Thursday, November 08, 2007

Jewish cowboy

Thanks to Bob I found this clip, featuring a song by the Montreal "Socalled" hip-hop group, "Jewish Cowboy". It's a bizarre video, I'm not quite sure what it means to convey. Is it a deconstruction of the image of the nice Jewish boy? Is the cowboy really the opposite of the Jewish man? Or is it an attempt of synthesis of sorts, the ideal man, combining the attractive ruggedness of the cowboy with the intelligence and finicky ethics of a Jewish man? An unlikely combination between the ultimate "inside" guy, with his drawling confidence of his place and legitimacy, and the perpetual apologetic outsider, who has to re-establish his credentials again and again? Is it an amusing amalgam, or a rather sad comment on the seeming intractability of entrenched oppositions?

From the testimony of a bona-fide Jewish cowboy:

"But when other people meet the Jewish cowboy, they're often shocked. "I was just fiddling around with my lasso rope, jumping in and out of it, popping it over my head. I didn't know anybody was watching," Scott says. "Then some old guy says to me, 'What are you? A Mexican?' I said, 'No, I'm a Jew.' And he said, 'The hell you are. Ain't no Jew who can handle a rope like that."

I like this part, on Scott's take of what it means for him to be a Jew:

"To be a Jew was to be a slave in Egypt, a middle-class worker in America, or a member of a kibbutz in Israel. A Jew, as he understood it, felt connected to the land and believed in socialist values. For him, it makes perfect sense that he's a Jew and a cowboy. “I'm involved in agriculture, just as my fore bearers were,” Scott explains, “I feel really proud to work the land as a Jew.”

Yes. I think I can agree with this: hard work and socialist values. This particular Jewish redneck happened to hit on the very core definition of Judaic ethos provided by the ancient Jewish sages:

Pirkei Avot 1:2:

Simon the Just was of the remnants of the Great Assembly. He used to say: On three things the world stands: on the Torah, on the Service, and on Deeds of Loving-Kindness.

Which means:

Torah - the pursuit of konwledge and excellence

Service - physical work, through which we become partners with G-d in the work of creation

Acts of loving-kindness - a concept which goes beyond mere charity. Charity is materialistic sharing of one's wealth or possessions, while kind acts require that we extend ourselves, as well as our possessions. Charity is given only to the poor, whereas acts of loving kindness are extended to the poor as well as the rich.

I wonder if Hannah Arendt knew she was echoing this exact sentiment when she wrote what for me encapsulates the very definition of genuine compassion :

“For solidarity, because it partakes of reason, and hence of generality, is able to comprehend a multitude conceptually, not only the multitude of a class or a nation or a people, but eventually all mankind. But this solidarity, though it may be aroused by suffering, is not guided by it, and it comprehends the strong and the rich no less than the weak and the poor”.

There, Bob, see what you've done? You post a link to a song, and I end up quoting Arendt, yet again ... :-)


At 11:16 AM EST, Blogger bob said...

A wonderful post. Thank you.


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