I know, the term very Jewish is an oxymoron. Something either is or is not Jewish, and we all know the definitions, right? Not so fast. To be sure, many communities look to a fixed understanding of Jewishness, even if their understandings of that fixed definition differ. But given that many people ascribe Jewishness to so many practices, foods, and works of art, not to mention spiritual systems, modes of affiliation, and politics ranging from Michael Learner’s to Norman Podhoretz’, perhaps something can be experienced as very Jewish.
The July Newsmax’s article about CNN’s John King, is one of those things, and not because it describes the former Catholic’s conversion to Judaism or how he and his wife, CNN’s Dana Bash, keep a kosher home. What so Jewish is King’s approach to covering the news.
King describes being animated by three things in his thinking about how a story should be told or a guest interviewed. First, he describes his love of listening and the fact that he wants even those with whom he disagrees to make the best possible case for their side. If that isn’t a contemporary version of the Pirke Avot’s teaching which defines a wise person as one who learns from all people, I don’t know what is.
The article quotes King as saying that he wants “everybody who has a legitimate stake in an issue (to) have their say.” It’s as if he is incorporating one of the chief operating principles of the Talmud onto a nightly news show! The vast majority of the Talmud is unresolved controversy, which can be messy, but it sure goes to great lengths to give voice to many stakeholders. And while that may make the show itself messy, it’s a great deal more like the Talmud than the usual fare on other cable news shows.
Finally, King describes what a gift it is to learn. That love of learning – the pursuit of wisdom about the most important issues of the day, has been perhaps the animating principle of great Jewish thinkers from the ancient sages to Maimonides to the great scholars of more recent times. All, like John King, reveled in the gift of learning.
Now I don’t pretend that these values are not found in other traditions – in fact they are. But to miss the celebration of these values in an article which plays up King’s Jewishness, would be to miss the forest for the trees and the depth of John King’s Jewishness for a particular practice, kahsrut, however precious it may be.