Archive for July, 2011

Joining the dots – from the global to the local…

July 28, 2011

The weakness – and strength – of the Earth Charter www.earthcharter.org lies in its all-encompassing scope.  Nothing, it seems, is excluded from its four key categories: Respect and Care for the Community of Life;

Respect and care for life

Ecological Integrity; Social and Economic Justice; Democracy, Non-violence and Peace.

Biodiversity

Social and economic justice?

Social and economic justice?

Who could not subscribe to its values – ‘idealistic nonsense,’ the Leader of Bournemouth Council thought until he decided that, though idealistic it was not nonsense and so endorsed it with his Cabinet.

But its 16 Principles – and still more, its 61 sub-principles – are more demanding, particularly in the range of issues that they cover. They are not only ‘too much’ to take in; how can we act in the face of so many inter-connected expectations, for so are they phrased: ‘respect,’ ‘recognize,’ ‘affirm,’  ‘care’ and so on.

This, however, is a Charter for our responsibilities to Earth and future generations at a time when it is much needed. All over the world, we face breakdown: financial, resources (water, oil,

July 2005: 'The era of cheap oil is over' CEO, Chevron

minerals, food), biodiversity, over-population, climate change, trust in institutions (media, politicians, police, religion.)

The Charter provides a framework which reminds us that ‘We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future.’

Who, faced with such a statement, can fail to recognise not only its truth but, equally importantly, that it provides a way of understanding the holistic or systemic nature of the challenges that face us and that we need to see their interconnected nature?

But  if we do not merely wish to understand but to change the world, we are faced with a much harder challenge. Where and how to begin? Buber suggestion that we begin with ourselves but not aim at ourselves is certainly a good one since it ensures that we constantly take account of our own situation, our attitudes and behaviour to those around us.

Cows killed by Kenyan drought

So, too, is the Transition Town prescription that in order to prepare for the enormity of the changes that face us, building capacity and resilience in the local area is essential – necessary but not sufficient. The global perspective remains vital since we are all inter-connected.

There are some initiatives which attempt to bridge the divide, to begin to develop the Global Citizen approach. One, emanating from North America, the Great Transition Initiative or Widening Circles, has the Earth Charter as its foundation document. In conjunction with WWF and other major NGOs, it convened a meeting in London under the title of SmartCSOs (Civil Society Organisations) earlier this year, but the conclusion which emerged was that most organisations are so concerned with keeping themselves going that they have little energy for collaboration, however much they believe in the concept in principle.

In an earlier blog, I wrote a little about working on the allotment and I have been astonished by the generosity as well as the fecundity of Earth, which together with sun and rain, produces extraordinary crops for so little effort. But contrast this picture with the one above!

Earth's fertility

Once again, I want, finally, to link this with the equally amazing development of the internet, including social networks, blogs, twitter and all the rest since it seems that it is this that is most likely to enable the changes for which the Earth Charter calls as well as, most obviously, providing us with the opportunities and methods to link local and global.

Let me give an example. I am lucky enough to be writing this in the Reading Room (Humanities 2, to be precise) of the British Library in London – I could show you, easily, if I were a little more proficient with my IT by taking a photo and pasting it in but will content myself with a view from google:

Reading Room: British Library

That was so easy to do – and I paused to take a brief look at twitter, which immediately linked me to the world outside, a chance to dialogue and collaborate in drawing attention to the auction this evening of Church House Museum, Barnet. This, now, is work on which I wish to concentrate: how is it possible to develop local and global networks which can deliver change?

Church Farmhouse Museum

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Actor – or Spectator?

July 28, 2011

Edging it

Facing the Void?

Last month, Philip Boxer published a blog entitled ‘The journey at the edge.’ http://www.asymmetricleadership.com/ No doubt this has influenced me as I look back over the past few weeks in an attempt to pull together and make sense of a period of extreme, frenetic activity. Has it all been ‘sound and fury signifying nothing’? What have I actually been doing or achieving or – as Jane McGonigall suggests http://bit.ly/ofJb02 – are these the wrong questions? In truth, have I been avoiding the Void?

 

 

Once again, I’ve seen how easy it is to be captivated by the ephemeral – though important – news story of the moment: the downfall of Rupert Murdoch and all his works, for example? Perhaps, momentarily, that might have seemed the end of the ‘evil empire,’ until the unbelievable horrors in Norway knocked it from the headlines.

