The Origin of ‘Scapegoat,’ Donald Trump & Ta-Nehisi Coates: A Thought for Progressives on Yom Kippur
by: David Harris-Gershon on September 23rd, 2015 | 4 Comments »
Along with many Jews sitting in synagogue this Yom Kippur, I read what I consider to be one of the more fascinating biblical narratives: that of the scapegoat. And as I read, seated in a cavernous sanctuary, analyzing rabbinic commentary in the shadow of stain-glass-adorned walls, a strange thought surfaced. Or rather, a name: Donald Trump.
Allow me to explain.
First, for those unfamiliar with the biblical origin of the ‘scapegoat’ concept, hold on to your hats. This is fantastic. Here’s my synopsis:
The Israelites are camped in the wilderness, and Aaron, Moses’s brother who serves as the High Priest, is instructed to select two goats to be sacrificed. These “sin offerings” are meant to somehow spiritually atone for the collective transgressions of the entire nation. Only, something strange occurs. Aaron is commanded to hold some type of lottery for these two goats, with one being sacrificed as normal, and the other becoming the ‘scapegoat.’
So what happens to this scapegoat? Aaron places both hands upon this goat’s head and verbally confesses the collective sins of all the Israelites, with the goat metaphorically becoming the embodiment of everyone’s individual and collective transgressions. This ‘scapegoat’ is then cast into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Now, we didn’t cast lots on two goats this morning in synagogue, watch our rabbi hold its head while articulating our unsavory deeds, and then send one of them into the streets of Pittsburgh. Thankfully, that Yom Kippur ritual no longer holds. Instead, we verbally articulated some of the things we’ve done wrong – both as individuals and as a community.
No matter how fascinated I am by the ‘scapegoat’ narrative, I look upon it as conceptually archaic, and am glad it no longer exists. However, I realized while reading the narrative this morning that I have not escaped the narrative’s grasp. Indeed, I unknowingly enact the ritual constantly, creating scapegoats in my political life. A principle one at this moment is Donald Trump.