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August 14, 2012

The Distortions Of Britain's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks cropped,jpgBritain's outgoing chief rabbi tries to pull an intellectual fast one in defense of brit milah, Jewish ritual circumcision. But Sacks – who is considered to be a student of philosophy – is outed by Allan Nadler.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks cropped,jpg
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

 

Allan Nadler has a piece in the Forward about the many people who have misrepresented or misunderstood Baruch Spinoza, the most famous excommunicated Jew.

Nadler, who has been studying this for a decade, is not easily shocked by such incidents.

Even so, Nadler writes, the whopper told by Sacks was shocking:

…Having spent more than a decade investigating the many fanciful Jewish modern reinventions of Spinoza, I thought myself impervious to surprise by even their most outlandish iterations. Until, that is, I read a recent article by the British chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, railing against the decision of a court in Koln, Germany, to ban circumcision.

“It is hard to think of a more appalling decision!” Sacks wrote. “Did the court know that circumcision is the most ancient ritual in the history of Judaism, dating almost four thousand years to the days of Abraham? Did it know that Spinoza… wrote that brit milah in and of itself had the power to sustain Jewish identity through the centuries?”

Hard to think of a more appalling decision? It is hard to think of a more astonishing distortion!

That Spinoza — who considered the ritual practices of Judaism entirely archaic and often barbaric — is marshaled by an Orthodox chief rabbi in the defense of any Jewish rite is quite incredible, especially given what Spinoza actually had to say about circumcision.

“There is nothing whatsoever that the Jews today can arrogate to themselves above other nations,” Spinoza wrote in the third chapter of his Theological-Political Treatise. “As to their continued existence for so many years when scattered and stateless, this is in no way surprising, since they have separated themselves from other nations to such a degree so as to incur the hatred of all, and this not only through external rites alien to the rites of other nations, but also through the mark of circumcision which they most religiously observe and… by itself might preserve their nation forever.”…

Nadler goes on to point out what should be obvious: 1.) "This entire chapter [of Spinoza’s] is a nasty polemic against the doctrine of the election of Israel," and 2) Spinoza is not endorsing circumcision or any accommodation by a modern state for it. Spinoza is attacking circumcision. "The justices in Koln could have very convincingly deployed Spinoza in support of their decision to ban circumcision," Nadler adds.

Obviously, Sacks knows what Spinoza meant, and he doesn't really think Spinoza supported or endorsed beit milah. But he was willing to misuse Spinoza's name in an effort to defend a ritual Spinoza despised.

Another distortion by Sacks that Nadler doesn't mention is the idea implied by this sentence: “Did the court know that circumcision is the most ancient ritual in the history of Judaism, dating almost four thousand years to the days of Abraham?"

The circumcision practiced 4,000 is very different from the brit milah done today. It involved removing only a small part of the foreskin's tip, at most.

The ritual changed after many Jews during the Hellenist control of Judea near the end of the Hasmonean  Dynasty started to reverse their circumcisions by stretching the remaining foreskin. The proto-rabbis ordered that the entire foreskin and the membrane below it be excised to make foreskin restoration difficult and uncomfortable.

But there is even evidence that the earliest circumcisions done in the Middle East and Africa involved a completely different process than what we have today, and than what late Second-Temple-era had. Those early circumcisions made a small lengthwise slit in the tip of the foreskin to make its opening wider so the "seed" ejaculated by the penis would more easily be expelled. It was apparently believed to increase fertility.

In other words, what we call brit milah today would not be recognizable to Jews living 2,400 years ago, and it certainly would not be recognizable to anyone living 4,000 years ago – even Abraham.

And I'm fairly certain Britain's chief rabbi knows this, as well.

Comments

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well well well now this is a change. I always thought , well until he accepted the knighthood , that sacks was a lightweight. once he accepted the knight hood, he became a righteous prick and this is the topic you are discussing, prickhood. Since he will never aspire to be a sage let alone a prophet, then accepting a knighthood from the goyim must be spiritually uplifting to sacks[.b bryson]

You're up pretty early this morning, Shmarya.
Hashkama minyan?