 

These unfolding  stories are as fascinating to watch as News of the World revelations used to be  –which is troubling!

 

Once again, I feel like a voyeur – rather than acting, I’m a spectator. The distinction was made by Kant of the observers of the guillotine during the French Revolution and there’s something about my involvement with Twitter that brings this to mind.

 

Nevertheless, the distinction between actor and spectator is a fine one.

 

In these past few weeks, I have also been following a more local story which has not quite the same headline force but is nevertheless of great importance.

 

Barnet Borough Council decided, under its previous leader, Mike Freer, who is now an MP, to ‘outsource’ in a big way – so much so that it was proud of its sobriquet ‘EasyCouncil.’ It was going to cut expenditure by emulating a budget airline, that is, by ensuring that only essentials were available and anything else would need to be paid for. Incidentally, the Conservative gains in the area were so great that another member of the Council, Matthew Offord also stood for Parliament, and was elected for a Barnet constituency, Hendon.

 

Now chickens are beginning to roost, and, in the way that these things happen, very small events begin to signal something rotten. The small event here was the filming of residents attending a Council meeting by MetPro, a security firm, supposedly contracted by the Council. When the residents complained, the whole sorry story began to come out. MetPro, now in liquidation, was not ‘contracted’ – there was no contract, no vetting, no scrutiny, nothing but payments of £1.5 mill.

 

This is an old story (well, perhaps two months old) and most Barnet residents are unaware of it or dismiss it as the usual incompetency. They would, of course, be right – but it is rather the tip of an iceberg: Iceland, of course, being another embarrassing Barnet disaster. This was when the banker Mike Freer did, or did not authorise, or subject to due diligence, £27 mill of Barnet’s funds being invested in Iceland before the banking collapse. True, other local councils did the same – extraordinary rates of interest were attractive, even if those in charge might have smelt something fishy about them.

 

Now, there is an even worse story, resulting in the death of a young resident in a Council home because the care that should have been in place was not.

 

Some diligent local residents have been searching out these stories assiduously, Mrs Angry, Mr Mustard, Mr Reasonable, Julia Hines and Barnet Eye amongst them. One form of communication has been twitter and their tweets have also been picked up by the press: David Hencke and Patrick Butler of the Guardian. There have even been stern warnings, even rebukes from Conservative Central Office and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles MP.

 

It is here that the contrast between ‘actor’ and ‘spectator’ begins most strongly to force itself upon me, in conjunction with that other ‘local’ and ‘global.’ If we are to bring about change in the global, there needs to be ‘joined up’ thinking and action in the local. Systemic change depends upon identifying those ‘acupressure’ points, through which, for example, the ‘steady accretion of facts’ and other initiatives can lead to a sudden shift or tipping point. We have been observing this nationally with News International, BSkyB, suspicious relationships with the police and undue influence and cosy relationships with politicians.

 

But these exciting domestic shenanigans are mere sideshows compared with the chaotic global situation which we now face. The greatest of these, as far as the human species is concerned, has to be climate change with almost all the other issues – overpopulation, water shortage, world economy, resource shortage (including oil), environmental degradation and devastation of species – connected to it in one way or another. James Greyson, who can be followed on twitter http://twitter.com/#!/blindspotting and through his web-site, provides a good analysis and draws on Dana Meadows for seven ‘policy switches.’

 

Currently, there is widespread concern about global finance, potential debt default (even, inconceivably, by the United States) and the increasing poverty that is being experienced in the most powerful nation in the world.

 

A couple of days ago, I sorted with my wife through our accounts, preparing to fill in our annual Income Tax and pay a second instalment. There’s a ‘reality check’ involved here, something we have to do in common with almost all other adults in the UK (and most of the rest of the world.)

 

Reading recently William Hague’s biography of William Pitt, I was reminded that this is relatively new. It was Pitt who was responsible for much development of our taxation system, mainly to pay for wars. The book was easy to read, somewhat apologetic –Hague made no secret both of his sense of affinity with Pitt and of the ‘political’ interest that he found in researching and writing about his subject. But there was a superficiality in that so much was dealt with at the level of personalities so that explanation in depth was missing.

 

I went on to read Eric Hobsbawm: The Age of Revolution which partially deals with the same period and the difference could hardly be greater. Here is erudition, a gathering together of facts in great swathes of historical understanding – and Pitt is not even mentioned!

