Martin Buber privileges what he called “religiosity,” the individual’s spontaneous feeling of spirituality, over “religion,” the traditional outward forms and rituals of spiritual life. Similarly, Jacques Derrida contrasts “messianicity” with “messianism”: the former is a commitment to the possibility of revolutionary redemption, the latter the fact of an actual Messiah. Derrida prefers the former. Both Buber and Derrida treasure the religious impulse, while rejecting out of hand its concrete realization. Their distinction will help explain the overall purpose of this blog.
I am about to spend a year studying classical Jewish texts at an Orthodox yeshiva in Israel. While I have side motivations (learning Hebrew, living in a foreign country, resting from the grind), I often resort to Buber and Derrida to justify my decision. The LSAT-style logic-games of the Babylonian Talmud often strike me as silly; the human effort to build a civilization around those logic-games inspires awe. I do not care about whether, having forgotten to tape over the light in your refrigerator, you can open it on Shabbos; I am fascinated and moved by Jews who commit to halakhic texts so deeply as to care. A “Jewish” state, at least one with discriminatory laws and a nasty occupation, has no place in my moral system; the idea of a state as Zion, the promised land, speaks to the best parts of my American identity. It’s not the Talmud I am interested in, but talmudicity, not halakha (Jewish law) but halakhicity, not Zionism, but Zionicity.
I am, however, painfully aware of how awful these words sound; they are second order concepts, and Strunk & White or William Zinsser would cringe at their suffix-heavy complexity. William Carlos Williams (“no ideas except in things”) might have a conniption. Derrida, the philosopher of the esoteric, probably appreciated the irony that to express a religious concept’s simple appeal required a highfalutin neologism; Buber, the philosopher of sincerity, probably not so much. As I go forward, this blog will be an attempt to keep me honest; republics in thought are much easier than republics in writing (to say nothing of republics in praxis), and “second order concept,” divorced from its concrete instance, can be a fancy term for horseshit. I’ll try to blog regularly about what I’m learning, constantly reporting on the successes and failures of my attempt to read ugly political realities and religious texts figuratively in terms of their hidden spiritual potential. If that sounds a little fuzzy, it’s because I am a fuzzy thinker, more comfortable with words than with meanings.
I won’t (I imagine now) write much about myself: this blog (again, I think now) will be about subjectivity, not about a subject. My life will probably be quite dull, and anyway, I am suspicious of the narcissism implicit in our culture of memoir. Finally, the actual posts won’t necessarily start for two months, as I have a month in the city, then a month in ulpan (language immersion in Haifa) before I start at Maale Gilboa. But I may post before then.