The Moment of Truth — February 3, 2007

Shibbolethism

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Today, Saturday February 3, 2007, I hereby establish the religion of Shibbolethism. [It’s pronounced shi-BAH-lithism, to slant rhyme with Catholicism.] A shibboleth is generally defined as a peculiarity of pronunciation or language usage distinguishing an insider from and outsider. For example, back in the late 1960s and early 70s, television characters over the age of twenty-five would say, “I’m hep” instead of “I’m hip,” thereby revealing themselves to be “squares.” Then the hippies or cool people would smirk, and the laugh track would play. In actuality, all the hep/hip scenario revealed was the uncoolness of the TV writer, because “square” was more frequently used to mean “cigarette” among cool people, especially black people, from whom all cool things originated.

The original shibboleth was used by one tribe of Jews to identify another. The Gileadites had won a big fight with the Ephraimites, and the Ephraimites were trying to sneak over the border into Gilead to avoid collective punishment. The Ephraimites couldn’t pronounce the “sh” sound, so the Gileadites would get them to say “shibboleth.” Whoever pronounced it “sibboleth” was killed on the spot. It’s one of the most famous historical instances of Semite-on-Semite violence. Semitic infighting is the one thing all Semites have in common, and by Semite I mean to include Arabs, thereby demonstrating my knowledge that Arabic is a Semitic language, which demonstration allows me to hang with the cool people.

A shibboleth does not have to be a distinguishing aspect of language, at least not according to the doctrines of Shibbolethism. It can be any way of identifying individuals who should be ostracized, mocked, persecuted or slain. In Israel the modern-day Jews use papers and passes as a shibboleth to both identify and harass the Palestinian Semites who live in Gaza and the West Bank, a practice Jimmy Carter rightly calls apartheid, after the social structure once imposed by the white minority in South Africa on the black majority. In South Africa, though, the papers weren’t so much a shibboleth, as for the most part the whites were able to distinguish who were the black people pretty much by sight, although some of the colored looked black, colored designating a person whose racial mixture made him more palatable to the white regime than the blacks were, though still not a good as a white. But the papers did help remind the blacks which rights not being white kept them from enjoying.

The above paragraph contains several shibboleths in the form of tacit and overt opinions about Israel’s relationship with the non-citizen Palestinian population living along its borders. Even the sentence immediately preceding this one contains a shibboleth or two that might piss off a hyper-Zionist. Oop, there went another one.

In the religion of Shibbolethism, which I have just founded, a shibboleth is any infringement, whether obnoxious or insignificant, of any criterion from among numerous and shifting criteria, distinguishing things that are acceptable from things that are beyond the pale. The term “beyond the pale” has Jewish origin as well. One might think it came from white racism, meaning that anyone not as pale as a white person was unacceptable. Or it might have come from black racism, meaning a person so bad he’s even worse than a white person, beyond the pale-complexioned. But a pale, in the phrase “beyond the pale,” is not a color but a boundary or territory. There have been several pales throughout history, but the one that concerns us here is what was called the Pale of Settlement in Russia, where the Jews were allowed to live. It was by definition and design the less desirable land, so beyond it must have been much worse. Or, taking the Pale as the fence dividing the Jews from Russian land proper, it was the Jews who lived beyond the Pale. That’s my folk etymology and I’m sticking to it.

At any rate, the Jews invented the shibboleth to use on each other, so it seems only poetic justice that they would find it used against them. And if you think that logic is offensive, talk to the Talmudic sages who would have us believe that the woes of the Jews are punishment for Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery. Then tell me what’s beyond the pale. And then, since the shibboleth was used against the Jews (albeit by themselves) so viciously, it’s only poetic justice that the Jews get to use it on the Palestinians.

And if you find that logic also offensive, you’re as fine a practitioner of Shibbolethism as anyone. You’re a real Shibboli.

In certain Far Eastern-derived cosmologies, it is only by contrast that one is able to perceive oneself or anything else as existing at all. And even in Genesis, God commences creation by dividing the lightness from the dark and the upper firmaments from the lower. The Upanishadic truth, tat tvam asi—“that thou art”—is an echo of the first separation between subject and object which human beings seem to naturally believe is the initial existential perception.

