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Hoisted from the Archives from 2004: Mark Kleiman: Avodim Hayyinu l’pharoh b’Mitzrayim

Preview of Hoisted from the Archives from 2004 Mark Kleiman Avodim Hayyinu l pharoh b Mitzrayim

Mark Kleiman: Avodim Hayyinu l’pharoh b’Mitzrayim: "So the Bush Administration is supporting the anti-gay marriage FMA.... And the right-wing media are loudly cheering for Gibson’s Passion, with its blatantly anti-Semitic retelling of the Crucifixion wrapped in a pornography-of-violence package. I wonder whether, now that their own oxen are being gored to right-wing applause, conservative Jews and conservative gays will reflect on the extent to which 'conservatism' as a political practice in American (as opposed to the conservative strand in political thought represented by Burke, Hayek, and Oakeshott) turns out to embody a willingness—and sometimes a gloating eagerness—to stomp on the out-groups...

...The willingness of Jews to stand up for vulnerable non-Jews, which I had always attributed to centuries of being the out-group, turns out on closer examination to be quite deeply rooted in the religion. Last week in the faculty Torah study group at UCLA—which has been fighting its way through Deuteronomy at the rate of about four verses a week for the past decade—we were examining Deut. 24:17-18:

Thou shalt not pervert the justice due to the stranger, or to the fatherless; nor take the widow’s raiment to pledge. But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee thence; therefore I command thee to do this thing.

A quick check with a concordance showed that the formula: “Do X, because you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord redeemed you” occurs five times in Deuteronomy, in each case following a commandment about dealing fairly with the vulnerable.... That, then, is the deeper meaning of the first phrase in the answer to the Four Questions at the Passover Seder: “Avodim hayyinu”—“We were slaves.” It seems, if you think about it, a rather remarkable assertion to put at the very center of a celebratory feast. What other group, instead of boasting about being nobly born, makes a fuss about being descended from slaves, and then personalizes it so as to say that everyone present was a slave until redeemed? But linked to the commandments in Deuteronomy, that phrase comes to mean: “We were slaves” and therefore must never, never, ever act like slaveowners. That makes sense of the empirical link between Judaism and liberalism.

No, there’s no reason to think that the “liberal” viewpoint on any given policy issue is superior to the “conservative” one. With respect to crime, which is my own study, I’d have to say that the liberal tendency over the past half-century has mostly pointed toward the wrong answers, though the conservative tendency hasn’t noticeably pointed to the right ones. Nor is it the case that all claims made on behalf of vulnerable groups are justifiable claims, or even that satisfying those claims will in fact be good for the groups in question. But I’d still rather start with a political philosophy consistent with “avodim hayyinu” than with one rooted in the impulse to defend the power and wealth of the wealthy and the powerful, and to demonstrate—as, for example, Rush Limbaugh, Honorary Member of the House Republican Class of 1994, does so amusingly to his millions of listeners—that despised groups are really despicable...


#shouldread #hoisted #moralresponsibility

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