The other day I was rereading Sigmund Freud's "Civilization and Its Discontents" and I encountered a page which made my hair stand on end. He said, in essence, that human beings could never get along. Why? Not only was aggression inherent to human nature, but we experienced what he labeled "The narcissism of minor differences." This means that people living closely together, and sharing much in common, will obsessively focus on the tiny differences which divide them. Immediately I thought not just of the problem of marriage, but of course, of the Jews as a people. We are only 16 or so million among 6 or more billion, yet we spend an astounding amount of our time and energy focusing on the minor differences which separate Jew from Jew. It is absurd to outsiders, yet here stand, patently divided year in and year out, decade after decade. Surely this is narcissism at the deepest level. Surely, as we approach the Yamim Noraim, it is the thing we, as a people, should be most eager to atone for and to change. Marc.

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Tags: kippur, movements, tshuvah, yom

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Comment by Rafael Guber on September 1, 2009 at 5:49pm
Hi Marc What happened? I thought we were just starting to be good friends! Marc its Elul. You said so yourself. Are you one of the people who believes in diversity as long as it is not diversity of opinion? I hope not. I am willing to learn from others Marc really - I do it all the time. In fact my wife tells me that the people I am closest to are the ones who I argue with the most. Interesting though the Talmud is keen on celebrating through arguments and distinction what you may refer to as minor differences. Are you waiting me out? Hoping I will quietly just go away and maybe not see your next blog? C'mon Marc a guy with a jaunty hat has to have a sense of humor.

Let me give you one last thought regarding the narcissim of minor differences. I remember the quote but for the moment not the quoter. I believe it describes the reality of Jewish life much better then Frued does.

"You can like because but only love in spite of." It is the "in spite ofs" in life that truly define our love. This is the real love that Jews have for each other. It is the love that decides we are each worth arguing with and arguing about and arguing for.


Kol Tuv

Rafi
Comment by Rafael Guber on August 31, 2009 at 6:11am
Thanks Marc for you Shabbat wishes.

So the question remains -where do we go from here? I am not sure if you are a recent returnee to traditional Judaism. It is always good to give people the benefit of the doubt. That being said, I cannot say strongly enough how offensive (unintentional though it may be) that your comment was which equates the legitimate, sincere and principled differences in belief and practice between Jews as “The narcissism of minor differences”.

By the way this would not only would be offensive to many Orthodox Jews but to many non-Orthodox Jews as well.

You profile says you are “Conservadox.” Truly I am not sure I know what that means.
It sounds like one of those words like trans-denominational which seem to say what we actually believe does not really matter. Would you mind explaining to us what Conservadox is?

So Marc, I do not know if you have children, but if your daughter or son got into Harvard and also got into the local community college would you say to them , “Listen - college is college and I am only going to pay to have you go to the local community college. To do otherwise would be to get caught up in the narcissism of minor differences.”

I think not … Narcissism, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder.

By the way Freud’s icon status not withstanding, many if not most of his ideas have been discredited by the majority of 21st century mental health professionals. I know there are some for whom classical Freudian analysis is their real religion and as someone who respects religions, even most of those I disagree with, I will respectfully leave those people alone.

Kol Tuv

Rafi Guber
Comment by Marc Porter Zasada on August 28, 2009 at 4:40pm
Good Shabbos, Rafi.
Comment by Rafael Guber on August 28, 2009 at 4:10pm
Sadly Marc sarcasm is often used as a substitute for substantive thought. I have no doubt that you are capable of substantive thought. It is a shame that you are more interested in posturing than in facing the truth. You can rap yourself in a Torah scroll and pretend to be morally superior, but the truth is you are dismissive of those of us who believe that the spirit of the Torah and the substance of the Torah cannot live apart from each other.

We, as a people, are about to go through a divorce and no amount of “we are one” platitudes will change that. We need a serious conversation. Arbitrators call it validation; a construct to show that different parties understand each others perspectives. The fact that you can put a word like minutiae and Torah study in the same sentence already says a lot about you.

