kittybecca in English

qua.name blog in English of kittybecca. Everything on here is CC0, for the record.

I've gotten way angrier at Jewish leftists over the last week than is probably constructive or helpful, but when I see Ashkenazi Jewish leftists say, for example, that “the Hebrew language is Zionist,” I just have to gag. Like what's the point of this? Yiddish gets a major chunk of its vocabulary from Hebrew and Aramaic; that's why it exists. Yiddish, Hebrew, and Aramaic were and are inseparable parts of the Ashkenazi civilization, which is part of the broader Jewish civilization.

I get a sense of how people come to spout this rubbish. It was genuinely hard when I was rejected by my family, living in DC, on the verge of homelessness and later homeless, feeling utterly vulnerable – but at the same time I finally found a group of people who were saying things that I absolutely did agree with and had been reading about myself and thought it'd be really hard to find anyone in the world who wouldn't think I was crazy for saying them, except they were saying them easily. But then when I say something like, “Hebrew is a Jewish language. I was born with a Hebrew name, as is every other Jew,” they look at me suddenly like I'm crazy, and try to explain to me that Ashkenazi Jews spoke Yiddish, and were German or Russian converts, etc.. And then another one says, “You know, I don't really see you as Jewish, you're one of the good ones,” etc.

I can't say I ever came to agree with them on these things, but I also put up with a lot more of it than I really should have, and I think a lot of Jews just come to ape it because it's either this crowd or that crowd. It is extremely draining to repeatedly have to assert that yes, I am Jewish and it is not OK to compliment me for not being like those other Jews, for not interrupting other people when they talk the way those bad Jews always do. I take no joy in the degree to which I have lost Jewish mannerisms because of goyish violence. It is not a virtue of mine. Cooperative overlap is not inherently worse than the WASPy manner of speaking that is demanded in polite American society.

This is part of why I was excited about the rise in interest in the Jewish left – “oh finally, I don't have to put up with this antisemitic bullshit anymore!” But it just gets brought into a lot of leftist Jewish spaces from outside. Jews policing each other, as always.

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Comparing atrocities is absolutely valid and necessary in order to gain any sense of perspective on any problem, and abdicating your responsibility to do so is a form of moral cowardice. There are material differences between executing 2/3 of an entire population with the aim of exterminating all of that population, vs. doing other bad things that aren't that. Say it with me: Not every bad thing is the Holocaust. You can call something bad without calling it the Holocaust.

In light of the fact that Israel has never attempted to exterminate the Palestinian people, and has certainly never killed 2/3 of the entire Palestinian population, its crimes do not hold a candle to those of Nazi Germany or even to America, which killed most of the pre-existing population of the territory it now controls. However, it is and must be valid to point out the similarities in ways of thinking that could make Israel comparable to Nazi Germany in the future – including the genocidal ambitions of many on Israel's right. And it must be said that Israel is still bad. Just as despite the fact that the USSR's crimes are not comparable to those of Nazi Germany, the USSR was still bad.

This isn't an abstract issue of theoretical debate. There are people literally saying things like, “Jewish partisans were just as bad as Serbian Nazi collaborators, or perhaps worse, since Serbian Nazi collaborators were at least patriots fighting the Soviets.” Or saying, “Israel turned around and did the exact same thing Nazi Germany did to them.” Jewish partisans are being accused of being war criminals by countries that are simultaneously rehabilitating the reputations of those who enthusiastically helped round the Jews up, while Holocaust survivors who die in Jerusalem are being mercilessly and viciously attacked by so-called “anti-Zionists” on Twitter, with precious few people coming to the defense of Jews and with a great many parvenu leftist Jews coming to the defense of the anti-Semites.

To compare the USSR or Israel to the Nazis is a form of Holocaust revisionism, as it seeks to obfuscate the gravity of Hitler's crimes and gaslight the people who escaped from them and ended up doing bad things. The first is a type of comparison that is common on the right, while the second is a type of comparison that has long been widely accepted on the left. Attempting to address this subtle antisemitism and subtle Holocaust revisionism on the left leads to the sort of dogpiling and widely-accepted Kiwifarms-level trolling that ultimately drove me off of Mastodon.

This makes the future of the left seem rather bleak, and yet I'm too class-conscious to be anything else. Unfortunately, the left has yet to care about Jews, based in large part on its own history that it refuses to confront. Under the Bolsheviks you could be Jewish only if you subordinated your Jewishness to working-class politics – Jews had no rights as a class, and anyone who said otherwise was a nationalist and a reactionary. The leftist and secularist Bund was dissolved for this exact reason, and viciously attacked by Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, and others.

