21- The Truth
Continuing our discussion on antisemitism with a look back in history.
Hey, everyone. I'm Menachem Lehrfield and this is Zero Percent where we explore world-changing ideas introduced by Judaism. Ancient wisdom for modern living.
Before we get to the meat and potatoes of this podcast, before we begin exploring the impact that Judaism has had on the world, we've been taking a slight detour through the topic of antisemitism. Trying to understand what it is, why it is, and what we can do about it. We've been breaking down some of the most often given reasons for antisemitism, such as the fact that Jews are hated because they possess too much power or wealth. We said those were economic reasons. We've said that was clearly just an excuse and not a real reason. We said the same about the idea that Jews are hated because they claim to be the chosen people. We took a look at other people who seem to have some sort of element of chosenness as part of their national narrative and there isn't any specific hatred towards them because of that chosenness.
We also looked a little bit deeper at the concept of Jewish chosenness. Not that Jews feel that they are better than anyone else, but rather they have a responsibility based on the fact that they chose God. We said Jewish chosenness also must be an excuse. We explained that a scapegoat cannot, in and of itself, be the reason for antisemitism because the only reason why Jews are constantly chosen as the scapegoat is because they are already hated. We explained that clearly the Jews did not kill Jesus, nor can that be the reason why Christians or others have hated Jews historically throughout time because the hatred of Jews predates Christianity itself.
We said it can't possibly be a racial reason why people hate the Jews since Jews can come from every single race, creed, color in the world. Lastly, we talked about the idea of the outsider, the dislike of the unlike. Perhaps Jews are hated because they're different and we are different. We have different customs. Historically, throughout time, we've had different dress. Jews tend to stand out. If, though, the outsider theory is correct, then the solution to antisemitism should be assimilation.
We left off with the last episode explaining that that is clearly not the way history works. Logically, you're absolutely right. Logically, it makes sense. If people hate us because we're different, then let's just assimilate and be exactly like everyone else and then there's no reason to hate. Historically, though, we see that that is never the case. Ḥayyim Volozhin was a great rabbi who lived in the late 1700s, early 1800s. He was the head of the Volozhin Yeshiva, which every yeshiva that's around today looks to Volozhin as its source. It is, they say the mother of all modern yeshivas.
Ḥayyim Volozhin used to have an expression, which I think needs a little bit of an introduction to understand, but it was a very deep one-liner. Before I say it, just a few introductions. Number one, the ritual that Jewish people do on Friday night to usher in the Shabbat is known as kiddish or kiddush. It's a ritual that we do with a cup of wine, as we testify to the fact that God created the world. That is generally known as kiddish. Literally the word kiddish means [foreign language 00:03:52] which means to sanctify and make something holy, which is also the idea of making something separate and set apart. Making something unique. The ritual that we do at the end of [foreign language 00:04:04], of Shabbat, every Saturday night is known as Havdalah. Havdalah literally means to separate, to make a distinction.
It comes from the fact that that ritual is really all about being [foreign language 00:04:16]. We are separating between the holy Shabbat and the mundane week. We are separating between the Shabbat that we are leaving and the week that we are about to enter. Ḥayyim Volozhin used to say, if the Jews don't make kiddish, the non-Jewish worlds will make Havdalah. At face value, it's very cute. Kiddish is how we start Shabbat. Havdalah is how he end Shabbat. But what Hayyim was saying is as follows. He says, "If the Jewish people don't make kiddish," not just kiddish on Friday night. He means kiddish. If we're not [foreign language 00:04:49] ourselves, if we don't recognize the uniqueness and the importance of focusing on the uniqueness of what it means to be a Jew, we don't take pride in our Jewishness, but instead we assimilate and we try to be like everybody else, then the non Jews will make Havdalah. The non Jews will make that separation. The non-Jewish worlds will make Havdalah.
That is historically what keeps on happening. Every single time the Jewish people assimilate instead of everyone starting to love us because now we're no longer unlike them, exactly the opposite happens. Logically assimilation makes sense, but only if the reason for antisemitism is because we're outsiders. If the source of antisemitism is the dislike of the unlike, then assimilation makes sense. Historically, it's not the way it works.
