Wednesday, February 3, 2010

British Rock, Metaphysics, and Jewish Identity

In case you are in need of a good philosophical question to ponder, here’s one I’ve been thinking about this week:

On Sunday, many of us who don’t care much about football will eagerly watch the half-time show, featuring the classic British rock band, The Who—sort of.

The thing is, two of the four members of the band—drummer Keith Moon and bass player John Entwistle—have died. So we basically have half of The Who, Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey.

Hence the question: is half of The Who still The Who?

Consider: If Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr got together to play (as they have, on occasion) no one would say, “Oh, it’s The Beatles.”

Maybe this indicates that some band members are more important than others. If the remaining half of The Who was Moon and Entwistle, few would think of them as The Who. In other words, maybe there is a kind of “essence” of a band—Lennon and McCartney with The Beatles—and that’s the part that makes it that band. By way of example: Nirvana went through quite a few drummers, and with each, was still Nirvana. But once Kurt Cobain died, the band was unquestionably dead with him.

And so the old Jewish question: Is there a parallel “essence” to Judaism? Clearly there are many variations in Jewish practice: Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, etc.

Is there a common element that is essential—a Kurt Cobain or Lennon/McCartney of Jewish practice(s)?

Or is essentialist thinking out-dated and obsolete, as some suggest? Maybe The Who are just The Who because they call themselves The Who, and this is just a question of semantics.

What do you think?

Meanwhile, I’m sad the half-time show won’t leave enough time for “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

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