Je suis parce que je pense…writes Rabbi Chaim Ingram

January 19, 2015 by Rabbi Chaim Ingram
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Jewish communities are still reeling from the events of eight days ago at Hyper-Cachere in Paris.

Rabbi Chaim Ingram

Rabbi Chaim Ingram

Both as Jews and as human beings, we unreservedly condemn not only the unspeakable events of that Friday in which four of our brothers were wickedly cut down in their prime but also the equally wicked murders of the Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists, Jewish and non-Jewish, and, of course, the three courageous police officers murdered in the course of their duties.

We also hold in utter abhorrence the fanatical Islamist ideology which gave rise to these unforgivable murders. There are no words to express its evil. And no degree of media provocation or insult, not of its most sacred values, can possibly justify a resort to violence and homicide.

It should not be necessary for me to say this but I am reiterating it anyway – and I ask that what follows be digested amid the resonant backdrop of these words.

We live in a world where hashtag is king. Catchy phrases that anyone can remember are tweeted on the social media and, if they ‘trend’ they explode onto the mainstream media outlets and into all of our vocabularies – and of course there can hardly be a person on the planet who no longer knows what je suis means in French.

The first French words I learned to conjugate at school. At last they have become trendy!

I have my own je suis in response to the events of the past week or so, rooted in a most unlikely source – the 17th century French philosopher Descartes who famously said je pense, donc je suis. Cogito ergo sum. “I think, therefore I am!”.

I shall not attempt here to try to explain what Descartes meant by those cryptic words. I have instead taken the liberty of turning his celebrated phrase around in order to present my je suis: Je suis parce que je pense. I am by virtue of the fact that I think!

In other words: if I act unthinkingly and unfeelingly, then I don’t deserve to exist! If, on the other hand, I think a little more deeply about what I do, if I reflect, and if as a result I act with due consideration and sensitivity, then my life has merit

Early in the Book of Exodus, Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh as G-D’s agents to bring about the ten plagues leading to the redemption. Curiously it is Aaron and not Moses who is told to take his staff and stretch it over the water and the soil for the first three plagues of blood, frogs and lice. Why is Moses excluded from executing the first three plagues? Was it to ease the newly appointed leader into the job gradually?

Says Rashi: no. Basing himself on the Midrash, he declares: Because the water protected Moses when he was cast into it, therefore it was not smitten though his hand, neither at the plague of blood nor at the plague of frogs. And since the soil also protected him when he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand, (therefore) it was inappropriate for Moses to strike the soil.

It is an extraordinary Midrash! Why? Because clearly the water and the earth have no feelings to be hurt and equally clearly it was not they that protected Moses but G-D. through their agency. So what is this Midrash trying to tell us?

The answer: from this Midrash we derive the extremely powerful lesson that sensitivity has to be an attitude of mind, has to be inculcated totally within a person so that even to an inanimate object one shows consideration. No, it will not hurt the water or the soil if Moses smites it any more than if Aaron does – but it may well hurt Moses’ neshama (soul)! He will be the worse for it if he doesn’t show such sensitivity, if it isn’t second nature for him to show such consideration, if he as it were, mocks the waterways and the soil by striking them despite benefitting from them then he will not be immune from being insensitive to those who are do have feelings, those who are capable of being offended or anguished.   We show this same sensitivity every Shabbat by the simple act of covering the challa while making Kiddush so that the challa will not be, as it were, ‘shamed’ before the wine. Bread is a sustaining food, wine merely gladdens. We must show propriety and respect rather than a mocking attitude towards the bread. The challa will not be affected – but our souls just might!

This approach of sensitivity is the precise opposite of what Charlie Hebdo stands for! Which is why je ne suis pas Charlie, je ne suis jamais Charlie!

It is all very well to stand for freedom of speech,- and I do!. I respect and expect the right to reasoned and reasonable full-bodied, vigorous debate on any issue. But I make it a rule to attack issues and not personalities. Sometimes the boundaries are blurred and I have erred on occasion because I am human but I try to learn from my mistakes. I am not a great fan of Section 18C. I would far rather Jews, decent Muslims and other minorities be treated with respect because it is the right thing to do rather than because the law says you have to.

But in France in the second decade of the 21st century, there is no such restraint, self-discipline or respect, certainly when it comes to religion.. Instead a magazine like Charlie Hebdo can and does mock at everything that is sacred, can and does lampoon not just ideas but individuals, personalities, symbols and values of the monotheistic faiths, bedrock of Western civilisation.. It can and does print outrageous cartoons like that of a Chasidic Jew kissing a Nazi officer in the name of so-called satire, a grubby art-form that the French hold up as a beacon of freedom of speech. But call it art and the most grievous gratuitous insult and humiliation suddenly becomes ‘kosher’!

I uphold our values of freedom. The word for freedom in Hebrew is a noble word, cherutchet, resh, taph. There is another Hebrew word heter, heh, taph, resh. The two words share identical letters. The only difference is a heh instead of a chet A little point separates heh and ches. Easy to get mixed up – but there’s all the difference in the world.   The word heter in Hebrew means ‘license’. License to do what you wish, never mind the consequences, never mind who’s trampled. Often confused with ‘freedom’ just like the heh is often confused with the chet. But all the difference in the world.

King David wrote 150 psalms. Let us examine the moral evil he considers paramount, addressing it as he does in his very first psalm: Happy is the individual who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners uve-moshav leitsim lo yashav nor sit in the seat of the mockers. Leitsim are those who mock at everything from the sidelines for no other reason that they are allowed to – it’s their right. It is this category of offence whom King David hold out as the epitome of unrighteousness.

In the Talmud, R’ Yochanan declares that verbal wronging is worse than monetary wronging because that can be made good but you can never take back your words or your images. R’ Nachman bar Yitschak compares it to the spilling of blood. Raba bar bar Chana says that even adultery isn’t as bad.

But in France in 2015 the principled right to be able to gratuitously cause offence is held up as the supreme value of a free society Salman Rushdie put it last week, “it is vital that all religious values be subjected to fearless disrespect”. With such shocking sentiments we must profoundly disagree. With the right to free speech comes the responsibility of using that right properly and decently. Attitudinal cynicism, mockery and so-called principled disrespect are the enemies of upright conduct and decency. Already 300 years ago the Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato in his classic work Mesilat Yesharim had these visionary words to say: “The attitude I have a right to scoff and to mock is deadly and prevents any attempt at moral reformation”. Where nothing is sacred everything is profaned and besmirched. As one media commentator put it: the subliminal message in France last week was not so much je suis Charlie but rather je suis secularist.

