I recently attended a two day lecture given by Lonny Jarrett, a popular lecturer in Chinese Medicine circles who is an authority on a style of acupuncture called “Five Element”.
In the course of his lecture Mr. Jarrett argued that general differences of character and levels of development between cultures can be demonstrated. These are only generally true, he was quick to add, and should not be assumed of individual members of that culture before you meet them and judge them as individuals. Cultural distinctions are true, though, he insisted, and then Mr. Jarrett, who is Jewish, made the following statement : “For example”, he said, “Jews are greedy. Obsessed with money! I’m a natural born entrepeneur- I can’t help it. I should not be judged on that, but rather on my relationship to the trend of my culture ( ie. perhaps I have an enlightened relationship to my culturally conditioned greed as a Jew!)”
There are two things wrong with this argument. The first, major one: Jews Are Not Greedy, at least no more than anyone else. Secondarily, it’s an interesting example of how a stereotype is built. Where, in fact, does this idea of Jewish greediness even come from?
Jews of European descent, known as Ashkenazi Jews, were forbidden for centuries in Europe to own land. This was one of many discriminatory legal restraints intended to control Jews. Most Jews lived in rural villages or ghettoes, and were terribly poor throughout European history. Some became doctors, craftsmen, labourers, or scholars, and some went into trade or banking to make money for themselves and their communities. Banking was considered, with some justification, a dirty business, and over time Christians came to associate Jews with banking (amongst other things like well-poisoning, black magic, cannibalism, and killing God of course). When the Jews of Europe were liberated from discriminatory laws they flooded into other professions. Many Jewish immigrants were very successful in the US. The resultant high numbers of Jews in the the American middle class further fed the old European stereotype of the “money hungry Jew”. Of course American Jews are not particularly money hungry or business savvy, but any time there is a successful Jewish businessman some people will nod their heads sagaciously and say, “Ah, he’s Jewish you know.” There are rich Irish businessmen and Romanian bankers of course but these people will not notice them.
Another problem with this stereotype is that it is based on Ashkenazi Jews, who make up only a portion of world Jewry. A substantial portion of Jews are not Ashkenazi but are Sefardic (from Spain and North Africa) Mizrahi (Middle Eastern), Russian and African (the Falasha and Bene Israel), and even Chinese or Indian. These Jews do not even share the history of involvement in banking that helped to generate the European sterotype! Jews are not a race but a tribe of diverse ethnicity with shared history, formed by marriage and conversion as well as birth. When viewed against the wider canvas of Jewish life Mr. Jarrett’s stereotypes is seen even more clearly as inaccurate.
Mr. Jarrett’s statement is an example of the dangers of generalization. I attempted to post a critique of Mr. Jarrett’s statement on his website, Nourishing Destiny (nourishingdestiny.com). Mr. Jarrett deleted my post (which was substantially the same as this blog entry), canceled my account on his forum, and responded to me with a personal email attacking my motivations and my words, which he claimed were not an adequately sincere, serious, dignified, respectful and intelligent inquiry. After some discussion Lonny re-instated my ability to post on his forum but was not willing to discuss his comments or admit any possibility of verbal misconduct or error on his part.
One side concern with this incident was the lack of reaction I got from several people I told the story too. The response seemed to be, well, that’s kind of true, isn’t it? Or, well he was Jewish, right? One person asked me, “Would his statement bother you if it hadn’t been about Jews?”
As a matter of fact Mr. Jarret caricatured and insulted Buddhism, Indian culture, ancient Chinese sages, tribal peoples, women and men during the course of his lecture as well. My deleted post on his forum and emails to him critiqued these comments as well.
An interesting post-script to this incident occurred when a fellow student at my school posted a response to my critique (which she read before it was deleted) saying that I had been offended simply because I am still attached to self- ie. not spiritually enlightened enough. She signed her post off with an Islamic phrase (she is not as far as I know a Muslim). A Jewish acupuncturist on the forum objected to her sign-off on the grounds that pre-modern Islamic religious sentiments are not enlightened enough! Lonny then objected that such Islamic sentiments were perfectly welcome on his site and that the objector should chill out (I very much agree). But here’s the kicker: that same fellow student, mentioning this incident, cited it as proof of Lonny’s claim that some cultural stereo-types are true. “You see”, she said, “Like the fact that all Jews hate Muslims.”
Wow! So here someone sees two Jews arguing. One says traditional Islamic sentiments are not welcome, one says they are perfectly fine. She concludes, “You see, all Jews hate Muslims.”
for info on Mr. Cohen see his webiste http://www.andrewcohen.org/
and for critical assessment http://www.kheper.net/topics/Wilber/Ken_Wilber.htm
For more on Mr. Jarett, including the audio of the lectures I am critiquing, see here:
Please note that Mr. Jarett forbids the taping of his lectures, as he said, because he wants to “put out an edited, quality product”. Thus the audio may be edited from its original version.