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No Good Jew Goes Unpunished

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“I’m a bad Jew” is a common admission among American Jews, sometimes sheepish, sometimes boastful, and typically containing a dose of truth. But in her new book, Bad Jews, journalist Emily Tamkin sets out to prove that the subject of her title is a myth. “It is my best attempt,” she writes, “to wrestle with what I believe to be the one truth of American Jewish identity: It can never be pinned down.” The result is alternately perverse and insipid beyond belief. Let me show you what she means.

“The story of Ethel Rosenberg is, in many ways, a Jewish story,” writes Tamkin, after an uneven sketch of the 1950s spy case. “Who, in this, is the Good Jew or the Bad Jew? Is it the Communist Jewish woman who was executed? The Jews who stood by her? Or the Jews who called for her death? The sons, years later trying to push for the exoneration of their mother? Or Roy Cohn, the Jewish man who helped create the environment that killed her?”

Like most questions in the book, these are left unanswered, presumably because Tamkin thinks they are unanswerable. But the answers are blindingly obvious.

Ethel Rosenberg was a bad Jew. We know from Soviet cables and KGB memos that she urged and aided in the recruitment of her relatives as nuclear spies. She betrayed her country, the United States, the best home in exile the Jews have ever known, to arm Joseph Stalin, a demon responsible for the murder of millions and an anti-Semite who tried to stamp out Jewish religion. Ethel was “totally uncritical” in her devotion to communism, a totalitarian ideology that crushes the human spirit and seeks the dissolution of all Jewish identity. Right until the last moment, Ethel had an opportunity to save her life and spare her children from becoming orphans. All she had to do was tell the truth. Instead, she continued to lie, choosing loyalty to Stalin over duty to her children.

The Jews who stood by Ethel were duped or were themselves fellow travelers. The major Jewish organizations that Tamkin scolds, along with the bulk of American Jewry, for supporting the prosecution, saw more clearly than she does. Historian Lucy Dawidowicz, singled out for her support of the Rosenbergs’ execution, devoted her career to the study of the Nazi War Against the Jews and the Jewish tradition that the Nazis sought to destroy. Her work helped preserve that tradition for Jews today. Finally, Roy Cohn didn’t help “create the environment that killed [Ethel],” because Ethel wasn’t killed by an environment.

When she wants to be, Tamkin is rigidly opposed to judgments of any sort. She denies even the possibility of something being “good for the Jews,” or bad. Her reason is that Jews differ—as if this, too, is an unanswerable objection.

Leave normative terms aside; Tamkin is just as obtuse regarding descriptive assessments. At times, she seems impervious to sociology. For example, she takes great issue with Nathan Glazer’s comment that the period of immigrant Jewish life on New York’s Lower East Side was “when the [American] Jews were thus most Jewish.” She protests, “But what did ‘true Jews’ or ‘most Jewish’ actually mean? What made one Jewish life more or less authentic than another?”

Behind these questions is the dogmatic insistence, crucial to Tamkin’s liberal Judaism, that no one is any more Jewish than anyone else. Fine. Some people, however, have a thicker identity than others. Some Irish-Americans have a deep connection to Ireland and some simply drink Guinness on St. Paddy’s Day. Jews who, say, spoke a Jewish language in daily life and had real knowledge of Jewish tradition had a thicker Jewish identity than most American Jews have had since.

Tamkin can’t admit this because, as she writes, she is deeply anxious about her own Jewishness. Though Bad Jews is “a roughly hundred-year history of Jewish American politics, culture, identities, and arguments,” in keeping with the modern fad it is also a personal exploration. Tamkin shoehorns the issue of intermarriage into several chapters, often discussing her own marriage, which is to a non-Jew who didn’t subsequently convert.

Tamkin objects to “the insistence that intermarried Jews are less serious about Judaism and somehow not fully capable of passing  Jewish values on to their children.” She even has an imaginary conversation with a leading Jewish philanthropist on the issue. It ends with the conclusion that he wouldn’t care at all about her “hypothetical future children” on account of their non-Jewish father, making clear that she fails utterly to understand the opposing point of view.

No doubt Tamkin will instill Jewish identity in her children; she writes books on the topic. But in general, one Jewish parent and one Christian parent aren’t as likely as two Jewish parents to raise children who identify strongly as Jews. This is common sense, and the data are clear that children of intermarriage feel that Judaism is less important to them (as it was for their parents) and act accordingly.

Tamkin’s personal leanings often make her an unreliable narrator. She tries to sanitize the Second Intifada as “a Palestinian uprising that came from the failure of the peace process in the first decade of the 2000s and the violence that ensued,” a sentence worthy of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.” She describes Jewish Currents, which she admires, as “the magazine founded for the Jewish Left back in 1946,” leaving out that it was Stalinist. She congratulates Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) for apologizing for an anti-Semitic remark, without mentioning that Omar quickly walked back the apology and reiterated her conspiracy theory.

Notably bad is Tamkin’s discussion of the neoconservatives. Hostile framings and poor paraphrases of Irving Kristol arguments are one thing. Another is that she doesn’t seem to know what she’s talking about. The first words she uses to describe neocon intellectuals are “free-market capitalists”; in fact, they were notable within the conservative movement for accepting limits on the free market and making peace with the New Deal, while critiquing excesses of the Great Society on empirical grounds. Next, she writes, “Neoconservatives actually started out as leftist radicals. They were disciples of Leon Trotsky.” For most neocons, this is false. Norman Podhoretz, for instance, was never a Trotskyist. Some, like Kristol, had been Trots in college, but their Marxist credentials were far inferior to, say, those of many founding editors and writers of the conservative (no “neo”) National Review.

The problem can be traced to the book’s citations. Tamkin’s pattern is to rely on a single secondary source for information, citing it several times consecutively to cover a topic, before moving on to another single source, also cited several times in a row, for a new topic. In her neocons chapter, she cites Benjamin Balint’s book on Commentary 16 times in a row. I’ve read the book and it is serviceable, but it is only one view on a topic on which countless words have been written. Commentary’s archives are also available online. To rely so thoroughly on single sources is indicative of laziness, frankly, and lack of knowledge.

Tamkin claims to argue that there’s no such thing as a good Jew or bad Jew. But her heart isn’t in it. At every opportunity, she valorizes her bad Jews, the ones who vilify Israel and the American Jewish community. They’re the heroes. Eli Valley, the Jewish cartoonist known for drawing Israelis and pro-Israel Americans as Nazis, she fawns over. Her comment that “multiple people, on learning that I was writing this book, told me that I had to speak to Valley. His work meant so much to them, they told me. It had helped them figure out their own relationship to Jewishness” is perhaps more revealing than she intended.

The flip side is that Tamkin clearly thinks her good Jews are bad. The major Jewish organizations are portrayed throughout as morally indefensible; even Jewish leadership in the civil-rights movement is unconvincingly labeled a “myth.” Anticommunists and Israel supporters are cast as fear- and guilt-ridden tyrants, synogogue-goers as conformist and xenophobic. In her most disgusting passage, Tamkin blames the deadly 2018 shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on Donald Trump and then immediately uses the tragedy to dump on Orthodox Jews—themselves the victims of most anti-Semitic violence—for several paragraphs.

At the end, Tamkin has one last somersault to perform: excusing left-wing anti-Semitism. “When I hear that the fixation should be on antisemitism on the left,” she writes, “I recall that there was a reason that American Jewish professionals in the 1960s decided not to focus on the antisemitism within the Nation of Islam,” namely, that it could detract from the broader progressive struggle. She then has a quote that the response to left-wing anti-Semitism should be “to show up more” to left-wing causes. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), it is made clear, is the ideal type. At last, and in so many words, we have Tamkin’s elusive definition of a good Jew: a leftist.

Bad Jews: A History of American Jewish Politics and Identities
by Emily Tamkin
Harper, 320 pp., $28.99

Elliot Kaufman is the letters editor of the Wall Street Journal.




