The Paper of Transgression

You can count on the New York Times, every time there is a national or religious holiday, to publish an op-ed column that transgresses, undercuts, and perverts it. From today’s Times e-mail:

Op-Ed Contributor
An Oyster on the Seder Plate?
To remember the BP oil spill, add a little traif to your Passover meal.

Here it’s not just the Times generically, but a liberal Jew trashing his own religion, by suggesting that non-kosher food (traif) be introduced at the Passover Seder. The Times—and liberal Jews—live for this kind of thing. I remember once a progressive Jew of my acquaintance positively kvelling over the fact that a rabbi she knew made a habit of publicly and conspicuously eating non-kosher food in restaurants.

So the transgression—and the preening delight in the transgression—is to be expected. But what seems weird, at least at first glance, is the way Greenberg appropriates the Passover Seder to make a political point about the millions of oysters that died from the Gulf oil spill. What does Passover have to do with the Gulf oil disaster? Absolutely nothing—to a person with a normal mind. But we’re dealing here with liberal Jews. Liberal Jews don’t believe in God, don’t believe in the Bible, don’t believe in the Exodus from Egypt, and don’t believe in the giving of the Ten Commandments, all of which the Passover meal commemorates. What they do believe in is making everyone and everything equal, which is done by overcoming oppression. And for this purpose, the Passover story is tailor-made, as it’s all about God’s liberation of the Israelites from slavery under Pharoah. So just leave out God, leave out the Ten Plagues, leave out the miracles by which God delivered the Israelites, and what you have is a celebration of people being liberated from oppression. Generic “freedom” is what the Passover is really about, and thus the holiday is easily converted into a vehicle for advancing the political and cultural agendas of liberal Jews, whether feminism or homosexual rights or protesting BP’s mass killing of oysters or worrying about when all those faith-based zombies who believe in Intelligent Design are going to start a pogrom.

Here is the column:

An Oyster on the Seder Plate?

LAST night I put an oyster on my Seder plate.

While I didn’t particularly want to put something traif atop that most kosher of dishes, this Passover falls on the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. And since BP, the leaseholder of the failed well, seems intent with its new television ads on making us forget about the spill, I felt that something drastic was in order to help us remember. Combining the memorial powers of the Seder plate with the canary-in-the-coal-mine nature of the oyster seemed a good way to keep the disaster—and BP’s promises to clean up its mess—in mind.

This past March I spent a week in Louisiana’s bays and bayous. All over the region I encountered oyster dredges full of dead, empty shells and broken oystermen with equally empty pockets. Many of the oystermen I interviewed reported that 80 percent of their beds had been killed.

Ecologically speaking, this is huge: a single oyster can filter 40 gallons of water a day, and the millions of oysters in Louisiana’s waters are one of the things that make the gulf work as an ecosystem.

True, many oysters died not from the oil directly, but rather from the consequences of a desperate attempt to counter the spill’s effects. As oil rushed shoreward last spring, Louisiana’s coastal coordinator opened gates along the Mississippi River and released millions of gallons of freshwater, hoping the surge would push the oil away. It’s hard to say whether this worked; what it definitely did do was make some coastal waters too fresh for oysters to survive. Many beds were decimated. It will take years for them to recover.

Freshwater wasn’t the only thing dumped into gulf waters to mitigate the spill: more than 1.8 million gallons of Corexit, a chemical used to break up oil slicks, transformed the floating, possibly recoverable oil into an invisible angel of death that sank and claimed not just the first born but perhaps the first million born of many gulf creatures—a considerable blow to what is arguably America’s most important fish nursery.

Indeed, oysters are just the beginning. The delayed effects of oil and Corexit will likely be seen for years. In 2012 the number of blue crabs—which many people associate with the Chesapeake Bay but in fact often come from the gulf—may significantly drop thanks to the spill. In 2013, the redfish that Paul Prudhomme famously blackened may not be there for fishermen and diners to enjoy. In 2017 we could see a considerable drop in the population of bluefin tuna, the missing adult fish having been killed as fragile larvae in 2010.

And even if by some miracle there is no significant decline in the gulf’s sea life, its harvest might still suffer from a sullied reputation. In a recent poll of 18 national restaurant chains released by Greater New Orleans Inc., an economic development organization, found that only 19 percent of those restaurants’ customers held a favorable view of gulf seafood in 2010, compared with 75 percent in 2004.

Oystermen weren’t the only ones affected by the spill, of course. But while BP has compensated waiters and hairdressers for work lost during last summer’s ruined tourist season, most oystermen told me that aside from an emergency payment last fall, they have yet to see compensation that approaches the value of their lost oysters.

Fortunately for BP, it can take decades for the aftereffects of an event of this scale to appear. And it will be a long time before the Natural Resources Damage Assessment, put in place to determine BP’s true liability, will be made fully public with any sort of conclusion about the company’s liability.

