Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

I was Maimonides’ ghostwriter (and other alternative facts)

Kellyanne Conway Credit: CNBC

Me and Maimonides — we used to hang out. I actually wrote most of The Guide To The Perplexed.

I wanted to call it Fun Stuff About The Bible, but he thought that no one would buy it.

That, my friends, is an alternative fact  a term that we had never heard until Kellyanne Conway invented it the other day.

She was describing White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s assessment of the number of people who attended the President’s inauguration.

(Cue the creepy Twilight Zone music here).

We Jews know all about alternative facts.

  • Biblical anti-Semitism began with an alternative fact. Pharaoh accuses the Israelites of being a foreign influence in his land. He accuses them of dual loyalty. These accusations did not end well. They led to enslavement, the ten plagues, and the Exodus. But, hey — at least Jews get to have dinner together once a year and talk about it.
  • Ancient anti-Semitism began with an alternative fact. Manetho, an Egyptian priest in the third century BCE, invented the idea that the Jews had been lepers, and that rather than escaping from Egypt, they had been expelled.
  • Medieval anti-Semitism flourished on alternative facts. A small and disheartening list: It started with the alternative fact that Jews were responsible for the execution of Jesus — the myth of deicide; Jews kidnapped children and ate them; Jews poisoned the wells of Europe and were responsible for the Black Death; that Jews stole and tortured communion wafers.
  • And, of course, there is Holocaust denial — the subject of the movie Denial, which tells the story of Deborah Lipstadt’s brave battle for the truth.

But, lest those on the political, cultural, and intellectual left smugly believe that alternative facts are limited to those on the right, guess again.

In some ways, the Left invented alternative facts.

Consider one of the greatest tools in their arsenal — anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism.

Such obsessions feed and flourish on alternative facts:

  • Jews stole the land of Israel from the Arabs.
  • Jews were involved in extensive ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
  • Zionism is racism.
  • Jerusalem is not really in Israel (check out where the iPhone thinks Jerusalem is located — or, rather, is not located).

My “favorite?”

Theodor Herzl negotiated with Hitler.

Theoretically, they could have bumped into each other in Vienna, but if they did, Hitler would have been about fifteen years old.

Consider the accusations hurled against Israel.

Many of them are simply repackaged, sanitized versions of medieval and early modern anti-Semitism: Jews are perfidious, murderous and misanthropic.

Throw into the mix, please: moral relativism, the idea that absolute morality is, by nature, ethically imperialist.

That would account for Third World aficionados looking aside as women in sub-Saharan Africa are subjected to the unspeakable brutality of female genital mutilation.

Because, after all, who are we to judge another culture?

I have heard Jewish teenagers tell me: “We have no right to judge the Nazis, because they thought that what they were doing was right.”

Post-modernism has triumphed.

There are no truths. Just opinions.

How do Jews respond to this?

The first task: to remind ourselves, and others, that there are no alternative facts, and there are no alternative moralities.

Isaiah knew what he was talking about. (5:20-22)

Ah, those who call evil good, and good evil; who present darkness as light and light as darkness; who present bitter as sweet and sweet as bitter! Ah, those who are so wise—in their own opinion; so clever — in their own judgment!

And its weird first cousin, intellectual relativism — the domain of alternative facts?

We Jews must loudly proclaim: This is not our first time at this rodeo.

We know how alternative facts operate. We have been the most constant victims of that program.

Reb Nachman of Bratslav, the Hasidic master, understood the world in which we now live. He told a story about a sage who visited a kingdom, and examined their jokes.

Through their humor the sage understood that the entire kingdom was filled with lies and deceptions and that there was no truth anywhere. He did some business in the kingdom, allowing himself to be defrauded in the transaction. He took the case to court, but the court was all lies and bribes. One day he would give them a bribe but the next day they would not recognize him. He went to a higher court, and there too it was all lies. Eventually he came before the Supreme Court, but they too were full of lies and bribery. Finally he came to the king himself.

When he came to the king, he said, “Who are you king over? The whole kingdom is full of lies from beginning to end and there’s no truth in it.”

He began enumerating all the lies in the kingdom. When the king heard his words, he turned his ear to the veil to hear what he was saying. The king was surprised that there was anyone who knew about all the lies in the kingdom.

