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Rahel
Posts: 223
Registered: ‎08-06-2007
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Jews and Power: Part One: The Great Experiment

Dear Ruth and readers,
I've been rereading Jews and Power along with our readers, and there's so much to comment on that I scarcely know where to begin.
One thing that struck me is Ruth's reading of the Kamtza and Bar Kamtza story. I, along with generations of students in Jewish schools, learned this explanation of the story -- that Temple was destroyed because of sinat khinam, causeless hatred among Jews. What I had never seen before reading Ruth's book was how that by explaining the defeat as a moral failure, Jews were able to remove the specter of Roman power of them: the defeat wasn't due to Rome's military might but to their own moral failing -- something that Jews could strive to improve even while politically powerless. In my upringing, the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza was a lesson about being a mensch, about inviting all your classmates to your birthday party so no one would feel bad. How brilliant that underneath that simple tale is the message that despite a lack of clear political and military power, our destiny remains in our own hands, determined by our moral treatment of others.
Any thoughts from Ruth or other readers as you go deeper into the book?
Best,
Rahel
Rahel
Moderator
www.nextbook.org
Moderator
Rahel
Posts: 223
Registered: ‎08-06-2007
0 Kudos

Re: Jews and Power: Part One: The Great Experiment

Something that Ruth does in this section that is so valuable is identify and separate the different parts of a political system. So to counter the longstanding claim that Jews in the Diaspora lacked a political sensibility, she shows us that on the contrary, Jews within their community functioned as a self-governing political body. The only trapping of political power that they didn't have was self-protection. I may be exaggerating Ruth's reading somewhat, but I think it is very helpful in countering the idea of Jews as powerless over all those centuries. But I also think that Ruth's definition of what makes the community a political entity is a different one than most of us are used to. I wasn't so convinced at first that the functions of the Jewish community leadership does make it a political entity. But then I thought of it as a municipal government -- city government can't wage war or protect itself, but it is certainly a political system. And so I can see how the Jewish self-government is a political entity even without the larger powers of statecraft.
Just some thoughts.
Rahel
Rahel
Moderator
www.nextbook.org
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