On the Meaning of 'Wickedness'

Adam Holland, with smart thoughts on one of Judaism's definitions of wickedness:

Entering into the fray over Jeffrey Goldberg's dialog with Alison Benedikt concerning her conversion from naive Zionism to naive anti-Zionism, Andrew Sullivan raises a question worthy of a conversation at my family's mulitcultural seder table. He asks: "I have struggled with it much of my life as a gay Catholic. Am I a "wicked son" for dissenting?"

The answer to his question is a resounding "no". The Passover Hagadah's wicked son was not wicked because he dissented. He was wicked for rejecting his connection to his people and asking why he should care about "them". In fact, the Hagadah specifically condemns him for use of that pronoun. The rabbis instruct Jews to regard ourselves as having been liberated from slavery in Egypt. That's why they tag the Jewish child who refuses to do so as the bad guy.

Sullivan, in spite of all the difficulties he has encountered as a gay Catholic, still calls himself a gay Catholic. Far from rejecting the community of Catholics, he takes on the burden of bridging what must seem a very wide gap between Catholic religious law and his personal views. It might be argued that he is actually in the majority of Catholics whose practices vary from those proscribed by the church. He may be a better Catholic than he thinks. He's trying to find a way to reconcile institutional Catholicism with the real world Catholicism of his fellow believers. In this sense, his form of dissent shows more loyalty than does the passive non-resistance of those who agree with him in their personal lives but avoid public conflict with the church.

Sullivan's dissidence differs from Benedikt's rejection of Israel in that, where Sullivan fights against a critical flaw in his community while maintaining his identity with it, Benedikt instead sleepwalks away from her community, barely recognizing her own thoughts on the subject as relevant. For those who haven't read her exchange with Goldberg, she portrays herself as a passive figure, swayed as a child by Zionist summer camp counselors, and as an adult by her anti-Israel husband. She does not advocate dissidence so much as she tries to rationalize her apathy.

In a way, isn't it apathy that the Hagadah condemns as the wickedest thing of all?
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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