Power, Identity, Violence
The Jewish religion was admirably fitted for defense, but was never designed for conquest. Gibbon,
My thesis is that rabbinic Judaism and Pauline Christianity as two different hermeneutic systems for reading the Bible generate two diametrically opposed, but mirror-like, forms of racism—and also two dialectical possibilities of anti-racism. In the discussion that follows I shall try to pay attention equally to all four terms of this dialectic.
The genius of Christianity is its concern for all of the peoples of the world; the genius of rabbinic Judaism is its ability to leave other people alone. This is grounded theologically in rabbinic Judaism in the notion that in order to achieve salvation, Jews are required to perform (or better, to attempt to perform) the entire 613 commandments, while non-Jews are required only to perform seven commandments given to Noah that form a sort of natural, moral Law. Jewish theology understands the Jewish People to be priests performing a set of ritual acts on behalf of the entire world. Clearly, the temptation to arrogance is built into such a system, but not the temptation to “Sacred Violence” that leads to forced conversion, whether by the sword, ridicule, or the Pound, or deculturation in the name of the new human community. Christianity is the system that proposes that there is something which is necessary for all: faith in Jesus Christ.
And the evils of the two systems are the precise obverse of these genii. If in Christian churches today, one may be uplifted by the expression of concern—and often activist intervention—on behalf of the oppressed peoples of the world, one is equally troubled, often enough, by the missionizing activities and discourses of those same churches. On the other hand, in most traditional synagogues one would be hard put to discover that gentiles exist, except as enemies of the Jews or potential enemies, friends of the Jews or potential friends, but at least no one is proposing to convert or change those gentiles into Jews. Indeed, the explicit theological notion is that they may earn a place in the Next World without even hearing of Jews, let alone converting to Judaism.
Pauline universalism even at its most liberal and benevolent has been a powerful force for coercive discourses of sameness, denying, as we have seen, the rights of Jews, women, and others to retain their difference (Connolly 1991, 42 ff.). As Balibar has realized, this “universalism” is indeed a racism:
This discourse was characteristic of liberal Germany, as Marc Shell points out, and still persists in the United States of today in such “liberal” expressions as “too Jewish.”  Shell documents such notions in the discourse of the contemporary Russian ideologue Igor Sharevich, who argues that Jews must abandon their difference if they wish to be full citizens of Russia (Shell 1991, 332). The paradox in such discourse is that nearly always, as Shell emphasizes, the justification for coercing Jews to become Christian, Russian, citizens of the world is paradoxically the alleged intolerance of—the Jews. The parallels between this modern liberal discourse and that of Paul—and perhaps even more so of Justin Martyr as discussed above—seem obvious to me.
This leads us to direct our attention towards a historical fact that is even more difficult to admit and yet crucial, taking into consideration the French national form of racist traditions. There is, no doubt, a specifically French brand of the doctrines of Aryanism, anthropometry and biological geneticism, but the true “French ideology” is not to be found in these: it lies rather in the idea that the culture of the “land of the Rights of Man” has been entrusted with a universal mission to educate the human race. There corresponds to this mission a practice of assimilating dominated populations and a consequent need to differentiate and rank individuals or groups in terms of their greater or lesser aptitude for—or resistance to—assimilation. It was this simultaneously subtle and crushing form of exclusion/inclusion which was deployed in the process of colonization and the strictly French (or “democratic”) variant of the “White man's burden.” (Balibar 1991a, 24)
The Rabbis' insistence on the centrality of Peoplehood can thus be read as a radical critique of Paul as well, for if the Pauline move had within it the possibility of breaking out of the tribal allegiances and commitments to one's own family, as it were, it also contained the seeds of an imperialist and colonizing missionary practice. The very emphasis on a universalism expressed as concern for all of the families of the world turns very rapidly (if not necessarily) into a doctrine that they must all become part of our family of the spirit, with all of the horrifying practices against Jews and other Others which Christian Europe produced. The doctrine of the Apostle of the Free Spirit can be diverted, even perverted, to a doctrine of enslaving and torturing bodies. As Henri Baudet has remarked of late-fifteenth-century Portugal:
Paul had indeed written, with notorious ambiguity, “For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing [lived with his father's wife]. When you are assembled and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:3–5). It is surely Paul's own sense of self as divided into body and spirit, so that his spirit can be where his body is not—and he means this literally, not as metaphor—, that permits some of his followers to practice torturing and killing bodies to save the souls. (I am not, of course, suggesting that this was Paul's “intent.”) Disdain for the bodies of others, when combined with concern for their souls, can be even more devastating than neglect of both.
Although the bodies of Negroes might be held captive, this very fact made it possible for their souls to achieve true freedom through conversion to Christianity. And so the enslavement of Negroes took on a kind of missionary aspect. It was in keeping that christened Negro slaves should enjoy certain small privileges above their fellows. (Baudet 1965, 30)
As sharply, however, as this coercion to conform must be exposed as a racism, we must also be prepared to recognize that Jewish difference with its concomitant nearly exclusive emphasis on caring for other Jews—even when Jews are powerless and dominated—can become an ugly lack of caring for the fate of others and thus another form of racism, logically opposed to the first but equally as dangerous. The insistence on difference can produce an indifference (or worse) toward Others. The ways in which “benign neglect” can and have become malignant in Jewish texts can readily be documented. From the retrospective position of a world which has, at the end of the second Christian millennium, become thoroughly interdependent, each one of these options is intolerable. A dialectic that would utilize each of these as antithesis to the other, correcting in the “Christian” system its tendencies toward a coercive universalism and in the “Jewish” system its tendencies toward contemptuous neglect for human solidarity might lead beyond both toward a better social system. At present, rather than the best of the two cultures being allowed to critique each other, the most pernicious aspects of both of these hermeneutic systems are in an unholy alliance with each other, so that ethnic/racial superiority has been conjoined with spatial, political domination and the constraint towards conformity in the discourse of nationalism and self-determination. For five hundred years we have seen the effects of such a conjunction in the practices of Christian Europe, and now we see its effects mutatis mutandis in many of the practices of the Jewish state. Jewish difference can indeed be dangerous, as the Palestinians know only too well, but Christian universalism has been historically even more dangerous, as Jews, Muslims, Native Americans, Africans, and others have been forced to demonstrate with their bodies. Insistence on genealogical identity and its significance has been one of the major forms of resistance against such violence. In other words, the rabbinic Jewish insistence that there is a difference between Jew and Greek and that that difference has value can be a liberatory force in the world, a force that works for a contemporary politics of the value of difference—feminist, gay, multicultural, postcolonial—against coercive sameness. In the next section I am going to make the perhaps surprising claim that genealogy as a grounding of identity, while suspiciously close to being racist and always in danger of becoming such, need not function politically as racism. Indeed, I suggest that grounding in genealogy is necessary for any secular notion of Jewish identity at all and further that it plays the political role for Jewishness that essentialism plays for feminism and gay identity politics (cf. Sedgwick 1990, 75–85).