 

The contrast between these two books illuminates the issue that has most been exercising me: the chasm between the endless fascination with the immediate, as exemplified by the Murdoch story and endless twittering and deeper satisfaction provided by working on the allotment or composing a substantial piece of writing. Is it about ‘productivity’ – or even, a contribution to ‘growth’ or the Gross National Product? As McGonigall suggests, probably not. It has more to do, I suspect, with the ‘edge’ that Boxer looks at – and I was confirmed in this by a Transition Town piece from Norwich

http://bit.ly/p6sRMu.

 

There’s little doubt that for many people throughout the world their situation is rapidly getting worse.  They need tools (practical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual,) to see ways forward. I hope that, one way or another, they will find what they need.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Mr Hughes,

 

I am shocked at your decision not to instigate an immediate investigation of Barnet Council. Initially you rejected the approach because it might ‘undermine public confidence in a public body.’

 

But we ratepayers are already deeply concerned at the incompetence of our Council in entering into poorly formed contracts and enforcing them with insufficiently robust scrutiny. Cutting posts in the relevant department can only make matters worse.

 

The MetPro incident is simply one example; others are still coming to light.

 

This is not a Party Political matter. It is a matter of urgency before other inadequate contracts are entered into for the privatisation and outsourcing of our public services.

 

We hope very much that you will reconsider.

 

Arendt and Heidegger: Reviewing the friendship

July 23, 2011

Stranger from Abroad

Review Maier-Katkin, D.  Strangers from Abroad – Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger: Friendship and Forgiveness publ. WW Norton, NY & London 2010.

The love affair between Hannah Arendt, a Jewish political theorist, and Martin Heidegger, now recognised as one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, was first revealed in 1984. The affair started in 1924 when Arendt was just 18 and Heidegger, her University teacher, was a married man of 35, with two young boys. It lasted as active and intimate passion for less than a year, though with the occasional night together in a hotel. At this point, Arendt decided to study instead with Karl Jaspers, philosopher, psychologist and friend of Heidegger’s, in Heidelberg.

Why should we be interested? Hannah Arendt is a largely forgotten figure in the Jewish world – not, perhaps, as much forgotten as obliterated, excoriated, dismissed: a self-serving, self-hating Jew, a Jewish antisemite. This cloud of loathing first threatened to break when she sided with Judah Magnus and Martin Buber, rather than Jabotinsky and the ‘revisionists’, in campaigning for a Jewish homeland in Palestine rather than a State. The cloud darkened when she signed a letter to the New York Times in 1948 together with Albert Einstein, amongst many others, opposing the visit to the States of the terrorist Irgun leader, Menachem Begin.

But her real ‘crime’ was the report she submitted to the New Yorker magazine, subsequently published as Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil in 1963. Nothing made her more famous; nothing damaged her more.   Some thought she was dismissing the holocaust as banal. Others in the Jewish world were quite unable to believe that Eichmann was not a monster, yet Arendt wrote that he was quite normal, not stupid and did not even hate Jews. Psychiatric reports confirmed that he was not perverted, sadistic or obsessed with insane urges to kill. Arendt noted that he spoke in clichés and appeared totally unable or unwilling to think about what he was doing. This was anathema to the Jewish world; it made no sense and appeared to excuse Eichmann. Of course, the problem was the sense it did make: ordinary people are capable of carrying out evil acts.

There was one further charge against Arendt. She criticised the failings of the Jewish leadership in sometimes co-operating with the Nazis in the choice of victims. She even condemned Leo Baeck for making the decision to keep to himself the knowledge he had of the fate that awaited the Jews in the Camps. Although this was not an entirely new topic, the juxtaposition of a critique of Jews with what was read as an exoneration of Eichmann was too much for the Jewish world, which exploded, the Anti-Defamation League publishing a widely circulated pamphlet entitled Arendt Nonsense. She was denounced and vilified virtually everywhere though we can be proud that Rabbi Albert Friedlander was one of the few Jewish figures to give her a platform.  When, as Jewish Chaplain, he invited her to Columbia University the hall was swamped by more than 400 enthusiastic students.

What about Martin Heidegger? When Arendt, as a precocious young student first met him, his reputation was already widely established though it was two years before the publication of his major work, Being and Time. He was celebrated by students as bringing fresh air to the stale halls of academia. He had a revolutionary approach to teaching Greek philosophy, being concerned to cleanse philosophy of what he saw as its false, post-Socratic concerns and return it to its true fundamental search for the meaning of Being. Given that Judaism is founded on God who is I AM THAT I AM, there is a clear overlap here. He was resolute in not wanting to teach about philosophers and thinkers but determined that his students should think for themselves.