Although I put an oyster on the Seder plate, you might want to find a less controversial way to mark the disaster. If you’re having a second Seder tonight and want a non-traif symbol, consider putting a small dish of oil next to your glass of wine. After you’ve dipped your finger in your wine to count out the 10 plagues that brought down Egypt’s tyrannical pharaoh, dip your finger in the oil and dab out an 11th plague.

In so doing remember that in A.D. 2010, the Jewish year 5770, humanity damaged a valuable, nourishing ecosystem to maintain the tyranny of oil. Until we throw off that tyranny, we will mark many more plagues in the years to come.

Paul Greenberg is the author of “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.”

- end of initial entry -

James P. writes:

Greenberg’s piece ends,

“In so doing remember that in A.D. 2010, the Jewish year 5770, humanity damaged a valuable, nourishing ecosystem to maintain the tyranny of oil. Until we throw off that tyranny, we will mark many more plagues in the years to come.”

Undoubtedly everything Greenberg did that day was in some way facilitated by fossil fuels—how was that oyster brought to his plate?—and yet he heaps scorn on the “tyranny” of oil. He should try living a single day in which everything he does, wears, and eats is the product of muscle power. That would be truly “transgressive,” and would permit him to talk credibly about “tyranny.” Humanity lived for many thousands of years under the tyranny of muscle power; perhaps the oysters flourished under that regime, but mankind certainly didn’t.

The proper ending of the column should be:

“Remember that in A.D. 2010, the Jewish year 5770, more people than ever before in the history of humanity were alive, prosperous, free and healthy due to fossil fuels. If we cease to use fossil fuels in the future due to our insane liberal ideology, our lives will be correspondingly poor, short, limited, and unhealthy in years to come. The real plague is not the tyranny of oil but the lack of cheap energy that oil provides.”

Ken Hechtman writes:

It’s not that weird. I can think of more examples of liberal and left-wing Jews re-interpreting and re-appropriating the seder service than all other Jewish rituals combined.

Here’s the 1950’s Kibbutznik Socialist Haggadah.

Here’s the Civil Rights Haggadah.

There are too many “Liberation Haggadahs” out there to link to them all and I can’t find the original one by Ed Miller, the one with Sacco and Vanzetti on the cover. I have a copy at home …

I also can’t find the Haggadah of Reconciliation for all the Children of Abraham online anywhere. A Coptic Christian friend of mine wrote it for the Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group scene a few years ago and it’s not the kind of heavy-handed preachiness you’ll find in most of the Liberation Haggadahs. It’s this really well-thought-out and respectful syncretism of Jewish and Muslim rituals, done as only a liberal Christian could do.

And of course, you covered the Progress By Pesach campaign yourself a couple of years ago.

LA replies:

Of course I know that left-wing re-writes of the Haggadah are common. What I said was weird was the introduction into the Seder of an oyster commemorating the damage from the Gulf oil spill. But really, you’re right, it’s just another variation on the same theme.

Paul Mulshine of the Newark Star-Ledger writes:

Also, this is just b.s. from an environmental perspective. I was down there in August and guess what I dined on? Oysters. They tasted great. As for all the horrible damages of the spill, the oil was equal to about 1 part per million of Gulf water. The fish were barely affected, and even though I live right next door to one of the best fisheries in the world here in Jersey, I can truthfully say I’ve never seen so many fish in my life as I saw in Alabama in August. The big non-story the media ignored is that almost all of the damage from the spill came from media hype that dissuaded tourists from visiting. The actual beaches barely saw any oil. Destin didn’t see a drop, yet their season was obliterated.

Also note how Greenberg first brings up what the reader will assume is oil’s effect on the oysters, and then admits it was fresh water. These guys are all exaggerating the effects to cash in. I suspect the damage was minimal. The funniest thing: Imagine a small glass of oil next to the wine. Now imagine a backyard swimming pool measuring 16 feet by 32 feet. That is the proportion of the spilled oil to the Gulf water. I actually tried this in my pool and it made a very impressive spill that dissipated in the first rain.

April 20

Howard Sutherland writes:

You are right to castigate Paul Greenberg’s weird decision to garnish his seder with an oyster. It was a revoltingly transgressive and puerilely (if that’s a word) provocative thing to do.

Ken Hechtman is also right to note that Greenberg isn’t the first to hijack Jewish religious observances for trendy leftist causes in violation of the spirit of those observances. But surely what Greenberg has done goes beyond the various “Liberation Haggadahs” and the Progress by Pesach campaign. Those merely arrogated the symbolism of a Jewish religious holiday to boost their secular, materialist cause du jour. That is wrong, and a misappropriation of a ceremony that is religious, not secular. Nevertheless, Hechtman does not say that Liberation Haggadahs and the like actually defile the observance.