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Police discover explosives near south Colorado Springs home

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Nov. 25—A south Colorado Springs home was reportedly damaged by a shotgun blast and explosive devices were found nearby on Thursday, according to Colorado Springs police.

Around 5:45 p.m., police responded to a residence in the 1100 block of Norwood Avenue, just east of the South Nevada Avenue and Lake Avenue intersection, for a reported damage call, police said. The siding and a windowpane at the rear of the house appeared to be damaged from a shotgun blast.

Police reportedly also found “remnants” of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and another unexploded IED on scene.

Police said the Regional Explosives Unit responded and “rendered the unexploded device safe.” Police did not indicate that any arrests have been made, and said the incident is an ongoing investigation.


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Medford man facing charges for assault and battery with a weapon for incident at South Station

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A Medford man is facing charges for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon at South Station.

According to MBTA police, officers responded to a call on Friday morning for a report of an assault in progress.

When officers arrived to the scene, they located a male who had sustained a slashes to his face.

Witnesses at South Station pointed out another male, later identified as Hocine Lounici, 38, of Medford as the attacker.

Witnesses say they saw a verbal dispute between the two men when suddenly Lounici began to attack the victim with some instrument.

Officers stopped Lounici and determined he was responsible for the victim’s injuries.

Lounici was placed into custody and transported Transit Police.

The victim was transported to a local area hospital for a non life threatening injury to his face.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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Readers sound off on Jewish lineage, Iranian protesters and leafy litter – New York Daily News

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Cedarhurst, L.I.: In your latest piece of half-truths and drivel, you state that Matthew Mahrer is a Jew, the grandson on his father’s side of a man who is a Holocaust survivor. Had you taken the time to Google what defines one’s Jewish lineage, it would have informed you that Judaism is passed through the mother-to-child process. Unless his mother and her mother before her were Jewish, Mahrer definitely is not.

Matthew Mahrer

The saddest and most damaging message of all, one that now serves the evil ideology we call modern-day justice and democracy, the one that has elevated those who excuse and explain away every kind of crime under the heading that these criminals are mentally ill and should be coddled and cared for in spite of their criminal actions. Their victims suffer yet again as blind Lady Justice lets their tormentors go free and clear.

We have fallen so low as a nation and as a people who once exemplified to the world the beauty and honor of the American way of life. It is difficult to even relate how far we have fallen. I recall The News once being a great newspaper and imparter of unbiased reporting — honest and truthful conveyors of news. Today, sadly, you have become a large part of what ails us as opposed to being a vehicle for bringing us the truth — instead of unbiased and unembellished purveyors of the truth serving to heal and bring us together. Rachel Bluth

Manhattan: I opened my edition of the Thanksgiving paper thinking that at last, we’ll have some good news. Page 2 did have photos of the Macy’s Thanksgiving balloons, but all the rest of the paper (except for the cartoons and sports) had the usual parade of violent attacks and murders. Yes, I realize that is part of the news, but at least on Thanksgiving, couldn’t you find positive stories about good people? And cute children and animals? We do need some good news and the Thanksgiving edition would have been the perfect one to feature positive stories. Suzanna Deutsch

Princeton, N.J.: Crime in New York City is out of control. Businesses are leaving, brazen shoplifting is common, people are being pushed onto subway tracks and, most importantly, the murder rate is frightening. Charles Winfield

Brooklyn: I think crime is the worst problem we have right now in NYC. It is the reason my friends and I have seriously cut back on our trips into Manhattan to see Broadway shows, visit museums and do other activities. But the crime issue is not only guns. As we’ve seen, knives and being pushed or punched can also be disastrous. Much of this is due to anger and mental illness, which must be dealt with. And that again brings up the question: What happened to the nearly $1 billion of ThriveNYC money intended for this purpose? Louise Veneroni