The circumcision practiced 4,000 is very different from the brit milah done today. It involved removing only a small part of the foreskin's tip, at most.

The ritual changed after many Jews during the Hellenist control of Judea near the end of the Hasmonean Dynasty started to reverse their circumcisions by stretching the remaining foreskin. The proto-rabbis ordered that the entire foreskin and the membrane below it be excised to make foreskin restoration difficult and uncomfortable.

Never heard of this before.
Quotes/citation, please.

I don't think Sacks is misusing Spinoza. Just because Spinoza is against Bris doesn't mean that he also doesn't say that its been a sustaining force in religious judaism. In fact it strengthen's Sack's argument.

SR's logic here is weak, at best.

-- perhaps its too early in the midwest, but where i am, its late enough to think through this clearly.

Um, if you read Sacks' entire piece, especially the paragraph that Nadler selectively quotes- note especially the part he replaces with ellipses- you'll see that Nadler is taking him completely out of context. Sacks' whole point is that *even* those opposed to Jewish peoplehood and circumcision recognized its significance.

Actually Sacks was quoting Spinoza 100% accurately. Spinoza was railing against Jewish exclusivity and noted that one of the things that made Jews separate and helped them endure was circumcision. So yes, he was against it but for the very reason we're for it.

I fail to see the point of this post other than to bash Jews.

Barry -Yes barry certain types of jews need to be bashed, if you dont get that then youre no better then them.

I have great respect for Spinoza. But eventually I left him. At some point it stated to seem to me that his thought was not as rigorous as he thought it was. I think for me the biggest blow came when i realized he was giving to substance a lot more isolation than he had warrant for. from there to pantheism was a short path. But if you impose his types of conditions on substance then it is almost circular reasoning to come to pantheism. I just became unconvinced. --and as long i I believed him i had not much reason to complain about chasidut. But when pantheism became problematic to me then chasidut stated to grate on my nerves. I mean to say i knew chasidut books had lots of pantheism in them but this did not bother me as long as i thought i was defensible.

this proves once again,that Shmaryah "yemach shemo"is nothing but a self hating jew hating nazi piece of human garbage,and had he lived 70yrs ago no doubt he would have been the propaganda minister for Hitler and chief editor of the "Shturmer"
i hope and pray that your miserable end would be just like the end of the other propaganda minister "julious streicher

change his name to julious streicher -To me no one is a bigger hater then you show youreself to be, so what are you bitching about shmarya when you are the ultimate scum.

Posted by: shmaryah should change his name to julious streicher | August 14, 2012 at 08:13 AM

Praying for Shmarya to be hanged is beyond unacceptable. May your comment be deleted and your IP address turned over to the police.

We're not in Beit Shemesh. Go throw your feces somewhere else.

Sorry, but this is Sachs 10 for creatively giving Spinoza the Bilam treatment, and Nadler, a known distortionist, -10 for his usual pseudo-intellectual dwek.

Spinoza makes the case as to the effect of circumcision on Jewish exclusive identity, a fact which has been picked up by CR Sacks, notwithstanding that they have opposing views on the need of such an identity.

First of all, the name is spelled Julius.

Even more importantly, your response is worse than anything else in this thread.

Sacks puts the "spin" in Spinoza.

@Ben Shlomo

"exclusive"?

91% of all American men born in the 1970s?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevalence_of_circumcision

these days it's about as exclusive as a Blue Light Special at Kmart.

Shmarya you are a self rigteous little ass hole who has nothing of value to say except for the benefit of your moronic colleagues who are at least as stupid and certainly as full of hate as u. It makes me feel positively dirty to deal with u. It is obvious that u are a fan of Spinoza's so you feel it necessary to protect his honor. Even he will suffer from the association.

