In his book The Jew in the Medieval World, Prof. of Jewish History Jacob Rader Marcus presents a dramatic depiction of the events leading to the announcement of the Alhambra Decree in 1492, which led to the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Marcus writes that “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 Prior of Santa Cruz, Tomás de Torquemada,” who despite his Jewish roots, headed the Inquisition in Spain. According to Marcus, “Legend relates that Torquemada … thundered with crucifix aloft to the King and Queen: ‘Judas Iscariot sold his master for thirty pieces of silver. Your Highness would sell him anew for thirty thousand? Here he is [pointing to the cross], take him, and barter him away.’” King Ferdinand, dumbfounded by the zealous speech, promptly discarded any hesitations he might have had about the implementation of the decree.
However, what happened next was even more astounding. Marcus writes that Queen Isabella, who was present in the room when Torquemada stormed in, “gave an answer to the representatives of the Jews, similar to the saying of King Solomon [Proverbs 21:1]: ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turns it wherever He wills.’ 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.’” Subsequently, concludes Marcus, the Jews “saw that there was evil determined against them by the King, and they gave up the hope of remaining.”
In 1929, a few years before Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, it was already clear that antisemitism was rising in the defeated country that could not recover from the consequences of World War I. Reflecting on the growing Jew-hatred in his country, Dr. Kurt Fleischer, leader of the Liberals in the Berlin Jewish Community Assembly, stated that “Anti-Semitism is the scourge that God has sent us in order to lead us together and weld us together.”
Fleischer’s statement expressed something that our sages throughout the ages have argued, that we bring our foes upon ourselves through our division. The fall of the Second Temple and the exile from the land of Israel are the most known examples of Jewish self-hatred that had brought upon us a cataclysm, but there are plenty others. In Spain, for example, preceding the onset of the Inquisition, numerous Jews sought to assimilate and disperse from their communities. They began to quarrel among themselves, and Jews who converted, and became known as conversos, often became fierce antisemites. According to Norman Roth, Professor of Jewish History at the University of Wisconsin, “Like the majority of conversos, [converso officials] were ardent Catholics and most were vehemently anti-Jewish (especially was this true with converso clergy, but also with the officials).”
A few days ago, Ebrahim Raisi was elected to be the next president of Iran. Prior to his election, Raisi was Iran’s top judge. He holds ultra-conservative views, and Israel’s Prime Minister warned that this was “the last chance for world powers to wake up… and understand who they are doing business with.”
But in light of our history, and in light of our sages’ constant warnings, we should not be surprised that someone like Raisi has come to power. As has happened throughout history, division among Jews brings upon them evildoers that seek to destroy them. When Jews reunite, the problem is solved.
Here in Israel, we know that in times of war, we unite in order to defeat the enemy. Every Israeli knows that this has been our “secret weapon” in all our wars since the establishment of the State of Israel. Every Israeli also knows that as soon as the guns stop roaring, malice sets in among us. This malice shows what we don’t know: Had we been connected, we would not have to go to war in the first place.
Indeed, every problem in the world is solved through human connection. We Jews, the nation that was formed on the basis of the strongest possible connection, that of loving our neighbors as ourselves, should be world leaders in connection. Instead, we are divided and torn, and our people are filled with hatred toward each other. As a result, wicked antisemites rise “in order to lead us together and weld us together,” as Dr. Fleischer put it. Antisemites are rising to power the world over; if we do not wake up now and read the writing on the wall, we might wake up once more when it is too late.
Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a news conference in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS