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Universalism and Tribalism

by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen


Universalism and Tribalism
Universalism and Tribalism

Since the emergence of Marxism in its various iterations, the Western World (I don’t like calling it the civilized world) has been divided roughly by two broad ideologies. Socialism/Marxism and Capitalism /Fascism. In both, the moderates, (who might prefer to call themselves Liberals), have more in common with each other than with their extremes. Israel is a perfect example of a society containing and divided by the different variations of the complete spectrum. The current crisis highlights a huge divide between universalist ideals and nationalist or tribal ideals. Tribalism is regarded as primitive, and dangerous. Universalism or internationalism on the other hand is healthy, good, and enlightened. Conventional wisdom suggests these two are irreconcilable. I argue to the contrary that both are necessary. Why shouldn’t the cultures of Europe, say, be preserved as independent, separate and distinct? So long as they can get on with each other. Judaism has elements of both tribalism and universalism. They are both expressed in the Torah and the Talmud. On the one hand the Creation story asserts the universality of humanity. All of stemming from one source. It reiterates the obligation to respect and welcome strangers and encourage them to be part of the community in terms of rights civil rights. We have no concept that you must be a Jew to be a good or holy person. As the Nation of Israel emerges and encounters other nations, which share its ethical and civil laws, the prophets constantly stressed the ideal of universality. To give just one of many examples: “In the days to come, the Mount of GOD’s House will stand firm above the mountains, and tower above the hills. And all the nations will come and look on it with joy...and they will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, nation will not fight nation and there will be no more wars” (Isaiah 2:2-4 abbreviated). What a universalist vision. On the other hand, the Jewish people is a nation with its Torah as its culture. And therefore, is specific and particular. Even if it’s different components and constituencies are at odds. We have a moral right to exist and to defend our homeland, despite the so-called United Nations. Thousands of years after the words of Isaiah were spoken, humanity is still divided, full of hatred and a desire to kill, torture and rape. Islands of peaceful coexistence still exist. But they are rapidly being undermined and divided by rigid ideologies that assert victimization, tribal conflict and exclusivity. And whereas massive immigration is both necessary and essential economically and demographically it is hugely divisive with peoples from different and less progressive cultures undermining peace and the values of host nations. At the same time left and right, ideologies divide, stir up hatred, while those that seek to unite are dismissed and losing the narrative. Martin Luther King was one of the conciliatory voices of black America when Jews and blacks marched together. He preached “let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness.” His gospel has now faded. Instead, it is the gospel of Malcom X and the unspeakable Farrakhan’s Black Nation of Islam that have been adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement which itself has brought division to the Black world. And in tandem, the pro-Nazi thinkers Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt are popular exponents of the obligation of cultures to exclude “the other” and focus on exclusivity and tribal superiority. Ironically woke, coming from the left should be universalist. But quite the contrary. It defines people by their apparent race ( though it fails to define race unless it is through back color). Woke fashionable theories such as intersectionality decide how, and which minorities are to be classified as suffering and oppressed and who not. Like all those discredited theories of racial priority, superiority and eugenics that led to inhumanity, they have no proven or tested validity. To make matters worse, they exclude Jews by defining them to suit their prejudices. They decide what race Jews are even if in Israel there are Jews of all races and backgrounds, and it is made up of a complete cross-section of ideas and peoples. And far more tolerant than most to the countries and racial groups that scream like houris against Israel while they themselves oppress women, gays, and transgenders, resort to beheadings, rape and torture and murder or use their own as human shields without a second thought. Susan Neiman in her recent book reviewed by the NYRB “ Left is Not Woke” says. “Woke begins with concern for marginalized persons and ends by reducing each to the prism of marginalization. The idea of intersectionality might have emphasized the ways in which all of us have more than one identity. Instead, it led to a focus on those parts of our identities that are most marginalized and multiplies them into trauma.” Thus Jews cannot expect sympathy if they are attacked, tortured, or raped because they must be responsible. The world, having abandoned the Jews to Hitler and Stalin was willing to feel some regret when Jews were weak. But the moment that they defended themselves. And refused to capitulate, they were accused of being aggressors. Even if they wanted peace when the others manifestly did not. In the Western world neither schools nor universities will even listen to a Jewish Israeli narrative. For generations, the West and the UN have funded the poison of Palestinian hatred. Infecting their children with genocidal intentions. And refusing to accept that they bear a measure of responsibility for their own fate. Very little in life is black or white there are always different ways of looking at situations of conflict and disagreement. The least one can do is to make sure one is informed of both sides and then make up one's mind. Sadly, these words will be ignored by the very people who need to hear them and consider another point of view. The virus has taken hold. Why do some rejoice in killing whereas you will not see Israelis pouring out on to the streets when there are victims of war, celebrating, handing out sweets or rewarding killers. It is interesting that two of the biggest masses of population in the world today united by anger, are either Internationalists-socialists, or Islamists. And both of them are riddled with hatred of Jews and the Jewish State. Israel was deluded by 75 years of relative peace to think that we could keep the lid on a boiling kettle that most of the world really wanted wanted to see boil over. The west is changing. We are the canary in the mine, and if the rest of the world does not wake up, we may be the last ones left standing. ###


Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.

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