"I don't think Sacks is misusing Spinoza. Just because Spinoza is against Bris doesn't mean that he also doesn't say that its been a sustaining force in religious judaism. In fact it strengthen's Sack's argument." Posted by: thinking outloud

Absolutely right! If anything, it's Nadler who's making the mistake here.

There's really nothing odd, or inherently dishonest, about quoting an opponent in support of your own argument.

There's really nothing odd, or inherently dishonest, about quoting an opponent in support of your own argument.

Posted by: Dovid | August 14, 2012 at 11:28 AM

That would only be true if one first makes clear that the person being quoted *is* an opponent – something Sacks did not do.

Um, if you read Sacks' entire piece, especially the paragraph that Nadler selectively quotes- note especially the part he replaces with ellipses- you'll see that Nadler is taking him completely out of context. Sacks' whole point is that *even* those opposed to Jewish peoplehood and circumcision recognized its significance.

No, Nachum.

Sacks says nothing about Jewish peoplehood with regard to Spinoza. He just says that "Did it know that Spinoza, not religious but together with John Locke the father of European liberalism, wrote that brit milah in and of itself had the power to sustain Jewish identity through the centuries?"

In Sack's misrepresentation, Spinoza could be ENDORSING circumcision, when in fact he was clearly vehemently opposed to it.

Sacks tries to make it seem as if Spinoza would have supported brit milah because of religious freedom and the freedom on humans to make their own personal decisions about things like religion.

But that is a misrepresentation of Spinoza's views on brit milah and on religion.

he used 'quote mining', which is described below:

"The practice of quoting out of context, sometimes referred to as "contextomy" or "quote mining", is a logical fallacy and a type of false attribution in which a passage is removed from its surrounding matter in such a way as to distort its intended meaning.[1]

Arguments based on this fallacy typically take two forms. As a straw man argument, which is frequently found in politics, it involves quoting an opponent out of context in order to misrepresent their position (typically to make it seem more simplistic or extreme) in order to make it easier to refute. As an appeal to authority, it involves quoting an authority on the subject out of context, in order to misrepresent that authority as supporting some position.[2]
The problem here is not the removal of a quote from its original context (as all quotes are) per se, but to the quoter's decision to exclude from the excerpt certain nearby phrases or sentences (which become "context" by virtue of the exclusion) that serve to clarify the intentions behind the selected words."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_quoting_out_of_context

I am writing for the first time on this blog. The point you US readers might not know is that Brit Milah is under attack in Europe and also in England where I live.

There is a general revulsion against the prevalence in England about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)and which is often described as female circumcision. There is a movement to strengthen the enforcement of the existing law against FGM and to extend it. This is being seized upon by those who want to ban Brit Milah as well.

So this leads me to the campaign by Shmyra in relation to the banning of metzitzah b'peh. Metzitzah b'peh has to be stopped. It is probably illegal in the UK and I am sure in many States in the US. To the general population it is digusting if not an abomination in itself to say nothing of being totally unhygenic. It will be seized by the anti-semites who are keen to ban Brit Milah and make it out to be an abuse of the baby's human rights.

So whether the CR's use of Spinoza is perverse he is making these points against a very rational (in legal terms) decision by a German Court. Another such "rational" decision was made recently by the UK courts which decided that the "orthodox" definition of a Jew was in fact an ethnic definition (ie being born of a Jewish mother with no consideration given to the beliefs or actual practice of the family or the child) and thus fell foul of our Racial Discrimination legislation. This has had a profound effect on how Jewish children are now selected to attend Jewish (both state aided and private) schools.


So whilst you can deride the Chief Rabbi, he is making these speeches or writing these articles, in defence of a major tenet of our faith which is increasing viewed with hostility.

