Jay Michaelson
Life During Wartime, or,
Freedom and the Ordinary, p.3

I think that truth holds the key to how so many authentically religious people can also be authentically bloodthirsty. If What Matters has to do with excited mind states, secrets, and special keys to holiness - if it's about the finger that points to the moon, or the nice feeling you get looking at the moon, rather than the moon itself - then of course you're justified in doing whatever you can in the service of It. God, it sure feels like it Matters when you're dancing around the Torah. You can almost think it's about the Torah, rather than about the One toward which the Torah points. That is idolatry.


When it's really about the One, you don't see the world as fundamentally divided into Jews and non-Jews, or Muslims and Infidels.

Actually, the Israel/Palestine conflict is, in a way, much simpler than that. Most Israelis just want security; they don't want the territory. Most Palestinians, at least until recently, have said that they would accept a two-state solution. But when Israeli tanks destroy homes, when the Fence cuts through yards, ordinary Palestinians get angry, with no theology necessary. And when Palestinian bombers kill teenagers at the discotheque, ordinary Israelis get angry, and support the use of force, also with no recourse to God.

Once again, the ordinary explanation is more accurate than the one which resorts to theology, symbolism, culture.


Janis Joplin has it backwards. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose," she said. Nothing left to lose - sounds like the time when people become suicide bombers.

Maybe freedom's just another word for nothing left to want. This would not mean giving up on the holy yearning, the passion, the desire to create. But it might mean not becoming so attached to one or another ways in which those passions are fulfilled. This again is the difference between religion and idolatry. Fundamentalism is idolatry, whether it's religious, moral, economic, ethnic.

So maybe Janis is right. The fundamentalist has something to lose: his dogma. Let go of that, and maybe freedom is still possible.


Is it Jewishly heretical to face the world unmediated, directly, with eyes open? Does an embrace of quotidian, trivial freedom mean that I have to accept Wal-Mart? It seems like both of these questions are trying to veer away from what's real - one into abstraction, the other toward consumption. The sign of the Holy One is truth.

Most people in the Middle East are sick to death of truth with capital Ts. They want to be left alone in peace, with a measure of dignity. That is a truth beyond letters. In the Messianic Age, we'll realize that the freedom of beauty contests is holy.

[1]       [2]       3
Image: Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson is Chief Editor of Zeek. He will be teaching Embodied Judaism this month at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan.

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April 2004

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From previous issues:

Run Like the Wind
Jay Michaelson and Dan Friedman

Koby Israelite
Matthue Roth

Davening with Joe
Michael Shurkin