Monday, January 12, 2009

Are Jews a nation?

I am feeling rather ill today so may not post as much as usual but despite that I am immediately drawn to renew my discussion with Punditarian -- who has just written a long post in support of his contention that Jews are a "nation". I am at something of a loss to know why that seems important to him -- "ethnic group" is the normal appellation -- but I will comment nonetheless. "Ethnic group" is certainly vague and uninformative.

I have been careful thoughout all I have said on this matter to avoid placing any importance on race, for what I hope are obvious reasons. But I hope I might be forgiven for using another "dangerous" word: Volk. Punditarian strayed into Latin and Greek in his comments so I hope I can be forgiven for straying into German. And I think Ashkenazi Jews could be seen as a Volk. Volk is a "dangerous" word because it was a central concept for Hitler. Though the old East German Communists used it a lot too. Contrary to what many seem to think, it does NOT mean race. The German word for race is Rasse and Karl Marx in fact simply used the English spelling: "race", even though he was writing in German. So when Hitler described Germans as a Herrenvolk, he was calling them a "master PEOPLE", not a master race. Yet Volk means rather more than the English word "people". I have written rather extensively here on the translation of the word but let me try to summarize here by saying that it does overlap a little with the concept of race in that it describes a group of interrelated and interconnected people, a sort of extended family. And I think that their weak endogamy does make Ashkenazi Jews a Volk in that sense. It seems a pity that, despite their extensive borrowings from other languages, the English never seem to have found a use for Volk, even though it is in various spellings found in quite a few European languages. It is both a very ancient and a very useful word.

And the word comes into its own in describing two groups that Punditarian mentions. He argues that throughout the 19th century Italians and Germans were "nations" even though they were not under any kind of central rule until late in that century. There were many small German-speaking states but no Germany as a single political entity, for instance. I would argue however that Germans were always a Volk but only became a nation in the 1870s. Volk is certainly the word that Germans of the time used for themselves. The words "nation" and "national" are identical in English and German and are used similarly. And what Germans wanted to do for most of the 19th century was to unite their Volk into a single Nation. And under Bismarck, they just about managed it -- though Bismarck's strategic omission of Austria from the new German nation was grumbled about by many as a Kleindeutsch (little Germany) solution. A later German leader remedied that omission to much acclaim, of course.

Punditarian raises the case of Nigeria, with its disparate tribal mix and says that Nigeria is not a nation because of the hostility between its composite tribes. I am going to be a bit cheeky here and remark that by that standard Israel is not a nation either, with its Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Druze, Arabs etc. Without an external threat Israel would fly apart in a trice. But be that as it may, I think Volk again clarifies the situation. Nigerians are not a Volk but they ARE normally called a nation. And Israel too is a nation composed of several Voelker. The Ashkenazim and the Sephardim are certainly not a single Volk, though they could become one through intermarriage.

A final point which Punditarian touches on is however very important. Christians define their religion in terms of accepting certain BELIEFS. Jews tend to define their religion as accepting certain PRACTICES -- practices set down in halacha (Jewish law). So in that way even an atheist could be a Jew in good standing as long as he kept kosher etc. And I think that gives power to my contention about the centrality of religion in defining Jewishness. As Punditarian himself argues, Jews have remained Jews by way of their distinctive practices, and those practices define a religion.



California's Gold Rush Has Been Reversed: "After more than 150 years of being a destination, California is becoming a place entrepreneurs, investment capital and the hardy workers who made it a global leader in agriculture, technological innovation and scientific research are fleeing. This exodus is the marker of something deeper than a national recession. It's a sign that the attempts by state leaders to spend their way back to prosperity are killing California... Citizens are burdened by all manner of state regulations. To mention just one example, this year a new law enacted by ballot initiative bans cages chicken farmers use on the grounds that it is inhuman to put birds in cages that prevent them from spreading their wings. Complying with the new law will cost farmers hundreds of millions of dollars, which will force many to leave the state. And that will force us to buy our eggs from other states and, possibly, others nations, such as Mexico. And just as a fallen tree can divert the flow of water in a creek, bad economic policies divert the flow of investment. Entrepreneurs and investors, seeking the path of least resistance, leave when it becomes easier to make a living in more business-friendly states. In 2000, according to the state's Department of Finance, about 150,000 people moved into California. But in the years that followed the in-migration slowed, and in 2005 it reversed, when a net 52,000 people moved out. In 2008, the outflow topped 135,000 people."

