june 2005

Detachment and Alienation: From freedom of choice to the promise of being
By Ariella Atzmon©

In the beginning was the WORD, God speaking, to be followed later by the prohibition of the figurative, and the children of Israel were left  aloof in a world of words without things. Freud's diagnosis proposes this condition of aloofness as obsessional neurosis, and Lyotard adopts the hypothesis of psychosis[1]. Hence, in order to evaluate the distinctiveness of Judaism we need to first be liberated from the bonds of political correctness.

An analysis of the two synonymous words ALIENATION and DETACHMENT epitomizes a gap between the view that refers to human beings as celebrating freedom of choice, and the Judaic self-conviction of being chosen. Taking a psychoanalytical line might be helpful in specifying typical Jewish political conduct as being afflicted with symptoms of detachment.

Since the symptoms of detachment are attributed to Jewish identity we need to define what detachment means as distinct from alienation. Detachment is defined as a mental morbidity, a spiritual and mental separation from the world which appears as a lack of empathy to worldly concerns. Thus detachment, as observing others without emotional commitment, is diagnosed
between neurosis and psychosis.

Alienation on the other hand is an estrangement in feeling imposed on the human subject by external circumstances. In the best case it is an intentional externalization of experiences; in the worst it is the instance where man is conditioned to be alienated from what are properly his functions and creations, and where instead of controlling them, he is controlled by them (as in Marxist theory). Alienation is not an intrinsic mental state like detachment since it is caused by conditioning.

Actually Jews are not alienated but detached. Throughout history the presence of Jews was evidently central in all worldly affairs. More than 50% of the Bush administration's posts are held by Jews. We can trace Jews as the initiators of ideologies and as central figures who triggered social and cultural reforms and revolutions. This proves clearly that Jews are not alienated, but detached from the gloomy consequences of their deeds. Despite being conceived as the eternal ultimate 'other', the Jewish presence and its unmistakable influence is evident in all fields of political and cultural life. It is suggested that adherence to the role of the ultimate 'other' including separatist tendencies, relates to a transcendence from the figurative, being left solely within the play of words and without icons. Judaism is characterized by the prohibition of making an image of God. They worship a God whom they cannot see. The sensory perception came second after the abstract idea. The ear listens to the writing, and the writing comes from an absent God! So what is considered a Judaic triumph of intellectuality over sensuality, renounces the discourse/figure

Among savages for instance, the figurative prevails, and thus they have no philosophy, no deliberative politics. The savage resolves his wish fulfillment within the existing social organization itself, and by the cultural ritual façade which satisfies the wish to know.  In the Greek polis, conversely, the rhetor initiated a secular use of discourse, where the word must sound reasonable. The birth of logos gave birth to science. In Hellenism, the pagan rituals were shifted towards theatrical epic and to the rhetorical theater. Hellenism turned the magic into myth, into theater. The
Dionysian encountered the Apollonian stage of rhetoric leading to the path of logic. This is the route that western people have taken since then. In Judaism, the prohibition of the figurative wish-fulfillment turned into neurosis and even psychosis. And where the balance among the natural triad, signified-signifier-referent is distorted, detachment prevails. Apparently the discarding of the referent, including the signifier, conforms to the spirit of post-structuralism. But what is considered a virtue according to post-structuralism went too far with Judaism - right up to psychosis i.e.:
narcissism and paranoia
[2]. The exclusion of the figurative icon was transformed in Jewish tradition to repetitive ceremonial rites, where irrational ritualism compensates for the forbidden icon. In secular Zionism, the religious rituals were substituted by nationalistic patriotic ceremonies.

Following Lacan, the imaginary represented by the figurative is contrasted with the symbolic, articulated as a discursive language. The gaps of the inexpressible that inspire the work of art stem from rejected elements, absent as audible words but retained as visible things. Judaism excludes the
figure, excludes magic, excludes reconciliation, refuses to admit to parricide, and thus there is no art in Judaism. Lyotard asks: Where to place this religion? The empirical mark of its difference is the hatred it inspires; anti-Semitism. Circumcision as the covenant with the word is a cut off from the imaginary, without gaining an entry to the symbolic order. By circumcision the Jew is caught in a double negation, being locked within the symbolic i.e, 'the name of the father,' while the name of the father is censored. With no symbolic order the access to science is blocked too. Hence, the Jew is left aloof without science and without art, emptied of human desire, where the balance between the pleasure principle and the reality principle is ruined. The moment the desire to kill God, which is the
key motive of science, is repressed and denied the escape to art, Jews are caught in psychosis, detached from reality, including all its symptoms.