The Jews of Europe jumped at the opportunity to be equals. They were so excited to finally be accepted like everybody else. They were able to attend university and go to the theaters. They were able to dress however they wanted. They shaved off their beards. They adopted the language and culture and styles of their non-Jewish neighbors and they began to intermarry. They purged their prayer of any mention of the return to Jerusalem. Any mentioned of Jerusalem was completely taken out of their prayers. We became more German than the Germans. More French than the French. Jews were assimilating into German and French society in the highest rates in history. Theodor Herzl himself thought that assimilation was the answer to antisemitism. He said that it only exists because we're different and we stick out. His solution was just assimilate. If we were to assimilate and become just like everybody else, then people will love us.
It was only when he came to France to cover the Dreyfus affair, where he realized how mistaken he was. In 1894, Dreyfus, who was the highest ranking Jew in the French army, was falsely accused of a crime he didn't commit. Hertzel watched the antisemitism that was so open and as he was covering the story and watching the antisemitism in front of him, by the most secular of secular Jews, a Jew that completely assimilated, he realized that assimilation alone is not the answer.
As we explained in Germany, the Jews declared Berlin is our Jerusalem. We don't need Jerusalem. We have Berlin. The Jews of Europe were comfortable and assimilated. Historically, whenever the Jewish people assimilate instead of their non-Jewish brothers and sisters accepting them with open arms, antisemitism has only gotten stronger. I mean, look at Herzl's response to the Jewish problem.
Herzl believed if we had a land like everybody else - and it's unclear that he wanted it specifically to be in the land of Israel. He was fine taking Uganda as the land. He just said, "If we had a land like everybody else, and we had a flag, then Jews would finally have universal respect and acceptance." Is that what happened? Israel has become the greatest cause of Jew hatred in the world. I'm not against the state of Israel, nor am I saying that we shouldn't have a country of our own. I think there is nothing more beautiful than the miracle of the fulfillment of the prophecy saying that we are going to return to our Homeland and re-establish a state of Israel. It's the only place on earth, really, that I feel at home. I love Israel, but it clearly has not gotten rid of antisemitism. If anything, it's only made it worse.
Israel is the only member of the United Nations whose right to exist is challenged all the time. The only member of the United Nations, whose elimination from the world map is the aim and goal of other UN member states. Israel has not gotten rid of antisemitism. If anything, it's caused even more. The reason is that Herzl was wrong in that respect. Antisemites don't hate the Jews because they're different. Every time we try to fight that difference, it only gets stronger. That's a sad reality and a scary reality because since the Pittsburgh Synagogue attack, more than a third of American Jews, 37%, have taken steps to conceal their Jewishness in public.
They've done things like avoided wearing or carrying items that would allow others to identify them as Jewish, whether it's a star of David or a keeper on their head. They've stopped posting content online that would identify them as Jews who reveal their views on Jewish issues. People have avoided going to Jewish institutions or participating in Jewish events. If that is our response to antisemitism, then we're in trouble because historically we see that doesn't work. Hiding our Jewishness has never once worked in the history of the world. Why do we think it's going to work right now?
What's the dislike of the unlike is not the reason. It's not racial reasons and it's not deicide, the fact that we killed Jesus. Nor is a scapegoat reason enough to explain why people hate the Jews and it's not the fact that we're the chosen people. We explained that the reason of Jewish power and money is nothing more than antisemitic trope, which has no bearing on truth nor would it produce this result. What's the truth. Why do people hate the Jews?
For various reasons, which I'm not going to go through now, many scholars have tried to prove that there's nothing uniquely Jewish that engenders antisemitism; but I think that nothing is farther from the truth. Deborah Lipstadt, who's the expert on antisemitism, says that, "Antisemitism is not the hatred of a people who happened to be Jews. It's a hatred of them because they are Jews."
I want to look at three very different sources that all point to the same answer. The answer I believe is the key to why Jews are hated. Jews are not hated because they're bad. Jews are hated because they persist in reminding the world of what it means to be good. Anne Frank wrote in her diary on April 11th, 1944. She was 12 years old. She said, "Who knows? It might even be a religion from which the world and all peoples learn good and for that reason, and that reason alone, we suffer. Now, we can never become just Netherlanders or English or representatives of any other country for that matter. We will always remain Jews." Anne Frank made a point of stressing the fact that Jews will always remain Jews. That we have something special and something of value to give to the world and it's precisely that which so many people resent. That is the thing that leads to the hatred.
