Tales of Timna the Concubine
Cockburn, Alexander, The Nation
"For me, they're fascists because I can't see much difference between Kristallnacht and what they're doing to me for the last two years." What we have here is a restaurant owner talking about a strike by his workers. Inside the pretentious Box Tree restaurant on the East Side of Manhattan is Bulgarian-born Augustin Paege, and outside on the street are four Mexican-born pickets, who have been there for two years.
This is where we are with strikes these days. Ask for better working conditions, health benefits, a seniority system and h grievance procedure, and the employer starts howling about Kristallnacht, as Paege did to Carey Goldberg of The New York Times.
People are getting loonier. Robin Cembalest, a sparky columnist from Forward in New York, called me a couple of weeks ago to ask what I thought about the attack on me in the Voice Literary Supplement. The VLS isn't big in Humboldt County--nor anyplace else apparently, since no one phoned to exult or commiserate, or even to say they'd seen it.
Soon a very, very long article by Michael Tolkin, the fellow who wrote Altman's The Player, came churning through the fax. It was mostly about The Turner Diaries, with lunges at yours truly when the mood took him. Among my achievements: I'd driven him back to Judaism' Among my deficits: I'd quoted Bruce Cockburn's line "If I had a rocket launcher...," thereby expressing the unspoken impotence and hypocrisy of the left. According to Tolkin, I hate liberalism because of its intersection with Judaism. Mostly Tolkin was brooding on the fact that if the Jews hadn't rejected the concubine Timna, she wouldn't have ended up with Esau's son Eliphaz, "who had grown up with his father's resentment," and given birth to Amalek. You'll recall the Amalekites ("first of the nations"--i.e., goyim), whom the Lord God (as relayed by the prophet Samuel to Saul) enjoined the children of Israel to smite and "utterly destroy all that they have and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." The divinely mandated genocide was duly performed, with Samuel himself finally hewing King Agag to pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.
Apparently Tolkin feels all this could have been avoided if Eliphaz's thing with Timna had been better handled. As things are, "The Book is the Book of the Order of Amalek. We cast them off, set them in motion, and whenever we're weak, there they are."
So, like the hound of heaven who pursued Francis Thompson to the Catholic Church, I have pursued Tolkin back into the synagogue he had abandoned. ("I came back to Judaism because of a few columns by Alexander Cockburn.")
But those fateful columns, which he dates to the late 1980s, clearly failed in their intent, which was to bring Tolkin and other spiritual wastrels back to the riches of my own Babylonian faith. I specifically warned against the tempting, fly-by-night modernity of Jewish, Christian and Muslim scripture. If my words had not fallen on deaf ears, Tolkin would today be uttering his apothegms about truly venerable figures such as Ut-hapishtim and Enkidu, instead of Talmudic Johnny-come-latelies like Timna and Eliphaz. Even in his current quest, though, Tolkin might benefit from a reliable goyische scholar like Robin Lane Fox, who would clear up his seeming confusion about the two Isaiahs, separated by a couple of hundred years but writing under the same name.
Most of what Tolkin wrote was mad or incompehensible, but he got furious when Cembalest told him she'd faxed me his ravings. "I think that a Jew sending it is a betrayal," she reports him in Forward as saying. "It's theoretically wrong for a Jewish paper [to send it]." He went on, "If I'm trying to say something to fellow Jews--saying it in a language that may be difficult for non-Jews to understand--to bring it to the attention of non-Jews may be dangerous to the Jews." But presumably the VLS is read by at least some non-Jews, so he was being far more reckless than Cembalest, who faxed it to only one non-Jew, whereas Tolkin published it in a 150,000-circulation magazine, displayed in bookstores no doubt browsed by Amalekites hoping to find more stuff like The Turner Diaries. …