Geno­cide in Jew­ish Thought

David Pat­ter­son
  • Review
By – June 7, 2013
Steeped in Jew­ish texts and Jew­ish thought, David Pat­ter­son bril­liant­ly elu­ci­dates the con­nec­tion between abstract ego­cen­tric think­ing and geno­ci­dal action in cer­tain forms of envi­ron­men­tal­ism that view the pres­ence of human beings as a blight on earth, in an indif­fer­ence to the hun­gry and the home­less, and in total­i­tar­i­an regimes that use tor­ture to lay total claim to the con­trol of tar­get­ed human beings. Tak­en to their log­i­cal extreme, ide­olo­gies that reduce human beings to a con­cept, an abstrac­tion rather than con­crete indi­vid­u­als with faces, per­son­al­i­ties, and souls,” can lead to the geno­cides of Nation­al Social­ism, the Jihadist geno­cide in Dar­fur and to Jihadist Jew-hatred. To com­bat these ten­den­cies, Pat­ter­son argues, we need a mode of thought that is con­crete and that rec­og­nizes and cel­e­brates the real­i­ty of indi­vid­ual per­son­hood and worth. Jew­ish thought pro­vides a mod­el of such think­ing because it syn­the­sizes the abstract and the con­crete, the mind and the body with a par­tic­u­lar appre­ci­a­tion of the divine spark con­tained in the soul. It also takes seri­ous­ly the eth­i­cal insights root­ed in the divine com­mand: you shall not mur­der.” Peo­ple who think con­crete­ly are also capa­ble of mur­der, but, he believes, their vio­lence is less like­ly to become geno­ci­dal since geno­cides are root­ed in spec­u­la­tive abstrac­tions. 

This is an eru­dite book that brings togeth­er the dis­ci­plines of phi­los­o­phy, the­ol­o­gy, Jew­ish thought, and Jew­ish mys­ti­cism. It will be of great inter­est to schol­ars and informed gen­er­al read­ers con­cerned about the ori­gins of reli­gious­ly sanc­tioned vio­lence and genocide. 
Michael N. Dobkows­ki is a pro­fes­sor of reli­gious stud­ies at Hobart and William Smith Col­leges. He is co-edi­tor of Geno­cide and the Mod­ern Age and On the Edge of Scarci­ty (Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press); author of The Tar­nished Dream: The Basis of Amer­i­can Anti-Semi­tism; and co-author of The Nuclear Predicament.

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