Eyeless in Gaza, Heartless at Home: "Creeped out: That's the best way I can describe my response upon stumbling into an anti-Israel protest one recent Sunday in Manhattan. Ranting picketers carried signs that made light of the Holocaust, children dressed up as Hamas militants dotted the crowd. I wanted to have a more profound response, a deeper analysis, but "creeped out" is how I felt walking away from it. Days later, a colleague, military historian Victor Davis Hanson, expressed a similar reaction to accounts of way too many similar scenes: We're living in "creepy times," he wrote on National Review's Web site.

Aggressive British peaceniks: "Protestors clashed with hundreds of riot police in central London as an anti-war demonstration turned violent. One officer was knocked unconscious and two others received facial injuries as the mood turned sour at what had been a mainly peaceful protest. A small group of protestors turned on mounted police and riot officers on foot, throwing missiles and smashing windows in Kensington, close to the Israeli Embassy. A crash barrier set up to help control the crowds was hurled through the large windows of a Starbucks Coffee shop. Police were forced to charge at the group, mainly made up of young men, in an attempt to disperse them. But sticks, stones and shoes were thrown back before the crowds were brought under control. Thousands of people took part in the huge rally and march through to protest against Israel's continued attacks on the Gaza Strip. A heavy police presence lined the route of the march from Hyde Park to the Israeli embassy as demonstrators chanted "free, free Palestine. " [Mostly Muslims, presumably]

Harry Reid’s Land Grab : "It’s hard to pinpoint the worst part of the public lands legislation bill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is calling up for an under-the-radar Sunday vote tomorrow. The 1200-page, pork-laden, $10 billion proposal locks up millions of acres of energy-rich property by designating it as environmentalist-friendly “federal wilderness” area where not even as much as a bicycle would be permitted to travel across the land. Many of these areas recently became available when the ban on domestic drilling in Western states expired last fall and the liberal left couldn’t muster the courage to keep it in place due to rising energy prices. Now Democratic leaders are using different legislative strategies to put a new kind of ban in place."


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)



Punditarian said...


That was a quick response!

I regret you are feeling indisposed.

Our views are I think closer than you might think.

The notion of "volk" is I think interesting. I think a "volk: is what in Hebrew is called an "am," that is a people, as distinct from a "goy" or nation (Greek ethnos), and "medinah," or state. There is obviously some overlap and vagueness in distinguishing between a "people" and a "nation" -- I think that the Greek "ethnos" might be used in the Christian Scriptures to translate either "people" or "nation." I'll have to go back to Strong's to be sure.

I will also raise another controversial point by suggesting that the "Palestinians" are a non-nation or a non-people. The concept of a "Palestinian nation" was a political invention in 1948, and before that time there certainly was no history of a Palestinian Arab nation in the Holy Land.

JR said...

Rather amused that you use Strongs. I have a copy on my desk but that is a legacy from my Christian days. I would have thought it was unknown in Jewish circles.

Don't start me on Goy. In the Bible Jews are a goy but these days non-Jews are referred to as goyim. A big change!

The Palestinians are simply Arabs

Punditarian said...

You are absolutely right that the Palestinians are just Arabs, and that is a point that I will develop at greater length in another post. There never was in the past 2000 years a Palestinian Nation in the Holy Land, and the Arabs know that. They were of course just riding the "national liberation movement" theme the Soviets sponsored all over the world.

I love Strong's concordances. I find the cross-referencing very useful. Even though it doesn;t always help. I have long been puzzled why Psalm 23 refers to "rod" and "staff," and wonder what these can have been. My suspicion, entirely unfounded, is that they represent the crook & flail that were Egyptian symbols of royal power. (Please note that the flail that Pharaoh holds is not a weapon or an instrument of correction; it is an agricultural flail for the winnowing of grain. The crook & flail symbolize the two branches of agriculture that are represented in Genesis by Cain & Abel, that is, animal husbandry and the culture of grain.