“The Jewish religion is a religion of Mitzvoth (commandments) and without this religious idiom, the Jewish religion doesn’t exist at all.” – Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz
by Gilad Atzmon, London
While Islam and Christianity can be easily understood as belief systems, Judaism actually defies the notion of belief altogether. Judaism is an obedience regulative system. The Judaic universe is ruled by ‘mitzvoth’ (commandment), a set of 613 precepts and directives ordered by God. In opposition to Christianity and Islam which build from spiritual and heavenly precepts in the worship of a transcendental God, the Judaic subject subscribes to strict earthly and material observance.
While the Islamo-Christian is wrapped in God’s loving and the spirituality of the sublime and divinity, the follower of Judaism is judged by his or her ability to adhere to hundreds of rigorous earthly orders.
A brief look at the Judaic Sabbath common prayer reveals the nature of Judaism as an obedience regulatory system. As we can see below, in Judaism, even God-loving is not an involuntary act:
“You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your might.
Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.
…Thus you shall remember to observe all My commandments
and to be holy to your God.
I am Adonai, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God:
I am Adonai your God.”
(Common Prayers for Shabbat Evening From Deuteronomy and Numbers)
For the Jew, belief and God-loving are not subject to either rational discretion or spiritual impulse. God-loving, as we read above, is a strict “charge”, an order. But if Judaism is not a belief system, what kind of system is it? Does the Judaic subject believe in anything at all?
The answer is yes: the Jew believes in ‘The Jews’ and the Jews believe in ‘The Jew.’ This mode of mutual affirmation establishes a solid and forceful tribal continuum that serves the collective as well as the singular subject. Accordingly, the subject adheres to the collective and vice versa. In pragmatic terms, the Jew sticks to the ‘chosen people’ and, together the ‘chosenites’ uphold a collective sense of choseness.
In Judaism, ‘choseness’ is the belief that the Jewish people were singularly chosen to enter into a covenant with God. For religious Jews, being chosen is realized as a duty. According to Judaic belief, the Jews have been placed on earth to fulfill a certain purpose. This purpose is bestowed upon the Jews and they pass it from father to son.
In reality, the first Jews invented a God who chose them over all other people. For some reason, this God is occasionally cruel, often non-ethical, and as if this were not enough, not exactly a nice father. The Jewish God doesn’t even allow his people to call him by name. One may wonder what led the first Jews to invent such a horrid father figure. One may further question what led the Jews to sustain their ‘relationship’ with such an obnoxious father. The answer is surprisingly simple. They don’t.
The Jews don’t believe in God, they are observant of God. They believe in themselves- the Jews believe in ‘The Jew’ and vice versa. Within this peculiar troubled family affair, the Jew is free to dump God, as an author can freely re-write or at least re-shape his or her own narrative.
But the Jew can never dump the Jews as much as the Jews can’t allow ‘The Jew’ to go free. And what about God, can he be emancipated, can he choose another people? Certainly not. Unlike the Jew who is free to dump God while clinging to Jewish identity, the Jewish God is merely a Jewish protagonist, he can’t go anywhere, he is stuck with ‘his’ chosen people forever.
Choseness, so it seems, is hardly a heavenly gift, it is in fact a curse. It confines the Jew in a realm of self-imposed commandment and materiality. Instead of beauty, holiness and the pursuit of the divine and the sublime, the rabbinical Jew is left with an earthly obedience scheme that is sustained by a rigid tribal setting. ‘The Jew’ and ‘The Jews’ are bound in a set of mutual affirmations in which God serves an instrumental role.
Some may rightly argue that this spectacular bond between the Jews and ‘The Jew’ is essential for an understanding of the dichotomy between Judaic tribalism and the universal appeal of Islamo-Christian beliefs.
The Judaic crude intolerance towards dissent serves as an example of the above. Throughout their history, Jews have proven themselves hostile toward their nonconformists; now we are ready to grasp why. For the Islamo-Christian, secularization, for instance, entails a rejection of a transcendental affair. But for the rabbinical Judaic subject, failure to conform constitutes a rejection of the Jews.
It interferes crudely with the fragile relationship between ‘The Jew’ and the Jews. It shatters the self-affirmation mechanism. While in the case of Christianity and Islam dumping God suggests turning one’s back on a remote supernatural entity, in the case of Judaism, such an act is interpreted as a disbelief in the tribe.