Then all of a sudden, only a few decades later, the Soviets started supporting literal religious nationalist reactionaries elsewhere in the world because they were “anti-imperialist”, often favoring nationalist reactionary movements over their left-wing opponents. But even with the Soviets' excuse for antisemitism out the window, Jews still weren't allowed to have any identity as a group, because for Jews in the USSR to have such an identity would undermine the USSR's own imperialist politics and wars.

Today, the idea that Jews are not allowed to argue for rights collectively has survived into the New Left, as argued in this brilliant article on Jewish liberation and decolonization. Just go and read that if you're still confused. It may be too late to salvage this current cycle of antisemitism, or maybe it isn't – I'd like to believe it isn't – but this cycle has to end. The liberation of all oppressed people depends on this cycle ending.

Another quick post to list the new designs I've made this week for my Redbubble and Teepublic stores.

  1. “Zayt Gey, Makht Farbrekhns” (Be Gay, Do Crime) at Redbubble and Teepublic.

  2. “English, Thou Sniveler, Spekestou In Hit?” at Redbubble and Teepublic. Because Middle English is funny.

  3. “I'm One Of The Bad Jews” at Redbubble, which had already long been sold at Teepublic and I only just now got around to adding it to Redbubble.

Also, I wrote a post on other ways to support me which is now pinned.

It is a view commonly held among amateur linguists, among whom I count myself, that Modern Hebrew is a constructed language “invented” by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. The official Tumblr of the Language Creation Society recently alluded to this, sparking a discussion on the LCS list which introduced a number of equally ridiculous claims, such as that Modern Hebrew was a “reconstructed language” in the same sense as Proto-Indo-European. I have edited my own remarks and am presenting them here, along with other things I subsequently learned.

It shouldn't need to be said that Eliezer Ben-Yehuda did not need to reconstruct or invent the grammar of Modern Hebrew, which was instead based on the grammar of the Mishnah and of late Biblical Hebrew (see Kohelet for example). All of the changes between what many people incorrectly regard as “true Hebrew” (older Hebrew) and Mishnaic Hebrew were caused by the influence of Aramaic, where present participles are used to form the present tense (using suffixed pronouns in Aramaic), and the old proto-Semitic imperfect is used as a future tense.

Ben Yehuda's own role in the revival of Hebrew has also been questioned. There were already efforts underway to revive Hebrew as a spoken language long before Ben Yehuda ever emigrated to Palestine, and his efforts within his own family were not only unsuccessful but even abusive and damaging. The most credit Ben-Yehuda can be given is that he invented a large number of words, which he placed into dictionaries that were widely popular, and a great many of his neologisms were adopted, both in print and during the first mass-scale revival, the one that made Hebrew effectively the language of Zionism, in the 1920s. Though secular Jews were behind this large-scale revival, they had yeshiva backgrounds; they were well-educated in Jewish tradition in ways that most Jews today are not.

One reason why the revival of Hebrew was so successful is that a large (though almost exclusively male) portion of world Jewry already knew how to read, write, and otherwise communicate in the language; the difficulty came with using it to describe non-religious matters of everyday life. Religious education for men at the time was much more rigorous and much more universal than it is among Jews today, and in many cases (particularly in Eastern Europe), it was the only education available. A man who could not reason in Hebrew was considered a bit of a failure; a man who could also reason in Aramaic was a sage, a rov (see Dovid Katz's “Words on Fire” for more discussion of this). If you listen to the lectures on dafyomi.org, you'll get a sense for how Jewish Yeshiva education involves a non-trivial amount of reasoning directly in Hebrew and Aramaic. This type of education is, incidentally, the main source of the various divergent Jewish languages and dialects full of Hebrew and Aramaic terms.

Since its revival, the main grammatical changes that have been made from Mishnaic Hebrew to Modern Hebrew involve derivational suffixes, largely loans from European languages. There have also been a large number of idioms borrowed from European languages that would certainly be unfamiliar to anyone who understood Rabbinic Hebrew or Mishnaic Hebrew prior to the revival. But this did not involve construction, reconstruction, or anything of the sort; it involved the rather more boring element of semantic borrowing.

Another frequent point raised regards the use of suffixed forms of של instead of the direct application of suffixed pronouns to the construct form, which was typical of the earliest Biblical Hebrew. But this was, in fact, a widespread Canaanite feature, found also in Punic; indeed, it is found throughout Plautus's Poenulus as “silli” (my), “syllochom” (your), and is attested in inscriptions as 𐤔𐤋𐤀 (his/her), 𐤔𐤋𐤉 (my). The Phoenician two-word equivalent, 𐤀𐤔 𐤋𐤉‎ (ʾš ly, “my” or literally “which is to me”), shows the ultimate derivation of the Punic and Hebrew pronoun.