We have seen the bankruptcy of secular moral values. .The moral code of the Western world supposedly is that everything is OK provided it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Yet that evidently does not apply in France where satire or for that matter pornography dressed up as art is freely allowed to express whatever it wishes no matter how grievously it offends,or humiliates. While the rest of the world weighs up and ponders, Charlie Hebdo thumbs its nose and proclaims it has nothing to learn, nothing to change, nothing to think about. Not for Charlie Hebdo the message je suis parce que je pense!

We cry for Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Phillipe Braham and Francois-Michel Saada , murdered by evil thugs eight days ago. We cry for their grieving families – parents, wives, fiancees, children. We cry that their suffering barely went acknowledged amid all the je suis Charlie hype. And we worry for the future of Jews in France.

It is not for us here in Australia to tell them they should make Aliya before it’s too late.   All we can say is that hopefully ils pensent, donc ils sont, they will think and thereby continue to be!


An edited transcript of an address by this writer in Newtown Synagogue on 17th January 2015.



24 Responses to “Je suis parce que je pense…writes Rabbi Chaim Ingram”
  1. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,

    Yes, writing comes from the personal, however it cannot remain there if it is to become art. It therefore becomes other. Put simply the kind of writing (and art) I am speaking of, above all, is a state of the soul. So obviously this makes literary criticism a most difficult thing. The critic can tear it apart technically, because all good writing must perform well in this area, however, it’s the critic who can sense the soul of the piece and have a stab at articulating that who will do it justice. Fortunately, literary critics are not the only, or even necessarily best, arbiters of literature. Although there are some good ones around. Nobody has the last word. (The esteemed Australian poet and academic, A.D. Hope, many years ago critiqued the work of Patrick White, writing it off with some contempt – White went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, the only Australian to have done so. I have every book White has written; I remember my excitement as a younger woman on discovering him, because he exposed the dark underbelly of Australians, something that most Australians at the time disliked.)

    I am not for one moment saying that a work of art or literature cannot or should not be discussed with a view to content and how that content might have been conceived, then planned and executed, how it manifests itself, how it resonates and perhaps even goes on to change due to different perceptions. And it’s true that some authors might well methodically plan their work before commencing – although it’s also true that often they find themselves being taken elsewhere, deviating from the plan, once they’re in writing mode. A vast number of writers and artists do not work this way. They work in the first instance from images and/or ideas and allow those to take them wherever. Those images and ideas are already imbued with a world of depth and have had a gestation period. The writer has already wittingly or unwittingly borrowed from others over a long period of time. It is AFTER the initial creation that one crafts it to the requirements of the art form, again and again and again if necessary, until it’s as good as you can get. That’s when all the elements necessary to it come together. It becomes art if one succeeds. It is the same for painting and sculpture. And, I would think, music.

    We are dealing here in this context with shapers of feelings, and the personal, with visions and symbols, multi-dimensional metaphors and articulation that is deeply rooted in the inner, so rationalisation in that regard is not a useful or appropriate tool. Rationalisation in this arena is a wan and limited thing. I for one, though, am always happy to discuss any aspect of my work, however not to limit it by attempting to ‘explain’ it in a rational way. If a reader/viewer/listener can’t access the soul of a piece, then rationalisation is not going to assist them in any way at all. If they can’t understand the core of the work intuitively then they will not understand it at all.

    As you will know, there have been tumultuous changes in the art world since the late nineteenth/early twentieth century that simultaneously affected fine arts, writing and musical composition. It was the Impressionists and Cubist/Surrealists who broke most definitively with the last real influence of Classicism and Renaissance Italy. So ‘strict guidelines’ were certainly done away with there. Although artists such as Marc Chagall found Cubism (Braque & Picasso et al) and even Cezanne’s remarkable departure from previous form, far too restrictive for his particular style of painting, which ultimately had to be true to him, despite other influences dabbled with. There end up being guidelines of one sort or another with whatever we bring into the world as ‘form’, however they change according to new forms created.

    Pedestrian platitudes? No, you don’t deserve that accusation, not at all.

  2. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,

    Thank you for your last response (06/02). It’s a big topic, that of the writer’s communication of her/his words with the public out there. And such a big, diverse public it is too. Leaving aside works written purely for intended commercial gain, such as Mills & Boon Romances and more populist fiction of varying kinds, and bearing in mind that, yes, once the work is out there one is at the behest of public response, I say the following:

    1. the writer does not necessarily have an ‘intended’ public in the initial stages of creating as much as publishers insist they should have (writing as response to issues in a public arena is a different matter). Publishers categorise and streamline a work towards a category, such as Young Adult literature (which I can’t abide as a concept, for its gross limitations – I was reading Russian, French and English classics when I was twelve, so what are we doing creating such a limited reading agenda for our young with the stuff served up to them today under the YA genre!). However writers pretty much write what they themselves are motivated to write, with their own ideas and experiences becoming part of the imaginary process in fiction and those same things creeping into their attempts to write non-fiction, even with their best attempt at objectivity.

    Poetry, which is my forte, although I have published articles and reviews as well, is not created with the public in mind and obviously, due to its very nature, is understood in different ways by different people, if understood at all. The worst thing you can do is ask a poet or a painter to ‘explain’ and rationalise their work. To do that is to limit it immediately. It can be discussed and elaborated, but not put in a neat box and ‘explained’. Largely a poem needs to be felt and understood by the heart and senses first and foremost, the intellectual analysis can follow if need be. There is still unresolved discussion going on between tutors and students at University about the meaning of lines written years ago by all kinds of poets. Of course, communication is important on a basic level, however the best writing always allows enough space for the reader to do their own work in perception – one should ‘show’ and suggest, not tell.

    2. Each writer has a voice unique to them, and that is what must be developed if the writer and writing is to develop. So any estrangement that may cause in the way of ‘assertive individualism’ or influence of the writer’s operandi/vivendi, would just have to be chalked up to losses on the one side and gains on the other if the work is well-written and engaging, even if the engagement provokes discomfort.

    3. A writer usually works in isolation, but never with an ‘isolated mind’. Basically the writing is informed by all that one has absorbed, and that includes the works and thoughts of others throughout the years, as well as more personal experience and observation, and the stuff of the sub-conscious. You are not necessarily aware of all this at the time of writing. The processes of creating in writing and the end result is nothing short of miraculous. The work sometimes seems to write itself, then is redrafted if necessary to as good as you can get.