What we need Marc - all of us is a good kitchen table (not a conference table!) conversation.
You don’t know me but you have already dismissed so much of what I hold to be dear and more importantly what I beleive to be imperative to the survival of the Jewish people. Marc the hardest people to talk to are the ones who believe in their own “open mindedness” as a matter of faith when it is often not a matter of fact.

Shabbat Shalom

Rafi
Comment by Marc Porter Zasada on August 28, 2009 at 10:34am
Dear Rafi:

You have brought me around. Now that it's Elul, I will try to focus more clearly on the differences among Jews, so that the lines between one kind of Jew and another are as sharply defined as possible. The best way to do that, I agree, is to focus on belief instead of deeds.

As G-d said in the Torah, "Never mind the substance of the Ten Commandments, I want you to focus on the precise method of transmission."
Comment by Rafael Guber on August 28, 2009 at 7:51am
Marc I am sure we could find much to agree upon as well, but by implication your say that the serious differences in belief between Jews is an expression of narcissism. I am not "amused" that you are Shomer Shabbat - I am glad - actually I assumed as much from you abbraviated CV. But I grew up in the Conservative movement which I left years ago., I spent five years at JTS - so Marc is it an expression of naricissim to argue in a principled way abpout the importance of what Jews believe? This conversation represents the last serious taboo in American Jewish life. It is the elephant in the middle of the room we dare not recognize lest we be thought of as "judgmental." Of course being judgemental is the ulimate blasphemy in liberal Jewish life (unless ofcourse you are binf judgemental about Orthodox Jews) on which the Jewish left has proclaimed opened season.

So Marc getting down to brass tacks, Are the difference between a rabbi who believes that the Torah was written by four people and put together with the proverbial scotch tape and a pair of siccors and a Rabbi who accepts the traditional classical view of the Torah being given at the revelation Sinai? Is this a conversation worthy of a principled discussion or is it merely an expression of the "minutae of Torah discussion" to use your words. Who gets to decide what is important and what is narcissim? .

By the way Marc what really makes our enemies dance is the fact that millions of brethern have been lost to assimilation because of enablers telling then is was OK to be reductionists. It is the effect of group hug Judaism that false promise that the Judasim can be robust, enduring, meaningful and ....easy! Has a greater lie ever been sold to the Jewish people? You sound lie a creative guy. (Like the hat!) Surely we do not need another meaningless Elul group hug speech. I am guessing you can do better than that.

Shabbat Shalom

Rafi
Comment by Marc Porter Zasada on August 28, 2009 at 7:01am
Dear Rafi: It may amuse you to know that I am a Shomer Shabbat Jew who does, indeed, believe in the Torah as revealed truth, and who deeply enjoys the minutae of Torah discussions. I went back and diligently reread my post to see what might have been "dismissive of the importance of ideas I simply do not understand." I'm sure it's there somewhere. I'm sure if we tried, we could find much to argue about...while our enemies danced.
Comment by Rafael Guber on August 27, 2009 at 6:54pm
First of all sadly, I wish Marc Porter was right anf there were 16 million of us. The number is closer to 13 million. Secondly, I wonder what Marc means when he refers to the narcissim of minor differences in the Jewish world. If, for example, a Rabbi believes that the Torah is really just an inspiring fairy tale and another Rabbi believes that the Torah is the revealed truth from the Lord as dictated to Moses on Mt. Sinai would Marc say that is just a minor difference? You know Marc I am an affectionate guy by nature - I like groups hugs just as much as you do, but to face the Jewish future and make it workable we need (no offense intended) to get beyond the narcissim of the group hug mentality. I say narcissim because you have decided what should and should not be important to Jews as opposed to listening to the different voices to find out what really is important. Well Marc, you have got yourself a blog, the ultimate delivery system for narcissim, which in the wacky world in which we live somehow qualifies tyou to pontificate and I only hope that you learn to listen - really listen and not be so quick to dismiss what you apparently either have no patience for or simply do not understand. There is no tshuvah (repentance) in being dismissive of the importance of ideas that you claerly seem not to understand. But there is hope - suggestion - a little less Freud and maybe attend a Torah Class or two.

Best Wishes

Rafi Guber

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