I have always been fascinated with Hitchens and since his death I have been meaning to post a few of the thoughts that I have had about Hitchens over the last couple of years.
- He was a great debater. He crushed Shmuley Boteach, and he completely intimidated David Wolpe. However, I feel like he crossed the line with Harold Kushner. Anyone who knows Harold Kushner knows that he is perhaps one of the most caring and sensitive people in the world. Who more knows about suffering of children than Kushner who lost a child to a terrible illness? And yet Hitchens makes him appear to be a monster for not considering circumcision to be a crime. The only one who I felt defeated Hitchens was Al Sharpton. I think that says a lot about how we should view these types of debates.
- There is a well written piece about how Hitchens attitude and opinions about Judaism could be easily construed as blatant anti semitism. I have to agree with that. I am sure Hitchens had more than his share of Jewish friends, not to mention that he was a classic product of a Jewish mother. Never the less, when he writes about religious Jews you get the image that comes to mind is the Nazi propaganda caricature of a Jew.
- I did not trust Hitchens as a writer. His knowledge of Judaism was made up of half truths or blatant falsehoods, most if not all of which he collected second hand from writers with an obvious disdain for classical Judaism. Yet Hitchens writes with the arrogance of an expert who has personally spent years researching and analysing the original sources himself. Any child with a day school education could point to the inaccuracies or omissions. I know about Judaism so I can see the inaccuracies for myself. But when he wrote about subjects which I am not an expert, I don't think I can trust that an expert in that subject would not feel the same way about his particular field.
- He regularly took things out of context to prove what ever point he was making. Two in particular that I took issue with: he regularly would say how Judaism is not so nice if you are an Amalekite or a midyanite. He felt that the Torah commanded genocide against them. Of all people, I would have thought Hitchens would be more understanding of those commandments. Both involve nations that were actively at war with the Jews. In fact, regarding Midyan, it is in the very same verse. "Harass the Midyanites for they are harassing you." Hitchens was a proponent of the way in Iraq. Why is that different then Moses and the Israelites going to war against their enemies?
- The second example is something more subtle. In his memoir, when making reference to the war Israel fought in 1973 he says, "the war that Israel calls the Yom Kippur war and the Arabs call the Ramadan war." As if this is just another proof that all religion is bad. The Arabs were incited to war because it was Ramadan, whereas those war mongering Jews were incited by their violent Yom Kippur holiday.
- As a Rabbi I am sometimes called upon to defend Judaism in public and he certainly made me aware of the need to be sharp and articulate and understand the polemic arguments that exist against Judaism and be prepared to properly respond.
- He gave me a sensitivity to the feelings of the modern atheist. Hitchens was obnoxious, but perhaps that came from a deep feeling of alienation. There are many atheists who are sincere in their belief and the truth is they are in the great minority. They are a religion, but there is really no community for them. Also, they do not have God to turn to in their loneliness. It is a difficult concept, but there must be a way that the religious community can be more sensitive to atheists without being condescending, alienating, or threatened.
- He was a gadfly that caused me to question my own beliefs. There is nothing wrong with questioning the existence of God. Hitchens made me and thousands of others think seriously about what we believe and for that we owe him gratitude.
- He brought me closer to God. In his book he writes that the world is chance. He makes a joke in God is Not Great about how his child's ear is imperfect because it is constantly filling up with ear wax. But it seems to me that ear wax is actually a proof in God that Hitchens must contend with. The way that our bodies miraculously produce defense mechanisms that protect us even when we are not aware is a true miracle. Since i read his book I have become like Pascal. Every time I observe the wonders of nature and how perfectly the world and all of its components work in so many different and interesting ways and I am reminded of God. It is most apparent in a new born baby, when I look and see a perfect machine with so many intricate functioning parts that even the greatest of human technology does not begin to compare to. My initial reaction is to get pissed off at Christopher Hitchens for suggesting that this is anything but a miracle. In my head I say, "GO TO HELL CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS!!!" But instead it immediately leads me to praise God for creating this miracle. I am sure he did not intend to do so, but Christopher Hitchens makes me appreciate God every day and I thank him for that.