    I, too, expose myself to what I consider to be reprehensible and ugly, especially in regard to the Jewish people and Israel, as a means to be a kind of activist in relation to that, so I do understand where you’re coming from. We each do it in our own way.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat

      the cheapest way out, easiest and totally devoid of interesting ideas would be to say that the vocation of writing in whatever genre is one of the most personal human manifestation made public and that nobody has the …right to deny and, subsequently even criticise almost anything the author does.The last bit about the right to criticise is completely false…
      Based on somewhat conventional scales of value, the output is “treated” by the “recepients” of each opus in manners outside the authors’ control. Here we apply the SAME principle of …. freedom/right of expression. One may be totally wrong in types of appreciation/criticism and , once again based on convention, certain opinions of considered authorities would have a somewhat decisive word on the “quality’ of the creation.
      One thing I cannot agree is that the creator, be it fine art, literature, music would not be involved in “rationalising” own “productions”. Some would be passive and not outspoken or “involved” in explaining or debating the content and implicit purpose, others have been and still are quite active, vociferous in outlining the intent and even stylistic elements. One of the most celebrated such works is Thomas Mann’s “novel of the novel” of his magnificent “Doctor Faustus”. Other such outlines are readily found in Mahler’s explicit notes to his symphonies, not in manner of performance , but, precisely in the meaning of the stimme – score -. It would be illogical not afford the very author the competence in appreciating the actual creative effort.
      Another matter is the very intent, purpose of the works in terms of what is “extracted” from the reality exposed in whatever genre/style. Pertaining to canonical imposition in fine art and mostly music, a lot is known to have been following fairly strict “guidelines”. When freedom of expression was won, say, post French Revolution etc., agendas defined by extrapolations and omissions, some due to class interests ( here I sound quite Marxist ) also crept into the creative process. Thus we have the same creative mind adjusting its efforts to what could easily be called “prejudices”.
      In terms of the notion of “isolation”, I prefer to use “limitations” instead. Ontologically there is so much to be said, but right here the circulation, acceptance is , indeed, at the behest of the receptive reading “market”. To this I recall that in all types of expressed creativity there have been legions of famous authors of all kinds whose acceptance and fame have been incredibly shortlived and, respectively, others rejected at the time, but who have proven far more lasting and influential. I am sure you know how big is this “class” and who are most of them.
      One’s imposed exigences would be an important factor, but, then how easy is for anyone to “objectively” detach from his/her own mind !!! Quite a few thought they had the means of doing so only to be relegated to the huge heap of irrelevance, even if still mentioned in that long list of indexes. In our larger gambit I consider philosophes as the most immediate members of that club.
      None of this is meant to, once again, clip anything in one’s desire, indeed need, to create.
      Anyone accusing me of pedestrian platitudes could well be right.

  3. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,

    Our conversation has not been limited to formal ethical discussion, especially with all the personal asides you have thrown in willy nilly. The fact that you continue as much as you can to stay within the parameters of Judaic thought as a response to everything has advantages and disadvantages. It can be a quite splendid and comforting place to be, an inspiring place to be, however if you are continually reaching for its tenets without thought for easy response, you are not taking anything further. You are basically saying, that is it, there is not a single new thought that can be added. I do not believe for a moment that that is what Judaism is meant to be. I do not believe that one is supposed to be constrained by it, I do not believe that one is to loll comfortably in a passive support role, and use it in quite the way you do.

    After reading of your background I consider it a fine thing that we are able to discuss anything at all, as my own is so very different. However, there will always be a huge gulf due to the differences. Never mind, I for one am not daunted by that. And the idea is not to convert one to the other anyway; well, that’s my view.

    I do understand your statement about being assured of your longevity in happiness due to your trust in Judaic wisdom. And I believe you. I have myself been touched to the soul by my own experience with it, as disparate as that has been. And I am glad of it. However, I am still a woman, with a woman’s problems due to Orthodox Jewish interpretation of what a woman is and should be. So my position is more complex than yours.

    I have never much cared whether or not society accepts my behaviour … if I find myself acceptable and others do not, I might try to explain myself for better understanding, however ultimately if there is still a problem, well it’s not mine, it’s theirs. The creative part of my make-up is of utmost importance to me, and, in the view of some, that would mean a clash between the spiritual and the artistic, even though they can be combined. You can’t place NO-GO areas on creativity. It comes from the sub-conscious, the heart and soul, then is fashioned to final form intellectually. It has a gestation period and a will of its own. It allows the birth of new and sometimes startling things, although it’s also connected to the ancient, allowing greatness of depth. Poetry, painting and music reside there. In their own way they offer better possibility for more universal communication that religion or politics, because they encompass the gamut of human experience and aspiration, they can transcend polemic and rhetoric, and they also rely on the receiver to give them life, for what are they if they are not received, absorbed and reacted to. I suppose religion also relies on the receiver in the same way. The kind of happiness you are alluding to, which is far, far from superficial, for me is very much berthed in that.

    I am reading a book at the moment, ‘The Artist and the Mathematician’ by Amir D. Aczel. One of the mathematicians (Jewish) discussed, Alexandre Grothendieck, had a very difficult, impoverished life in his early to teenage years, which included being incarcerated in camps in southern France during WWII. There were many occasions in his life when he was alone, with much time for thought and reflection. He was to become pre-eminent in the world of mathematics, despite the more privileged upbringings of his peers, due to his creativity which was part of his genius. There were others more learned than he, but not as creative. At one point he realised the importance of learning how to be alone. He was not good working with groups, despite participating. He wanted to verify for himself the mathematical facts he came across, rather than accept ideas that people took to be true “by consensus”. Even so, he was welcomed within the groups. ‘Grothendieck was not just a mathematician who could understand the discipline and prove important results – he was a man who could ‘create’ mathematics. And he did it alone.’ (quote taken from p. 54 – publ. Thunder’s Mouth Press, N.Y. 2006).

    Having wisdom is one thing and to dispense that wisdom creatively would be a good extra to add. Creativity often resists categorisation, despite the tendency of many to stable it and only allow it to run when permitted.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat
      I shall make myself, once again, brief and reduce thoughts to a few snippets.
      A dedicated writer’s vocation is one that necessarily involves constant searches of all kinds. One stable element, however, is connectivity with the intended reading public. Obviously genres define levels of sophistication, therefore language and, of course content approaches.
      In all cases, however, the writer is at the behest of the public intended. This, simply, involves a professional communion. As such, certain cannonical elements creep into the writers MO and MV – one being “operandi” the other one “vivendi” -. Here certain degrees of assertive individualism may estrange the intended “addressee” of the literary effort. Everybody is “who he/she is”, we know that from a lot of reliable sources. To this extent, even radically seen opposites may engage in exchanges and confluences that result could be most beneficial, profitable to at least on side.
      All this does not preclude from the principle and practice that guiding lights must be sought outside the strict perimeter of an otherwise isolated mind, quarantined from “destabilisng” influences, G-d forbid.
      I have acquinted myself with viciously opposing stances, have ingested sources I concluded most outrageous, some vile and repulsive and, with that , I bettered my capacity to react and protect my integrity. It also enhanced my passion for retort, one of a confident manner some call arrogance or even brutality. Well, I have to live with it, but most importantly, make my opponents life a misery. Can’t help it. But you is in my very good books, the kind I read with pleasure. Let me tellya, it is precisely that feminine double “W”, warmth and wisdom, something no arrogant man can live without.

  4. Liat Nagar says:

    It is fine to be interested in the objective validity of ethical statements, Otto. Indeed, philosophically speaking not only must you be interested, you must also prove that validity by mathematical type logic. It’s all very abstract indeed. And it does not go nearly far enough insofar as concrete, successful application to human affairs is concerned. Such abstractions cannot provide the complete answer to living life. (In saying that I do think that Judaism is streets ahead of any other religion where ideas meet with concrete realities.) There is such a thing as emotional intelligence, you know, and if you leave that out of the equation, either as a Rabbi advising people, or an individual involved in your own personal affairs, you come a cropper.

    In my discourse with you so far I have not used the emotive statements you refer to, and as much as writing can hint at one’s emotive state, you have not been given full access to mine by any means. In fact, I suggest to you if you cast your eyes over our discussion, yours is far more emotionally excitable than mine. You might be going into male default here (a bit like the kitchen references) and assuming because I’m a woman I’m over-emotional, impossibly subjective and therefore unable to argue my case objectively. As a woman I must be more careful than a man in how I express myself due to this inappropriate expectation and assumption. And I am. Again, I suggest much of your discussion is coloured by your strong emotive reaction to the subject matter, as well as your ‘owning’ of it. Being subjective and being emotional should be seen as two separate things. None of us can escape subjectivity in assessing things.

    It is my mind that has always saved me in life, saved me and sustained me. Being at the complete mercy of emotions leads to chaos and no understanding of self or the other. Being a slave to intellectual analysis has the same result. As to happiness, I’ve never mentioned that word, and think it highly ridiculous, and damaging, the way Western people chase happiness, as if it’s an entity in itself, as if it’s somewhere up there for the reaching and the taking. It’s not – we’re lurching between kinds of happiness and various levels of sadness, anger, anxiety throughout our days. So my motto is, just accept that and live through the lot.

    I don’t impinge my views on anybody else – I don’t even say I’m right. I express my views as cogently as I can and they’re there for you or anyone else to accept or not. I would change my view if I thought your comments or argument warranted it.
    The thing is, Otto, nothing should be pronounced ‘incontestable’. Contesting something can be a kind of feeling out for further understanding sometimes. There’s no harm in contesting ideas or querying the way laws and ideas are arrived at and carried out. There’s no harm in objecting to them, either, if you consider them unfair or harmful. There would be more harm involved in not being allowed to do so.

    It does not come as news to me that you are happy to ignore examples of Rabbis who don’t measure up ethically or competently. I am not so hard on what my idea of a Rabbi is that I expect perfection (I don’t even believe perfection possible, and don’t care for it at all as a concept); everybody makes mistakes and all of us have differing capacities and abilities. I’m sure you will agree, however, that there are certain lines one does not cross when making mistakes, especially when you are servicing others, and that’s where the framework and elements of ethics come into it. I assume you would not ignore news of a Rabbi being a serial killer or a child molester, or even a voyeur as has been the case recently in the mikveh case ?! I do certainly admire and respect a Rabbi if he maintains humility, compassion, and strength to be honest within the institution in which he works; also if his intellect allows far-reaching and pertinent comments on important aspects of life and the events taking place. Oh, and if he will deign to have equal conversation with a woman. If you want to consider inspiring discussion on all manner of things from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, have a look at the website of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. For starters, perhaps read ‘Covenant & Conversation 5775 on Ethics: The Face of Evil (Beshalach 5775) – 26/01/15, and a much older posting, ‘One Thing a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian and a Humanist can agree on – 04/03/2006 (I’m not usually one for inter-faith type dialogue, but that’s not what this is about).

    You suggest my ethical ‘rules’ should be tested to see if ‘a larger contingent of individuals subscribe in a complex cognitive manner’ – my thoughts on ethics and morality are already out there for all and sundry to agree with or not. I’m always interested in what others think. However, I do not have to bow down before the majority if they don’t make a case that convinces me. My response can be to maintain my own thoughts, build on them, or change them. It’s as open as that. I am not immoveable. Are you yourself open to the possibility of change?

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat

      the notion of “emotional” stance in ethical discourse is quite different to what you are alluding to. The nearest equivalent would be “idiosyncratic”, “individual” or, simply, personal. A.J.Ayer, for instance, uses as opposite “radical empiricism” and I, for one, am very happy with it.( “Language, Truth and Logic” , Pelican, ).
      In your reply I found precisely what “emotional” means as above. I can also reduce the discussion to the analogy that ethics are not quite like wearing a dress to your fancy, bugger what people think. Behaviour in society can only be acceptable if…. society accepts it.
      I am also aware that there are frequent views that personal gratification, happiness, not specifically prescribed by a “rigid” system, is perfectly acceptable as “ethics”, harking back to that Aristotelian pursuit. I will offer only one reference; if only some 20 years back longevity on a job was a favourable point, these days frequent changes of employment are a plus !!! A salient point. In our case, trust in Judaic wisdom assures me, at least, of MY longevity in happiness.

  5. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,
    I shall indeed be resolute about my passionate reclaiming of my singular place under the sun. It is a hard won place, against much adversity, and it is a place enriched and sustained by learning of all kinds over a long period of time, from ‘outside my cerebral space’. How else does one learn and develop? You say that it is not an oppressive ‘submission’ to accept wisdom – well, of course it isn’t. It’s the most exciting thing in the world to come across wisdom, however that need not involve some sort of passive acceptance that doesn’t involve further thought. Perhaps it’s even that further thought that can keep the wisdom alive and well.

    One does not have to accept every construct established in the process of learning. To do so would mean no original thought and no development of thought that sometimes provides new ‘facts’ and illumination. It would certainly preclude creativity! Writing our own thoughts makes us part of the building block of others who went before us and who are with us now. That is a beautiful thing. That is how we can be at once connected and singular. My singularity has nothing to do with ‘detachment’ from humanity, but rather a certain detachment from what is before me to explore, examine and discuss, so that I can do so without the handicap of prejudice and/or immediate alignment with the precepts of others. I’m never going to be completely free of these, but I can try to the best of my ability.

    It is, I believe, quite ridiculous to say that arguing, or disagreeing, with spiritual constructs, or anything else, negates the claims of others, reflects superiority, and means that I know better. To think differently is not necessarily to know better. Thoughts are not necessarily final anyway – along comes other information, different facts, and one can change their thinking. I am quite open to that, however I think perhaps you are not.

