Thursday, May 27, 2010


On the subway in one direction, I'm listening to Dan Savage's podcast, and I look over and see the guy next to me is reading his column in the Village Voice.

On the subway back, I'm reading the Abbé Grégoire's 1788 manifesto on what's to be done about the Jews, the one that set the stage for the emancipation of France's Jews during the Revolution. More specifically, I'm reading the chapter where he explains that the Jews, they have kids way too young. I look up to see a very young Hasidic woman pushing a baby carriage, accompanied by a girl of about 14.


Mark Cohen said...

The early marriage issue was also on the minds of the French Jews who encountered the Ottoman Sephardim in the mid-19th century. (Rodrigue's French Jews, Turkish Jews is really great.) It will be interesting to see if this new traditionalism will be compatible with a tech-centered world, so that traditional Jews do not fall into the terrible poverty that afflicted so many in the past (and in Israel today). And even if it is, this new traditionalism is a reminder that history is not a straight march in one direction. It's kind of like a lost walker who after thinking he's finally figured out his way home finds himself back where he started, but now it is a little more familiar.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Yes, "French Jews, Turkish Jews" is excellent.

This is an interesting point - if secular/cultural Jews demographically give way to the sort who believe in early marriage, as the former marry out and the latter reproduce at greater rates, what comes of Jewish success in mainstream arenas, economic or otherwise? On the one hand, nothing good, but on the other, the strain of anti-Semitism focused on disproportionate Jewish representation will not have a whole lot of material.

Mark Cohen said...

Haha. Yes, but that's just a fig leaf anyway, and there was no shortage of anti-Semitism when the Jews were under-represented.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Anti-Jewish ideology absolutely predates Jewish mainstream successes. But anti-Semitism in the modern sense? It has certainly exaggerated those successes, implying that all Jews are rich bankers when most of the Jewish population of X was still peddling, but anti-Semitism, at least as I understand it, is largely about a belief that The Jews have what rightfully ought to belong to everyone else, or to some preexisting elite. Anti-Semitism is also about non-Jews defining the boundaries of Jewish identity according to whichever terms they see fit, ignoring internal Jewish (religious or cultural) definitions. Finally, and relatedly, anti-Semitism's about "outing" Jews, about defining as Jewish people who see themselves otherwise, or about exaggerating the importance of someone's Jewish identity beyond, again, how they happen to identify. All of this depends on the existence of some population of Jews, however minor, a) who have some kind of success in mainstream society, and b) who are not actively defining themselves as Jewish.