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I'm tired of the Holocaust as a literary device

I'm reading Thane Rosenbaum's first book Elijah Visible. It's thinly disguised autobiography about a lawyer named Adam Posner (read Thane Rosenbaum), the child of Holocaust survivors who turns his back on the moral demands of his tradition and bangs shiksas.

Now, before I truly understood the profundity of the Torah, I enjoyed banging shiksas as much as anybody. But that doesn't mean I want to read about such behavior when it is excused by being the child of Holocaust survivors.

When I get married, sex is going to be special in a way that secular people such as Thane Rosenbaum will never understand.

If Luke Ford does not stand up for the sanctity of marriage, then who will?

I'm tired of writing about lawyers imagining themselves stuck in a cattle car instead of an elevator or spoiled brats drifting away from a Passover Seder and finding themselves in the Holocaust.

I'm tired of Jews (be they literary characters or real people) who weren't in the Holocaust using the Shoah as a get-out-of-jail card for their own bad behavior.

I'm tired of all the people begin their rants with "I'm a child of Holocaust survivors." Being a child of Holocaust survivors does not give you any moral standing beyond that of children of divorce. You are not special because you are a child of Holocaust survivors. You are not a better Jew and you do not deserve easier access to shiksas.

Jane writes:

Elijah Visible is an important book for a couple of reasons.

First, it's one of the first "post-holocaust/second generation" novels. In a sense, he has the authority to write about the effects of the Holocaust because his parents survived it, and their legacy left a lasting impact on Thane. He's part of a new trend of second generation writing (Art Spiegelman and Melvin Bukiet are the other two heavy hitters in this area).

Second, it's interesting in terms of its literary structure -- it's been written about as a "short story cycle" narrative, in which all of the Adam Posners are different parts of the fragmented identity of the main Adam Posner -- the point is that this is the effect of the legacy of the Holocaust on its survivor's children. He has more authority than someone like, Dara Horn or even Cynthia Ozick for example, who are not second generation writers. The point of "Cattle Car Complex" is that Adam cannot see what needs to be seen because he can't separate his parents' trauma from his own; he's drowning in his parents' memories, to quote Janet Burstein. And his obsession with shiksas disrupts his memorialization of his mother -- it's like he's stuck in the web of Holocaust history and literature.

The main character has taken on the burden (taken responsibility for) of a past that is not his, but nonetheless haunts him in ways only second- generation writers can understand. And, finally, remember that this was published in 1996 -- so it's not like he's doing what a lot of other people are already doing -- he precedes them in many ways.

His next books -- SECONDHAND SMOKE and GOLEMS OF GOTHAM -- are much different and more sophisticated even though they address the same theme of the effects of the Holocaust on survivor's children -- the gift that keeps on giving.

Thane Rosenbaum's Big Cry

I read four books by Thane Rosenbaum over Shabbos. The essence of his work is a big cry.

His words are easy to digest but their moral import is odious -- that anyone who has suffered gets a free pass to do what they like.

It's hard to think of a teaching more contrary to the Jewish tradition. Surviving the Holocaust and other horrors does not entitle one to steal (either property or persons) or commit other sins.

What's particularly disgusting is that he seems to think that as the child of Holocaust survivors, he too deserves a get-out-of-jail card.

His novels are thinly-disguised autobiography about superhuman, super-successful, narcissistic rageaholic rock-star lawyers who become writers.

Here's the essence of Thane's personal philosophy in his own words:

Survivors had the right to do whatever they wanted with their lives. They had earned at least that much. They could live with abandon, or they could simply choose to abandon. The old rules don't apply, as much as they didn't apply to anyone anymore. That's because the Third Reich had killed off all the old biblical commandments, wiped the tablets clean; the Golden Calf has been the right religion all along. Mankind was left to finish out the century without any moral landmarks and signposts, forced to thrash and stumble about in a new world empty of faith, kindness, and love. (The Golems of Gotham, p. 3)

The "world empty of faith, kindess, and love" is the one Thane chooses to believe in. There are plenty of more uplifting worlds for him to inhabit but they don't allow him to screw around.

The notion that God died in the Holocaust is absurd but it is Thane's. The one benefit of such nonsense is that you can bang shiksas with impugnity.

Millions of innocent people were murdered before the Holocaust. Does the murder of millions of Jews particularly deny God's existence? What about the murder of Gentiles? What about the murder tens of thousands of Jews before the Holocaust?

What was God supposed to do during the Holocaust? Suddenly remove human freedom and stop people from murdering one another? God should only stop Jews from being murdered? That people exercise their free will to murder one another -- that denies God's existence?

Thane Rosenbaum makes a nice living from the Holocaust and resents those who intrude on his turf, such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. and the 1997 allegorical film Life is Beautiful (about a father who goes to great lengths to protect his son in a concentration camp).

Rosenbaum writes:

Schindler's List, the movie, had become required viewing, with all its good-guy-triumphs-over-bad-guy sanctimony, its ultimate feel-good imperatives, its insulting inversion of contrasting truths. The Holocaust isn't about the fortuitous rescue of twelve hundred Jews at the hands of a repentant, benevolent German. That story line has mass appeal, but the Holocaust is about mass death. It may not do as well with test audiences, but it is the unsentimental grand narrative of why there is a severe shortage of Jews on the European continent. Some stories are morally entitled to be told in a certain way or not at all - even if unappealing, even if the world won't buy it. (Golems, p. 292)

At least Spielberg's stories aren't centered on a child of survivors who feels entitled to act as he pleases and screw as he pleases. Out of those two possible stories, the Hollywood one is more moral.

Thane's protagonists (read Thane's view of himself) love to play the tortured artistic genius, the sacrificial redeemer of us all. Because their insights into life are so keen, they get to trample on people with impugnity.

Thane's character in Golems, Oliver Levin, a bestselling author, is told by his literary agent: "Oliver, you're playing with fire."

He replies: "I know, literally."

That's how Thane views himself -- as a heroic moral crusader who plays with fire because of his obsession with genocide.

Not only do children of Holocaust survivors have no more inherent moral credibility than anyone else, nor do Holocaust scholars, Holocaust popularizers such as Thane, nor even Holocaust survivors.

Thane's protagonists, like Thane, have delusions of rockstar grandeur. Here are the thoughts of Thane masquerading as his protagonist Adam Posner in Elijah Visible: "My students themselves never know what to make of me..." (p. 167)

The word "themselves" is superfluous.

The students probably don't care. Most people don't think about you as much as you do. Few students care about their professors. It's a professor's delusion of grandeur to think that they do.

Thane writes: "The professor masquerading as Robert Plant."

A professor who tries to dress like a rock star is screaming for attention.

For some I was the window, the man with the law degree and the rock-star persona, a taunting reminder of the racy outside. For others, I was to be viewed with mistrust and suspicion. The green monster, tempting their most craven impulses, laying out land mines that might sabotage their mission. (p. 168)

Or they just don't care.

Like myself, Thane has wasted much of his life in delusions of grandeur that sabotage his relationships. He's a walking talking case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a crippling problem (take it from me who suffers from it) that isolates one from that which gives life meaning -- others.

I enjoy reading Thane. He goes down easy. My favorite character of his is Rabbi Vered:

Openly he boasted of having his way with the ladies -- Jew and Gentile alike. Beautiful single women -- many of whom half his age -- took turns escorting the rabbi as he entered the ballrooms of hotels along Collins Avenue, making his grand appearance at the various ceremonies of his growing congregation... There was even some talk of infidelities with married women -- members of his own congregation, no less. A shande like this was unthinkable -- even for him; so most people chose to focus their attentions elsewhere. The litany of allegations was so prevalent, it was best to just close your eyes and hope that the next morning's edition of the Miami Herald didn't have a front-page picture of Rabbi Vered embroiled in a sex scandal. (Elijah Visible, p. 130-131)

He ate rye bread during Passover and shellfish from Joe's Stone Crabs on Yom Kippur. After Saturday services, he hustled tennis matches from younger opponents, faking a bum hip... He played high-stakes poker with the synagogue's building fund, and was known to bang strippers -- and preferably not even Jewish ones -- in his office at the synagogue. (Golems, p. 6)

Once you learn that Rabbi Vered is a Holocaust survivor, you are supposed to understand his indiscretions.

Thane's most ridiculous book is The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What's Right.

Moral Justice depends on the supposition that there's a widely-believed mythology that our legal system does what is right and that what is legal equals what is moral. That is absurd. Who believes that because adultery is legal, therefore it is moral?

Like Karl Marx, Rosenbaum's work is one big cry best worked out through his own therapy self-discipline, and ethical regeneration, not through his moral prescriptions for society. Why doesn't he take his dreamy ideals and try to implement them in his own life?

On the back of Moral Justice, luminous legal mind Sidney Lumet (yes, the movie director) writes: "This deeply felt book..."

That's Thane Rosenbaum's work in a nutshell -- "deeply felt."

Everybody has deep feelings, even the most stupid football player. That does not make those feelings profound or moral.

The writing that lasts does so, not because it is deeply felt, but because it is deeply thought.

On page seven, Thane writes: "I spend my days writing fiction, but I also teach American law students how to enter their chosen profession with a deeper spiritual and moral awareness of what the law lacks."

Oy ve, if Thane Rosenbaum is teaching morals, then we are in big trouble (and he does teach morals and gets paid well to do so).

Rosenbaum ridicules belief in God, the one source for transcendent morals. All that's left are individual opinions and feelings about morals which are never going to corral the mass of people into decency.

His constant invocation of spirituality is another giveaway of Thane's moral worthlessness. "Spirituality" is what people claim when they want to avoid the hard work of participating in an organized religion.

Thane ends his first chapter complaining that American law "relies too much on logic and not enough on love."

Legal systems can not rely on intangibles such as love. Individuals can not rely on feelings of love to do the right thing.

Christianity trusts the heart, notes Dennis Prager. Judaism trusts the law. Thane's writing is profoundly unJewish.

Though couched in rational terms, Moral Justice is just a big cry about the cruelty of reality.

On page 12, Thane writes: "Law and religion are, in fact, largely and unfortunately not inspired by the same values..."

He obviously knows nothing about his own Jewish tradition where law is interlocked with values and continually demonstrates them.

Here is Thane's paradigm for a new legal system:

1. The law would strive to achieve moral outcomes.

2. The human spirit would also receive protection under the law, and the law should scrutinize the actions of those who are responsible for causing spiritual violence, indignity, and neglect.

3. Courts would provide moral remedies, such as in acknowledging the harm that was done, seeking apologies for them, and restoring relationships -- for the benefit of the entire community. (p. 33)

These outcomes are best achieved through religion. What kind of legal system would punish people for relaying true gossip? For committing adultery? Only a religious one.

Thane laments: "Stealing someone's wallet is a crime, but, for some reason, taking away their dignity is not." (p. 34)

I suspect that if Thane's legal paradigm were enacted, this blog would be a crime.

What a wonderful world that would be.

On page 43, Thane writes: "My father had been a lawyer, in Poland, before the Holcaust. After the liberation of the camps, he was never a lawyer again. Justice became a joke. Laws were used in the service of annihilation. Judges and lawyers were complicit in mass murder."

There is no profession that has not been complicit in mass murder, including plumbers. Did Thane's father stop using plumbers after the Holocaust because many plumbers became Nazis and killed Jews? Did Thane's father stop going to doctors? Mengele was a doctor. Ergo medicine is invalid? That is absurd.

On page 48, Thane writes:

The pain of injustice and unacknowledged loss does not disappear within the colorless, soulless ether of silence. Instead, the pain returns renewed, in another form -- with a vengeance, and in vengeance.

We see this in race riots and localized conflicts, when the prolonged suffering of an entire group leads its members to turn their experiences with economic and ethnic injustice into riotous, sometimes murderous, rage. The result is broken glass, property damage, and sometimes dead bodies.

How come only certain groups do this? How come Muslims tend to murder more people when they riot than do Christians and Jews? How come most of the perpetrators of the LA Riots were Blacks and Latinos (who I bet were not church-going Christians)? How come Christians and Jews suffer but don't go out and destroy the property and lives of others in their riots?

How come people like Thane Rosenbaum who tell endless tales of their own pain don't turn out to be any better human beings than the most silent repressed construction workers?

On page 277, Thane writes: "Those who hold absolutist positions with regard to the First Amendment -- believing in its sanctity and inviolability, asserting that it is the most fundamental of constitutional rights -- are grossly unmindful of the harms that insults and slurs can cause, or perhapys they simply believe that the body is more precious and fragile."

Or they simply believe that the harm of censorship outweighs the harm of free speech. Those who disagree with Thane are not necessarily unmindful of the soul.

Thane writes: "Words are not actionable when they are merely hurtful and offensive. This is the bizarre litmus test of the conventional legal paradigm..."

So Thane would like to see hurtful words made actionable? He'd like to be able to sue for his hurt feelings after reading this blog?

Thane writes on page 280: "The fact is, the legal system is kryptonite to the human soul. And it shows no interest in the soul."

If there is no God, there is no soul. Thane denies God. Why is he whining about the soul? And why is he employing useless conventions such as "The fact is." As E. B. White put it, "If you feel you are possessed of the fact or of the truth, simply state it, do not give it advanced billing."

Thane should do his own soul work, not wreck the legal system to fix his own shortcomings.

A legal system without interest in the soul is like a fish without a bicycle.

On page 289, Thane writes another cliche: "Most students attend law school for the wrong reason."

The reasons that people do things are generally not knowable (including to the persons acting) and not of much importance compared to what people do. That's why the law should only judge actions, not souls.

On page 299, Thane writes: "A novel is a work of imagination. What lawyers do is often a failure of imagination."

What would Thane know about works of imagination? His novels are pedestrian reworkings of a single odious theme -- that those who've suffered (particularly Thane Rosenbaum) are free to do what they like.

I've lost respect for the writers who blurbed Thane's books including Chaim Potok, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Rebecca Goldstein, Henry Roth, and Elie Wiesel (not that I ever had much respect for Elie's writings).

The Prestigious Thane Rosenbaum

When I read his books, I noted he kept mentioning he worked as a lawyer for a "prestigious" law firm. A Google search of his name and the word "prestigious" mentions he wons the "prestigious Wallant Prize for Elijah Visible."

Enough. If you feel your old firm or literary prize has prestige, simply state the name of the firm or the prize. The definition of the word "prestige" is: "Widely recognized prominence, distinction, or importance."

If your law firm or prize is not prominently recognized, then it probably does not have the prestige you claim for it.

Frankly, I have never heard of either Thane's old law firm (New York's Debevoise & Plimpton) or the Wallant Prize.

If you feel you have the truth or the fact, simply state it, do not give it advanced billing (E.B. White). If you feel you or your accomplishments have prestige, simply state them, do not give them advanced billing as "prestigious."

6/28/06

Thane the Profane

Lukeford.net's Unkind Jew of the Month.

Other recipients have included Michael Aushenker.

Thane Rosenbaum's Weird Luke Ford Obsession

He's on this bizarre jihad to let people know that I'm not a writer and that they should have nothing to do with me.

He's losing friends over his Luke Ford crusade.

For months before I wrote a word about him, Thane's been terribly disturbed, even threatened, by little ol' me.

I don't understand it. I've never slept with anyone who's slept with Thane. I've never even shared a kiss with one of his women, nor held hands. Yet he's on this weird mission to persuade people that I'm a lothario.

Lothario was a character in Nicholas Rowe's 1703 play The Fair Penitent, who seduces and betrays the female lead. The name has come to mean any lecherous individual, especially male.

Thane, dawg, I'm just a humble man of God. I don't spend my spare time kickin' it in the hood with the brothers, but rather in the beit midrash with my face buried deep within in the heavenly pages of the Talmud.

Since I critiqued Mr. Rosenbaum, he's been telling anyone who will listen that they should have nothing to do with me. He's told writers who've given me interviews that such interviews betray his friendship.

Thane's out of his gourd. Why do his friends indulge him and send me emails requesting that I remove their interviews? I'd never do that.

The Torah says you should not hate your neighbor in your heart. If you have a problem with somebody, you should go to that person and try to talk it out.

I've politely emailed and called Thane several times and invited him to talk things out with me, but he's not man enough to pick up the phone and talk to me. Instead he emails and calls everyone with the remotest connection to me and complains about my critique of him and his work. He goes on weird lengthy tirades about how I misunderstand him and his work.

His pathological behavior just reinforces my initial perception of Thane as a narcissist.

Now, I am every bit the narcissist that Mr. Rosenbaum is (frankly, I'll match my narcissism with anyone) but I can't imagine making the requests Thane is (asking novelists to pressure me to remove our interviews from my website). I've never never done anything like that. It's absurd.

It's pathetic that Thane's friends are going along with his request. They know it's pathetic. I can feel it from their reluctant emails.

For the record, I am not going to remove anyone's profile on my site because said person wants me to do so in the interest of their friendship with Thane.

Be a man, Thane Rosenbaum. Don't hide behind women's skirts and ask them to do your dirty work for you. If you have a problem with me, send me an email. Write it out. Talk it out. Deal with me directly.

I'm not going after your private life. I'm not publishing your private correspondence. I'm not investigating you. All I've done is publish my opinion that your writing is shallow (though often entertaining) and that your writing reflects flaws in your character.

I don't view your flaws as any more significant than the ones I have. I give you props for being a far more accomplished and recognized writer than me. I just blog. I'd love to write a novel but never been able to. You've published several. You're published by major houses and teach at major universities. You're invited to speak at major conferences. You have friends in the literary big-time. By all these standards, I'm nothing compared to you. Why do you devote such energy to shutting me down? It won't work and it only makes you look bad.

I hope at least that you'll get some good material out of this silly one-way feud.

Mate, I have a ton of lithium I'm willing to share with you. It's helped me out to no end.

Frankly, Thane, if we ever hung out together, we'd probably get along famously. We'd be narcissists in platonic love.