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Archive for December 10th, 2007

Yes , “consuming” culture, not “consumer” culture. This phrase may look a little weird in English but looks just fine in modern Hebrew – “Litzrokh Tarbut” or “לצרוך תרבות”.

Right now we are celebrating the Jewish festival of Hanukka. Hanukka (which means “dedication”) is the festival that celebrates the victory of the Macabees over the Greeks. What a lot of people miss is that the fight was not over survival in a physical sense but rather a clash of cultures. The Macabees were fighting a fight for religious freedom and even more so, a fight to be freed from the influence of the foreign global culture of their day.

Anyway… so I was reading the handout sheets they have in have sitting around on Shabbat in most synagogues here in Israel. They are published by all kinds of organizations with studies on the weekly reading from the Torah and a heavy helping of opinion. In honor of Hanukka they all had articles (each according to its editorial line) drawing parallels between the fight of the Macabees and current day events. In the midst of an article I was reading calling for Jewish cultural and artistic revival, I came across a sentence that caught my eye. It was warning me to be careful of the large amounts of foreign culture that I consume and that we need to consume more Jewish culture.

“Consume”. An interesting term to use. Is culture something that we consume? Can you consume culture? In English, the word is particularly out of place, because culture is a rather abstract object and consumption means that something is getting used up, burnt or devoured. In Hebrew, the word is Litzrokh which comes from the same root as “to need” – Tzarikh. “Mitzrakhim” are commodities or consumables of the type you buy in the supermarket.

I understand what the writer meant here but I challenge his assumptions. He is refering to the music we hear, the movies we watch and the brand names we wear. This is the culture that we live in, one where to be part of it you need to buy and consume its artifacts. He is proposing that we substitute the consumption of artifacts of the Western Greco-Christian culture with consumption of “Jewish” artifacts. I think he has missed the point.

Culture is the context in which people live in a certain place and time. It is the context of their art, their language, their customs, the things they value and the things they hate. Millions and zillions of dollars, euros, shekels and whatever currency have been spent on selling us the idea that culture is something we have to acquire and consume. But culture is something else. It is the air, the sounds, the thoughts, the heritage and the zeitgeist. It cannot be consumed.

If we really want to make a difference in the way we live we need to stop consuming culture and start living it.

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A Green Hannuka?

I just read a blog about a daft proposal to light less Hanukka candles in order to do our bit to save the world from greenhouse gasses.

As the writer correctly notes, this is the kind of daft suggestion that gives the environmentalist movement a bad name. We should be concentrating on the real issues – promoting a sustainable and sensible level of energy and resource usage.

Interestingly, the Ashkenazim are the offenders here. The Sefaradim have a much greener Hannuka as they only light one Menora/Hannukia per household. If these green Hannuka guys new about Halacha (Jewish law), they could have suggested following the Sefaradim on this or alternatively going back to the original custom related in the Gemarra of lighting a single light every night.

Incidentally the conclusion of the Halacha was to light progressively more lights every night in order to symbolize the idea of the small lone light getting bigger and spreading as the festival goes on. Personally I’ll keep my Hannuka that way.

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