In the 14th century, a bubonic plague, aka The Black Death, wreaked havoc across Europe in what became the most fatal pandemic in human history, annihilating nearly half of Europe’s population. In those days, people had no scientific knowledge or sanitary conditions to stem the spread of the pestilence, so their only refuge from complete despair was rumors, usually completely fabricated. One such rumor was that Jews had caused the disease by deliberately poisoning wells.
Jews were often the target of false rumors when attempting to explain crises. This time, however, the result was particularly painful: Between 1348-1351, 350 pogroms against Jews were recorded, in which no less than 210 communities were simply exterminated. Even years after the plague had subsided, pogroms related to the well-poisoning libel still took place. In 1370, for example, the libel ignited the Brussels massacre which wiped out the Belgian Jewish community.
The current pandemic, Covid-19, is likely to repeat the pattern. Although Jews, and particularly the Jewish state, Israel, have already been accused of causing it, such libels are still in the margins. Yet, the more the current plague continues, and the more helpless humanity feels, the more people’s eyes will turn to the Jews, and their fingers will point to us as the evildoers.
As then, so now, we will make every reasonable argument to prove that we are not to blame, that we did not cause the pandemic. As then, so now, no one will listen. In that regard, the world has not changed since the Middle Ages. If we think people are more reasonable or civilized today than they were then, we need only look at what happened in Germany less than a century ago to realize that humanity is today what it has always been: Inherently irrational and ever willing to pin the blame on the Jews.
But is humanity wrong? If everyone tells us that we are to blame, and we’re the only ones who think otherwise, then who is right? Because even if we didn’t cause The Black Death or Covid-19, and we didn’t, for sure, perhaps there is some other fault in us that we are unaware of and that the world cannot articulate, and it expresses it through its most convenient pretext. Perhaps this is why the world blames us not only of starting The Black Death and Covid, but of causing all the wars, the HIV virus, every economic and financial crisis that’s ever struck humanity, every violation of human rights, in every country, even where there are no Jews, and in general, of everything that’s wrong with the world.
The problem is that we are unaware of what our own sages teach. If we were more informed, we would realize that they, too, thought that everything that’s wrong with the world is because of the Jews, and that the Jews can and must correct it. Our sages attributed all our troubles and all the world’s troubles to our lack of unity, and as a result, maintained that our unity, the unity of the Jewish people, is the cure for everything.
For example, the Talmud writes (Yevamot 63), “No calamity comes to the world but for Israel.” Incidentally, “for” means both “for our sake,” to help us, as well as “because.” Similar to the Talmud, the book Shem MiShmuel writes, “When they [Israel] are as one man with one heart, they are as a fortified wall against the forces of evil.” Rabbi Nathan Sternhertz writes in his book Likutey Halachot [Assorted Rules], which describes how Jews should behave, “‘Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob,’ precisely ‘Gather together,’ for he revealed to them that the primary element of correction is the advice to gather together, meaning that there will be unity, love, and peace in Israel, that they will gather together to speak to one another of the final purpose. Thus they will be rewarded with completeness of the counsel, for Israel and the Law are all one to the extent of peace and unity in Israel.” Rabbi Simcha Bonim Bonhart of Peshischa wrote similarly in A Broadcasting Voice: “This is the mutual guarantee on which Moses worked so hard before his death, to unite the children of Israel. All of Israel are each other’s guarantors [responsible for one another], meaning that when all are together, they see only good.”
The book Bina Le’Itim explains not only how division hurts us, but also how unity saves us: “The foundation of the wickedness of evil Haman, on which he had built his request of the king to sell the Jews to him … is what he had begun to argue, ‘There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed,’ etc. He cast his filth saying that that nation deserves to be destroyed, for separation rules among them, they are all full of strife and quarrel, and their hearts are far from one another. However, He put the healing before the blow [took preventing measures] … by hastening Israel to unite and adhere to one another, to all be one, as one man, and this is what saved them, as in the verse, ‘Go, gather together all the Jews.’”
And finally, The Book of Zohar explains not only that our disunity causes our troubles, but that it also causes the world’s worst calamities. In the section Tikkuney Zohar [corrections of The Zohar], Tikkun [correction] no. 30, the book writes, “In such a generation,” when Israel do not correct themselves through unity, “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, ‘No calamity comes to the world but for Israel’ (Yevamot 63a). This means, as it is written in the above Tikkunim [corrections], that [Israel] cause poverty, ruin, robbery, killing, and destructions in the whole world.”
There are countless other examples but regrettably, they cannot all fit into one essay. Nevertheless, the picture is clear enough. If our own sages and our own texts tell us that we are responsible for our own fate and for the fate of the world, that we determine what happens to us and to the world through our unity or division, do we not owe it to ourselves and to the world to at least try to follow our sages’ advice? Can we blame Jew-haters of baseless hatred when our own sages speak so similarly? I believe the answer is clear, and the onus is on us.