Particularism Before Universalism

T. Belman. Seventeen years after I wrote this, my article has become even more relevant.

Are the citizens of a country entitled to preserve their ethnic or religious makeup or their culture? And who is to decide? The Western model says “no”.

By Ted Belman   (First published in July 2005)

Everyone is familiar will Hillel’s quote, loosely translated, “If  I am not for myself, who am I? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

I have always understood this to mean that an individual must make the case for his particular before making the case for the other. Particularism before universalism. Neither should be to the exclusion of the other, but the former, according to Hillel, comes first. One might add that it is only natural to fight for yourself before fighting for others.

The twentieth century witnessed within the Jewish community a flight from the Jewish particular in favour of the universal. As the Jews came out of the ghetto and shtetl, they shed religion for secularism. They became Communists in Russia, socialists in Europe and liberal Democrats in America.

The Jewish Right wishes to follow Hillel’s dictum by emphasizing the Jewish particular first and then addressing the “other”. Thus, it chooses a Jewish Israel even if it offends the Western notion of democracy. On the other hand, the Jewish Left wishes to do the opposite. It stresses the rights of the other, particularly the “Palestinians”, at the expense of Jewish rights. A case in point is the fence decision by the Israel’s High Court of Justice. The Jewish Right wants Israel to be a Jewish state whereas the Left argues that Israel should be a state like other states or of all its citizens. Binyamin Netanyahu got it right when he said, “Israel is the state of the Jews and not of its citizens.”

In my recent article “It pays to be Jewish”, I argued that Israel, to be a Jewish state, must give pre-eminence to Jewish Civil Law, which flows from the Torah. I implied that freedom of speech should not protect anti-Israel incitement and that persons not loyal to Israel as a Jewish state should have their citizenship revoked and should not be allowed a Knesset seat.

This raised howls of racism from some. But to deny your enemies certain rights is not racism, because it is not based on physical characteristics. It is self-defense, because it is based on their stated intention to destroy us. 

Paul Eidelberg, in his important book Jewish Statesmanship, stands against a loyalty oath as the solution, “It is the height of impudence, of conceit and even of stupidity to grant equal political rights to Arabs in the expectation that they will renounce their religion and 1,300 year old civilization for a ballot box.

[…]From the Torah’s perspective, a people is not a random or amorphous aggregation of individuals. The essence of peoplehood is particularism and not universalism ? which is not to say that particularism precludes universal ideas and ideals such as ethical monotheism. A living people must have a revered past and a profound sense of collective purpose, embodied in national laws and literature and vivified by national holidays and customs. Such a people will experience similar joys and harbour similar thoughts conducive to friendship. They will feel responsible for each other and respond in righteous indignation to assaults on their national honour. Therein is the heart and soul of a people and the reason why their government will not bestow citizenship on foreign elements whose goals or way of life clashes with their own.”

Thus, the question becomes, are the citizens of a country entitled to preserve their ethnic or religious makeup or their culture? And who is to decide? The Western model says “no”. Multiculturalism reigns supreme, as does relativism. No one’s values are better than the values of others. Everything and everybody is to be tolerated, even those who don’t tolerate you. It is easy to see that this is the ultimate destination of universalism. It seeks to render valueless the particular, whether religious or national.

It is paradoxical that the greatest opposition to universalism comes from Muslims, who are the largest intended beneficiary.

While the Left continually excoriates Israel for falling below a standard imposed by them on Israel alone, it totally ignores the reality of the Muslim world. You would think that since the Muslims are most in conflict with their tolerant world view that they should focus on castigating and reforming them. But no, they pick on Israel instead. Could this be antisemitism?

When Jews agonize over the survival of the Jewish people, invariably one asks, “Survive as what?” Obviously, if you give up what makes you Jewish, you, as a Jew, are not surviving. The resistance to assimilation is also often referred to as racism, but it isn’t. It denotes love of self. This is healthy. It is the self-hatred of the Jewish Left who strive to deny the Jewish particular, that is to be rejected, or at least recognized for what it is.

The same goes for Israel. If  Israel would become a bi-national state, it would die as a Jewish state. Even the name Israel could be changed. The Arab Israelis would argue for the Law of Return to apply to them, also. And so on. It will also die as a Jewish state if it doesn’t take steps to preserve its Jewish character. At a minimum, these should include restoring Jewish Civil Law as the supreme law of the land and creating a constitution that permits only Jews to determine its national purpose, character and defense.