The emphasis on ‘thinking’ is, of course, a link between Arendt and Heidegger. But here lies the central question. If thinking is so important, how could it be at the time of Germany’s descent into barbarism, that Heidegger was no different from so many others? In 1933 at Hitler’s accession to power he was prepared, even eager, to be appointed as Rector of Freiburg and instigated the ‘cleansing’ of the University by dismissing the Jewish faculty, including his own teacher, Husserl. Not only this: he even hoped (totally unrealistically) to become the philosopher of the Nazi Party. Though he resigned within the year, the damage, and not only to his reputation, was irreparable. He remained a member of the Party till the end of the war.

Daniel Maier-Katkin’s new book, Stranger from Abroad, is a first-rate contribution to unravelling these complex knots. Although not written for the scholar, it is scholarly and though far from being yet another of the repetitive series of sensationalist and second rate works on the love affair between the Nazi and the Jew, it uses the inevitable fascination of the topic to illuminate the more important surrounding issues of the collapse of Germany. It provides a close and honest scrutiny of the relationship and also a sound if brief analysis of key texts and the intellectual tradition in which both Heidegger and Arendt found themselves.

The denigration of Arendt reminds us of what happens today when a Jew in the diaspora publically criticises Israel and is immediately castigated as self-hating. In fact, Arendt was at all times a proud and outspoken Jew, who courageously worked for the Zionists, secretly researching in the Prussian State Library the extent of German anti-Semitism until she was arrested, interrogated by the Gestapo and fled to France in the autumn of 1933, where she started working for Youth Aliyah. In 1940 she eventually managed to escape to the States. There, with her new, lifelong and beloved partner, she continued her work with Youth Aliyah, as well as writing and editing essays almost entirely on Jewish issues, constantly deepening her understanding of what had happened, leading to the publication of The Origins of Totalitarianism (1950). She first returned to Germany in December 1949, as Director of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Inc., to survey the remains of Jewish life and begin the task of collecting Jewish books, Torah scrolls and artefacts – none of this the work of a self-hating Jew.

Recently, the importance of Arendt’s own work, particularly The Human Condition (1958) and The Life of the Mind (1977) is being recognised and most intriguing is the extent to which she positions herself over and against Heidegger, both as a woman and Jew. Her writing emerges out of passionate commitment and she too challenges all the traditional philosophical categories. Though she was explicitly not a ‘feminist’, the startling freshness of her emphasis on ‘natality’ – that each new birth, regeneration, action is a new beginning – is a wonderful ‘woman’s’ contribution and directly opposes the almost morbid preoccupation with death and mortality which so influenced the contemplative, solitary, western Christian tradition.  This teaching, which she derived, astonishingly, from St Augustine, the subject of her dissertation, turns the tradition of Western and Heideggerian philosophy on its head.

Arendt combined this insight with another which is essentially ‘Jewish’, even though she did not recognise its origins, in her teaching that the world is (note the gender!) made for men and not for man. In other words, her concerns were with how people live together, which she saw as an entirely neglected area in western philosophy.

Arendt’s life search was to understand the inter-connections between thought, judgment, will and action. How does what we think, and believe, link with what we say and do? What place is played by emotion? Her work was never purely theoretical. She had watched, lived through, and been deeply shaken by the collapse of Germany and German civilization. What had happened and how?  What were the lessons? The single, solitary thinker trying alone to understand was never her ideal and she was deeply critical of the western tradition of ivory-tower philosophy which she saw as dominated by the ancient dichotomy, lauding the vita contemplativa (the contemplative life) above the vita activa (the active life) to such an extent that concern with politics was regarded as less valuable and without true meaning and purpose. Such a lack of involvement and understanding she saw as factors leading to Heidegger’s critical mistake. Her own life included active political engagement and analysis. She was often prophetic, in the sense of seeing the ethical issues in the present situation. Her essays are deeply rewarding as we, too, strive to make sense of our place as Jews in the world.

She was an extraordinary, truthful, obstinate, sometimes naive and outspoken person and her apparent arrogance covered deep sensitivities. Most of all she valued friendship and she could be friends even with those who were long dead.  She saw friendship as the foundation of humanity. But she also recognised its limitations – she never got over the shock that some whom she counted as friends could not be relied upon as Germany turned Nazi. Later, too, she was deeply hurt, following the Eichmann controversy, that people like Gershom Scholem, the scholar who first awoke academic interest in Jewish mysticism and the kabbalah, whom she had known for so many years, could fundamentally misunderstand what she was saying and condemn her so scathingly.

Arendt remained a loyal friend to Heidegger, even though she knew he was a flawed, vain, self-indulgent liar. In February 1951, after discussing it both with her husband and with Jaspers (who had refused to grant Heidegger denazification so that he could teach), Arendt went to meet him, first alone, the next day also with his wife. After their initial meetings and a voluminous correspondence (much of it poems and love letters), Arendt took on the task of supervising the translation of Being and Time, and its publication in the States, just as she had done with Walter Benjamin’s papers, which she rescued as she fled from France.

Heidegger never spoke publically about the Nazis, the camps or his own responsibilities: Meier-Katkin points out that his open allegiance to the Party undoubtedly contributed to its developing respectability. There is one notorious short reference that Heidegger made in a 1949 lecture on the dangers of mechanization – what we would now call ‘factory farming’ – which he says has transformed agriculture into:

a motorized food industry, in essence the same as the manufacture of corpses in gas chambers and extermination    camps, the same as the blockade and starvation of countries, the same as the manufacture of atomic bombs. 

Meier-Katkin is justifiably equivocal here but suggests, amongst more critical comments, that Heidegger’s ‘turn away from man’s will to dominate the world through science resonates as an early recognition of the increasingly apparent dangers of technology in an epoch of environmental degradation’. The book is thought-provoking, full of wisdom, insight and tenderness. Do read it.

Shoah or Churban?

July 16, 2011

Shoah or Churban?

Reflections occasioned by Pierre Bouretz Witnesses for the Future[i]

The popular Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami, provides a clue to the entrancing plot of his Kafka on the Shore with a particularly apt quote – placed for the reader at a somewhat unexpected moment – from Henri Bergson:

The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future. In truth all sensation is already memory. [ii]

Murakami’s work is built upon the Second World War, particularly the devastations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the effect of collective trauma upon the individual and society.  The Anglo-Jewish community has similarly struggled through a period of apparent consolidation and normalisation following the Holocaust and the birth pangs of the State of Israel.  It is perhaps not surprising that, on the whole, the Jewish world appears largely oblivious of wider global concerns. Though rabbis certainly give topical sermons and may make references, for example, to miracles at Chanukah in relationship to world oil shortages, there is little mainstream Jewish involvement in the critical issues which are likely to effect the future for our children and our children’s children – whether climate change, shortage of resources, over-population or biodiversity and the disappearance of species.

But Judaism is nothing if it does not dream of the future and find ways to realise those dreams. The task laid upon Abraham ‘to be a blessing to humanity’[iii] remains the central call of the Jewish people and this is not a dream in the sense of some vague, vacuous hope – Torah, oral and written, is filled with the details as to how the present can be repaired. Such is tikkun olam and we lose sight of it at our peril. But there is a promise: ‘The doctrine of the Messiah who will be sent by God to redeem Israel and usher in a new era in which all mankind will worship the true God is one of Judaism’s most distinctive teachings.’[iv]

To help us, Pierre Bouretz has written an extraordinary book Witnesses for the Future, a rich kol bo of nine twentieth century, originally German, Jewish thinkers. Bouretz (1958 – ) is Director of a French Higher Education Social Sciences Academy and a Jewish scholar of repute. The book is beautifully translated and easy to read and his comment upon Scholem is true of his own work: its strength is that ‘it manages at one and the same time to block out vast structures in broad outline and to fill in miniatures’. [v]

Leo Strauss once suggested, perhaps optimistically: ‘No one can be both a philosopher and a theologian…but every one of us can and should be either one or the other, the philosopher open to the challenge of theology, or a theologian open to the challenge of philosophy.’[vi]  Bouretz provides us with both the materials and pointers to find our own way through the thickets but there is no avoiding the complexities. Understanding here demands struggle but the work is lightened by fascinating details. An example occurs in the Introduction and gives a taste of what follows:

