[Marxism] Am I a Jew?

dan d.koechlin at wanadoo.fr
Tue Oct 9 16:34:35 MDT 2012


Namaste mera yaar !

My wife, although her ancestors are from Bihar, self-identifies as 
"Indian" ("Hindustani"). She understands Hindi of course, but really 
speaks Bhojpuri (which is considered a "local variant of Hindi" 
according to the latest Indian census, although it is as different from 
Hindi as Burn's Scots is from Standard English. "/Some ha/'e meat and 
canna eat, And /some ha/'e none that want it.").

On the whole, she is nominaly a Hindu, but assures me that one can be an 
"atheist Hindu" because all that is required to be regarded as a Hindu 
is "having an Indian-sounding name and not eating cow meat". In fact, 
atheism has always been part of the Hindu tradition (it was one of the 
medieval "materialist schools of Hindu thought"). So a "liberal Hindu" 
such as my wife can very well NOT believe in reincarnation, life after 
death or even God and still be considered a Hindu. Being Hindu is a 
cultural thing. Hinduism is a broad umbrella term for the myriad of 
indigenous beliefs of the Indian subcontinent (ranging from animism to 
penentheism, and from pantheism to monotheism), in which every 
household, every village, every district, every social class, has its 
own beliefs. All attempts to unify the Sannata Dharm are useless, as 
some will see devotion to A God as leading to salvation, others
reject "karma" and "good works", others reject worshipping idols 
"because God is everywhere" (Arya Sammaj), others see local spirits as 
spiritual guides, others believe ascetism and renouncing the world 
utterly to be the path to "union with the Divine", etc. Hinduism is an 
incredibly complex expression of the various cultures of the different 
peoples of the Indian sub-continent, in which syncreticism and mysticism 
dominate.

India is choke full of clans that view themselves as "God's chosen 
people". The Rajputs (although very late arrivals in India) say they are 
descended from the Sun, The Jats as Brhamins or Kshatriyas, the Brahmins 
as Brahma's head, each and every sub-caste as the chosen people of some 
deity or another, etc.
I have known many Brahmins that refused to eat with me, on account of 
religious pollution. Some go so far as to burn all kitchen utensils used 
for preparing a meal for a non-Brahmin, as a pan or saucer can spread 
defilement.
In many regions of India, untouchables were supposed to vacate the 
street as soon as a touchable appeared, as their physical presence could 
sully the elect. Ten years ago, a Brahmin neighbourhood in New Delhi 
rioted when a block of flats was constructed nearby : the shadow of the 
"not twice-born' would have fallen on the Brahmin community.

So for an Indian, the concept of "the chosen tribe" is far easier to 
understand than for people brought up in universalist religions such as 
Christianity. Just observe the fierce exclusivism of some castes and 
clans, their endogamous marriages, their strict dietary taboos, their 
insistance on performing certain trades and not others, their pride on a 
mythical ancestry, their observance of caste-specific rituals, their 
worship of common ancestors and household deities, their distinctive 
dress which they refuse to alter (even though it means being fired by 
their employer), etc. It is quite impossible to convince a "twice-born" 
to shave his "shikha" hair-style and adopt more western clothing. Some 
do, in a bid to become more "mainstream", but even for them, the shaving 
of the "shikha" is a major cause of shame and betrayal of their clan roots.

Judaism resembles Hinduism but on a much more restricted level. There 
are Liberal Jews and Orthodox Jews, Hassidim and Conservative Jews, and 
many different cultural manifestations of Jewishness. But on the whole, 
Judaism remains a "religion of THE BOOK", which is not the case of 
Hinduism (despite claims that the Vedas, which nobody reads or even 
knows, are the foundation of Hinduism. As for the Bhagavad Gita it is 
only one amongst many mystical texts, even though many Hindu sects draw 
inspiration from it).

There is the sense that Judaism has gone through an authoritarian 
bottleneck at some point, when the different traditions of the 
inhabitants of 1st Millenium BC Palestine were welded together under the 
auspices of a jealous Storm God, YHWEH to suit the needs of a 
politically dominant priestly-class in the Judean HIghlands. The Torah  
and the Talmud considerably restrict possible metaphysical speculation, 
which was never the case for Hinduism. Although Jewish mysticism went on 
to explain the existence of evil through successive emanations of the 
divine (like Hinduism) and used reincarnation for exactly the same 
purposes as Hindus (God cannot justly punish an individual for sins 
committed in one tiny lifetime, dependent as it is on social conditions; 
an individual needs more time to learn the difference between good and 
evil and must experience more modes of existence), Judaism is not a 
"happy go lucky" religion like Hinduism. There is an authority which 
derives from scripture in a way that is not seen in Hinduism, where the 
Vedas, Upanishads and Ramayana are seen as allegorical, and each sect 
cherry picks the passages they like. Hinduism basically lacks the same 
kind of unifying, centralizing authority that goes with the Rabbinical 
tradition that emerged in 1st century AD Judaism.

This means Hinduism can be very appealing to Westerners, provided the 
version of Hinduism presented is of the "Advaita" (Absolute Monism) and 
Pantheistic kind. Advaita, as developed by Shankara (10th century AD), 
stresses the fact that Eveything is of the Same Substance, and thus that 
God is Everything, and that the tragic fact of  Human individual 
consciousness (the ego)  prevents us from realizing that we are God, God 
is everything and we are Everything, "just as a drop of water will end 
up rejoining the river and then the ocean". It is however highly bizarre 
that one of the most succesful strands of Hinduism in the West is not 
"advaita", but, on the contrary, a highly sectarian (by Indian 
standards) religious movement based on a narrow interpretation of the 
worship of Krishna and Rama as incarnations of Vishnu : the Hare Krishna 
movement.

I believe comparisons of Hinduism and Judaism are interesting, as they 
highlight how beliefs are molded by social factors.

India has always been a society dominated by the civilized (towns and 
villages)/uncivilized (forests and mountains) dichotomy. Wild forest 
tribes were long considered a menace in many parts of India, and 
historical records show each great Hindu prince leading punitive 
expeditions to subdue unruly highland clans (from Asoka to the Moghuls). 
But the social dynamics were ever changing, some long established social 
groups becoming marginalized and "barbarians" becoming rapidly 
integrated once they gained the upper hand (over a period of two or 
three generations). Hinduism evolved from the constant admixture of 
various tribal beliefs and local deities with more metaphysically 
complex notions originating within the iron-age urban centres 
(philosophers, merchants, those who could write). Sects such as Buddhism 
and Janaism, from the 6th century BC onwards (or earlier if one takes 
the Upanishads into account) had a profound influence on popular 
Hinduism, so that current Hinduism is very unlike 2nd millennium BC 
Brahmanism. In particular the abandonment of earlier animal sacrifices 
and the promotion of vegetarianism are clearly due to such sectarian 
influences. In fact it is not an exaggeration to claim that Buddhism and 
Janaism are atheistic brands of Hinduism (a position supported by many 
Hindus).The influence of Tantrism in the medieval period also brought a 
more individualistic bent to Hinduism.

By contrast, Judaism has never been able to really come to terms with 
the absolute distinction between God on the one hand and His creation on 
the other (despite the Kaballah and Spinoza). The JEwish people have 
forsaken God and must endeavour to re-sanctify the world through strict 
adherence to the Law. This strikes a chord whith some aspects of 
Hinduist practice (importance of ritual as allegory) but Hinduism 
locates original sin not in the displeasure of an almighty God with his 
creation but within the limitations of earhtly existence per se. That is 
karma ("deeds") is a product of human actions which cannot but produce 
limited, ugly, human consequences.



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