I have read this article (free registration or a trip to the library required) twice and I am not quite sure what to make of it. Clearly Professor Feldman wants to belong and be loved by his alma mater (an institution that I know well, warts and all, from my years in Boston and my work in the Jewish world around here). He wants its endorsement of him and his choices. He is also very mad, and feels the need to air some dirty laundry. I can assure Professor Feldman that my own very secular private high school had similarly forced discussions of teen sexuality, similar interventions on the part of administration into the outside lives of students, similar suggestions that particular female students dress or act differently. There is something very Freudian about his whole essay - he wants daddy to love him unconditionally , but he hates daddy and has to hurl insults at him because daddy doesn't love him unconditionally.
But he does strike a nerve with me on a certain element in Jewish life and thought, that being particularism - the idea that Jews are different and special, as our prayers say "chosen from amongst all people," given " a fate very different from their's," and this eventually and sadly turns, for so many Jews, into a "we are better and they are worse" concept that is often expressed in the form of "member of the tribe" silliness and sometimes takes on the far more ugly tones of Baruch Goldstein and others. Not long ago I actually dropped out of a Jewish adult ed class because I was hearing so much of this petty particularism, shielded behind layers of faux anxiety about an inflated sense of vulnerability to anti-semitism, that I wanted to throttle someone or vomit.
Now I understand and believe that we Jews are different, chosen and special. If I thought that other faiths were better, I guess I'd be looking into converting. But I don't believe that each individual Jews is better than each individual gentile. To believe that, and to say it, is to be clannish, tribal and primitive in an ugly and crude way, a way I associate with, well, anti-semites. I am a member of my temple, and I am a proud member of the Jewish people, but I am a member of no tribe.
Professor Feldman's article was published, not coincidentally I suspect, two days before Tisha B'Av, the day of mourning in Jewish life for the destruction of the temple and for so many other tragedies. It is taught that one of the causes of the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, and the years of exile that followed, was baseless hatred, especially of fellow Jews. Many observant Jews spend the afternoon of Tisha B'Av studying texts about gossip, snooping and degrading other people. This Tisha B'Av I'll be thinking about Professor Feldman's essay.