Judaism for the Thinking Person

Dara Horn‘s ”People Love Dead Jews” and the Erasure of Jewish Difference

November 17, 2021

In this sermon -- playing on the Rabbinic commentary that the name of the Torah portion that mentions Sarah's death is called "The Life [or Lives] of Sarah" because we should celebrate the lives she lead rather than think of her death-- I discuss Dara Horn's new book People Love Dead Jews, which argues that the non-Jewish world loves books about Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel because the stories of these dead Jews teaches us something universal and moralistic about ourselves, rather than challenging us to think of what Jewish lives are like, how they are different, how they might challenge us.  How is it that Wiesel's Night went from its original form, a scathing accusation against the Euopean bystanders who let the Holocaust happen to a book about God's hiding?  Because God's hiding happens in each of our lives, like a universalistic lesson about life's tragedies, and allows us to avoid the deep questions of Jewish difference and anti-Semitism.  In this teaching, I also ask whether we Jews are guilty of this:  inviting in our own Romantic visions of our ancestors --which allows us to live a two dimensional moralizing vision of them-- rather than embracing their difference, and practicing our own.

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