History repeatedly shows that we abuse and ostracize our own people, despite ocular proof that our divisiveness is the cause of our ruin.
If the Arabs learned from the Romans, whose legions destroyed Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, we would not be sovereigns in Israel today. Palestinian terrorism, however painful, does not pose an existential threat to the State of Israel. The hatred that Jews feel for their coreligionists, on the other hand, poses a very big threat. This time of the year, when we remember how the hatred between us consumed our nation, our land, and inflicted a prolonged exile on our nation, is an appropriate time to reflect on our past and where we stand as far as righting the wrongs that induced our defeat.
The Clever Romans
Two thousand years ago, with the powerful Roman legions camped outside Jerusalem, the Jews within the city slaughtered one another ruthlessly. “The commanders of the Romans deemed this sedition among their enemies [the Jews in Jerusalem] to be of great advantage to them,” wrote Josephus Flavius in The Wars of the Jews (Book IV, Chapter 6). “They were very earnest to march to the city, and they urged Vespasian, their lord and general, to make haste. They said to him: ‘The providence of God is on our side by setting our enemies against one another.’ But Vespasian replied that they were greatly mistaken in what they thought fit to be done … for if they now go and attack the city, ‘They shall but cause their enemies to unite together, and shall convert their force, which is now in its height against themselves. If they stay a while, they shall have fewer enemies because they will be consumed in this sedition. God acts as a general of the Romans better than I can do, and is giving the Jews up to us without any pains of our own… Therefore, while our enemies are destroying each other with their own hands, and falling into the greatest of misfortunes, which is that of sedition, it is our best way to sit still as spectators, rather than to fight hand to hand with men that love murdering, and are mad one against another.’ “The Jews are vexed to pieces every day by their civil wars and dissensions, and are under greater miseries than—if they were taken—could be inflicted on them by us,” wrote Flavius, himself a Jew who turned against his own people. “But,” concludes Flavius (Book V, Chapter 6), “it was most of all unhappy [for the Jews] before [Jerusalem] was overthrown. Those that took it did it a great kindness, for I venture to affirm that the sedition destroyed the city, and the Romans destroyed the sedition. Thus, we may justly ascribe our misfortunes to our own people,” concludes the historian grimly, yet soberly.
All of our sages, all of our spiritual leaders throughout the ages, agree with Flavius’ assertion that it was not the Romans, but this fiery mutual hatred that caused our downfall, the ruin of the Temple, and the prolonged exile. Had the Romans heeded Vespasian’s advice to the fullest, they would have walked into a city populated by corpses, and the Jewish people would have been history.
Who Rules the King’s Heart?
Today, the Arabs want to see us out of Israel and gone for good. It is our fortune that they are not wise enough to leave us alone, as did the Romans, and watch us repeat the feat of self-extermination. Had the Arabs left us to our own devices, their victory would have been secured.
There is a very good reason why Vespasian wrote, “God acts as a general of the Romans better than I can do.” Our most formidable haters have felt that they were executing God’s punishment against the Jews. In the case of the Romans, Flavius wrote that the Jews “entirely lost mercy among them,” and “trampled upon all the laws of men, and laughed at the laws of God” (The Wars of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter 6).
According to historian and Reform Rabbi Jacob Rader Marcus, that same sensation permeated the hearts of the detractors of the Jews in 15th century Spain. In his book The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook: 315-1791, Marcus writes, “The agreement permitting the Jews to remain in Spain on the payment of a large sum of money was almost completed when it was frustrated by the interference of Torquemada,” the Chief Inquisitor and himself of Jewish descent. At the bewilderment of the representatives of the Jews, Queen Isabella answered them “similar to the saying of King Solomon [Proverbs, 21:1]: ‘The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.’ She said furthermore: ‘Do you believe that this comes upon you from us? The Lord has put this thing into the heart of the king.’” Even the archenemy of the Jewish people, Adolf Hitler, felt that he was doing God’s will. In his infamous book, Mein Kampf, he wrote, “Eternal Nature inexorably avenges the infringement of her commands. Hence, today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”
Headed for the Greatest Division in Our History
Preceding every major devastation that came upon the Jews was a period of intense rejection of everything that had to do with Judaism, and especially the prime tenet to love your neighbor as yourself, and the commandment to be “a light unto nations.” Instead of wanting to be a role model of unity, the decline of the Jews always presents itself in interior bickering, hatred, and division to the point that the nations cannot stand us. When our desire to abandon our heritage and our commitment translates into the desire to mingle among the nations, it triggers an intense rejection in our host, which we interpret as antisemitism.