Newton, N.J.: Kyrie Irving has a constitutional right to freedom of speech, distasteful as it may be. He also has a constitutional right to act like a total jerk if he wants. However, Irving does not have a constitutional right to play in the NBA, and I challenge his apologists to demonstrate otherwise. By the way, I’m not Jewish. Michael Schnackenberg

Southport, Conn.: In 2018, Kyrie Irving said, “The Earth is flat.” He was not joking. Since my 5-year-old and 3-year-old sons both know that Kyrie is wrong about the shape of the Earth, why would we listen, let alone care, about his thoughts on the Jewish people? My family is Jewish, and if Kyrie thinks that Jews cause all of the problems on his flat planet, that is his right. And if he also believes that the moon landing was faked, the Holocaust never took place, Bigfoot is real and King Charles is a vampire, Kyrie is entitled to his uneducated opinions. Andrew Ginsburg

The Daily News Flash

The Daily News Flash

Weekdays

Catch up on the day’s top five stories every weekday afternoon.

Washington: On Tuesday, the Iranian team will play against the United States in the World Cup. This is the time to show solidarity with the Iranian protesters, as the American soccer players can afford to express their position freely, unlike the Iranian team. Some people may say that sports should not be politicized. Yet, this would be showing empathy and comradeship. It would put into practice the values that sports teach. Athletes in the U.S. have been kneeling in several matches. It would not make sense that during a match with Iran, the same athletes would not stand for human rights, in support of the people of a country that are dying for freedom. The U.S. team should find the confidence and courage to show that the people in the West are not indifferent. Anna Mahjar-Barducci

Rosedale: Re Mike Lupica’s “Zach it up!” (column, Nov. 20): There is a team from this country with a real chance of having the whole country get behind it. It’s the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, the current reigning, two-time World Cup champions. Wouldn’t it have been great if Lupica had spoken about us getting behind this team the way Brazil, England, Argentina, etc. do for their teams? Shirley Jordan

Elizabeth, N.J.: Somehow I do not see the compatibility of Hamas, Taliban and Whoopi Goldberg. Somehow the name Goldberg does not fit with an uncertainty about whether or not the Taliban and Hamas are terrorist groups. These yentas on “The View” need to be better educated before they comment on either the Holocaust or the survival of Israel. Let them visit Yad Vashem in Israel and Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek in Europe. Joel M. Glazer

Manhattan: In a week of many outrages, Mayor Adams added to the list. He appointed a retired female dispatcher with whom he lived for a while to be in charge of police morale and mental health for a salary of about $250,000 a year with benefits galore. The words “corruption” and “incompetence” came to mind. The words “in the public interest” do not. This appointment should be challenged. Frankie Turchiano

Brooklyn: Former President Donald Trump, also known as a genius, announced his candidacy. He’s the right guy for the right job to bring economic and social change, as the criminals will be shuttled to jail for decades for their crimes. We will not be comfortable if he’s not elected. I can’t think of a more suitable guy to be the leader of our Free World. Raquel Hanon

Bellerose: I have heard from a number of people that our fellow residents in New York are somewhat rude. Well, I disagree. We have been through a lot because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us have lost loved ones and been sick ourselves. Our doctors, nurses, EMS workers, police, firefighters and the rest of our first responders helped us get through this and still do and need our praises. In my opinion, we are not grinches — many of us have tried to help our neighbors in need. I have lived in New York most of my 73 years and have tried to help others. As we approach the holiday season, let’s offer a friendly smile and a hello to all we meet. Our lives can only be defined by what we share with others who are in need of acts of kindness. Frederick R. Bedell Jr.

Maspeth: Our block had the tree-trimming group (seven people) come through. Even equipped with a leaf blower, brooms, etc., they left a horrendous mess in their wake. I asked the supervisor (a guy who sat around with a clipboard) if they were going to clean up the assorted branches that were strewn across the street and sidewalk. He said, “I’ll ask them.” Excuse me! Isn’t that part of their job, especially if they make the mess? Needless to say, nothing was done about it. Nice to know these people are earning their exorbitant pay with the least amount of effort. What a racket! Veronica Kwiecinski


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