Stuff that is and isn’t true

“Lately I’ve begun to see so many things about me or my work that aren’t true. It’s become so easy to spread these fictions through the internet (thanks mostly to lazy reporters or web junkies who do all their research by typing in “key words” and then just repeat the same mistakes). And so I wonder that if I don’t correct the record, then all of the people who don’t know better may just end up being filled with a bunch of stuff that isn’t true.

“Of course, it would take a lot of my time to contact all these sites and media outlets to correct their errors and I think it’s more important I spend my time on my next book or movie so I just let it ride. But is that fair to you, the reader, who has now been told something that isn’t true?”

No, I didn’t write that. They’re the words of Michael Moore, who I happened to mention to my webmaster when he wrote me, concerned that I wasn’t speaking out against the criticism I’ve been receiving on the blogs and websites of the people I would consider to be fundamentalist Jews.

The main reason I’m not responding is because I don’t want to waste time saying things I’ve already said – and certainly not in the comments fields of blogs that have established themselves as “nothing sacred” haters. It’s their blogspace, and they can say what they wish.

And I’ve already said for the record how I feel about Jewish continuity why I wrote my book, why I think some people have a hard time with it, and why I think my perspective and that of many people like me is valuable.

But, for the record, let me state these facts:

— 1. I am well read in Judaic literature and theory. I described myself as a “lapsed” Jew only in the sense that the official organizations of Judaism would label me this way because I do not belong to a synagogue. I have said, on occasion, that before beginning the research phase of this book (and then reading over 200 books about Judaism) that I knew “very little” about Judaism. To me, this means that I understood pretty much what the rest of American Jewry understands about this religion, and very little about its essence. It was a bit of self-deprecation to help those who know very little about Judaism not feel alienated by a big book that has lots of information and ideas in it. I was making it clear that I am a layperson, just like them, and that the religion turned out to be quite accessible to me.

— 2. While everyone’s opinions certainly differ on Torah analysis, the overwhelming majority of professors of Judaic studies, Rabbis in seminaries, and Jewish scholars who have written me applaud the scholarship in Nothing Sacred. I have made three corrections to the paperback edition (due in March) but mostly they clarify my positions on Maimonidies (who did not really want people to see Judaism as a set of 13 beliefs, especially later in his life) and a badly parsed sentence about Ishmael being the Arab patriarch.

— 3. True enough, I have little tolerance for those who believe the Torah (or any inspired mythology) is literally and historically accurate. This is partly because the Torah cant’ even agree with itself on what happened when. I think of Torah as an interface between mythology and history – a way of forcing us to recognize that neither our understanding of history or of the way ‘things are’ is completely accurate. Mythology and history are not the present, and always up for interpretation.

— 4. I am not a communist, nor do I state that I’m a communist in the book.

— 5. I am not a socialist, and nowhere in the book do I advocate the election of a Socialist presidential candidate.

— 6. I do believe the shoah (holocaust) happened.

— 7. I do not think Israel should be abolished. Neither do I believe that the Jewish God or those who attempted to transcribe God’s will had the modern (Treaty of Versailles) definition of nation state in mind when they talked about Israel. Nation meant a lot of things, from city-state to peoplehood.

— 8. My views are most consistent not with radical reform or atheism, but Conservative Judaism, as defined by the brilliant Rabbi Neil Gillman (see Sacred Fragments for my influence in that regard). Many of the orthodox rabbis I’ve met across the spectrum – from the Head Rabbi of England to Irwin Kula – resonate strongly with my perspectives and feel they have a lot in common with me.

— 9. I don’t claim to know the answers about Judaism, but I do claim to know that the truth about Judaism is to be found in its questions.

— 10. I did not write Nothing Sacred in order to exploit the Jewish market, or out of some effort at crass commercialism. In fact, it was direct and natural outgrowth of the last three or four books I wrote, which all had varyingly overt or covert Jewish themes. Nothing Sacred was a labor of love, an effort that required much more work per page than anything I’ve written before, and that required me to put some much more lucrative possibilities on the back burner. I did not even write it thinking I’d generate great interest – but I wanted my love for Judaism, and my understanding of its core in media literacy, to be on the record.

The real reason why religious people are so upset with my book, I believe, is because I don’t think Judaism was intended as a religion, but rather as the process by which we can get over religion. This is not a majority view, yet it is one I believe to be supported by the historical and textual evidence. But like Prof. David Bakan said to me last week, “you’re right – but maybe thirty years too soon.”

We shall see.