    I fear after all the words we have shared, you understand me not. Autonomous thought does not mean dismissal of another’s view. Arguing about tenets of Judaism, or anything else, does not imply being dismissive. It implies different thought, and not necessarily TOTALLY different thought. You are too immediately on the defence, then into attacking mode, on this subject, and perhaps need to allow other perspectives to percolate a bit so that they can intrude on your own cerebral space. I’m not having a go in saying that. The issue of cerebral space can be looked at in many ways.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat
      I shall be “brief” because I am launching myself again into convoluted phrases.
      We are still talking ethical values as promoted by Rabbi Ingram.
      I am more interested in the objective validity of ethical statements. While necessarily we must use normative ethical symbols , such as “good”, “wrong” , to which “acceptable”, “being partial to”, “preferred” and other emotive statements will inevitably be attached, we are still stuck with the fact that “wrong” or “good” or even “proper” and “acceptable” have no meaning by theselves simply because the ONLY reflect Liat Nagar’s emotive state. In other words why would YOUR happiness ( and here we are back at Aristotel’s concept of personal state ) or personal acceptance of ethical categories, as you see/understand/ express them impinge on my or anybody else’s condition. Saving for the forceful imposition on some individual you would “control”, once again not acceptable, anyone else is quite free to adopt the same position as you and , then, we will inevitably, have a muted or otherwise “balagan” of individual emnotions involved in an explosive existential vessel.
      What I am proposing are notions verified in concrete terms of an ethical complex and comprehensive by its DYNAMIC , perpetually adjustable, ethical source i.e Judaism. As pragmatic evidence is by far the most important condition for its social validity, Judaism has been working consistently over millenia in the MOST tried circumstances. What matters most is a continuum of socially cohesive manifestations, an incontestable phenomenology for which such seemingly “odd” institutions as those lead by Rabbis are responsible. Occasional failures by the way of variables in human competence do NOT come into discussion, so, if someone wants to retort by giving us examples of certain Rabbis who did not comply, I am very happy to ignore them….
      To conclude more directly, the stated “fact” that you have created a satisfactory set of ethical “rules” can only be classed as commendable and legitimate, but shouldn’t it be tested to see if a larger contingent of individuals subscribe in a complex cognitive manner to them !!!
      Careful, once again, that what may be a genuine proposition for you, using those normative symbols, may be “attacked” by so many anxious to have THEIR concepts constructed in exactly the same manner, aired and accepted…It could be anyone, even poor little ME.

  6. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,

    It’s fine, I realised while reading that you would have meant to say that you were learning from your son. I’ve been learning from my sons since they were four years old.

    I do understand your further discussion of social intercourse, the individual and ethics and agree with it in general. However, for myself, I do not relate my own attempts to explore issues and live ethically to being ‘a well-endowed individual’ seeking to satisfy personal existential ‘superiority’. This is very far from the truth of the matter. If I emphasise the importance of the individual and individual thought, it is due to the fact that I have survived thus far (and developed), with humility and hope intact, due to my own singular determination and effort, despite great odds and little support. I do not disdain groups, community, congregations, et al, however am extremely aware of how easy it is to forego independent thinking in the name of them.

    I’m glad you found inspiration in Rabbi Ingram’s reflections – indeed, they do come under the umbrella of the more noble thoughts you were referring to in an earlier posting. And they are of themselves worthy of contemplation and aspiration. However, they do not extend far enough on the subject matter of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ and terrorism to make their mark. I reiterate, whether or not I despise the content of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ due to its raison d’etre being to humiliate and ignore any notion of the sacred, I do not agree for one moment that Islamic terror should be the motivation for it ceasing publication of material of this nature. As I said, that is a very dangerous precedent to set. The motivation for seeking non-publication should be the very factors the Rabbi, and I, deplore: using words that seek to humiliate, denigrate, without recourse to due consideration and sensitivity. Of course, this latter immediately gets us into the sticky area of subjectivity as to judgement in this regard. Hence all the recent argument around Australia’s Section 18C.

    I differ with Rabbi Ingram’s opinion on 18C, because, unfortunately, if people are given more licence to abuse, they will abuse. This Section as it stands offers a degree of protection in an area where it is needed (indeed, it is thought that because of it ‘Charlie Hebdo’ might not be able to be published here). The fact that we might prefer Jews and Muslims and other minorities to be treated with respect because it’s the right thing to do, rather than make it unlawful, is neither here nor there, because historically minority groups are not accorded respect anywhere in the world and that in all likelihood will not change, people being as they are. Words are strong weapons and if used cleverly enough and often enough, incite to all manner of evil. Think Hitler and his genocidal campaign, think the pulpits of the Christian churches throughout the ages, think the Palestinian mythology rammed time and again down the throats of people internationally, often enough and passionately enough to become ‘true history’ …

    Words can make you feel good, and enlightened, as many of the wise and profound words of Jewish scholars do. Ultimately, though, we as individuals, in all our efforts to become more wise ourselves, must do all we can to chase that terribly elusive thing ‘truth’, in every instance presented to us, and decide for ourselves, after facing cold and uncomfortable facts staring us in the face, what do we really think of this matter. What do I think, despite all these competing interests and urges, ideals and advice, dogma and tradition … what do I really think of what is there in front of me.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat

      with due affectionate respect for your resolute, passionate reclaiming of your singular place under the sun, that precious independence/autonomy of thought and action, I must also consider that the very validity one’s ( anyone’s ) such claims can only be afforded if anchored in those indispensable “cannons” of extended social “contracts” , all based on collectively agreed principles. In other words, perhaps even more convoluted, the insular man/woman, no matter how self-reliant,can only be relevant to others ( and those others matter in as much as you DO impart your thoughts with them ) if they can relate to them, so, your insular status is more like part of a universal archipelago intimately linked by a myriad of causeways. And thus, we arrive at the point whereby it becomes too evident that your singularity and implicit detachment may not be be SO distinct from the rest of contributing factors to your substantial being. Hence we are what we eat and also what we learn and what we learn is provided from outside, it is the environment which shapes us. Ethics, once again, are precisely the construct which gels all those “autonomous” free agents. Now would be the time to comment that, while we protest against being considered some kind of an “elitist”, not thinking superior to whatever, the very dismissal you affirm of anything – including important tenets of Judaism, never mind other spiritual constructs – is very identical to asserting your…superiority. Sorry , but this is what negating other claims really means i.e. that you are/know better than them.