Your readers should note that there are about 350,000 Jews in the UK as opposed to 3.5m Muslims. Thankfully the Muslims also practice circumcision and a form of animal slaughter which has meant with their electoral support in mind, the politicians have kicked the proposed anti-circumcision and anti-Shechita legislation into the long grass. If the anti-semites couple Brit Milah with FGM and/or metzitzah b'peh then the task of resisting will be harder.

So criticise the CR for using Spinoza who was excommunicated by my ancestors in Holland, but do keep in mind the very unusual situation that Jews find themselves in Europe, and I have not even mentioned until now the insiduous anti-Israel reporting of our BBC and other media.

Incidentally the BBC a few years ago made a dcoumentary about Spinoza and wanted to use Bevis Marks synagogue as a setting. Bevis Marks is a gem of a synagogue which opened in 1701 - do visit it if you are ever in London. It is modelled on the Portuguese Synagoue in Amsterdam that Spinoza would have used in his childhood. However though I voted as a warden to allow it (after all we could earn a few pounds for this)our Rabbi vetoed it on the basis that we should do nothing to help the memory of Spinoza. Whatever your views Spinoza was an incredibly clever man.

Enough and thanks for your time

"Barry -Yes barry certain types of jews need to be bashed, if you dont get that then youre no better then them."


jancsibacsi,
As you yourself say "some jews need to be bashed", therefore,I bash you, because you are a tipesh.You add nothing to the conversation.
A nar blabt a nar

I am disappointed that no one seems to have taken the trouble to read the Spinoza text cited. I have. The distortion and whopper seem to be more accurately attributed to Prof. Nadler than to Rabbi Sacks. Here's a copy of my post to the Forward Article:
With all due respect, the good professor seems to be distorting Spinoza's logic because of his perceived anti-Semitic views. I took the trouble to read the translation of the text cited, available at http://www.yesselman.com/ttpelws1.htm#CIII(90). It is quite clear that Spinoza was attempting to prove that the Jews were not unconditionally chosen by G-d and that therefore our continued existence as a separate people was not proof of Divine favor. Instead, the continued existence of the Jewish people resulted from our voluntary and sometimes involuntary separation from Gentiles. Spinoza first mentions the stubborn insistence on circumcision as one of the evidences of such separation. Later, he goes even further that saying he "can almost persuade [himself] that circumcision alone" would be enough. A few sentences later the directly makes the point of the symbolic change in flesh being enough to ensure the continued existence as a separate people and the possible return to being an "empire" by comparing circumcision to some change that he asserts Chinese people make in their own appearance. It is clear that while Spinoza may not approved of the separation of the Jews from others, he certainly did attribute to circumcision a crucial role in ensuring that separation.

"The practice of quoting out of context, sometimes referred to as "contextomy" or "quote mining", is a logical fallacy."

Sorry APC, but notwithstanding what the wikipedia author wrote and whatever else may be wrong with it or other type of fallacy it may be, this is most certainly not a logical fallacy.

I think Garnel Ironheart is spot on with this one:

"Actually Sacks was quoting Spinoza 100% accurately. Spinoza was railing against Jewish exclusivity and noted that one of the things that made Jews separate and helped them endure was circumcision. So yes, he was against it but for the very reason we're for it."

The circumcision practiced 4,000 is very different from the brit milah done today. It involved removing only a small part of the foreskin's tip, at most.

The ritual changed after many Jews during the Hellenist control of Judea near the end of the Hasmonean Dynasty started to reverse their circumcisions by stretching the remaining foreskin. The proto-rabbis ordered that the entire foreskin and the membrane below it be excised to make foreskin restoration difficult and uncomfortable.

Never heard of this before.
Quotes/citation, please.

Posted by: Brian | August 14, 2012 at 05:26 AM


Dude- stop hijacking my alias.

**sigh** The Chief Rabbi is in a difficult spot. British Jews are overwhelmingly moderate- they're like the yawning majority of British "Christians" who are not religious/observant whatsoever. Sacks has to both appeal to British Jews and represent them as a demographic. As a result, he makes an effort to ground all his arguments in secular-humanistic principles, even if it’s at complete odds with orthodox Rabbinic opinion. This often comes over as disingenuous, as is the case here when he's twisting Spinoza (one of the favorite Jewish/humanist philosophers).

