An article in today’s Haaretz (Hebrew) revealed the world according to Eli Ben Dahan, currently Israel’s Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs and a member of the far-right HaBayit HaYehudi (“Jewish Home”) party. According to this democratically-elected member of our government, mankind has a distinct hierarchy, in line with his concept of purity. The Haaretz journalist in question, taking his lead from an interview with Ben Dahan in Ma’ariv (also Hebrew), helpfully created a top-ten list (which is somewhat satirical, but unfortunately in line with the truth) based on Ben Dahan’s comments on Jews, non-Jews, women, gays and the relationships between them. Resembling a kind of twisted version of the Kinsey scale, here is what Eli Ben Dahan’s ‘humanity chart’ would look like, in descending order:
1. Jewish men who go with Jewish women
2. Jews considered ‘illegitimate’ (e.g. born out of wedlock, or the product of any relationship which doesn’t meet the weirdo Rabbinate’s appropriate partnership algorithm – the Hebrew word he uses in the Ma’ariv article means ‘bastard’)
3. Jewish women who go with Jewish men
4. Jewish men who go with non-Jewish women
5. Jewish gay men who go with Jewish men
6. Jewish lesbians who go with Jewish women
7. Jewish gay men who go with non-Jewish men
8. Jewish lesbians who go with non-Jewish women
9. Non-Jewish men
10. Non-Jewish women
Clearly, the racism, sexism, homophobia and sheer fanaticism inherent in Ben Dahan’s worldview don’t need illuminating; furthermore, such arguments would be meaningless to him. So, in the spirit of satire, let’s fight fire with fire and look at some of the technical issues. Firstly, as a friend queried, where are the Jewish women who go with non-Jewish men? Do they not exist? Or does Ben Dahan consider such an eventuality implausible? And, my friend also wondered, would Jesus be a 1 or a 2? As for my own situation, being patrilineally Jewish probably makes me a 10, but I am an accepted member of the Jewish community in the UK, so perhaps that makes me a 2 (being a product of a mixed marriage). What’s more, I’m a woman, and I’m gay, so if I am a 2, then it also makes me a 6 and an 8. But if I am a 10, do I at least get some credit for having been in relationships with 6s and 8s? And if, by dating someone who was a 6, I turned them into an 8, do I drop points on some other scale? Questions abound.
This story also reminded me of a conversation that took place on a flight from the UK to Israel a couple of years ago. I was sitting next to an Israeli, with whom I was discussing my upcoming aliyah (emigration to Israel) and the dim view the Rabbinate would take of my patrilineal descent. At one point, a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi passed by us, and my Israeli interlocutor – let’s call him ‘A’ – stopped the befrocked gentleman to get some clarity on how I would be perceived by the Rabbinate:
A: Let’s talk about my friend here. Her father is Jewish, but her mother is not. So, according to you, she is not Jewish, correct?
A: Because she has only two parts of the soul, the ‘nefesh’ and the ‘ruach’, but not the ‘neshama (Jewish soul)’?
Me: So the ‘neshama’ is only for Jews? What is my soul, then?
Rabbi: Your soul is like that of a dog, or any non-Jew.
A: And if she converts, she will then have a ‘neshama’? She’ll have the Jewish soul?
Rabbi: That is right.
A: So what will happen, exactly? At the exact moment of conversion, will she feel the ‘neshama’ rushing into her, like a big whoosh? Or does she have to go somewhere to collect it?
At this point, the rabbi muttered something unintelligible and returned to his seat. ‘A’ turned to me and said, “I should have asked him one last question – why he thinks there is antisemitism in the world.”
There’s an important lesson here. As well as highlighting the despicable prejudice embedded in the ideas espoused by Eli Ben Dahan and his ilk, we would also do well to dig out the farcical inconsistencies within it. We may be speaking a different language much of the time, but stupidity is something everyone can understand.
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post referred to Eli Ben Dahan as the author of this list. While his comments and opinions are entirely factual, their ordering into a numbered hierarchy was a (brilliant) satire. Apologies for the error, and I wish I could also say that Ben Dahan’s views are also a joke. Sadly, they are deadly serious.