I submit that a nation has not only the inherent right of self defense when its national existence is threatened, but also when its cultural essence is at risk. Israel’s enemies deny it both rights. To assert these rights is not racism. Every nation has the right to determine who can immigrate, who can become citizens and what values in its society are inviolable.

Israel even more so. The Torah defines the People of Israel (Am Yisroel) and the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisroel), and the covenant between them and G-d. The People of Israel have a collective responsibility and a mission and a birthright (Israel). Whether or not you believe in G-d, the fact remains that this is the essence of Judaism. This essence has survived for over three thousand years and should continue to survive.

Israel has not only the right to defend this culture, but the duty to do so.

August 29, 2023 | 20 Comments »

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  1. Ted, you have stated the matter very well. But the message cannot be shared with those who are opposed to particularism or wish to create a “state of all its citizens”. I oppose the idea of citizenship for all residents. This clearly needs urgent reform. A Jewish state must be a state only for all (halachic) Jews. Civil rights are humanitarian and can be given to all allowed to live among us in peace, but political rights belong only to those supporting a particular people, a unique nation, a holy nation, Am Yisroel.

  2. I first commented on Ted Belman’s excellent and thoughtful article in January 2022. It is now July 2023 and I would like to add to my remarks. The staggering hypocrisy of the Arabs in this debate is rivaled only by the staggering hypocrisy of the American Left. The citizens of every Arab country in the world, like the radical left in the United States, have no problem with Arab countries protecting and preserving the etnicity, religion, and cultural makeup of their respective countries. The only middle eastern country that is ever criticized is Israel, the Jewish homeland. The hypocrisy is so stunningly antisemitic, it is breathtaking. Every sovereign nation has a right to determine its own organizing and operating principles. In the United States, our organizing and operating principles are codified in the U.S.Constitution, which is are also criticized by the anti-American radical left. The Left views the Constitution as an obstacle to its own hopes and dreams for socialism. The American Left is as much an enemy of the state in the United States as it is an enemy of the State of Israel. There is no multiculturalism in Islam, and there is no multiculturalism in Leftism. Both are hypocritical replacement ideologies that seek to replace the codified principles of the host nation with their own ideology. Leftism and Islamism are enemies of the State.

  3. @pjbar

    How so?? Your cryptic comment , is ….cryptic. Please post the Eidelberg portion, and my misreading, if you please. It is very intriguing at least.

    (but…be warned..I even remember what I had for breakfast four years ago, on any day you mentions).

    And you could be right, and perhaps I am more (or less) right today than then.

    The Arab hatred is real, although baseless. Take our closest neighbours, Jordan, I think they hit over 80% on the Jew-Hatred scale, Egypt perhaps even more, and Syria….don’t ask..

    ( I assume you refer to Islam, maybe just Arabs??)

    But, so that I know what you are talking about.first, elucidate.

  4. Edgar, you misread (4 years ago) Eidelberg who certainly knew about the knavery and hostility towards Jews in Islamic history.

  5. “…a person cannot rise to the broad circle of universalism except by means of one’s strong connection to his own people….” – Rav Kook, Eyn Ayah, Shabbat A 1:49.

  6. I agree. Excellent article. I am somewhat reminded of this quote from Lenin:

    “We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!”

    Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, “Dogmatism And ‘Freedom of Criticism’” (1901)

  7. An excellent discourse. Should be reposted yearly.

    Every group has the right to chose it’s own path to destiny. The Jews chose, as it says in Pirke Avot, “Torah, Study, and Charity”. (acts of loving kindness)..They can, and have worked successfully as a whole.

    One might describe this as a combination of Particularism and Universalism. BUT, the positions of the 3 Pillars, were deliberately placed in that order.

    Ignoring the focus on Jews for the moment, It is the nature of people of character and determination, to “circle the wagons” and become even more determined in their convictions, when faced with attacks.

    No people in recorded history have faced, such inhumanity to our existence, and have emerged as a strong, viable, increasing entity, except the Jews..