      There is an apparent contradiction in accepting changes to the 18C while objecting to the profile and contents of such publications as ”
      Charlie Hebdo”. What could mitigate in favour of Rabbi Ingram’s stances would be the very manner in which necessary objections should be expressed. The issue at hand is freedom of expression/objection as well as the fact that our society should guarantee civilised platforms of manifestations of stances. Particular groups with programs/ideologies/strategies need to be publicly exposed , including their right to assert themselves, REGARDLESS of their profiles, in other words allowing all to manifest peacefully in the public domain. Peaceful is implicit not by means of intimidation of any kind, including verbal etc. Once above that surface we call ” civil society ” , cvilised modes of retort should also be allowed. Those capable by “mere” competence to express their – their interest group’s – objections would exercise that opportunity of deflecting/eliminating the unwanted effects of the entities they object to. In OUR case, Judaic individuals properly trained would consider it their duty to put forward the alternative Jewish stance Providentially inspired/capable to eliminate the objectionable. We do sing in Shul on all Shabbos “Adon Olam” which ends with the most engaging line ” Adonai li vlo ira”, “G-d is with me and I do not fear ( anything)”. That, to me , is a perfect starting point, but only if I do poses what G-d had intended me to acquire in knowledge. We close thus the circle here by alluding to the fact that it is not an oppressive “submission” to accept wisdom originating outside our cerebral space, rather be grateful that it is available. To this extent, I would object in my own civilised manner to some of the ways “Charlie Hebdo” manifested their collective believes and as such I would say that their fairly decisive leftist/atheist ideology does allow offensive expressions. I would not resort, though, to any acts of violence and that is what I strongly abhor the unfolding “Charlie Hebdo” tragedy.

  7. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,

    It is fine to aim at the highest level of existence, but we should not in doing so forget earthly balances and fundamentals. For to do so would place us in the realm of the esoteric, the initiated few, who with their surety of law and principle and ethics and their resultant self-righteousness in the name of G-d, become other than the more balanced human who continues to grapple with life’s conundrums indefinitely, until death. In fact, those of that ‘higher order’ are not closer to G-d due to their fervent and completely focused efforts of living to their idea of the ethical world religious scholars have framed. There are many tales and parables in Jewish texts that have G-d attempting to bring such people down to earth with humane reasoning. We should aspire to be ethical but we should not be embalmed in ‘ethics’.

    I well know that to debate a dialectical contender of the Judaic kind would see a malleable mind, however that mind is often only malleable within the framework of the ethics and laws he believes in. Outside that he is inflexible (except for a small number of most exceptional people) and that inflexibility renders him limited. The problem is the gradations of human circumstances and suffering that don’t fit within the ethical structure for more equitable judgement. We must have laws, whether civil or religious, but we must always realise their limitations. Civil law rulings change over the years due to precedents set because of different sets of circumstances to consider and judge. Religious laws, in order to become more humane and relevant, need that kind of contemplation. They are after all, apart from the quite specific initial commandments given to Moses by G-d, based on text open to interpretation by man and woman, and therein lies the rub.

    Judaism is a patriarchal concern, hence we have contemporarily more and more misuse of it in ultra-orthodox areas of Israel in particular. This is, as you say, perhaps Judaism in the wrong hands, but it is still Judaism being practised severely according to very literal and fundamentalist interpretations, and unethical, as well as immoral, insofar as the female recipients are concerned. There is no reason why one cannot see Judaism as being a beautiful construct, yet abhor its misuse. Nobody should ever make the mistake of lifting a Rabbi or religious person so high in their estimation that they become infallible.

    I agree with you about the ‘expansivity’ of mind and thinking in relation to Judaism – it offers that possibility. We do as humans rely on ethical structures, and would not survive far or long without them. Social manners and adherences are very important in the context of morality and ethics, and sometimes impinge on them inappropriately. Especially when people as a group support an institution, or a leader of say a synagogue, church, or country, purely due to their high respect and esteem for the larger thing that is represented, Judaism, Christianity, Australia et al. That is where a human individual reckoning is required, an ‘honest introspection’, an aim towards the higher level of existence you refer to. That is a very difficult thing to do against the mainstream and community pressure that often prevails.

    I was very interested to hear about your son’s thesis work, and am sure that long exposure to your thoughts and arguments will have been more than beneficial to the development and acuity of his intellect. My son will be furthering his PhD work in England this year on Ethics, Love and Language, using literature and philosophy as his groundwork.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat

      first let’s get bragging out of the way. My little one,Felix, is also in his last year of PhD at his alma mater, Cambridge, where he has been since finishing school, with the exception of one year fellowship at Princeton and he is working on the Neapolitan intellectual history 18 C. To be honest, I am learning more from me than the other way around.
      Anyways, my familiarity with Nichomachean “Ethica” helped me distinguish some of the elements you mentioned in your reply, mainly the position of the individual “against” social responsibilities, as well as the same Aristotelian placing of the “ethical elite” versus “the rest” or “hoi poloi” – Aristotel’s own expression -. Here you seem to embrace, perhaps accidentally, the notion that the well endowed individual,can attain him/herself levels of ethical “superiority” distinct from “norms” followed by others as to satisfy personal existential “satisfactions”,as in the understanding of the said , Nichomachean understanding of the concept.
      My contention is that, the social being we are talking about may not “conceive” norms of understanding, behaviour OUTSIDE what creates harmonious social intercourse. As I said, if one penetrates modestly Judaism, because I shall always hinge my desire for acceptable thoughts cum action on its inspiration, then , sine ira et studio, without preconceived ideas, one will discover that all necessary answer lay right there. I am not at all allowing any flawed “interpretations” cum abuse of selfish use of truncated knowledge, to interfere with my own mode of understanding and suitable application of what I discover within Judaism, why would I !!! If wise enough, one would sort out misinterpretation/use of what is available to the sincere and, once again, humble mind from what will lead to the Jewish kind of that quest for “beauty” in existence, once again the declared aim of that ancient Greek ethical interpretation. The unwanted exceptions you mention cannot possibly define what to the pure soul ( another common term ) is a necessary source.
      My source for immediate inspired reflection on Judaism happens to be Rabbi Ingram’s reflections, precisely because I find in them THAT detachment from personal agrandizment of a set of normative social integration for strict personal profit; that is because we are still disecting a piece written by the profusely wise Rabbi. As such, I also happen to believe, not just in theory but in very tangible reality, that all shortcomings you listed in relation to Judaism, and , in fact, blamed on its MISINTEPRETATIONS, are , indeed, a noble desire one which could be satisfied to see that what , in fact, your contested norms ARE, actually, contained within its precepts .