There is a page in Kafka’s journals that reveals, even better than the “Letter to His Father,” the private feelings shaping a historical consciousness. He has just heard the prayer that ends the meal after a circumcision, and notices that, with the exception of two grandfathers, no one understands the meaning of the words. “I saw Western European Judaism before me in a transition whose end is clearly unpredictable and about which those most closely affected are unconcerned.” That note is dated 24 December 1911. In reading Scholem’s autobiography, we discover that he, on the very same day, attended a family Christmas ritual for the last time, a ceremony that for him had become a palinode: thereafter he would leave his parents’ home for that evening. For him it was the fact that a portrait of Theodore Herzl had been placed at the foot of the Christmas tree that brought on the crisis.[vii]

The confusions of Jewish life and thought and the events of the century that were to unfold form the background context which shapes the writers. They, Bouretz explains, are:

Jewish thinkers, born during the time of the disenchantment of the world, of the “death of God,” and the destruction of reason [who] in a sense, [they] saved German idealism…chiefly because they remained metaphysicians. It is true that each expressed this in his own fashion: classical in Cohen, and reflected in the history of philosophy in Strauss; reconstructed for Rosenzweig, Levinas and Jonas; wrenched apart for a Benjamin who would find in Bloch a kind of surviving brother who had revived hope; gracefully by way of Buber’s empathy with his mystical object; austere in Scholem, who at times pretends to be no more than a detached historian.[viii]

These are the nine writers and the liveliness of the book lies partly in the richness of their conversations and interchanges. In fact, the relationships and the details of their lives are so evocative – the fact that Heschel taught Buber modern Hebrew,[ix] for example, or how moved Scholem was by finding Kafka’s picture on S.H. Bergman’s piano on his arrival in Jerusalem[x] – that we may be tempted to relegate their ideas to secondary consideration.  Bouretz does not do this. Instead, he scrutinizes, through close examination of one or more areas of each writer’s work:

…an idea sometimes perceived as the only one to survive the decline of the Tradition, but sufficiently malleable to be interpreted for different ends: that of a messianism that delineates, on the horizon, a consummation of history, or announces its apocalyptic interruption, suggesting a continuous perfection of the world or at least its progressive repair.[xi]

How do we think of the time of the Messiah? This is a central question and the past is made present here as the writers look back in order to make sense of their own times. The way of looking is pivotal:

Know that there is a twofold way of looking at all worlds. The one reveals their exteriority, that is to say, general laws of the world in terms of their external form. The other reveals the inner being of the worlds, that is to say the essence of human souls.[xii]

The key issues turn out to be ‘language,’ ‘time’ and ‘evil’ (as well as ‘Zionism and Israel’.) As early as 1918,  (that is, well before Heidegger’s major 1927 work on Being and Time,) Scholem wrote in his Diary some Remarks on Judaism and Time, first quoting Hermann Cohen, in words that echo those of Bergson but without the passion and entirely missing the key Jewish component of memory:

Being is not immobilised in the present, but it is in suspense beyond the present. Present and future are united in that Being that is God.

Scholem then, probably influenced by his discussions with Benjamin, refers to Exodus 3:14,

The true Name of God is also the I of time. This means that the basis, but also the complement, of all empirical time is the divine, the eternal present; thus God will be what he was in all the generations.’  He continues, What does the biblical expression “in all the days” mean? The fact that the kingdom of God that “will be” is already present and that the messianic kingdom is the “present of history.”[xiii]

Scholem appears to suggest here that the germ of messianic times is present at every moment. But how does this concept survive the destruction of European Jewry? Bloch’s work is unexpectedly helpful. He, too, breaks with the tradition (begun by Calvin and continued by Mendelssohn,) of translating the Name of God as, ‘I am the Being who is eternal,’ and chooses instead the words of Buber and Rosenzweig,: ‘“I shall be who I shall be” – that is, not a substance identical with itself but ‘the solidarity of God with the human experience of time, against the backdrop of an unpredictability of the future.’[xiv]  This enables Bloch to re-read Job in an original way. Basing his interpretation on Job 19: 25-27, initially on the phrase ‘I know that my redeemer lives,’ Bloch points out that Job and God do not speak the same language: the God of the Creation is answering one who calls in the name of the God of the Covenant. Bloch points to the derivation of ‘redeemer’ from the root meaning of goel: blood avenger! Bouretz comments, ‘[Bloch] solemnly calls upon God…against God… Messianism is here made manifest, in all the strength of its antithesis to the given world.’[xv] In the idea of a world born of a divine contraction (tzimtzum), Bloch sees the indication that messianism is older than belief in the Messiah: ‘Instead of the glory of the alpha or morning of creation, the wishful space of the end or day of deliverance presses forward….no religion has passed through so many layers of sublimation, even of utopianization of its god.’[xvi] Bloch here rejects “theodicies of non-responsibility” – the multiplicity of figures elaborated to explain the experience of evil – by finding, at one and the same time, “a language in which to accuse” and “a light to nourish his rebellious hope.”[xvii]

