Maureeen Dowd's regular column in the NYT deals this week with the hypocrisy of Republican politicians. The content doesn't particular interest me one way or the other. It's a litany of things Dowd doesn't like abut the behavior of various Republican politicians, and it's probably very interesting if you're into the minutiae of such things; I expect - without knowing, mind you - that a similar list could be made about Democratic politicians, or British Labor ones, or German CDU ones, or Israelis of any political stripe. Polticians in democracies, rather like apparatchiks in tyrannies, are rarely paragons of moral greatness.
The reason I'm linking to her piece is because of its title: Pharisees on the Potomac. For Dowd, brought up in a Christian culture even though she herself may well be secular, agnostic, athiest or whatever, the term Pharisee resonates as a deeply negative description. It goes back 2000 years, and is so profoundly a part of her cultural conditioning she's totally unaware of it. It simply "is".
For any educated Jew, on the other hand, the same word resonates very differently. The Pharisees were the group of Jews in Judea, 2000 years ago, who came out on top of the generations of severe religious and cultural strife. The Pharisees won the cultural war against the Saducees, first and foremost, but also the essenes, the early Christians (=Minim), and various other splinter groups of the time. Which means, the Pharisees: that's US. And proud of it, too. This isn't a remote and insignificant factoid from 2000 years ago: it's how we identify ourselves whenever we deal with those 2000-year-old texts which are the living fundament of what many of us are today, in July 2009.
I'm not saying Maureen Dowd is an antisemite. She isn't. But even Maureen Dowd, an unthinking and superficial liberal in an American society which is broadly free of antisemitism, can't quite get rid of the cultural baggage she has inherited from millenia of cultural forbears.
Nor can we.