      • Otto Waldmann says:

        I got carried away, I am learning more from my Son, I meant o say, than his would be from me…

        • Otto Waldmann says:

          Dear Liat

          while writing my longer reply above I was on skype with my twin brother, still in Sydney and became sort of negligent in my syntax, to say the least.
          To clarify, your quest for ethical excellence is precisely that, the inner need to be a person excelling in noble generosity, one of the fundamental aims of ethics. Your criticism of evident failures is well within that quest, but the ready dismissal of what Judaism has thrived, and shall always inspire all mankind to attain, seems borne out of the detecting only of the said failures and not what it contains in correcting them. My last, somehow confused, phrase wants to say that, so, nil disperandum or whatever Rabbi Ingram would find said of the same in his own well “documented” Judaic inspiration.

  8. Liat Nagar says:

    Dear Otto,
    For me, to be ethical, responsible and as free from fear as possible when making decisions is to live my life with my own personal sense of integrity and maintain my dignity. These are not empty or easy words in the context of what we are discussing, neither are they ‘noble thoughts’. Noble thoughts are often quite distanced things, to be aspired to but rarely achieved. I do not consider myself noble at all. I have made mistakes in the process of living, and let myself down accordingly, however I maintain my own individual ethically informed decision-making as best I can, as complex as this can be sometimes. I have also made hard decisions when afraid, and survived to tell the tale.

    Very occasionally politics serves us well, and religion certainly means to, however, the ethics of an individual must sometimes differ to both if they are not living up to their calling. And let’s face it there are plenty of examples of that. This is why I say, ‘despite politics or religion’.

    You say Judaism is the only complexity which gravitates exclusively around ethics. That is a huge statement to make and I would have to research and think hard and long to argue otherwise, or to agree. Let me say, however, that if Judaism does gravitate exclusively around ethics, then that in itself could be seen to be limiting if those ethics result in law (as many do with Halacha), thereby rigid in nature. This rigidity can become a problem in decision-making due to the complexity of some circumstances prevailing. There is more to the equation in decision-making and living than ethics per se. The word ‘ethics’ is amorphous, but to be ‘ethical’ is more singular. Each decision we make that requires ethical thought is singular to itself, even though its ramifications may be many. Judaism provides magnificent scope across all spectra of living, however, in the wrong hands can be narrowed considerably insofar as being humane is concerned.

    I’m aware of the wide field of study in ethics. My older son is involved in one of them, and debates, as you say, can be ferocious and most certainly are varied and numerous. In this regard there’s a difference to be considered between ‘ethics’ and ‘morals’. I think to attempt to be ethical is one way of being moral, however to follow a brand of ethics without thought is a different thing altogether. I like the distinction Steven Tudor makes in an essay* on Australian author/philosopher Raymond Gaita’s work ‘Good and Evil’, in which he speaks of the difference between ‘social respect’, which is related to feelings of esteem and admiration, and ‘moral respect’, which is “more like a sort of awe or wonder at the simple fact of [another person]”. For me, too much social respect gets in the way of moral respect, and therefore ethical judgement, and this can happen when people embrace the whole parcel of particular politics or religion without clearer, more singular and individual thought.
    *’A Sense for Humanity: The Ethical Thought of Raimond Gaita’, ed. by Craig Taylor & Melinda Graefe, Monash University Publ.
    After all that I need to add a glass of good wine to the bread, cheese and chocolate.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Dear Liat

      the short and curly reply would be that Judaism in the wrong hands is no longer Judaism. It follows that , a honest introspection ( dedication) into the essentials of Judaism is bound to elicit the conclusions I have arrived at, and that is on a permanent ascendance, a process bound to never end simply because dum spiro spero, as long as we live we hope, but the Jewish way, the one which does not ALLOW you to stop aiming at the highest ( already established unreachable )level of existence. True there are multiple ethical constructs and here we have something else in common, MY OWN – only – Son, Felix, is working as we speak on his on thesis which deals solidly with ethics and we had long and hard – you can imagine me and ME OWN kind at “work” – discussion precisely on the nature of ethics within the realms of various “schools”, mainly 18Cent. Neapolitan and extended European. That aside, once again, Judaism is the most FLEXIBLE of approaches to existential directions. Just try having a debate with the most “stubborn” of dialectical contenders of the Judaic kind and you shall witness the MOST malleable mind – if properly trained -. For starters (!!!!) , there is no possible END to the expansivity of mind and thinking vectors/stamina.Otherwise I must remain on the stance that politics must rely on ethical structures , while agreeing thatnot all politics follow the same cannons. Social manners of the best conduct may not be confused with morality and/or ethics in the substantive, core considerations, but they are inclusive, indispensable to the comprehensive picture.

  9. Liat Nagar says:

    We must be ethical, responsible and as free from fear as possible when making our decisions. This, despite politics or religion. That’s my take on it.

    We must also endeavour to make bread, chocolate and cheese of the highest order …

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Liat, noble thoughts, but why would you take them out of the realms of politics and, especially religion !!! Man is what Greeks call “political animal” ( “zoon politikoy” ) and religion strives to serve MAN on a primordial basis, as long as man understands what the “fuss” is all about.
      Incidentally, “ethics” as a discipline to be studied and embraced has been a field of ferocious debates between some other” academic genres”, law, theology, moral theology etc.. Judaism is the ONLY complexity which gravitates exclusively around ethics, hence the other type of “debate” to consider Judaism just a simple religion. ALL human endeavours are contained within the infinite space of Judaism, pitty a life time is not quite sufficient to cover it all.

  10. Otto Waldmann says:

    The current discourse in France and it should not be limited to its borders, gravitates around the nation of abuse of liberties while traditional slogans implying strong defence of seemingly unlimited LIBERTIES sam to rule the day.
    Cartesian principles may be included in almost any discussion on human nature and the one Liat mentioned ( Cogito ergo sum ) had the original sense of a “fronde” against the theological impositions on the relationship between Providential “control” over what Descartes promoted as “free will”.
    It looks, however, that it is not at all difficult for the reader of Rabbi Ingram’s thoughts to conclude that ethical considerations are essential in exercising THAT “free will”. What matters primordially – and all the way – is that human conscience, the very result of the mentioned “ergo”(therefore) cannot function definitively as a “human” condition outside ethical “guidelines”.
    Here we may have, if superficial, a conflict between the complete freedom, well outside ethical norms, and the TRUE, human type freedom, so readily available in the teachings that made Mr. Chaim Ingram, Rabbi Chaim Ingram, in other words we are back we we really belong….THE Providential, Supreme ethical values.In more simple terms, I mean that ethics as a foundation of all existential manifestations are contained in what religion,and here I refer strictly to Judaism contain, ergo the “rupture” in favour of that FREE status contradict the very nature of humanity Descartes so ardently wanted promoted and protected.
    To this extent Cartesian principles must be finely defined and, as such, Messrs. Charlie Hebdo should consider that ” We publish, ergo we are responsible”

    It is worth mentioning again, that the current discourse in France around all kinds of freedoms defend France as a LAY Republic, a “laique” place which, as they insist in the same phrase, all religions are ….respected. “Laique” most definitely French style; little wonder they have real problems sorting out the local mess, at least in “principle”.

