Sunday, August 2, 2009

Geometric Misconfiguration

The model most in use when discussing Judaism is a linear one, literally. We tend to think of Judaism as if it were a line, with a left, middle and right. We discuss groupings of Jews according to where they fall on this line. We talk about the Ultra Right, the Centrist, the Ultra Left. So, do we really fit that linear model? Is it useful? Does it skew or help our thinking?

Let's say we have a line of two inches in length. Mathematically the center or mid point of a line divides the line into two equal halfs, with just as much line to the right as there is to the left of this mid point. Now what if our line got longer? What if we added two more inches to the right of the line? Where would the center now be? Mathematically, it doesn't matter whether you draw the two extra inches on the right or on the left or in the middle; the midpoint is going to fall exactly centered. So, in order for there to be a left and a right on that line, there must be a central dividing point. This is not, however, how things seem to be working in Klal. There have been numerous additions to the right of that original center, but those groups added keep the old center point, thus pointing out that they are more numerous than those center to left. Unfortunately, social historians can point out that the "inches" being added to the line are more numerous all the way to the left. So argument after argument takes place about where the center really is and how long the line really is on either side of that center point. And while we argue who is the center, or central, nothing gets done but arguing.

I believe it would be of more use to us to choose a different geometric figure: the circle. Points on a line can see themselves as disconnected from other points on that line; they can see themselves heading in different directions, left or right. On a circle all points are connected; they, together, form an enclosed, united figure. Yes, the circle can grow bigger or smaller, but it still remains a circle. There is no left or right. We are all members of Klal Yisroel, part of the circle. Whatever differences we have, we share a commonality: we are Jews. The world sees us all that way: it is we who have trouble doing so. There is also a fixed centrality to the center point of a circle; no matter how large or how small the circle gets, the center point remains the same. And no part of a circle's circumference, by definition, is closer to the center point than another, nor further away from it.

It's very easy in an argument to throw out "That's right wing shtuss" or "That's left wing shtuss." And what have we really said? What have we added to the argument? What facts have we presented? NONE. If we take away the terms of a line--left, center, right--we might just get a discussion going.

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