My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Column for July 2015: Boring Shouting Apocalyptic

Dear Rabbi,

I have Facebook friends who are not personal acquaintances, but people in broad circles, friends of friends. Like me, many of them are staunch defenders of Israel. We share personal and public events related to Israel and news reports about the country. Lately, though, I noticed that a vocal minority in my circles has become louder and shriller about their defense of Israel against all criticisms. And beyond that I see a steady stream of apocalyptic pronouncements, statements that assure me of cosmic threats to Israel by numerous nations, and the catastrophic consequences of this or that. An example of recent note is a continuous drumbeat of the doom that awaits Israel (and the world) if the U.S. makes a bad deal with Iran on nuclear development. I have started blocking some of my friends from appearing on my feed because I do not want to participate in their doomsday fear fests. Have I been unfair to my friends?

Fearless In Fair Lawn

Dear Fearless,

On the one hand, your descriptive term apocalyptic does capture the character of some of the rhetoric that we hear at times from those who believe they ought to speculate about the fast-approaching fate of the world.

Genuine apocalyptic literature is a fascinating imaginative genre, a form of speculative theology and a characteristic of some fringe political thought. In Jewish tradition, the visions in the book of Daniel in the Tanach are classic examples of that mindset. The famous vision in Chapter 7 begins: “Daniel said: ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.’” The Dead Sea Scrolls also contain conspicuous examples of the apocalyptic imagination.

This inventive thinking and writing often anticipates a high drama that posits that we are close to the end of days, that a great conflict is imminent, and that colorful mythic creatures — as stand-ins for nations of the world — will be part of the horrifying spectacle.

Given the history of anti-Semitism, it is not entirely far-fetched to imagine a world full of evil empires that target the Jews for elimination. And it is always meritorious to be on guard against the potential onslaught of our enemies.

But the dire predictions of disaster that you are reading on Facebook in obvious ways are not similar to ancient apocalyptic preaching. Those classic visions often cleverly encoded the message of the secrets of the end times. Only a select few knew the full meaning of which symbolic beast referred to which great world power or nation.

The shouting posts on your Facebook page are almost certainly totally transparent and obvious in their references to their specific targets. They are loud and shouting, not subtle or encoded or shrouded in any secret.

Bottom line: What you did by blocking the content was correct. Keep doing it. Turn off the noise. Stay focused. Do not be too distracted by others who constantly catastrophize about the future of the Jewish people or by those who claim with little basis some special or divine inspiration that with little nuance or imagination, enables them to express troubling and alarmist opinions about the destiny of our people.

Try to stay attentive to the here-and-now, and to find positive meaning in the rich content of your own present-day Judaism.

The Dear Rabbi column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Send your questions to DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com.

No comments: