right nor the Left should regard G-d’s Word as being in synch with their worldview—quite the opposite, all worldviews need to be evaluated according to their compliance with Him who is Righteousness.
One of the bones of contention between Catholicism and Protestantism in Christianity is the method of scriptural interpretation: the former say it is only for the magisterium of the church, and not for any other people, to interpret the scriptures, because only the members of the magisterium are divinely guided, while the Protestants say all believers have the gift of divine guidance and may therefore interpret the scriptures. The Jewish world had to contend with this dispute centuries before the Protestant Reformation: the Kara’ites too adhere to the doctrine of “Scripture Alone”, declaring the Oral Torah (the Talmud) external and therefore invalid. Rabbinical Judaism, now known as Orthodox Judaism, holds the Oral Torah necessary for the correct interpretation of the Written Torah. The most commonly cited case for the Orthodox Jewish view is the mitzvah of circumcision, which cannot be interpreted as a command to cut the foreskin on the basis of the Written Torah alone.
The preceding paragraph was to make it clear that, though all Perchiks past and present can dig up the best of Marx and Engels from within the words of the Jewish Bible, those interpretations are almost invariably beyond the pale of Tevye’s Tradition—rabbinical, Orthodox Jewish tradition. The merits or demerits of socialism should be discussed on their own terms, in the secular, academic framework; if you find many passages in the Scriptures that look like agreeing to 19th-century theories of economic orthopraxy, that means those theories are in synch with G-d’s view, and not the other way round. It means Marx himself may have been influenced by the Scriptures and made a whole ideological spin-off out of them, not that Marxism follows from a straightforward interpretation of them—there is no straightforward interpretation of the Written Torah, that’s why G-d gave His people the Oral Torah at Sinai as well.
Our G-d is certainly the G-d of the weak and oppressed, of the widow and the orphan, of the peasant and the slave. Certainly any doctrine that one’s financial success is the mark of G-d’s favor upon him is a moral and theological perversion. But from that to finding support for Leftism in the Jewish Bible—that is a stretch. There is no word of disapproval of a totally free market, and no word of approval for a tightly-managed economy; if a society can be kept clean of oppression in a laissez-faire economy, then G-d approves, and if millions end up tortured and killed in Communist gulags, then His wrath will be upon that society. Far less important to Judaism are theoretical castles than the facts on the ground. There is justification from the Torah for criticism of both Left and Right political angles, because the Torah stands above those.
And now to the left-wing Perchiks of today: many of their precepts that they attribute to the Torah are not only absent from it, but also antithetical to it. Above all, the narratives of post-colonialism and of humanist psychology are decidedly opposed to G-d’s Word, even just the Written Torah.
There is one verse in the book of Exodus that—forgive my flight of fancy—I can picture G-d saying, before writing it, “I’m going to put this in to stump the left-wingers”. Exodus 23:3 says, “Neither shalt thou favour a poor man in his cause”. The verse is intended for judges, telling them not to take a person’s poverty or any other misfortune as a factor in issuing the verdict. It is a striking verse: when we read, in the Torah as in probably all other codes of law, a commandment to judges to beware of bribes, an absolute prohibition against them taking a bribe, we are not surprised, because it is so obvious, from just a cursory look at human societies all over the world, that the problem of plutocracy, of the rich subverting the law with their money, is a big one to contend with; but, out of the same instinct, we hardly entertain the thought that the poor could do the same, with their poverty. For is G-d not the G-d of the weak and oppressed?
He is the G-d of justice. Standing for the weak and oppressed fares a lot into His system, because the wrongs done to the weak and oppressed are contrary to justice. But this is not because the poor, the underdogs, have an inherent, automatic value in G-d’s eyes! That is as surely a left-wing perversion as is the aforementioned right-wing doctrine of prosperity as indicator of G-d’s favor. One is not made righteous by being poor and oppressed. One is not, as it were, washed clean of all his sins in the blood of his victimhood. One is righteous or wicked according to his deeds as held against G-d’s statutes, and no external factor should be allowed to taint that judgment. G-d is telling the judges, in Exodus 23:3, to judge as He does: objectively.
The Left’s alliance with the Muslims either unconsciously assumes, or consciously justifies itself with, the Torah’s stance in defense of the weak and oppressed. But the Leftists ignore the mitzvah in Exodus 23:3 to exercise objective judgment, so that they end up supporting oppressors worldwide, and advocating mercy to the cruel and cruelty to the merciful. Beginning from the premise that the man is a black African, anti-American and Marxist, they can display complete silence in the face of Robert Mugabe’s oppressive rule of Zimbabwe, while berating President Bush with fire and brimstone for allegations of the same. But G-d says an oppressor is an oppressor, a wrongdoer a wrongdoer, the wicked wicked, no matter their skin color, no matter their placement on the political map, no matter how many centuries they were subject to oppression themselves before oppressing others.