You will not be surprised then when I assert that, unlike all the made-up religions, Shibbolethism, the central principle of which is the contrasting of one thing from another, is the one true religion, the one from which all the others were knocked off. And anyone who believes otherwise is at worst beyond the pale and at best a silly goose.

A wise guy once said, “There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don’t. And the ones who don’t are jerks.”

There’s been a lot of talk these days blaming Jews who criticize Israel for a rise in anti-Jewish expression worldwide, blaming liberals for 9/11, blaming critics of the Iraq fiasco for “emboldening” the enemy, and blaming the hippies and Jane Fonda for the fiasco that was the Vietnam War.

Cataloguing forbidden words and phrases for the New Year is nothing if not a Shibbolethic act. Let us therefore decree for 2007, even at this late date, the phrase “emboldening the enemy” to be beyond the pale.

It has turned out that, publicity-wise, anti-Jewish and anti-black rhetoric are a couple of shibboleths with good legs, and they provide a good segue into what has to be the next question in the evolving creed of Shibbolethism: once we’ve identified a shibboleth, what do we do about it?

I think the reaction to the Mel Gibson tirade and his half-assed apology has not yet fully ripened, so I’d like to go back in time to the 1920s when Henry Ford, in his newspaper The Dearborn Independent, published a series of articles collectively titled “The International Jew: the world’s foremost problem.” Ford eventually apologized a couple of times for publishing the articles, though he did accept a medal from Hitler in 1938 for his brave and honest reporting.

So it came about that in 1927 a couple of Jewish entertainers, Billy Rose and Ernest Hare, The Happiness Boys, recorded their song, “Since Henry Ford Apologized to Me.” Let their sarcasm stand as a model for Shibbolethists everywhere of the kind of response a civilized Shibbolethism requires of its adherents:

Oyoy gevalt gevalt
Vuts de mattuh, Abram?
Did you see the Yiddishe Joinal this morning Dovid?
No, vut did it say?
Well I don’t mind telling you that I’m so happy I could cry
You’re looking simply great, why don’t you celebrate?
I bought maynself a quart of hooch, a collar mit a tie
Well if I see you making voopie, what’s your alibi?

I was sad and I was blue but now I’m just as good as you
Since Henry Ford apologized to me
That’s why you threw away your little Chevrolet
And bought yourself a Ford cou-pay.

I told the superintendent that the Dearborn Independent doesn’t have to hang up where it used to be
You’re happy now because he settled half the case
I’m sorry I cut off my nose to spite mayn race
Are you glad he changed his point of view?
Yes, I like even Edsel too
Since Henry Ford apologized to me

Oy yoy yeah yeah yeah

Ven you hoid he would be in town did you write him in adventz?
Sure I asked him please to drop around to see mayn shop
Did you say you were a tailor?
Sure! I offered him a chentz
To get a suit of clothes at cost
Including hextra pentz

Soitenly

To even up for what he did
I bought a tractor for mayn kid
Since Henry Ford apologized to me
Di mama said she’d feed him if he calls
Gefilte fish and matzo balls
And even if he runs for president I wouldn’t charge a single cent
I’ll cast my ballot absolutely free… maybe
He’s got an aviator for his new machine
Instead of Cholly Lindboigz* he’s got Charles Levine
You’ve got a cold now does it hoit?
Yeah, but I don’t suffer in Detroit
Since Henry Ford apologized to me

I put the family jewels in hock and bought myself a share of stock
Since Henry Ford apologized to me
I hear you had a baby yesterday and named it Henry right away
For what I thought about that guy my wife was telling me that I
Should send him also my apology
You got some whiskers and tied it on your Ford somehow
And everybody thinks I drive a Lincoln now
I saw the brand new cars he makes
Instead of Lizzies they’ll be Jakes

Since Henry Ford apologized to me

*Charles A. Lindbergh, aka Lucky Lindy, was an avid fan of Hitler and at least as anti-Jewish as Mel Gibson, no matter what kind of apologetics you might hear Garrison Keillor spout to the contrary.