Sunday, February 26, 2012

David Klinghoffer on Judaism

My friend David Klinghoffer has a great post on ignorance and the New Atheists. David does a wonderful job condensing such a massive topic. What really caught my eye was his comment about Jerry Coyne's abject ignorance of his own Jewish intellectual heritage.


Judaism is a faith with a vast and profound tradition in which it expects Jews to school themselves. I don't think there's a faith in the world that assumes more in the way of self-education by its adherents -- knowledge of texts, interpretation, law, philosophy, mysticism, and much else. It's for precisely this reason that Judaism is so susceptible to lampooning by the shamelessly ignorant. It remains, as my wife likes to say, the world's most unknown religion. Unknown by most Jews too! Not that this has stopped many an ignorant Jew from lecturing others about the laughable deficiencies of his ancestors' faith.
For a Christian, I've had what I think is an ample personal acquaintance with Judaism. My best friend when I was a kid was Jewish, and I was invited regularly to Temple, to celebrations of Jewish holidays, and to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. In college, most of my friends were Jewish, and in my job now perhaps half of my closest friends are Jewish. My wife's side of the family (her father) are Jewish and frequently invite us for celebrations.

I love Jewish culture. Don't get me wrong-- I'm a passionate Catholic (as you may have noticed!), but Judaism has always fascinated me. There is a respect for learning, an intellectual rigor, and a fundamental decency and humor that I much admire.

Last spring I attended a family Bat Mitzvah. The temple service was long-- two had a half hours-- but it was beautiful and fascinating. My niece did a wonderful job learning Hebrew and reciting her part of the service, and I was fascinated by the meticulous analysis of Torah. My non-Jewish family felt the same way.

David is right to tout Judaism's passion for texts and deep learning. So much of what we value in modern Western culture has its roots in the uniquely Jewish understanding of the world. Some of that understanding is transmitted through Jewish culture, and much of it is transmitted through Christian culture, which is deeply rooted in Judaism.

I have no tolerance for anti-Semitism. None. The calumny and outright murder perpetrated against these good people over centuries-- and particularly in this century-- is one of the great shames of mankind. On a proportionate basis, no faith has done such good for mankind, and suffered so much for it, as Judaism.

Of course there are criticisms to be made of individuals who are Jewish-- anti-Christian bias and atheism are all too common in some sectors of the Jewish community-- but it's worth noting that the propensity to such wrongs is related closely not to Judaism itself but to the renunciation of Judaism. Faithful Jews and Christians share so much in common, including our common adversaries.

The rightful attitude of Christians to Jews in one of respect, admiration, gratitude, and even love, as in the love of a child for a parent.


  1. One of my oldest and closest friends and colleagues is an Israeli Jew (former IDF) historian. We had worked together on a task force were he was the CO. Our common interests, ideas, and strategies quickly put me in the position of XO. This shocked many of the men we worked with, who saw us as almost polar opposites in manner. The result was that we were known as 'Spock and Kirk' (myself being hot headed and emotional James T, even though I was subordinate).

    That experience broke down the walls, as it were. I had Jewish friends as a lad, even been to 'Temple' once or twice, but never had I knelt and prayed along side a Jew.
    We called it 'hedging our bets' :P
    We both FIRMLY believed we were praying to the same God.
    We ARE both convinced we share enemies.
    Since then my (now adult) son and I stayed with them at their home in the North of Israel actually ON the Lebanese border.
    He took us around that beautiful land and introduced us to so much, I could not even begin to encapsulate it here. We had coffee with Bedouin, walked through ancient aquifers, spent a solemn day at Yad Vashems, another at the ANZAC cemetary, floated about in the dead sea, snorkelled the red sea, scaled old Crusader forts, and ultimately made pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre. So much in 3 weeks.
    Yes, that's right - we made pilgrimage with a Jew... or should I say he did with us. He, not I, said of that pilgrimage: it was 'a beautiful experience, full of spiritual worth'. I will always remember those kind words.
    He also made sure we arrived for a holiday (second time) during Purim. A MUST see if ever planning a trip to the Holy land.
    Of all the friends I have in this capacity, it is his company I miss the most.
    Currently we are working together again in a different capacity. No less confidential. But I will leak a bit here:

    We are working on a 5 year timeline of a joint invasion of the State of Florida. The purpose? We need to located and reconnoitre the complex of a certain mouse, and thereby insert several youngsters to observe and collect data on the technology of said mouse, and his allies (a Duck, two 'dogs', an unknown player known as a 'Pooh', and a gang of pirates that are known to work with them.)
    So far we have the white paper drawn up, have clearance from our CO's (wives) and are just now beginning the logistics and budget process.
    We both have high hopes for success!
    Brilliant post mike.
    Of me and my friend, we started by sharing the same God and our enemies.... but we have found much more. We have found a real and lasting friendship that transcends those aspects.

    BRILLIANT post, Dr Egnor...
    But I am afraid you have just murdered my phone bill for the month.
    I've now a long call I need to make :)

    1. ***Mike***
      Sorry, mate. It's bright in here :P

  2. I don't know as much as I'd like to about Judaism, either. Time to find some good titles on Audible ...

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Wow! First time I have seen that on Egnorance, and there has been some really nasty stuff posted by detractors and flamers.
      Must have been something to end with a deletion. And of course, I missed it.... Probably a good thing.
      Cheers, Doc.
      Thanks for keeping the blog engaging, fun, and more or less sane in in the comments.

    2. @crus:

      It was a post by troy, who is no longer welcome here. He has repeatedly called me an anti-Semite (and asserted that I am a racist), despite warnings.

      I don't mind insults, but that is a lie and pure malice, without redeeming value.

    3. It is a funny age we live in when the truth, or our personal perceptions of it, are silenced with hysterical and unfounded cries of 'racism!'
      I applaud your for the reciprocal approach.
      He wanted to silence you and your blog, and now he must remain silent himself.
      It is a shame it came to that, but you have dealt with the mess splendidly.
      If I may say it: with military precision!

      I was just reading an article about people being ARRESTED and detained WITHOUT arrest in the UK for comments deemed 'racist'. Having been born and spent my childhood there, this seems UNTHINKABLE.
      Racism, as ugly as it can be, is a idea - a thought. Making thoughts Criminal (even ugly ones) in the land that gave us Orwell seems impossible. But, it is happening and it is being pushed by 'progressive' thinkers - the very same people who, in previous generations, gave the world a scientific framework for racialist ideals and now revere the authors of those ideas as 'visionary' and 'great' people.

      The only pragmatic reasoning I can see for this push is to literally engineer a back lash. Knowingly or unknowingly they swing the pendulum so far that it MUST swing back... and with great force.
      This can only lead to neo-fascism or defeat at the hands of a more potent and honest ideological system... and indeed such policy is lending more and more popular support to parties and cultures that could be described as such.

      Mike, you and I know each other only from our 'online' interactions, and as such we know little of the others personal position on 'race'. That said, I have never been given reason, from reading your online work or your ideas on God, to assume you have ANY racial prejudice. In fact, I would say your BEYOND your substantive posts, that your profession and religion are evidence to the contrary: You believe in a loving God who created ALL men, and your work everyday to help increase the quality of life of ALL men.
      Hardly a racial bigot.