On Sunday, September 6, I posted an article on my blog in Times of Israel titled, “There Is a Jessica Krug in Every Jew,” where I explained that the tendency, or wish, to eschew our role in the world is common to all Jews. In some, it is expressed by the argument that Jews are like all other nations. In others, it is expressed in objection to anything Jewish. Others still choose to convert to other religions or marry non-Jews and raise their children without any, or hardly any Jewish traditions and symbolism. Jessica Krug, who chose a rather unusual way to reject her Judaism—by pretending to be of a different religion—is therefore no exception. She simply chose an unorthodox mode of action, but her wish is a conscious or unconscious wish that every Jew harbors, though of course, not everyone acts on it.
Jewish Self-Hatred through the Ages
One of the comments on the post in TOI said “The Jewish strength is precisely in disagreement, but civilized disagreement.” Disagreements, certainly, but civilized? I don’t know about that. There have been cases of what one might call “civilized” disagreements, such as the case of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. However, history is laden with testimonies of our uncivilized disputes and the misery they had wrought on our heads.
There was nothing civilized about the arguments among the leaders of the nation that caused the ruin of the First Temple. Our sages described those leaders as “people who eat and drink with one another, [yet] stab each other with the swords in their tongues” (Yoma 9b). There was also nothing civilized about the arguments between Hasmoneans and Hellenists, who were Jews who wanted to introduce the Greek culture and belief system into Judea. The war between them was a full-blown civil war, and to this day we celebrate on Hanukkah the victory of the Maccabees over their own coreligionists (who were assisted toward the end by the Greeks, to no avail).
Speaking of civil wars, we must not forget what the Jews did to each other in Jerusalem during the siege before the ruin of the Second Temple. The slaughter, starvation, and even cannibalism that Jews perpetrated on each other within the walls of the desecrated city preceding the Romans’ conquest of Jerusalem are still today a harrowing reminder of the depravity of human nature and a mark of disgrace on our people.
Interestingly, our sages never attributed our downfalls to foreign rulers, but to our own vices. In the First Temple, they said that it was ruined because of bloodshed, slander, and incest among us. In the Second Temple, they said that it was ruined because of unfounded (baseless) hatred among us, namely hatred for no reason.
It wasn’t as if our sages thought that Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed the First Temple, or Titus, who destroyed the Second Temple, were faultless. They knew they weren’t, but they didn’t place the blame with them, but with our own divisions. The book Maor VaShemesh writes, “The prime defense against calamity is love and unity. When there are love, unity, and friendship between each other in Israel, no calamity can come over them.” Likewise, the book Likutey Halachot states, “The primary element of correction is the advice to gather together, meaning that there will be unity, love, and peace in Israel.”
As for the evildoers throughout the ages, our sages simply said, “Goodness is given by the good, and wickedness by the wicked” (Shabbat 32a). In other words, our own misdeeds against each other bring upon us bad people who punish us.
But so far, we haven’t learned the lesson. Centuries after the destruction of the Temple, the fiery hatred of Jews toward Jews with other views still divides us. There was the 18th century struggle of the followers of the Vilna Gaon (GRA), who tried (and partly succeeded) to convince the Ukrainian authorities to jail the followers of The Baal Shem Tov and perhaps execute them using false allegations that they were plotting against the government. Then there was loathing between German Jewry and Polish Jewry in the 19th century, between Orthodox Jews and Zionists in Poland in the late 1800s and early 1900s, between assimilating Jews and Zionists in Germany and Austria at around the same time, between the Revisionist Movement and the Zionist Organization in Palestine in the 1930s, before the establishment of the State of Israel, and between the Zionist Organization of America and Reform Judaism in America before, during, and after World War II. In all those cases, Jews not only disagreed with one another; they tried to extinguish one another politically, or financially, or physically, or all the above, and no means was too extreme.
In my book The Jewish Choice: Unity or Anti-Semitism, I illustrate the common process that unfolds in all of our tragedies: mutual hatred and division, the rise of a Jew-hating ruler, and the bitter end of the Jewry in that place. It always follows the same procession, and in all those cases, Jews even assist the prosecutors in hunting down their dissenting brethren.