This interpretation may help illuminate Jesus’ plight. It may explain the reasoning behind the brutal Rabbinical Herem (ex-communication) against Spinoza and Uriel Da Costa. And it also explains why the secular and the so-called ‘progressive’ Jew is equally obnoxious towards dissent or any form of criticism from within. If Judaism is not a belief system but rather a system of obedience regulation, then Jewish identity politics is merely an extension of the above regulatory philosophy.
Jews often drop their God, simply to invent a different God who ‘facilitates’ subscription to a new regulatory system. The new system, like the old outlines a new set of strict commandments, a manner of speech and rigorous boundaries of ‘kosher’ conduct.
In the beginning of the 20th century, for instance, Bolshevism appealed to many Eastern European Jews. It provided a sense of self-righteousness in addition to regulating a strict form of obedience. As we know, it didn’t take long for Bolshevism to mature into a genocidal doctrine that made Old Testament barbarism look like a juvenile fairytale. The Holocaust, which seems to be the most popular Jewish religion at present, may be the ultimate and final stage in Jewish historical development.
According to the Holocaust religion, ‘God died in Auschwitz.’ Within the context of the Holocaust religion, ‘The Jew’ is the new Jewish God. The Holocaust religion has finally united ‘The Jew’ and the Jews into a self-sufficient comprehensive and independent ‘God-less’ religious narrative. Both were about to be eradicated. But, not only were they both saved: they have prevailed and each did so independently.
In the Holocaust religion, Jews are both victims and oppressors – they have transformed slavery into empowerment and they did it all alone, in spite of being dumped by their treacherous God. The Holocaust religion, like Judaism, prescribes a manner of speech and a strict set of commandments. Most crucially, like more traditional Judaism, it is totally and disgracefully intolerant toward dissent.
Due to the lack of a divine transcendental entity, Jewish religions have always regarded criticism as a rejection of the tribe. Jewish religions, whether Judaism, Bolshevism, or the Holocaust, are equally intolerant of criticism and dissent. Jewish religions treat opposition as a vile attempt at ‘delegitimization’ on the verge of genocidal inclination.
Jewish religions can be defined as different templates that facilitate a sense of choseness. They affirm a bond between an imaginary marginal ‘collective’ and a phantasmal ‘archetype’: the Bolshevists and ‘The Bolshevik’, the Survivours and ‘The Survivour’, the Jews and ‘The Jew,’ and so on. The bond between the collective and the idea of an archetypical singularity is always maintained by a set of rigid commandments, a correct manner of speech, some strict regulatory guidelines for behavior, and vile opposition to dissent.
Tragically enough, intolerance of dissent has become a universal Western political symptom. Incidentally, Christianity, Islam, religion, and divinity, in general, are also under attack within the context of contemporary Western discourse. Is this a symptom of the Jerusalemification of our Western universe? Is the emergence of the tyranny of political correctness a coincidence?
And if we are becoming Jews, is there any room for the hope that our universe may, at some stage, embrace a universal ethos once again? Can we once again believe in something? Or do we have to wait for a new Jesus figure to resurrect our trust in the human spirit and humanity in general? Or have we been re-designed to self-destruct as soon as we come close to such a lucid awareness?
 As God himself suggests in the Book of Genesis: “And I (God) will establish My covenant between Me and you (the Jews) and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” (Book of Genesis, Chapter 17).
Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born British jazz saxophonist, novelist, political activist, and writer.
Atzmon’s album Exile was BBC jazz album of the year in 2003. Playing over 100 dates a year, he has been called “surely the hardest-gigging man in British jazz.” His albums, of which he has recorded nine to date, often explore the music of the Middle East and political themes. He has described himself as a “devoted political artist.” He supports the Palestinian right of return and the one-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
His criticisms of Zionism, Jewish identity, and Judaism, as well as his controversial views on The Holocaust and Jewish history, have led to allegations of antisemitism from both Zionists and anti-Zionists. A profile in The Guardian in 2009 which described Atzmon as “one of London’s finest saxophonists” stated: “It is Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than the music that has given him an international profile, particularly in the Arab world, where his essays are widely read.”