Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ties that re-bind

Homemade matzoh, via BetterBatter.
Shorter David Brooks, "A Long Obedience", New York Times, April 15 2014:
Passover is such a liberal holiday, with all this emphasis on slaves escaping to freedom and getting to do whatever they want, so I prefer to ignore it, and get an early start on Shavuot instead.
A remarkably rich and insane column, seriously suggesting that the feast of the Passover is mistaken in celebrating the Hebrews' escape from their Egyptian bondage when it ought to be celebrating God's giving to Moses of the Law (613 count 'em 613 commandments) 40 years later (and seven weeks later in the Jewish calendar, when it has its own holiday, as Brooks surely knows, the Feast of Weeks, June 3-5 this year), which Brooks says was a "re-binding", as clarified in the commentaries of Rabbis Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin:
When John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin wanted to put Moses as a central figure on the Great Seal of the United States, they were not celebrating him as a liberator, but as a re-binder. It wasn’t just that he led the Israelites out of one set of unjust laws. It was that he re-bound them with another set of laws. Liberating to freedom is the easy part.
Well, that, for one thing, is really not true:
Ben Franklin described the proposed Seal in this manner:  “Moses standing on the shore, and extending his hand over the sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand.  Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the clouds reaching to Moses to express that he acts by Command of Deity. Motto: Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
What seems to interest Brooks to begin with is the psychodrama of Moses as politician, which he might be getting from Aaron Wildavsky's Moses as Political Leader (2005; or its original publication in 1984 as The Nursing Father). Initially Moses fails as a leader by being violent, meek, whiny, and overly impulsive, all at the same time, until at last his wife takes over, just in the nick of time (in Exodus 4:24-26, when God is for some unexplained reason attempting to murder him):
Even after he’s summoned to lead his people at the burning bush, Moses has still not fully learned this lesson. He rushes off to his task, but he doesn’t pause to circumcise his son — the act that symbolizes the covenant with God. A leader who isn’t himself obedient to the rules is not going to be effective, so God tries to kill Moses. Fortunately, Moses’s wife, Zipporah, grabs a sharp stone and does the deed.
(Well, I think it's unexplained.) That figure of Zipporah, the Gentile-born wife who becomes more Jewish than the husband, charged with maintaining the family's religious identity, may be of interest to those familiar with the Brooks biography. Anyway, in Wildavsky, if I'm not mistaken, this spontaneous bris and the blood that gets on Moses's legs form an analogy with the binding of Isaac when Abraham was commanded to kill him and thus "re-bind" Moses in his own leadership role, readying him to re-bind the people of Israel in turn, into the law. And
The laws spiritualize matter, so that something very normal, like having a meal, has a sacred component to it.
This, together with the idea of the law as "re-binding", is probably taken from A History of Religion in 5½ Objects by S. Brent Plate (2014). If so, he has badly misunderstood it: because to Plate, the idea of re-binding  (re-ligio, of course, what religion etymologically is) as a binding of humans through law is explicitly dismissed (as something the smarter students bring up before he takes it deeper): what Passover is above all about is matzoh, the physicality of bread; and the religious re-binding in general is of
the half-body to the world, connecting the interior realms of existence to the exterior realms, and thus crafting soul. And maybe, just maybe, the soul is produced when humans consciously engage the things and bodies of the world. Soulcraft. The soul, on this account, is not some interior, invisible substance. Rather, it is thoroughly material, stemming from physical connections (though not, à la Descartes, found in a specific part of the anatomy). It is not some immortal, immutable essence, but a human production that comes and goes, ebbs and flows. 
 And religion is not a Burkean-Brooksian instrument of social control. Or shouldn't be, anyhow.
Via Mile End Deli, Montréal.
Even Jews have different takes on how exactly one must observe the 613 commandments
That "even" is just funny. Like, "even carnivores eat meat." Having different takes is practically a definition of what it means to be Jewish, isn't it?

No comments:

Post a Comment