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Are Jews not living up to your expectations?

July 22, 2015

The fellows who say to you, “I expect more of the Jews,” don’t believe them. They expect less. What they’re really saying is, “Okay, we know you’re a bunch of ravenous bastards, and given half the chance you’d eat up half the world, let alone poor Palestine. We know all these things about you, and so we’re going to get you now. And how? Every time you make a move, we’re going to say, ‘But we expect more of Jews, Jews are supposed to behave better.’ ”

Jews are supposed to behave better? After all that has happened? I would have thought that it was the non-Jews whose behavior could stand a little improvement. Why are we the only people who belong to this wonderful exclusive moral club that’s behaving badly? -Philip Roth, The Counterlife, pages 178-179

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim D. permalink
    July 22, 2015 3:31 pm

    Here are some possible reasons:

    We have always held ourselves to a high standard of behavior, even when we failed to live up to it.

    Our scripture is replete with self-chastisement.

    If that were not enough, Christianity stepped into the middle of our private, family dispute and used our writings against us.

    Ever since the fall of the United Monarchy, the division into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah,and the subsequent series of invasions from the north and the south beginning in the 9th Century, we have been subject to domination for the majority of our history. The longest period has been from 70 CE to the establishment of Israel in modern times.

    During the long period in the diaspora, the Jewish people became accustomed to hate and persecution by the Christian world, and we were essentially defenseless. This intensified collective low self esteem.

    We are used to being bullied, and the world expects Jews to sit down, shut up, and not make trouble.

    Are we going to continue to accept this role?

  2. July 22, 2015 3:40 pm

    Jim, the point is, as the quote says, that the world doesn’t actually expect Jews to be better, but it expects that we fail instead. Because if the Jews alone are right about their views, the world, including Christianity and all its progeny, is in one huge mess of trouble. Christianity, for example, expects Jews and their Judaism to fail, because it wants Jews to embrace its “god” and its worldview, and that can only be done if Jews give up on Judaism. Same for Islam and secularism.

  3. Jim D. permalink
    July 22, 2015 8:49 pm

    I don’t know, Gene… I think I read it right. I haven’t read the book, but this excerpt from the NY Times book review pretty much agrees with my interpretation that Roth is not discussing spiritual or religious issues here, but Zionist and political:

    “We follow Nathan as he follows Henry to Israel. There he receives doses of rhetoric from every mouth sufficient to cure complacency by killing it. Hope is killed as well. The European Jew speaks, the radical right-wing Jew speaks (he also speaks for the Arabs so as to have some worthy opposition). The anti-Semitic Jew speaks, the peaceful Jew speaks, the Furies have their innings. Like sound trucks in the street, through Nathan they holler wonderfully at one another. The arguments concern Jews, are about Jewishness, about power, and are wholly political. The political and the moral are artfully confused.”

  4. July 22, 2015 9:26 pm

    Jim, it’s a novel, which, btw, does deal with Judaism and spirituality, not just politics, NYT review notwithstanding. At the same time, it doesn’t matter what particular aspect of Jewish life critics of Jews are critiquing. The point is that those critics who apply to Jews their – not G-d’s – impossibly high standard of “morality” also see Jews as absolutely incapable of ever fulfilling these lofty expectations. For them, Jews are incapable of good unless they change into something else other than Jews, e.g. become Christians who love their enemies, drop their “clannish” behavior, dispose of their “obsolete” Judaism either for a more advanced faith or no faith at all, open their borders to whoever wishes to enter and not be a “Jewish state”, not demand their rights to any land, etc. At the very least, Jews should be willing to die trying to accomplish all of these expectations that others freely place on Jews, but never on themselves.

  5. Jim D. permalink
    July 22, 2015 10:16 pm



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