People ask how The Jewish Choice: Unity or Anti-Semitism differs from other history books about anti-Semitism. Well, people like stories, so perhaps the best way to answer this question is with a story, a crime story.
In criminal law, there is a term called “circumstantial evidence.” Circumstantial evidence implies that a person committed a crime, but without direct evidence that he or she did it.
Think of this story, for example: In a small town, a series of burglaries shakes up the small community, but no one seems to know who is doing them. There are no fingerprints, and security cameras at the crime locations always suspiciously malfunction during the breaking and entering.
For many months, the burglaries continue, the police are at a loss, until one day, a detective from out of town suggests a new idea: Don’t check the crime scene only during the event; check it also in the days leading to it.
The local police try the new approach, reopen unsolved cases of burglary, and go over footage from the days leading to the crimes. And, lo and behold, a man, the same man, is always seen surveying the crime scenes a few days before the burglary.
Soon after their discovery, a man, that same man, was seen strolling around a big house without apparent reason. When the police took him in for questioning and presented him with the footage from past burglaries, he broke down and confessed.
As far as anti-Semitism goes, historians have so far done what the police in our allegory did: They have been looking at each case separately. When you examine each case in itself, of course you will conclude that the causes of anti-Semitism in 15th century Spain that generated the Inquisition differ from the causes of anti-Semitism that spurred the Holocaust in 20th century Europe.
But looking at each case separately disregards the circumstantial evidence, and no good detective would do that. For centuries, Kabbalists, who, in our comparison, are that detective from out of town, have been warning that the real reason for Jew-hatred is not the temporal conditions. They have been saying that a deeper cause excites the pre-existing animus toward Jews, which then “dresses” in some convenient pretext.
Such pretexts for aggression toward Jews are what we usually call reasons for anti-Semitism, but they are not. Jews are not hated because there is an economic crisis, or because the media projects the wrong values in someone’s mind, or because they practice a different religion than the locals. These are all “pretexts” to express the hatred that is already there.
According to kabbalists, and they have been wring it for the past 2,000 years, the real, and only reason for anti-Semitism is the fact that Jews hate their fellow Jews. Kabbalists throughout the ages have been saying that when Jews hate other Jews, they can’t be what they were intended to be—a nation that practices “Love your neighbor as yourself” and shows the world, by their own example, how to establish lasting peace and sustainable societies.
Naturally, no anti-Semite would tell Jews that he or she hates them because of their hatred for each other. This would constitute direct evidence, and there are very few cases in history where such evidence exists (though the book does cite a few).
So instead of looking for direct evidence, as historians have done so far, The Jewish Choice: Unity or Anti-Semitism examines history from the perspective of the detective from out of town. In other words, the book examines historical events and the state of unity or lack of it among Jews in the years leading to catastrophes.
And the great discovery is that without exception, disunity, hatred and sometimes extreme violence among Jews, always precede catastrophes in the history of the Jewish people. Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 1:8) states that Pharaoh, who initially loved the Jews and gave them the best land in Egypt, began to hate them only after they began to part from one another. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar conquered the land of Israel and ruined the First Temple only after Israel sank into internal bloodshed and other inappropriate conduct toward each other. In the final days of the Temple, they hated each other so much that the Talmud (Yoma 9b) writes that they were “stabbing each other with the swords in their tongues.”
Still, nothing compares to the ruin of the Second Temple and the exile of the people of Israel from the land for two millennia. It is a story so filled with internal hatred, torture, murder, and even cannibalism, that the sages simply conclude that the reason for the fall of the Second Temple was unfounded (baseless) hatred. In fact, for every Jew that the Romans killed attempting to conquer Jerusalem, the Jews killed ten of their own people within the city. Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus captured the essence of the events in one sentence in The Wars of the Jews: “The sedition destroyed the city, and the Romans destroyed the sedition.”
In Spain, some 15 centuries later, the “golden era” ended when Jews began to convert in growing numbers, and tensions between present Jews and former Jews (conversos) grew. The soon-to-follow animosity of the Spaniards was first aimed at the conversos, but ended up being directed at all Jews. If you look only at the events during the persecutions, you will not see how disunity is related to the persecutions. But the same element that appeared throughout the history of the Jewish people before every major trauma, appears here too.
This is also true of the most demonic act of genocide ever carried out in human history: the Holocaust. Nazi Germany carried it out with the active assistance of locals in many of the occupied nations. However, here, too, there is ample evidence of hatred among Jews in the decades preceding the accession of the Nazi Party to power: between Reform Jews and Orthodox Jews, between Zionists and assimilationists, and between Jews of German descent and Jews of Polish descent. In truth, all the factions within German Jewry simply hated one another.
Incidentally, they took their hatred with them when they moved to America. This is why the book also predicts that since the presence of the element of alienation already exists within American Jewry, unless they remove it by uniting (somehow), the fate of American Jews will be no better than that of the Jews in Europe in the previous century.
Also, since that same hatred exists within the Israeli society, the same danger lurks for the State of Israel, as well.
Of course, this is all circumstantial evidence. By itself, it proves nothing. But if you look at the entirety of Jewish history, you will find that this is the one element that always predates the biggest Jewish cataclysms.
This is why especially today, with our growing division and partisanship, it is so important that we rise above our differences and unite, if only to avert the next calamity.
Featured in The Times of Israel