This sensitive reading of goel demonstrates the importance of examining language in detail. The meaning of ‘messianism’ and associated words and concepts changes through history, which leads directly to the sharp warning that Scholem gave on the use of Hebrew in Palestine as the vernacular and the potential descent to the abyss: ‘if we…resuscitate the language of the ancient books so that it can reveal itself anew to [the Volapuks], must then not the religious violence of this language one day break out against those who speak it?’ [xviii] Of course, at another level entirely, mystics like Abulafia penetrating below the level of words, listen to the individual letters and their combinations so that the ‘plucking of each  ‘is compared to a finely tuned string and becomes music.’[xix]

Jews, of course, are great music lovers, not least amongst them Rabbi Tony Bayfield, who has found in it sustaining energies and would probably agree with Schopenhauer’s observation of ‘its unrivaled capacity for listening to being’. Bloch, too, hears hints in music of the coming of the Messiah and Bouretz, drawing upon him, writes:

To Nietzsche, music was of all forms of culture the one that comes last, bringing to one epoch the language of the one preceding it before disappearing. Handel, bringing to the ear the best of Luther, Mozart musically evoking the courtly style of Lous XIV, or Beethoven externalizing an eighteenth century “of vague elation, ruined ideals and fleeting joys”: so many indications in [Bloch’s] view that music “comes too late” when it frees what the world of yore contained in a muted mode.[xx]

Bloch even suggests:

clairvoyance is long extinguished but should not, however, a clairaudience, a new kind of seeing from within, be imminent, which, now that the visible world has become too weak to hold the spirit, will call forth the audible world, the refuge of the light, the primacy of the inner flame instead of the former primacy of seeing, if ever the hour to speak in music comes?’ [xxi]

Clearly we have in Bouretz almost limitless resources to study how twentieth century Jewish thinkers both dealt with the issues they confronted and were able to think towards a future, philosophically and theologically.

Now, the divine unity upon which Jewish thinking is dependent, which it exemplifies and out of which the messianic strain arises, calls us as we look towards the future, to act in righteousness and justice in meeting the needs of our times and so bring about the coming of the Messiah. So are we taught by the Prophets, who passed judgment on their times, criticising false values in the Name of the oneness of the true God.  If part of Rabbi Tony Bayfield’s unique contribution has been educational as the way to enhance Judaism’s self-understanding,  another has been inter-faith work, both learning from other traditions, and teaching our understanding and experience, so that, as Rosenzweig explained, the Star can radiate outwards. Murakami’s work, for example, won The Jerusalem Prize in 2009 and Steven Johnson chooses to use Benjamin’s Angel of History as the prologue to his tale of how a doctor and a clergyman, working together, discovered in the 1840’s that cholera was a water-borne disease, leading to its potential eradication.[xxii] The Angel hovers, looking back but irresistibly blown forward by the storm from Paradise. ‘Where a chain of events appears to us, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet… What we call progress is this storm.’[xxiii]

Each of the nine teachers was in continual dialogue with the great philosophers and theologians of the age: Kant and Hegel in particular, but also Nietzsche and, of course, Heidegger. In the ‘global village’ in which we now live where the speed, the ubiquity of communication and developing paradigms of thought, (including the necessity to hear the voice of women, [xxiv]) forces us to recognise the unity of humanity and all life, we, too must engage with great teachers from other traditions who will challenge us to make sense of the situation in which we find ourselves and respond adequately.