The common Canaanite shel pronouns are attested Biblically, for example, in Song of Songs 1:6: אֶת־הַכְּרָמִ֔ים כַּרְמִ֥י שֶׁלִּ֖י לֹ֥א נָטָֽרְתִּי “my own vineyard I did not keep”

They also appear, for example, in Pirkei Avot, one of the oldest sections of the Mishnah:

אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בָּאָדָם. הָאוֹמֵר שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלָּךְ, זוֹ מִדָּה בֵינוֹנִית. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, זוֹ מִדַּת סְדוֹם. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלְּךָ וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי, עַם הָאָרֶץ. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלְּךָ וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלָּךְ, חָסִיד. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי, רָשָׁע:

Pirkei Avot 5:10: There are four types of character in human beings: One that says: “mine is mine, and yours is yours”: this is a commonplace type; and some say this is a sodom-type of character. [One that says:] “mine is yours and yours is mine”: is an unlearned person (am haaretz); [One that says:] “mine is yours and yours is yours” is a pious person. [One that says:] “mine is mine, and yours is mine” is a wicked person.

An analogous form exists in Aramaic: דידי (of me), דידך (of you), etc. I previously believed that the Hebrew form was a calque from Aramaic, but this seems to be specious on account of its clear Punic and Phoenician counterparts.

Additionally, it must be noted that as in Mishnaic Hebrew, the suffixed pronouns exist even today alongside the shel forms. They are a regular part of many ordinary constructions, and are not grammatically incorrect in any sense when they appear in less natural speech; they can even sound literary and sophisticated to many people, depending on the audience.

The only thing that was an innovation of Mishnaic Hebrew was the use of של as a preposition, which continues in Modern Hebrew. Like in Aramaic, the construct form ceased to be used outside of compound terms; in Aramaic, ד served the function of both של and ש.

The decision to make Mishnaic Hebrew, rather than an idealized Biblical Hebrew, the standard, was made by Maimonides, when he began composing works in a form that was considered relatively “purified” – contemporary works in the Hebrew of his time tended to be extremely Arabicized and thus difficult for non-Arabic-speaking Jews (for example, the Aramaic speakers of Northern Iraq) to comprehend. Maimonides made a conscious decision to write in the “purer” Mishnaic Hebrew, and due to his eventual influence, this became the way educated Jews wrote in the coming centuries, including at the time of the revival of Modern Hebrew. This wasn't a conscious choice made by the revivers of Hebrew; it was the standard that had already existed for centuries. Most people didn't have any interest in reviving an idealized Biblical Hebrew as fetishized by philologists; they were trying to speak the Hebrew language as it had evolved as the Jewish lingua franca, the one that it was possible to actually begin speaking.

I should add finally that I am not a Zionist and even believe Zionism has done a lot of harm to diaspora communities. I was not taught my own history and culture, was not taught the Ashkenazi pronunciation but was told that Israeli Hebrew was “correct” instead, and was discouraged from learning Yiddish. I had to find out all of this myself, which has taken a great deal of time and painstaking research.

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“BUT IF THERE WERE TWO HOLOCAUSTS at that time, there was no Holocaust at all. By its nature, the idea (and the word) Holocaust (or Shoah) denotes a single phenomenon rather than a generic category into which an open (and inherently accruing) number of events can be placed during that time and in that place. The empirical basis for its validity becomes starkly evident to any person who travels through Eastern Europe (not just for academics who trade in generic categories). The visitor comes upon thousands of towns populated by, for example, Belarusians, Czechs, Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Russians, but with only peripheral architectural remains of thousands of erstwhile Jewish communities. These include remnants of graveyards, synagogues, and other physical-culture traces — and, in the eastern part of the territory, ubiquitous mass grave sites (absent in those westerly parts where deportations to death camps rather than local mass shootings were the means of genocide). In both cases, the absence of living Jews, their language and presence, presents an unambiguous contrast to the happily surviving other populations and languages, majority or minority within any state borders in the region. The stark contrast between genocide (in Europe: the Holocaust), and non-genocidal crimes (Soviet occupation and crimes and ongoing Russian mischief) is striking.”