The difference between  neurosis and psychosis  in terms of their respective positions vis-à-vis language, is that the schizophrenic treats words as though they are things, perceiving reality by the signified without signifiers. Ordinary people cope between words and their thing presentation by trial and error. But while the neurotic get confused with the discrepancies of reality, the schizophrenic has no means for testing what is. The attempt to recuperate things via their verbal aspect, without resorting to images, while every thing remains in the realm of articulated language, brings about a schizophrenic aloofness from reality. It ends with inhuman acts, wrongs caused without even a wink. It is not being unethical but rather lacking a sense of ethics. While neurosis is a clash between wish-fulfillment and reality, psychosis occurs when the subject turns against the outside world, sniffing an enemy (anti-Semitism) behind every corner. If dialectic means compromise and reconciliation then the psychotic is not dialectic. Thus, Jewish politics, including Zionism, manifest no compromise and no reconciliation.

Narcissistic pathology is recognized by self-centeredness and a lack of empathy. When this disruption is coupled with a sense of superiority it generates hostility and paranoia that bequeaths to the generations to come the same victim mentality. It is manifested by the legitimization of theft of absentees' lands declaring it 'a proper Zionist decision'. For the sake of Jewish 'survival', Zionism distorts history and justifies discrimination. Thus Zionism is unethical just as Judaism is!

The attitude to past narration and history is another sign of the Jew's detachment and unethical attitude. The Jew turns his eye from the visible and thus history turns into a religious text. It is not reality but words. All traditions revive their forgotten grandeurs by past reconstruction. While Hellenistic glory was recollected in the Homeric epic, for orthodox Jews, including secular Zionists, the legacy of the past is engraved within the holy pages of the bible. Up to the present the bible is considered by all brands of Zionism as a legal document which substantiates the rights to the Promised Land. In Greece the pleasure principle was given free reign in Homerism, but Jewish religion excludes the pleasure principle and thus the core of historical writing is prohibited. For westerners, history is a reactivation of memories in the attempt to interpret the past, for the Jews, history is a teleological pursuit not meant to aid understanding the past, but rather relating  the course of history to its end. The birth of messianic Judaism, can be understood in the light of the basic Jewish attitude to history. The coming of the Messiah is believed to be the end of Jewish victimization and the gentiles' Judgment-Day. While in other monotheist religions God’s judgment is directed at individuals, in Judaism, God's judgment is revealed in the history of the nation. The reign of God is expected to materialize in a new kingdom under a Davidic  messiah. But the discrepancy in Judaism is that despite God’s promise, God is remote and invisible and the relations with his believers are mediated through the Rabbinic tradition of legalism. God does not meet the observant Jew in real daily life, where human beings encounter their neighbors and take responsibility for how their deeds affect the lives of others

The distressing historical attitude devolved into all brands of Zionism. While religious Zionism was established on the nationalistic aspirations of being chosen, waiting for the minute God will restore the people's former glory, secular Zionists, inspired by 19th century European ideologies, were plotting a nationalist, racist Jewish state. The radical right was dedicated to the primordial idea of blood and race, while the left was ecstatically confused between international socialism and national aspirations.

It is clearly proved that at the point where ideological thought seemed to emancipate itself from the religious sphere and attempt to accomplish the task of demythologization, Zionism failed. I would argue that present day Jewish nationalism, manifested by Israeli colonialist and racist conduct, is deeply grounded in Jewish detachment from reality. The fact that secular Zionism never tried seriously to reflect critically upon its innate contradictory elements, is symptomatic of the old psychosis of floating in the realm of words.