Prior to the ruin of the Temple, the rejection of our heritage was called “Hellenism.” Prior to the expulsion from Spain, the rejection was regarded as “acculturation,” and prior to the Holocaust, the German Jews were fully absorbed in what they regarded as “assimilation.” In simple words, preceding every calamity was an extended period of Jews denying their heritage, internal fragmentation, and a craving to dissolve among the nations.
Today’s American Jewry calls the desire to dissolve among the nations, “integration,” but in essence, it is the same phenomenon, and it will bring with it the same dire consequences. On July 16, Emma Green of The Atlanticpublished a detailed report concerning approaches to interfaith marriages among Conservative Jews. The report joins a host of other reports and essays depicting a grim picture of the divisions within American Jewry and growing disregard toward our heritage. In the words of Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, “Ultimately, we’re headed toward one of the greatest divisions in the history of the Jewish people.”
Rabbi Yanklowitz is not alone. “What some people fear, on both sides of the intermarriage debate,” writes Green, “is that Jews will no longer be one people, but rather two peoples recognized according to radically different standards.” Felicia Sol, a Rabbi at the B’nai Jeshurun Conservative synagogue, echoed these feelings, saying, “We could lose a generation, if not the future of Jewish life.”
But as it always happens, just before the Jews completely dissolve within their host nation, the tables turn on them and the hospitality becomes hostility.
These three weeks that we are in—between the 17th of Tammuz, when the Romans broke the walls of Jerusalem and entered the city that had been devastated from within, and the 9th of Av, when the conquerors destroyed the Temple—should be a time of reflection for all of us. As things stand today, the level of mutual dislike within American Jewry seems so high that it seems plausible to see some form of repetition of the catastrophes of the past.
In Spain, as well as in Germany, the Jews did not see their end approaching. They were blinded by complacency, and by the time they awoke, it was too late.
We should remember that as much as we would like to be, Jews are never part of the local culture. Jews always are and always will be judged by a higher standard than all other nations. Just look at the repeated condemnations of the Jewish state in the United Nations as a striking example.
Jews will always be expected to be merciful when all other nations slay each other indiscriminately. Jews will always be accused of all the wrongs in the world, not because they are wrong-doers, but because they are not right-doers. That is, they are not bringing the “light” of unity unto the nations, or as the Raiah Kook put it: “The purpose of Israel is to unite the world into a single family” (Whisper to Me the Secret of Existence).
In that regard, in his “Introduction to the Book of Zohar,” Rav Yehuda Ashlag writes that when Israel are not united, “all the destructors among the nations of the world raise their heads and wish primarily to destroy and to kill the children of Israel, as it is written (Yevamot, 63), ‘No calamity comes to the world but for Israel.’ This means, as it is written in the above corrections, that [Israel] cause poverty, ruin, robbery, killing, and destruction in the whole world.”
We are truly Jewish only when we place the tenet “Love your neighbor as yourself” above all else. When we abandon this mindset, we begin to argue over who is a better Jew than whom, and from this point on we are certain to end in doom. As Flavius put it: “The Jews are vexed to pieces every day by their civil wars and dissensions,” and “we may justly ascribe our misfortunes to our own people.”
If we attempted to rebuild the Temple today, can we imagine the wars that would erupt among us over who would oversee the building? As the Romans noticed, our strength is in our unity. As long as we condone separation between us, we are hastening the arrival of another ruin on our people.
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