Thursday, April 19, 2012

David Gelernter is smarter than you and is not afraid to show it

There is no doubt that David Gelernter’s Judaism: A Way of being is an interesting book.  He has many sharp and insightful things to say about being Jewish and the Jewish experience, and his image of the overlapping translucent layers of Judaism (an image he is fond of in his other creative and academic endeavors) is somewhat useful to see the interconnected tissue that runs between Judaism’s vast field customs, literature, languages, and religious practices. 

Gelernter, a noted computer scientist at Yale, knows he is smart, and if he does not openly proclaim it, his lack of humility and somewhat dismissive attitude towards perspectives that differ from his denote it clearly.  After all, he states at the beginning of the book: “This is a  book about Judaism, but I believe you’ll find it unlike any other book on Judaism you’ve ever read or are likely to read.”  This book, he seems to proclaim, will somehow trump all other books on the vast subject of Judaism now and forever more.

His views on women and Judaism are conservative and I believe, regressive.  His tone about innovation in Judaism is dismissive and insulting.  Even though he claims halakah is ridged but Judaism, somehow, is not, he wants adjustments made to Judaism only by those who are “learned in Torah and Talmud and the rabbinic tradition.  Changes cannot be decreed by amateurs, kibitzers, or scholars learned not in the Torah but something else.”

Who these authorities are to makes changes, and who are the amateurs and kibitzers we are not told.   I have a sense those who can make changes are those who Gelernter conveniently agrees with.  The rest of his, the woman who wants to be a rabbi, the gay person who wants to be married under Jewish law, well, they are just bumbling amateurs and kibitzers. How nice to dismiss people's humanity and aspirations to be fully human and fully Jewish with one cute sentence.

Gelernter's book is smart but narrow.  It is too self serving of a narrow set of concerns of an ideological Judaism.  

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