We may turn, for example, to the Latin American ‘liberation’ theologian, Leonardo Boff, who drawing on new understanding that has emerged in our time,[xxv] writes:

A sustainable way of life is humankind’s new ethical and cultural dream. It entails another way of conceiving the common feature of Earth and humankind and, accordingly, it demands a true revolution in hearts and minds, values and habits, forms of production and relationship with nature. It entails understanding that “Humanity is part of a vast evolving universe” and that “Earth, our home, is alive”; it also entails living “the spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life,” and assuming responsibility for the present and future well-being of the human family and the larger living world,” taking care to use the scarce goods of nature rationally so as not to do harm to natural capital or to future generations who also have a right to a good quality of life and minimally just institutions, “being more, not having more” and living “with reverence for the mystery of being, gratitude for the gift of life and humility regarding the human place in nature.”[xxvi]

In 1981, Rabbi Bayfield chose to entitle his guide for young people, Churban,[xxvii] basing himself on the teaching of Rabbi Maybaum that ‘the churban has the messianic power of achieving progress.’[xxviii]  Maybaum’s messianism did not include a return to Israel, while Scholem and Buber thought that it was only ‘over there’ that the Jewish people could ‘revive,’[xxix]  (though Buber himself quickly became critical of Zionist leadership.) The current apparently intransigent situation of Israel will, no doubt, be just one area which Tony will consider as he continues his work to realise the vision: ‘Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.’[xxx]


[i]   Published by John Hopkins Baltimore 2010) The title is taken from a letter from Benjamin to Scholem, page 7

[ii]  H. Bergson Matter and Memory quoted by Murakami, H. Kafka on the Shore (publ. Penguin 2005) page 294

[iii] Genesis 12:3

[iv] Jacobs, L. A Jewish Theology (DLT, London 1973) page 292

[v]  Bouretz page 350.The text is fully referenced and citations can be found on notes to the page.

[vi] ibid.page 14

[vii]  ibid page 3

[viii] ibid page 6

[ix] ibid page 359

[x]  ibid page 225. Kafka’s influence is constantly present.

[xi] ibid page 6

[xii] ibid page 429, probably from Safed kabbalists.

[xiii]  ibid page 238

[xiv]  ibid page 469. On page 864 note 169, Bouretz comments: This translation could claim the authority of Rashi, who draws on the Talmud (Berakhot 9b) to explain: ‘I will be with them in that trial as I will be with them in their subjugation to other empires.’

[xv]  ibid page 466 The passage from Bloch that Bouretz quotes is, he notes, missing from the English translation

[xvi] ibid page 468. Pages 469-70 deal with the conflict between responsibility and hope exemplified by Jonas and Bloch. Bouretz quotes Levinas, ‘Monotheism surpasses and subsumes atheism, but it is impossible for those who have not reached the age of doubt, loneliness and revolt,’ and suggests this could not be better illustrated than by Bloch page 475

[xvii]  Levinas comments (Bouretz op. cit. pages 472-3) that Bloch’s exceptional daring here resides in the effort to place the presentiment of a victory over death at the exact point where philosophy begins: astonishment. This follows Plato who suggests that philosophy begins in wonder.

[xviii]  ibid page 344 in a 1926 letter from Palestine to Rosenzweig.  The Volapuks speak an artificially constructed language.

[xix]ibid page 262

[xx] ibid page 450. Schopenhauer, Bouretz notes, hears it the other way round: music heralds or ushers in the age.

[xxi] ibid page 451

[xxii] Johnson, S. The Ghost Map (publ Penguin 2007) Johnson is a systems thinker, a specialist on internet development.

[xxiii] Bouretz op. cit. page 215

[xxiv] Bouretz comments Arendt was excluded as being “marginal as a ‘witness for the future,’ though exemplary from the point of view of a thinking of ‘dark days’ (a phrase she borrowed from Brecht).” Note 15 page 722. Perhaps, however, her thought remains too challenging.

[xxv] Particularly that of James Lovelock, the Gaia theory, that Earth is a living system.

[xxvi] Boff, L. The Ethics of Care in Corcoran, P.B. and Wohlpart, A.J. A Voice for Earth (Georgia UP, Athens and London 2008.) Quotes are from the Earth Charter www.earthcharter.org

[xxvii] Bayfield, A. Churban (publ Michael Goulston Educational Foundation, London 1981)

[xxviii] Maybaum, I. The Face of God after Auschwitz (publ. Polak and van Gennep, Amsterdam, 1965) In contrast to churban, shoah suggests destruction without hope.

[xxix] Bouretz op. cit. Page 163 Rosenzweig says that Scholem wrote him the Judaism of the Diaspora ‘was in a state of the clinically dead’

[xxx] The sentence that completes the Earth Charter, contributed by Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp.