Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

From Jew to Israelite: Making "Uncomfortarle Communions" and the New Rhetoric's Tools for Invention

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

From Jew to Israelite: Making "Uncomfortarle Communions" and the New Rhetoric's Tools for Invention

Article excerpt

In "Presencing 'Communion' in Chaim Perelman's New Rhetoric," Graft and Winn (2006) note that "communion" has at least three possible argumentative ends. First, it denotes a "community's agreement on questions of value" (p. 46). Second, it identifies and describes "an objective sought in certain forms of discourse" (p. 46). And third, communion refers to the audience-contingent outcome that might be achieved using "specific linguistic-stylistic devices" (p. 46). Graft and Winn differentiate between strong and weak forms (p. 65), and explain how maxims and proverbs, allusions and quotations, and pronouns and other word choices function as means for creating, strengthening, or appealing to communion (pp. 60-61). Throughout their discussion, they demonstrate how communion functions epideictically as a condition of the particular audience (p. 62) and thus emphasize the importance of "communion" and shared values as both argumentative "means" and "ends" (p. 50).

This duality of means and ends leaves communion in a fragile state. On the one hand, a rhetor imagines and appeals to a concept of communion the audience is presumed to share; on the other, successful appeals to communion should also be able to change and affect the audience addressed by the discourse. But what happens when the terms for communion itself are up for debate? How does one communicate with others who don't already share the same values or value hierarchies "communion" presumes? To investigate these questions, I will connect communion to The New Rhetoric's concepts of "universal audience" and "dissociation," which also appeal to and invoke specific values and value hierarchies that a particular audience holds dear. Graft and Winn might argue, in fact, that these concepts are parts of the "strong communion" that a rhetor can invoke to advance more controversial arguments.

In this essay, I will demonstrate how dissociation and universal audience help to explain the complication of communion when a particular Jewish audience splits into subgroups whose members dissociate Jewish identity into race and religion and then prioritize different aspects of the antinomy. Specifically, I will analyze correspondence between white and black Jewish members of Hatzaad Harishon (H.H.), a multi-racial non-profit organization committed to ameliorating relations among Jews of all races in New York from 1964-1972. Analyzing excerpts from correspondence between James Benjamin, H.H.'s Black Jewish executive director from 1970-1972, and white Jewish Rabbi Ralph Simon, one of H.H.'s founding members, I interpret a 1971 dispute over the terms "Israelite" and "Jew" to show how competing identities and the value hierarchies they structure complicate communication and communion when identity and conceptions of the universal Jewish audience are the issues at stake. After careful analysis, I introduce the concept of "uncomfortable communion" to explain how individuals and groups with seemingly few shared values engage one another in ways that might not produce immediate success or agreement on the disputed terms that communion presumes, but still allow for continued communication despite significant disagreement, and thus preserve the possibility that greater communion might be forged at a later time.

Before we consider Benjamin's and Simon's texts more closely, however, it is necessary to put their correspondence in greater historical context and to explain a bit more about Black Jews in general. In New York in the 1960s and 1970s, myriad Black groups claimed Jewish identity and were met with resistance from the recognized Jewish community. (1) Although the terms "Black Jews" and "recognized Jews" refer to what was actually a conglomeration of different groups with different practices and beliefs, the groups can been seen as two distinct communities in that they interpreted situations similarly based on the value hierarchy they privileged for Jewish identity. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.