That is where Greenberg breaks new ground. At least, I hope it is new ground. Maybe Greenberg says he picked an oyster because it symbolizes the Gulf of Mexico ravaged by evil man’s insatiable appetite for oil. That’s not the only reason, and I suspect not the main one. As the op-ed’s tag line says right up front, “add a little traif to your Passover meal.” (Curious that the New York Times did not say “Passover seder”; perhaps they realized how blatantly offensive their teaser would be to observant Jews if worded that way.)

I think the real point of Greenberg’s exercise is to ridicule religious faith by deliberately defiling a religious observance and implicitly daring anyone to object. There is a snarky passive-aggressive vibe running though the whole piece.

As anyone with any knowledge of Jewish customs knows, oysters, as shellfish, are ritually unclean under traditional Jewish law and forbidden food for observant Jews. As far as I know, the Passover seder is the holiest meal of the year in Jewish observance. To toss treif food on top of a seder plate is an open and notorious defilement; Greenberg might as well have relieved himself on the plate. My guess is that in liberal fashion Greenberg is trying to show us that religion is powerless and religious faith is pointless. We should transfer our spiritual allegiance to the Earth. Better to worship the oyster beds of the Gulf than some invisible God. Greenberg gratuitously insults his fellows who still honor their ancestral faith, and by extension all of us who worship God.

I do agree with Paul Greenberg that we should be conscientious conservators of our environment, although we might not agree on all specifics. As for publicizing the problems that arose from the Gulf spill, why didn’t Greenberg also offer oysters to Moslems as they broke their Ramadan fast? I think the question answers itself! (No doubt Greenberg would have thought that a terribly insensitive thing to do.)

LA replies:

You are right. I went too far (in fact, I undercut the original point of the entry) when I agreed with Ken Hechtman and said that the oyster on the Seder table is “just another variation on the old liberal theme” of “Liberation Haggadahs.” You have stated very well what is uniquely disgusting about Greenberg’s article and the behavior it boasts of.

April 21

Ron L. writes:

I hardly know where to begin. Adorning a a seder with an oyster to celebrate the environment is blasphemy, akin to adding an altar to Moloch (the god of child sacrifice) to a bris (circumcision). Passover is not a holiday of liberation in the modern sense. It is not about the modern concept of liberty, much less the environment. The Israelites were led from bondage in Egypt to serve the Lord. Moses’ words to the Pharoah were clear “And thou shalt say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear.” (Exodus 7.16.) The Israelites were not immediately liberated after the destruction of the Egyptian army. Rather they were taken for Horeb/Sinai to hear the Lord’s commandments. We were to be a nation of priests, not self-serving entitled libertines.

Those who use Passover for any purpose, no matter how noble in their eyes, other than remembering it as written are blasphemers and usurpers, turning their goal into an idol. They are worse than misguided, they are evil, acting in a manner akin to the Israelites who suggested the creation of gold idols, when Moses received the Ten Commandments. No, they are worse, for the tribal leaders were ignorant, but those who appropriate Passover do so with knowledge, foresight, and contempt.

Paul Henri writes:

I am so thankful that you really put things in perspective years ago. You pointed out that, yes, many Jewish people (and maybe most Jews in the U.S.) have a point of view that directly or indirectly undermines Christianity, but those Jewish people could not have a major negative effect on a Christian society unless there were a far, far greater number of Christians that agreed with them.

LA replies:

Well put.

April 22

James R. writes:

Not to contradict Paul Henri’s comment, but to add to it: These people, be they liberal Jews or liberal Christians, are always liberals first, and their liberalism consciously or unconsciously is used to undermine their religion. Thus all the anti-Semites who think Jews are out to undermine Christianity ought to be sent the NYT article. The liberal Jews undermine and desecrate their own religion in the name of their One True Faith, which is transnational progressivism. Just as liberal Christians are not somehow “duped” by Jews, but undermine their own religion in the name of their One True Faith, which is also transnational progressivism (a.k.a. universalism).

These people are united by a common bond and ideology. Neither is the duped tool of the other, they simply have shared values which happen to be destructive of the traditional virtues of both Judaism and Christendom, of the West as a historical entity.

LA replies:

This is a very useful way of putting it (I don’t mean to sound like a teacher giving grades to comments, but sometimes I just have to respond.).

James R. continues:

I meant to add: “Being transgressive” isn’t an insult to them, and hasn’t been for 40 years (and more, at least among the avant guarde); it’s a sign of distinction. Not something to be ashamed of, but something to strive for. Liberals look up to transgressives as courageous heroes—literally. They use the language usually used for the most exemplary in warfare. Because they are fighting a war, against their own civilization. This is what unites them, regardless of race, creed, or nationality, or even their nominal nominalism: their common ideology and the war (“struggle”) it is engaged in.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at April 19, 2011 08:27 AM | Send

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