Top Ten Tortures Less Painful Than Circumcision

10. Get knocked out by Mohammed Ali.
9. Pull out your fingernails.
8. Eat a pile of steaming bear crap.
7. Skin yourself alive.
6. Fall into a vat of molten iron.
5. Get run over by a train.
4. Go through a sausage grinder.
3. Saw off your legs.
2. Poke out your eyes.
1. Go To Hell

Ruchama, you miss the point Spinoza was making. For Spinoza, the fact that circumcision was effective for Jewish exclusivity would only be worthy of support if there was an objective moral purpose for both circumcision and Jewish exclusivity.

For Spinoza, there was no such moral purpose. Spinoza argued that Judaism was a primitive superstition which superstitious Jews superstitiously followed notwithstanding that objectively it caused them immense harm and that tragically, their very superstitiousness made them unable to recognize the harm and the hatred that their superstition naturally brought onto them.

Sacks is trying to find authorities to support his claim. So he quotes Spinoza to defend something Spinoza would completely reject.

The more interesting question is why Sacks thinks Spinoza should be invoked as an authority on any matters Jewish. If you are familiar with Spinoza's writings you know he had no use for Judaism or the Jews as a separate people. Spinoza ceased to have any affiliation with the Jewish community or practice any form of Judaism. Some people call him the first "secular" or "modern" Jew," Jewish perhaps in culture but not in belief.

Non-Jews are more likely to be familiar with Spinoza more than any other Jewish philosopher, but it doesn't follow that they would see him as an authority either. So is Sacks trying to rally cultura/secular Jews by invoking a thinker who was himself both Jewish and secular? I don't see who else would possibly find Spinoza authoritative.

Dovid -

i agree that this isnt a textbook case of quotemining but it is the same in spirit. since spinoza was clearly against circumcision , quoting something he said without enough context to show his clear opposition , in order to support a 'pro' position is dishonest.
perhaps more importantly, what was saks trying to accomplish by using this argument? does the fact that an action can be taken on a child which may forever bind him to judaism make it good or moral?
branding a large jewish star on the forehead of every jewish baby would accomplish the same thing. does that mean its defensible? saks has created a strawman and used this quote to defeat his own strawman argument. those against bris on humanitarian grounds will not be appeased by saks claim, whether true or not and whether agreed to by spinoza or not.

Sacks is hoping that the notion of Jewish continuity (which Spinoza was against) will be something that non-Jews will not be able to oppose.

Spinoza seemed to think that bris milah was a pretty powerful tool of that continuity, so I don't see the harm in quoting him as such, whether or not he was in favor of the consequences.

Sacks is hoping that the notion of Jewish continuity (which Spinoza was against) will be something that non-Jews will not be able to oppose.

and i hope all decent people attempt to put a halt to a surgical procedure being done to childrens genitalia for any reason other than medical. if a symbolic circumcision rite of sorts is not able to contribute to jewish continuity then something is really wrong. and since many non-jews also get circumcised the bris is less effective in differentiating jews from others , so using it as justification in favor of bris mila is not appropriate.

If one reads the full citation that Prof. Nadler provides from Spinoza's Tractatus, one will notice that before he gets to circumcision he blames the Jews for the "hatred incurred upon them by all" on account of their having separated themselves from other nations, most notably by circumcision. So, Spinoza is blaming the victims for anti-Semitism, and using circumcision as the strongest example. So, obviously Nadler is correct in calling Rabbi Sacks for misusing Spinoza in a really grotesque and cheap way. It is unseemly for any Orthodox rabbi to claim Spinoza for support. Nadler nailed him, and rightly so.