The Jewish quislings who have not a word to say in Israel’s defense, and every word for the “Palestinians”, tout the same: “Oppressing another people is un-Jewish”. “Occupying another people, having stolen their land, is contrary to Judaism”. Oh, all of a sudden those bashers of faith, calling religion “ancient superstition” and comparing G-d to Mother Goose, feel a need to turn to the Torah (I wonder why, if one believes, as they nearly all do, that it is just another human text—might as well quote from Marx’s Communist Manifesto and be done with it). All those scriptural justifications of left-wing anti-Zionism seem so sensible on the face of it, but then so did Perchik’s Marxist interpretations, answered only by the daughter pointing that they were contrary to Tradition.
If you start from the premise that the state of Israel is the Goliath wishing to dominate the nation of the nearly defenseless David, the weak and oppressed Palestinian nation, which wants nothing but a homeland of its own, then yes, you can rant against Israel’s “oppression” and “occupation” and “land grab” committed against the Palestinians. But then, you don’t need to use the Jewish Bible as justification. In fact, you’d better not quote scripture to justify that stance, because it pokes quite a few big holes in it. First, Exodus 23:3 tells you not to take any of the sides’ situations into account, but instead to evaluate the facts objectively. Israel is surrounded by about a score of enemy states, of which the Palestinian state is one, and last time I checked, Goliath was supposed to bigger than David. Following more of the objective research that G-d enjoins, it is quite a stretch to believe in the narrative of “the Palestinians just wanting a homeland for themselves” when they use the territories given them not for building their homeland but as rocket bases for firing at the other side. Might the judge consider taking this evidence into account before delivering the verdict? Second, the Left’s foregone conclusion that the “occupied territories” aren’t our (Jews’) lands might itself need some rethinking, particularly in the light of the statements in that selfsame Torah that they are.
Outside of G-d’s Promised Land, the left-wing Perchiks bring His word to support their post-colonial, multiculturalist fantasies, namely the idea that all people are the same, sharing the same dreams. But the vision of world peace and brotherhood of all humans is taken from the books of the prophets, a fact which by itself should raise suspicion. And indeed, this vision is for the End of Days, which are not here yet, while now the state of humanity is described by the non-prophetic passages of the Jewish Bible, especially in the books of the Torah.
The idea of universal human culture and desires (before the End of Days) is not of the Jewish Bible—it is of the theories of the humanist psychologists of the 1960’s (the decade whose innumerable rotten fruits we are now eating today), going back all the way to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s philobarbarism and the concept of the “noble savage”. G-d will have nothing of the “noble savage”—He did not embrace the Ancient Near Eastern polytheists’ sacrifices of babies as “diversity adding to the rich multicultural texture of human experience”, and He does not accept Islamic splodeydoping (suicide bombing) as such today. If anything, it was British colonialist General Sir Charles Napier (“We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them.”) who was Biblical in his attitude, elevating the primacy of his morality over the request to show “cultural sensitivity”.
It is thought universal for mothers to value the lives of their children more than anything else. Humanist psychology assumes it, for it cannot stand without the theory of human common dreams. But perchance the Creator of humanity knows a little better: He spares no word to describe, and then to condemn, practices which in the framework of humanist psychology would be unthinkable. So too in Genesis 16:12, where He describes Ishmael’s way of life from then to the End of Days, our Torah-toting Perchiks would bristle, accusing the author of “racism” and “insensitivity toward the other”. It is their right to bristle, but it is also their duty to look at the world and judge whether this prophecy has not come to pass. With Ishmael’s descendants, ideological, not necessarily genetic, laying their hands all over the globe, from Al-Andalus to soon-to-be Caliphornia, I think the jury is in on the relevance of G-d’s “racist” words about Ishmael.
Yet Perchik will not bend to the facts, for Perchik is Perchik, using the Torah as a tool for the furtherance of his own goals, instead of listening to G-d’s words unto him. He will keep forgiving the underdogs all their crimes, by virtue of their being underdogs, despite Exodus 23:3, and he will keep believing in the universality of human dreams and in the need to respect all cultural practices, despite G-d’s express disagreement with any moral relativism. While ignoring those inconvenient passages, and so many more, he will keep quoting Scripture for supporting his unorthodox views, just like Hugo Chávez not caring much about religion except for accusing Jews of being Christ-killers and calling President Bush “El Diablo”. But we all know that Perchik has let himself get carried away by the fashions of the age, while we live through the ages informed by…