    In many places people who practice some form of Judaism are emerging and desire to become fully Jewish. Some have Jewish ancestry, others have imagination.

    {There are Mandaeans, originally Jews, followers of John the Baptiser, mentioned by Josephus, now spread worldwide, whose religious leader is named a Rabbi, and whose houses of prayer are “mishkans”}.

    The Jewish core remains even more steadfast. We are observing today both in Israel and abroad.

    Even this very blog shows an indication of this.

  8. @Ted
    Thank you very much for recalling and sharing this very insightful article from among your past writings. As you noted, it has stood the test of time quite well and seems quite disposed to have been written yesterday. In truth, such a poignant reminder of our people’s right to establish and cherish our own identity, as well as our duty to secure these rights against all forces opposing us to do so, will always hold a point of relevance. Your thoughtful approach and probing examination provides a very rewarding analysis, relating so many threads of logic to weave a beautiful tapestry of truth.

  9. And yet this universalism favors the particularism of our enemies, while cracking down on our own, citing democracy or free speech, hypocritcally. Very Marxist, or actually pre-revolution Leninist.

  10. Excellent Writing Ted. Great Points. You should be proud of your article.

    I love and live by the quote of Hillel.

    “If I am not for myself, who am I? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?

  11. Howard Bochner wrote:

    Beautifully said Ted- more pressing today than in 2005 as the globalist (phoney “universalist”) determination to undo Israel from without and within continues unabated. The success in turning American, Canadian, British, etc. Jews against Israel is astounding and does not bode well.
    As noted before, a world without a Jewish state will put all Jews, everywhere, at great peril.

  12. @Linda
    Jews take inspiration and guidance from the Torah.
    The US constitution did likewise.
    And now US citizens take guidance from the US constitution..
    If Jews and Americans cease doing that , they will be no more.

  13. The conundrum of particularism v. universalism was resolved by our Founding Fathers in the U.S. through our extraordinary Constitution. These thoughtful men established the balance between particularism and universalism by providing a common denominator for all citizens to uphold, in a society of ordered liberty. Anyone unwilling to live by the laws of the Constitution could leave the U.S. and live elsewhere in the world.

    The failure of multiculturalism is that there is no common denominator, instead it promotes the fiction that all belief systems and all philosophies are equal. They aren’t. It is insanity to insist that a supremacist ideology, whether secular or religious, will ever live in peace with a competing ideology. This fact of life explains why leftists, globalists, socialists, and Islamists in the U.S. are cooperating and coordinating efforts to destroy the U.S. Constitution––it is the bulwark against their supremacist ideologies.

    The attacks against Israel’s sovereignty as a Jewish state, and against the United States as a sovereign nation are designed to collapse both countries into the dystopian future of planetary governance. In the Great Reset of the managerial state it will not matter who is a Jew, who is a Christian, or who is a Muslim etc etc – there will be no competing ideologies, secular or religious, there will only be the regressive return to the binary socio-political system of rulers and ruled––slavery in the 21st century––lipstick painted on the same feudal pig courtesy of the COVID19 hysteria.

  14. A most excellent short statement on why we Jews cannot be multiculturalists and why we must be unafraid to assert our values and our right to express those values in our national homeland. See also my book, Tolerism: The Ideology Revealed and Salim Mansur’s Delectable Lie: A liberal repudiation of multiculturalism.

  15. All taken together this is a very perceptive and thought-provoking article.

    Eidelberg’s book may have been very important, but he missed what was glaring at him right between his eyes.

    He said…”It’s the height of impudence, conceit and stupidity” to expect the Arabs to renounce their religion and a 1300 year old civilisation for a ballot box”..

    I see the foolishness being on HIS part, for wringing his hands over expecting that an Arab would keep his oath of “loyalty” for signing a piece of paper. It shows that with all his undeniable brilliance and learning, he knows little or nothing about his subject matter…the Arabs, in particular..their “religion”.which is based on brigandage, slavery, slaughter….. and subjugation.

    If the Western ideal is that “no one’s values are better than those of any others.” Then what can be said about the tribes where slavery is still rife, and occasional human body parts,are served up as a delectable ritual tidbit. Are their cannibalistic or slave taking values as good as our western enlightened ones…

    I think that –and not just because I’m a vegetarian– I prefer my own values.