If we now find ourselves in the kingdom of lies, like the millions who marched this past weekend, we will take to the streets again to scream truth.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

9 Comments

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  • Alternative facts sounds so much better than “truthiness”. But the latter is so much more accurate.

  • Donald demands that his entire staff conduct themselves in accordance with his new presidential motto:

    Truth is
    Redefined
    Under
    My
    Presidency

  • Seriously, why does anyone bother to interview Kellyanne Conway except for humorous or ironic purposes?

  • Political, religious, and economic thought all boils down to sex, drugs, and money.
    Second place is the first place loser but a peek is worth ten free market estimators. Reverse auction bid results can be turned into a low bid equation with a variance that looks something like this:

    Low Bid = (95% -1% times the number of bidders) times the
    average bid

    Companies, individuals, and countries play free market
    basketball on a diving board because an individual or organization can’t maximize their profits if they hit more often than the dummy. Since free markets come to an equilibrium between four and five bidders, a 5% drop in price is usually enough to jump to 15% higher overall hit rate. Government is a slam dunking monopoly that has proven to be 20% more expense than the free market. Socialism, Fascism, Marxism, Statism, etc. is four scarcity leaps backwards and corresponds with Carman’s and Kenneth’s findings.

    A Harvard Professor and previous President of IMF wrote a
    book called “This Time is Different” . Carman Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff studied fiscal crisis in 65 countries over 500 years. 1% GDP reduction in taxes increases private sector 3% in GDP. 1% GDP increase in Government Spending deceases private sector 1.2% GDP with a -0.2% change in GDP. Obviously a great deal of government debt can put a country at significant interest rate risk.

    If we go from a 38% tax rate to 20% tax rate with a balanced
    budget the private sector will grow from $11 Trillion to over $16 Trillion. Tax revenue won’t decrease 48%. Tax revenue will only decrease 24%. Half of Washington won’t have to go on a permanent vacation, only one out of four.Employment will increase 25% so displaced bureaucrats will have lots of new opportunities to contribute to society.

    If we get down to a balanced 10%, $20 Trillion – more than a
    60% increase in jobs if half of Washington goes on a permanent vacation, each dollar earned buys ($0.90/$0.62) 45% more, and hard America becomes a soft warm
    place.

    John Nash’s beautiful mind recognized the importance of
    interactions in which the results of one person’s choices depend not only on his own behavior but also on the choices of another person. There is a related game called Ultimatum. You and your partner split $10. Less than $3 deals disgust and anger. The dealer has a pulpit.

    The Laffer effect is no joke. Charles Adams, an international tax attorney and historian, wrote books on taxes. Once tax rates rise above the disgust and anger point, the expected extra tax revenue never shows up. A flat tax system is part of Constitution. Everyone has to pay taxes to keep as many people’s tax rate below the disgust and anger tax rate or make sure an overwhelming majority is disgusted with high taxes. Free market innovation boils down to a desire for players to hit a third of their shots.

    Dealers can routinely get an $8 to $10 deal by getting his or her partner work for a $3 to $5 deal. With each $3 to $5 of earned success the partner becomes a dealer that turns the $3 to $5 deal into $6 to $8 of earned success. Turning $10 into $13 is a win-win systemic solution that creates good people, great outcomes, and durable trust but when it rains, rainmakers show up and turn everything to dirt.

    There will always be zero-sum losers who just accept less
    than $3 deals and think the key to success is being an abusive dealer. A $7-$3 deal isn’t better than a $6-$4 deal because $7-$3 deals turn into $6-$2, $5-$1, and $4-two bit deals. Rainmakers turn everything to dirt because they feel
    entitled to $7up and someone else has to pay for the diet $7up.

    Obama and company’s overall 30% to 40% tax and spend
    policies have systemically increased the public sector by 25% and eliminated 10 million private sector jobs. Present day Switzerland, Russia, and much of Eastern Europe are 15% tax and spend countries.

  • I’m sorry, but this is not the case. Every religion believes that all other religions are false. So religions subscribe to the rational position that there are no “alternative facts”. “Alternative facts” are just falsehoods.

  • Don’t forget the masochism of a few interviewers, and the much more common sadism toward their viewers. Either way, they’re wearing out my channel switcher.

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