The state of Israel reflects a cleavage between those who perceive Judaism as grounded in a mutual covenant between the children of Israel and God, and those who are fixed on the idea of statehood. Besides the antagonism between the two perceptions, just as in the time of the prophets, each of these positions does not allow for the existence of a Jewish community under its own basic assumptions. For the former perception, as long there is a promise of continuing with the Jewish life style and Halachic law the existence of an independent Jewish state is not conditional; while the Zionist view, by advocating the notion of statehood, is caught in the contradictory terminology of defining Israel as a democratic Jewish state. Thus the moment they put the prefix Jewish before the word state they dismantle the sense of democracy in the same breath. From all the many complexities bound to the notion of a Jewish state, I choose to elaborate the perplexities associated
with the notion secular Jews which is an oddity in itself. For the orthodox, Jewish identity means a complete observance of the law without compromise, and thus, it does not cause any problem. Their difficulties emerge precisely in Israel as a secular democratic Jewish state. Real obscurity is revealed when secular Jews start wrestling with their identification as Jews. Most Israelis try to avoid this question by shooting from the hip that what unites all Jews is anti-Semitism, as if anti-Semitism is an inherent feature of the world. As a reflection of their own animosity toward gentiles, Jews are completely convinced that it is an inborn gentile necessity to exploit the ultimate Jewish otherness as a punching bag. Israeli educational curricula blame other religions, mainly Christianity, for orchestrating hatred towards Jews throughout history - as if the segregationist predisposition is a Christian invention. Children's books are saturated with inquisition and pogroms, ignoring the circumstances that led to those historical events. Israeli Jews mourn their killed children while remaining oblivious to their atrocities that brought the Palestinian martyr to perpetrate his desperate act.

Some secular Israeli Jews recite the slogan that Judaism is not a homogeneous entity, that there are many versions of Judaism. They identify themselves as Jews characterized by the glorious Jewish cultural tradition of scholarship. But this false pride falls apart easily when they are asked what they mean by Jewish culture, or what are the main virtues of Jewish scholarship? Their ignorance is grounded in religious and political motives that intentionally blur the narrative regarding the fall of Jerusalem and the birth of Christianity. Jews in general, and Israeli Jews in particular, are lacking in knowledge about the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, as Judaic oppositionary paradigms.

Beit Hallahmi (1993) In his book ‘Original Sins’ elaborates a thorough
overview that clarifies the background for the distortion of Hebraism into
the Rabbinic tradition. The Rabbinic tradition is responsible for what is
called Jewish culture or Jewish genius over 2000 years of exile. He blames
this tradition for the origin of Jewish segregation and intolerance. In
exile, after the fall of Jerusalem, the rabbinic tradition took over and
became the driving force behind all characteristics of Jewish identity. The
rabbinic ruling interpreted the law given in the five books of Moses, the
written version of the oral tradition which was collected in six volumes
called the Mishna.  This is the core for further interpretation in the
Talmud. Beit Hallahmi argues that the Mishna  was  actually a new version of

The Rabbinic tradition is linked with the Pharisees who attempted to modify the harshness of the law by interpretation and inference. Actually they were the authoritarians who successfully tied the whole of life, down to its smallest details with the observance of the Law. The oppositionary conservative school to the Pharisees, the Sadducees, rejected any tradition that was established by scribal activity. After the fall of Jerusalem they disappeared and the Pharisees' exposition of the law became the touch-stone of Jewish scholarship. The rampant deception about profound Jewish scholarship is prevalent among Jews. The glamorous tradition of scholarship is actually a learning by rote of piles upon piles of rules as related to the Jewish law. Judaism is a religion where man in relation to God, is conceived in legalistic terms, where the ethics are equated with obedience and fear of God. There is no theology in Judaism.

These darkened spaces in narrating their ‘national’ past cause further ignorance which ends in a detachment from reality. The same people who praise Jewish culture and its profound scholarship, lack any knowledge regarding the style of Jewish learning. The secular young Israeli Jew is not faced with a Pentateuch scroll or with a Talmud page. But although Israeli Jews are completely alien to Jewish PILPUL (scribe interpretation) they are very keen to raise their voice in praise of  Jewish scholarship.

In a brilliant article Meron Benvenisti declares that if Zionism does not convert its ideological basis it is doomed. I argue that it is not the ideology but rather a genuine morbidity typical of Jewish identity which causes Zionist conduct. Taking a step further I would say that there is no chance for a people afflicted by the morbidity of detachment to change, and thus they are doomed.


[1] The Lyotard reader, 1989 (Oxford:Basil Blackwell)

[2] Even the close proximity of postmodernism and poststructuralism to
Judaism is refuted. Post structuralism as the linguistic turn is related
with the artistic nature of language where all binary oppositions are
dismantled. Since Judaism is obliged to differentiate between the secular
and the profane, Jews and gentiles, Kosher and TRAIFAH, Judaism takes a
diverged route from post structuralism.

[3] Butmann R., 1956, Primitive Christianity, (The Fontana Library)