Nadlers a second rate academic who has strayed (or never started life) close to Judaism, and his argument is stupid. Though in an academic setting one might have a small tyna against R. Sacks, he has right to take a small liberty in defense of the Jewish community in a public debate. If you don't realize that bans on bris milah re terribly anti semitic and harbingers of more Nazi-like attacks on the Jewish people, you are blind and ignorant of history and current events.

Nadler's article and FM's post demonstrates the lack of judgment and maturity on the part of the owner and those who spend their days on this site.

Instead of attacking a defender of Israel, do what you are good at--- exposing evil and stop nitpicking everything the frum say.


" Give the man a break!. the comments regarding Spinoza, were just a red herring, R Sacks himself may regret mentioning him now!.


As Barnard mentioned, his remarks should be seen in the light of recent legal cases in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

While I often have questioned the mans judgement regarding internal Jewish issues,however regard him as a good ambassador to the wider world.

APC, I think it's a complete misinterpretation of bris milah to say that it's a way for Jews to "differentiate themselves," especially nowadays that so many men are circumcised in the general population.

It's not about being able to be spotted as a Jew (whether by Jews or non-Jews). It's about self-identification in something visceral (and probably harmless).

Some sort of lame milquetoast "symbolic" circumcision won't cut it. (pun intended).

it's kinda ironic. shmarya's frummie-hating is exposed by his act of posting a piece about nadler whose sacks-hating is exposed by his act of writing a piece of inaccurate BS.

you've gotta love it.


Maybe you have heard of crazy Germans who want to ban circumcision for Muslims and jews.
Famous chancelor Merkel said "we will be called Nation of comedians(komiker Nation)"
When you don't think it is comical to be against the mutilations of little boys, please help by
signing a electronic official petition directly at the Bundestag Petitionsausschuss.
Would you test the Bundetag Petition Forum and Forward the adresses if it works, even if you dont like it maybe
you know others who would.
For more information in english look for http://www.liberale.de/Unfreie-Europaeer-und-die-Beschneidung-der-Religionsfreiheit/10956c16945i1p7/index.html Michael Roloff who is firm in german language.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/27/circumcision-ruling-germany-muslim-jewish
There is even a petition for circumcision.
If you accidentally sign the wrong one you can erase it anytime, by clicking the white on orange arrow at the right side of the
black box "Mitzeichnung entfernen"(at the right column of the page) then "Petition mitzeichnen(sign Petition)" will show up.

For Circumcision: 80 Votes htttttpsttt://epetitionen.bundestag.de/petitionen/_2012/_07/_03/Petition_25641.$$$.a.u.html


Against Circumcision: 1400 Votes https://epetitionen.bundestag.de/petitionen/_2012/_06/_27/Petition_25502.$$$.a.u.html


Please vote even if the Petition is not very good because petitions have been rejected for 2 years. This may be the last chance of official petition besides the AVAAZ petition.
Even if your vote is only noted but not counted it would show the appreciation of some forreigners.
In the last weeks I have learned we have also a lot of religious nutjobs here(I was kind of ashamed), and an easypeasy multicultural hidden religious parliament. An ethik board of so called experts where an Professor constitution attorney uses the minor cut excuse to give the parents education rights way over over human dignity of the child.

Here is a translation for Log in

maybe you better go first to home https://epetitionen.bundestag.de/epet/startseite.html (There is no home button)
May be if you are already at the Antibeschneidungspage you will get thrown out. Even if it sounds conspiratoral,
there is a big difference in the voting numbering between this and Musik schule petition (50% to 100%) (this should be fixed since 28. August)
Then go to the uppermost right corner click -->anmelden(login) {-->abmelden(logout)]

Then you are at the registration page
If you dont get an account at the end try with another user(i tried it with FF14.0.1 Ubuntu 12.04 64bit and IpodTouch 4G IOS4
and both worked (this should be fixed since 28. August)

First click here
You have an account You need an account
ich bin bereits registriert Ich bin neu hier
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