The Surprising Demands of Rabid Antisemites
Today, we are seeing the same trend developing in America between Jewish supporters of the Democratic Party and supporters of the Republican Party, and between Jewish Zionists and anti-Zionists. It is still not as violent as in past divisions, but it is already as caustic and the trend is very clear. If this mutual enmity continues, an oppressor of Jews will surely rise, and probably sooner than later. When that happens, it will be impossible to prevent the tragedy.
Ironically, all this self-hatred comes from the nation that conceived the imperative that defines absolute love: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In fact, we did not officially inaugurate our nationhood until we agreed, at the foot of Mt. Sinai, to unite “as one man with one heart.” And immediately thereafter, we were told to be “a light unto nations,” namely light up the road to unity to the entire world. This is why when antisemites accuse us of causing all the wars, I cannot blame them. In the absence of unity among us, they have no example to follow, so how can we expect them to unite and make peace with one another?
It is no coincidence that some of the most notorious antisemites were also very perceptive in their grievances with the Jews. Henry Ford (founder of the Ford Motor Company), for example, wrote in his infamous book The International Jew—The World’s Foremost Problem: “The whole prophetic purpose with reference to [the people of] Israel seems to have been the moral enlightenment of the world through its agency.” Elsewhere, he adds, “Society has a large claim against [the Jew] that he … begin to fulfill … the ancient prophecy that through him all the nations of the earth should be blessed.” And most astonishing is his advice to sociologists to learn from the ancient Jews how to build a role model society: “Modern reformers, who are constructing model social systems on paper, would do well to look into the social system under which the early Jews were organized.”
At around the same time when Ford wrote his book, another antisemite, in another part of the world, wrote another book. Ukraine born Vasily Shulgin was a senior member of the Duma, the Russian Parliament, before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and a proud self-proclaimed antisemite. In his book What We Don’t Like about Them, he explains what he thinks Jews are doing wrong. Shulgin complains that “Jews in the 20th century have become very smart, effective, and vigorous at exploiting other people’s ideas.” But out of the blue, he takes a sharp turn from the trite canard and declares, “[But] this is not an occupation for teachers and prophets, not the role of guides of the blind, not the role of carriers of the lame.”
Subsequently, just like Ford, this rabid antisemite invites the Jews to lead humanity: “Let them … rise to the height to which they climbed [in antiquity] … and immediately, all nations will rush to their feet. They will rush not by virtue of compulsion … but by free will, joyful in spirit, grateful and loving, including the Russians! We ourselves will request, ‘Give us Jewish rule, wise, benevolent, leading us to the Good.’ And every day we will offer the prayers for them, for the Jews: ‘Bless our guides and our teachers, who lead us to the recognition of Your goodness.’”
But in order to be teachers, we must be what the people of Israel are meant to be, united “as one man with one heart” above all our differences, setting an example of unity to the entire world, and thereby being “a light unto nations.” This has been our vocation from day one, and this will continue to be our vocation until we carry it out. It is not an easy one, and I cannot blame anyone for shunning it and denying its validity. But denial won’t deter the detractors, who will come and punish us once more for not doing our duty.
Unity, and Memories from Europe
So yes, we disagree on everything, but doing it in a civilized manner is not what we are meant to do. What we are meant to do is love each other even though we disagree. This is a much harder task, but it is the one required of us, and we can only pull it off if we unite and help each other out.
We didn’t only give the world the motto, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” we also gave it arvut hadadit (mutual responsibility). Indeed, we are mutually responsible for one another in this task, too. Only if we all pull together, we will unite above our differences and the world will follow our example. But if we don’t pull together, if we fall victim to our mutual hatred, the world will not forgive us and we will experience what our people went through eighty years ago in Europe.
I wish I didn’t have to write these words, but this is the truth as I see it, as I learned from history and from my teachers, and it is my duty to do what I can to save my people from annihilation while it is still possible. I lost almost my entire family in the Holocaust; I cannot sit idly by when I know what can prevent it from happening again.