Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hero or Anti-Hero?

Secular Jews aren’t simply atheists with Jewish ancestors or simply parallel to lapsed Catholics. It’s more complicated than that, especially since demonstration of belief was never required for participation in traditional Judaism. It’s nice, but not required as it is in Christianity. Jews are supposed to follow a set of moral, behavioral, ritual, sartorial, and culinary commandments (plus guilt) based on the Torah – their interpretation varies in time while the exponents claim they are eternal. Judaism also provides a code of ethical conduct. Many secular Jews feel they’ve left all the belief, rituals, and taboos behind but kept the moral code.

I can't speak for all secular Jews: nobody can do that. They are by definition unaffiliated. But I believe that a number of prominent individuals in modern life and in history can be viewed as heroes to secular Jews. Many of these heroes represent the highest accomplishment of secular Jews in diverse fields such as science, mathematics, literature, anthropology, philosophy, economics, politics, law, and stand-up comedy. And if your ancestors’ weekly worship consisted of reading, you are bound to be interested in books. So there are huge numbers of Jewish authors – mainly secular.

Some of the heroes of secular Judaism aren’t Jewish. For example, Abbe Gregoire, active during the French Revolution, was instrumental in freeing European Jews from discrimination by defining them as human. Buddha and Martin Luther King are heroes to many secular Jews. Their lives have meaning or they are recognized heroes of secular Jews.

Conversely, there are lots of anti-heroes: individuals who are intensely not-respected by most if not all secular Jews. If you like Yiddish, another word for a Jewish anti-hero is a shanda far di goyim – a shame or embarrassment for non-Jews to see. Thank goodness Phyllis Schafley is safely not Jewish at all so we can leave her out, but Orly Taitz is a good anti-hero because she’s nuts, noisy, dangerous, and Jewish. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a particular person is a hero or an anti-hero. Like Karl Marx. Or Irving Kristol. And I don't mean people like Hitler: he's a fiend, not an anti-hero. I mean people who are respected by some, not by others. 

On this blog, I plan to create a calendar of secular Jewish heroes and anti-heroes. For the most part, I'll post about individuals on their birthdays, but I may also comment on holidays and events of interest to secular Jews.


1 comment:

  1. Re paragraph 2: [Secular Jews] are by definition unaffiliated? Many congregationaly-affiliated Jews are atheists. Or do you require congregational unaffiliation as part of your definition of secular?