In a telling episode at the start of his latest book Out of the ashes, Professor Marc H. Ellis tells of an encounter, in New Zealand during a speaking tour, when his arguments were dismissed by an Israeli member of the panel with the simple but caustic phrase “he doesn’t even speak our language”. And indeed Ellis freely admits that he doesn’t speak ‘their’ language, taking that language to be a state form of Hebrew, a Hebrew that has moved “from the liturgical sphere to the nation state”.
Ellis, the Director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University, Texas, is a prolific and outspoken writer on the subject of Jewish identity. He strongly defends his right as an American Jew to discuss the Israel/Palestine question, and has done so eloquently and repeatedly. His writings have received praise from quarters such as Edward Said, Noam Chomsky and Archbishop Tutu, amongst others. At the same time his criticism of Israeli militarism has put him on top of the list of so-called ‘self-hating’ Jews. He calls for the re-finding of the ‘prophetic’, and, in this writer’s opinion, he leads courageously through his own actions.
His latest book, Out of the Ashes is subtitled The search for Jewish Identity in the Twenty-First Century. Professor Ellis exchanged emails with Three Monkeys Online.
The title Out of the Ashes is a strong and provocative one – Out of the ashes of what? Of Jewish identity? Of the Palestinian People?
Out of the ashes can mean many things and different people attach different meaning to the term. Some have associated with the Holocaust. The choice for me was rather innocent. The situation in Israel/Palestine had reached a nadir; we needed to find a way out of the depths, the ashes of destruction.
“At this point in history there is little difference between mainline Judaism and mainline Christianity. Symbolism aside, they have for all practical purposes become the same religion”1. In what sense do you believe Judaism and Christianity have become the same? How does this manifest itself?
If we act like Christians – with violence at the center of our religiosity – we might as well adopt their name. Of course what I am talking about is a certain form of Christianity, Constantinian Christianity, that assimilated to the State and power. We now have a Constantinian Judaism, assimilated to state and power in America and Israel. The practice is the same – violence, aggression and a pretence to innocence. Constantinian Judaism is just as violent as Constantinian Christianity – or, for that matter, Constantinian Islam.
Does ‘Holocaust theology’ necessitate an embrace of power? Is there another way to deal with the Holocaust, for both Jews and Christians alike?
As it has worked out, Holocaust theology has embraced power. But that need not be: a major lesson of the Holocaust is that no people should ever suffer the way Jews have – especially those on the other side of Jewish power. The lesson of the Holocaust is that every oppression should be resisted.