-Dovid Katz, “The Neocons and Holocaust Revisionism in Eastern Europe”

The liberals who tried to make The Merchant of Venice a pro-Jewish play weren't doing Jews any favors. Those who do so tend to point to the “Hath a Jew not eyes” scene, where Shylock appeals to the humanity of the main characters, saying, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

But in context, this speech is clearly an example of Shylock “cleverly” resorting to faux-universalist overtures in order to justify his need to literally get a pound of flesh because Antonio, the main character, was late in paying him back. People are meant to be reviled at the fact that Shylock is saying these things in order to justify getting a pound of flesh from around Antonio's heart. It's meant to show Shylock's “chutzpah” — even though such a term would not have been familiar to Shakespeare, that's the sort of behavior he is attributing to Jews.

Instead of trying to make Shakespeare a philosemite, it's better to look at what Shylock's monologue says about Shakespeare's time. This speech is instructive because of what it shows about what English people already believed about Jews in Shakespeare's time:

  1. Jews are whiny and histrionic.

  2. Jews dress up attempts to prevent our vicious behaviors (literally demanding a pound of flesh) in false appeals to antisemitism.

The word antisemitism didn't exist in Shakespeare's time, but clearly the belief was that if you tried to say to a Jew that they couldn't have your pound of flesh, they would act like you hated Jews. That belief goes back at least to Shakespeare's time, and surely longer. This is striking particularly because of the reality of the time, that Jewish money lenders were no more than property of the European nobility, whose money could be confiscated at any time and who they were more than ready to sacrifice in bad times. This status of Jews as property was justified based on the ancient Christian legal concept of Servitus Judaeorum, where Jewish servitude was divinely ordained as a way of proving the triumph of Christianity.

People will say “Shakespeare was so ahead of his time in his opposition to antisemitism” when, in fact, Shakespeare was perfectly attuned to the beliefs of the people of his time, and knew they would be appalled at Shylock making such an appeal in order to justify taking a pound of flesh, and would cheer when, in the end, he was forced to convert to Christianity.

When you try to make Shakespeare perfect, you eliminate the idea that someone could be extremely popular, loved, an unquestionably good author, and also extremely antisemitic. You're relegating antisemitism to the realm of the grotesque and marginal when it is also found in the things and people that are widely viewed as beautiful and good. And this is Bad For The Jews™ because it severs the links between the antisemitism of Shakespeare's time and the antisemitism of today.

Antisemitism doesn't exist. And if it does, it isn't that bad. And if it is, that's not a big deal. And if it is, that's not our fault. And if it is, we don't mean it. And if we do... It's not antisemitic, because it's true.

Another quick post to list the new designs I've made this week for my Redbubble and Teepublic stores.

  1. “Zil G'mor (Go And Learn)” at Redbubble and Teepublic.

  2. “Onde Moramos, Aya Esta Muestra Paiz” at Redbubble and Teepublic.

  3. “Eyn Shalom B'li Tsedek” at Redbubble and Teepublic.

Just a quick post to list the new designs I've made this week for my Redbubble and Teepublic stores.

  1. “Shoyn Genug” at Redbubble and Teepublic. Contains the Yiddish phrase meaning “enough already”.

  2. “Dortn, Vu Mir Lebn, Dort Iz Undzer Land” at Redbubble, Teepublic, and Design By Humans. I was previously only selling a Hebraized version of the classic poster and a Yiddish version that had a picture of the Earth on it. This is now the classic poster in Yiddish, but with standard orthography, to make it different from the other versions of this that are out there.

Based on social.coop threads from August 28, 2018

I'm beginning to think that while the biggest problem with social media is Nazis and TERFs et al., many of the remaining problems with social media aren't solved by libre, federated equivalents with user-controlled anti-abuse tools. The medium itself gamifies human interaction, and that doesn't change because you put it into the hands of small communities, or of coops, or of so-and-so.

I'm so tired of watching people accrue points for half-baked understandings of conflicts, or for reacting to a conflict with one or two people to such an extreme degree that it becomes site-wide discourse. People do this because social media rewards them for doing so. If I'm off Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook, maybe the next sane step is just to leave Mastodon as well.

The issue isn't discourse itself, it's that social media came to be this way because a lot of techbros were thinking, “How do we keep people on our site so we can sell them ads?” So they introduced features designed to keep people physically and emotionally engaged, at the expense of the level of discourse necessary for solving problems. These included retweets/reblogs (originally not inherent to Twitter), likes/favs (not an original feature of Facebook or Twitter), etc.

The effect was to make interaction into more of a game where people scored points against each other and accrued friend/follower counts, reblogs, likes, etc., rather than a place where people could go and work on their problems together. Giving power to the users didn't change this fundamental problem with social media. Nor does getting rid of ads eliminate the toxic culture that was created to serve them up. It just leaves us with the same deliberately dehumanizing form of communication, without its original rationale.