    Yet, they still make the best pain au chocolate…and cheeses t die for.

    Good Shabboss !!!

  11. Liat Nagar says:

    Rabbi Chaim Ingram,
    To the contrary, my comments did infer that publication of ‘Charlie Hebdo’ should continue in the current situation (despite my dislike of extreme caricature that becomes destructive), and reflect elements which should not be ignored, thus requiring a great deal of thought. To cease publication of the magazine in its present form due to Islamic threat, when it has been legally produced in France for sixty years as it is, is a very different matter than to cease publication, or change content form, due to the extreme caricatures depicted per se. So, to extrapolate, if French legislation and judgement made it necessary for ‘Charlie Hebdo’ to publish in different form, perhaps moving to satire rather than the current ridicule, then they would change the content or close down. This would then be aimed universally, at everyone they attack, not just Islam. But to make content change and/or cease publication solely due to Islamic terrorism and threat, that would in fact involve being ‘kneejerk davkaniks’ and, in my view, set a dangerous precedent for allowing real intrusion of Islamic principles. This cannot be allowed to happen.

    I very much like your idea of what the post-massacre edition could have been, although think it would still have had to take the form of cartoon/caricature. In fact, I don’t find fault with the caricature and message they did produce on the front cover, so that followed by the empty pages would, as you have said, had a resonant effect. With big events, particularly if they’re horrific, suggestion works better than the more literal graphic responses you’ve suggested.

  12. Rabbi Chaim Ingram says:

    Not sure what you are saying at the end of your poat, Liat. Surely you are not suggesting that it is right in the circumstances for Charlie Hebdo to be kneejerk davkaniks and continue to humiiiate, demean, disrespect and denegrate – all the things you say are wrong – just to show we are not afraid?

    Surely this is the precise opposite of your interpretation of Decartes – “I am nothing if I do not think!”

    Persoannly I would like to have seen the immediate post-massacre edition of Charlie Hebdo print on its front cover a non-parodying, non-caracturing but strong, imposing, angry cartoon indicating its utter contempt and revulsion for the subhuman acts of terrosism committed – and the rest of the magazine blank. Pages and pages of silence – for deep reflection.

  13. Liat Nagar says:

    ‘I think, therefore I am.’ – Descartes. My interpretation is ‘I am nothing if I do not think.’ , therefore one could not say, ‘I am, therefore I think’ – not at all. Unfortunately, so many do not think.

    I enjoy satire, which can be a delight to the wit. However, I abhor disrespect, denigration and the attempt to demean or humiliate. I abhor it no matter the person, religion, ideology. I don’t have a copy of ‘Charlie Hebdo’, but it seems to me from the few cartoons I’ve seen that it’s aimed at extreme humiliation in the guise of false intellectualism. In regard to free speech within a democracy, nobody should be free to humiliate. We should be free to satirize, but not to demean or humiliate.

    That said, we should not cease to write or draw cartoons on any subject matter due to the perceived backlash from believers of Islam, or anyone else. That would be a wrong motivation and a dangerous precedent to set.

  14. Otto Waldmann says:

    I have been in France for the past few weeks and have witnessed the tragedies unfolded as well as the avalanche of comments coming from all possible quarters of French public and private quarters.
    Opinions vary to such a large extent that is quite impossible to condense the “general” position into a few words.
    Local Jewish leaders have been fairly active in expressing what could be be perceived as the “common” Jewish attitude.
    It has taken an Australian Rabbi to define with clarity and implacable insight into the most compelling ethics of such a complex situation.
    After a period of anxiety “settlement”, the opinions here begin to “diverge” into the ethics of the determining factors of the recent events.
    Passion, pain and bereavement at the “Charlie Hebdo’s” horrendous murders, notwithstanding, strong condemnation of the murders and of the motivation behind them not abating, a cool headed analysis of what we proclaim and sustain as civilised ethics would necessarily lead to what Rabbi Ingram has, so eloquently, concluded.
    I happen to have a copy of the now celebrated last edition of “Charlie Hebdo” and, to my abhorrent surprise, right on the second page the publishers thought normal and morally acceptable to insert a cartoon which is at least 100% reminiscent of some of the worst antisemitic representations anytime and anywhere ventured into a publication. I shall not draw analogies, but will subscribe wholeheartedly to Rabbi Ingram’s view that, whether under the “cover” of lay freedom of expression or any liberal principles, antisemitic and any other anti religious blanket offensive expression does not form a part of a civilised society.
    Affirmation of certain principles and rights may not be supported by transgressions just to “prove the point”. More specifically, islamic quarters have signalled quite clearly that they do not accept certain forms and intensities expressions of disagreement with the tenets of their beliefs.
    Previous numerous graphic representations related to islam have evinced terrible reactions both in islamic countries, but more importantly, outside the typical islamic space, right in the heart of our Western democracies. One would think that a more “moderate”, more thoughtful approach to criticising certain unwanted forms of manifestation within islam would be wiser both in terms of possible unwanted outcomes and also as means of educational/integrational persuasion.
    While the reaction by the extremists is to be condemned and fought against, the strong assertion that what may be regarded as offensive by some is quite admissible within some concepts of societal structure and function, such as Liberte, Egalite and whatever, the purposeful acts of ostensive offence cannot possibly be integrated – to use the same term – in the notion of a CLEVER, tactful and well intended society. The well intended relates precisely to the capacity and methodology of inducing the very God terms mentioned into a population clearly defined as not quite acquainted with the host country’s historic, well established existential principles and acceptable mode of behaviour.
    Rabbi Ingram has given us the most relevant causistics for confronting abuse and understanding why people of various behavioural disposition must be considered when a society which wants to be seen as more elevated exercises its prerogatives.
    In tackles terms, as I mentioned elsewhere, if anything “happens” in the same public spaces affecting negatively the Jewish image, what have we seen, haven’t we seen countless expressions of offense, indignation, letters to editors, references to all kind of formal bodies in charge with fan treatment, COURT CASES etc. !!!! One of the reasons almost all Jewish leaders in Australia are lawyers is because they are considered best at jumping at every occasion legal objection to the mistreatment of Jewish issues is detected. That assumption aside, the comprehensive position represented by Rabbi Ingram will satisfy that his views are what our Judaic ethical edifice represents and the mere fact that he had the temerity to defend all offended entities in light of OUR teachings is in itself the strongest way to defend and protect Jewish causes.


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