Book Bans, Ukraine and the End of Roe: The Year 2022 in Jewish Ideas

(JTA) — Jewish eras can be defined by events (the fall of the Second Temple, the Inquisition, the founding of Israel) and by ideas (the rabbinic era, emancipation, post-denominationalism). A community is revealed in the things it discusses most passionately.

It’s too early to tell what ideas will define this era, although a look back at the great debates of 2022 suggests that Jews in North America will be debating a few issues at length: the resurgence of anti-Semitism, the boundaries of free speech, the wars cultural red/blue.

Below are eight of some of last year’s key debates as (mostly) reflected in the The opinion of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency section (which I have a hand in editing). Above all, they suggest a community concerned about its position in the American body politic despite its strength and self-confidence.

Anti-Semitism and the Black-Jewish Alliance

The rapper Kanye West spread canards about Jews and power. Kyrie Irving, star of the Brooklyn Nets shared an anti-Semitic film on Twitter. And comical Dave Chappelle took both incidents lightly on “Saturday Night Live,” suggesting that comics like him had more to fear from cancellation than Jews from rising anti-Semitism. The central roles played in these controversies by three African-American celebrities are echoed long-standing tensions between two communities that have not been able to rely on their historical ties since the end of the civil rights era. The war of words was particularly vexing for black Jews, such as the rabbi known as MaNishtana and Rabbi Kendell Pinkney — who wondered if “my mixed jewish child will grow up in an america where she feels compelled to hide aspects of her identity because society cannot hold back the wonder of her complexity.”

Jewish attitudes towards Ukraine

Russia’s war against Ukraine has broken out complex feelings among Jews. She led to a outpouring of support for the innocent caught in or sent to flee the invasion of Russiaand the Jewish president who became their symbol of defiance. It reinvigorated a Jewish rescue apparatus that appeared to have been dormant for years. And he probed Jewish memories of their historic suffering in Ukraineoften at the hands of the ancestors of those now under attack.

The Jews and the End of Roe v. Wade

In June, the US Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overturn Roe v. Wade. It was an unthinkable achievement for liberal Jewish activists, especially women, who for 50-plus years had viewed abortion rights as an integral part of their Jewish identity and political worldview. Before the decision came, scholar of Jewish studies Michael Raucher questioned long-held Jewish organizational views which justified abortion only on narrow religious grounds without acknowledging that women “have the bodily autonomy to make that decision for themselves”. In reverse, Agudath Israel of America’s Avi Shafran welcomed Roe’s demise on behalf of his Haredi Orthodox organization, writing that the rabbis “who guide us argue indisputably that, in the absence of extraordinary circumstances, terminating a pregnancy is a grave sin.” Replying to Shafran, Daphne Lazar Price, an Orthodox Jewish feminist, supported this even in her strictly religious communitygetting an abortion is a “conscious choice by women to follow their religious beliefs and maintain their human dignity”.

Colleyville and synagogue security

Colleyville Synagogue British suspect

A police chaplain walks near the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Texas on Jan. 15, 2022. (Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images)

After In January, a gunman held a rabbi and three worshipers hostage at a synagogue in Colleyville, TexasJewish institutions have called for even greater security in buildings that had already been hardened following the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. Yet, for some, the sight of armed guards and locked doors undermines the spirit of a place of worship. Raphael Magarik del University of Illinois Chicago He argued that the Colleyville incident should not lead to an overreaction, especially when congregations are struggling to come together after the pandemic. Rabbi Joshua Ladon he warned against “the impulse to allow fear to define our actions.” Meanwhile, black Jews said armed guards and police patrols can make them feel insecure. In a powerful response, Mijal Bitton and Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein of the Shalom Hartman Center wrote that Jewish institutions must think in “expansive and creative ways on how to fight for our combined security in a way that takes into account the rich racial and ethnic diversity of our communities.”

Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism and “Jew-Free Zones”

when nine UC Berkeley law school student groups have adopted bylaws saying they will not invite speakers who support Zionismthe Jewish Journal of Los Angeles published an editorial with the provocative title: “Berkeley develops Jewish enclaves. In the essay, Kenneth L. Marcus, who directs the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, argued that “Zionism is an integral aspect of many Jewish identity” and that the laws act as “racially restrictive covenants,” precluding participation. Defenders of pro-Palestinian students he countered that groups often invite only like-minded speakers and that while being Jewish is an identity, Zionism is a political viewpoint. Facultypoliticians and activists have taken sides on both sides of what has become a central debate on campuses and beyond: when anti-Zionism becomes anti-Semitism and how to balance free speech rights with some students’ claims about their personal safety is it poised?

“Maus” and bans on school books

A The Tennessee school board has voted to remove “Maus” – Art Speigelman’s epic comic book memoir about the Holocaust – from middle school classrooms. (JTA photo)

Embroiled in a book-ban epidemic have been Jewish books for children and young adults, a list that includes “The Purim Superhero”, “Family Fletcher” and “Chik Chak Shabbat”. A Removed the Texas school board a 2018 graphic novel adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary. But perhaps the most high-profile case of a book ban of Jewish interest occurred when a Tennessee school board votes to remove ‘Maus’ – Art Speigelman’s epic comic book memoir about the Holocaust – from middle school classrooms, citing its use of profanity, nudity, and “baby-killing” depictions. Coverage of the ban deceptively portrayed “Maus” as an introduction to the Holocaust for young adultswhile Speigelman recently noticed this it had become a reluctant “metonym” for the book ban problem. Jennifer Caplan explained why the book is indispensable: “’Maus’ compels the reader to testify in a way that no written account can, and the [illustrations] they are particularly good at forcing the eye to see what the mind prefers to pass by.

Artificial intelligence and real-life dilemmas

Artificial intelligence, or AI, has become a fact of business life, with computing advances powering robotic automation, computer vision, and natural language text generation. But what captured the public imagination — and terror — this year were sites like Dall-E, which threatened the livelihood of graphic designers by generating original and believable illustrations with nothing but a simple prompt, and ChatGPT, which is capable of convincingly and humanely expounding on virtually any topic. Beyond the day-to-day ethical dilemmas (“Can I write my book report using ChatGPT?”) AI has raised profound questions about what it means to be human. “Rabbis have historically been very open to the idea of ​​nonhuman sensibilities and have tended to see parallels between humans and nonhumans as an excuse to treat nonhumans better,” wrote David Zvi Kalman in an essay on the prospect of creating artificial life. Likewise, Mois Navon suggested in JTA that “if a machine is sentient, it is no longer an inanimate object with no moral status or ‘rights’… but rather an animate being with the status of ‘moral patient’ to whom we owe consideration.

A Pulitzer for “The Netanyahus”

Author Joshua Cohen won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel “The Netanyahu”. (Roberto Serra—Iguana Press/Getty Images)

Joshua Cohen was the somewhat surprising winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel “The Netanyahus: An account of a minor and ultimately even negligible episode in the history of a very famous family.” Or perhaps not so surprising: The book is a fictionalized treatment of a real-life visit in the late 1950s by Israeli historian Benzion Netanyahu for a job interview at a university much like Cornell. With Benzion’s son Benjamin aiming for an ultimately successful real-life return to office, a satire on Jewish power, right-wing Zionism, and Israeli self-esteem it may have seemed to the judges very timely. As critic Adam Kirsch wrote in a JTA essay, Cohen concludes that both American and Israeli Jewish identities “are absurd, demanding the kind of satire that can only come from an intimate acquaintance.” Others weren’t amused. Jewish Currents criticized the novel for being derived from both Philip Roth and Saul Bellowand said the Jewish Review of Books that the novel includes “a history capsule of Zionism that’s such a blatant distortion I just gave up.”

is managing editor of New York Jewish Week and managing editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Previously he was editor-in-chief of the JTA and editor-in-chief and managing director of the New Jersey Jewish News. @SilowCarroll

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.

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