Just An Idea

Todd Hasak-Lowy
September 9, 2011
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Seeing how this is an abhorrent story, and/but seeing how its position in our national story and sacred text more or less forces us to deal with it at length at least annually, then maybe something else is called for, as far as dealing with it goes.

So here’s an idea, and I’m really just thinking out loud here, which as far as I understand these things might well be the definition of a blog (out loud then being used somewhat figuratively).

How about we (we=all those Jews whose relationship to tradition, ritual, etc., is adequately flexible to make this thought experiment at least hypothetical) all agree to have nothing to do with this story for, say, ten years?

What I mean:

–       For ten years no one touches Genesis 22 in any synagogue/temple/chavura.  No one reads it.  When its week comes during the year-long parade of parashot, we just skip it.  Skip it and don’t even say that we’re skipping it.  No bar or bat mitzvah will give his/her dvar torah on it.  No rabbi will do his/her best to wrest something instructive and/or redeeming out it.

–       Academics don’t teach it in their classes, speak about it at their conferences, or write about it their journals.  Jewish Studies figures out how to get along without it.

–       Jewish artists of all stripes (writers, painters, playwrights, etc.) agree not to allude to in their works and/or offer modern midrashim on it.

–       Israelis—along with scholars of and experts on Israel—cease using it as an explanatory lens for the contemporary Israeli condition.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Now I certainly understand that a big part of being Jewish—according to some (I think I include myself in that “some”)—is wrestling with our tradition, blemishes and all.  And that this story is a fairly hard-to-ignore blemish.  I get that.  I even get that no small amount of wisdom has been produced trying to figure out what to do with this horrid story and its central place in both our sacred text and collective history.  But maybe we’ve all gotten a little too good at eagerly rolling up our sleeves on this one.

I’m not a huge fan of denial, repression, or forced forgetting of any sort.  It tends not to solve much.  But I’m willing to give it a try here.  I don’t really know where this might leave us.  I’m just asking us to think about what might be gained if we pointedly avoid reading, talking, writing, and (to the extent it’s possible) thinking about this story, again, for ten years.  To refuse to own it, at least temporarily.  In part to see what kind of alternate Jewish tradition might grow around its absence.  In part to see what it might feel like to be a Jewish father who doesn’t have to look at his Jewish child with this story in the back of his mind each and every autumn.

If it’s our tradition, after all, can’t we then decide it no longer needs to be?

If nothing else, maybe we’d all be able to make better sense of it once we return after a ten-year break.

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Todd Hasak-Lowy is a writer, scholar, and translator. He has a PhD in comparative literature from UC Berkeley. He is the author of a short story collection, a novel, and an academic monograph. He lives in Evanston with his family and teaches creative writing and modern Hebrew literature in and around Chicago.

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