The next source is perhaps the greatest expert on hatred of Jews. Hitler, himself. Nobody else had a real pulse on antisemitism and Jewish hatred quite like Hitler. Adolf Hitler had a stronger sense of what a Jew was than most Jews have today. For Hitler was ultimately all about destroying the Jews. In 1944, at the end of the war, the Germans desperately needed trains to bring soldiers and more arms to the front lines. They were losing to the Soviets. They were about to lose the war and they begged Hitler to send more trains but he said, "No. We need to use the trains to transport Jews to their deaths." It was more about killing every single Jew than it was about world domination. Hitler said himself, he said, "The struggle for world domination will be fought entirely between us, between the Germans and the Jews. All else's facade and illusion."
But it's this next quote from Hitler that is so eye-opening, so clear about what it means to be a Jew and why he and the antisemites in the world hate us. He said, "Yes, we are barbarians. We want to be barbarians. It's an honor title to us. We shall rejuvenate the world. The world is near its end." "Providence has ordained that I should be the greatest liberator of humanity," says Hitler. "I am freeing man from the restraints of an intelligence that has taken charge from the dirty and degrading self mortifications of a false vision known as conscience and morality and from the demands of a freedom and a personal independence, which only a very few can bear." Hitler saw himself as the great liberator he was doing good for the world.
Rabbi Ken Spiro likes to point out that Hollywood does such a disservice because in Hollywood, evil is always dark. There's always a villain and he has an English accent for whatever reason and he looks menacing. The reality is that evil's like you and I. Evil looks normal. They have dentist appointments and carpool. Everyone thinks that they're doing good. Even Hitler. Hitler thought he was liberating the world. He said, "Conscience is a Jewish invention. It's a blemish like circumcision. My task is to free men from the dirty and degrading ideas of conscious and morality." With that, he hit the nail on the head. The reason that antisemites hate the Jew is not because of who he is. It's because of what he stands for because the Jews stands for Torah. The Jews stands for morality and conscience.
Hitler understood one of the deepest truths about Judaism. The Talmud, [inaudible 00:15:10] Chavez Shabbat, on page 89, explains that the place where the Torah was given was known as Mount Sinai, Har Sinai, because the root of the word Sinai is Sina. The Talmud explains that at Sinai, the Jewish nation became the target for the hatred of the world. Somebody whose strongest drive is to liberate mankind from the shackles of conscience and morality cannot exist in a world of Torah, cannot exist in a world. Filled with all of the things that Judaism is trying to teach.
The Torah and the Book of Numbers makes mention to the enemies of the Jewish people. It calls them the enemies of God, the enemies of Hashem. Rashi, who's our classic commentator, scratches his head and he says, "Why does Moses call the enemies of the Jews, the enemies of Hashem? Maybe they just hated the Jewish people." Rashi answers that anyone who hates the Jewish people really hates God. That's what it's about. That is why the antisemite hates the Jewish people because [foreign language 00:16:17], giving the Torah at Sinai. Accepting upon ourselves a way of life and sharing that way of life. A way of life that promotes love and peace and taking care of the weak and infirm. Taking care of the stranger and those who don't have. That is a way of life that the antisemites of the world cannot deal with.
It's hard to understand the impact that receiving the Torah at Sinai had on the world because so many of the ideals that it taught, we take for granted. Basic human rights, the notion that the sick and elderly should be cared for, not just murder or left to die. The idea of society actually helping the poor and disadvantage. Throughout most of world history, it was commonplace to kill babies, to kill infants that had a cleft palate or a cleft foot or in some way wasn't perfect. Aristotle himself argued in his politics that killing children was essential to the functioning of society. He wrote, "There must be a law that no imperfect or maimed child should be brought up and to avoid an excess and population, some children must be exposed. For a limit must be fixed to the population." The world without the Torah was a dark and painful place.
What's the solution to antisemitism? It's exactly the same as the cause and it's somewhat counter-intuitive. Jewish values and beliefs that cause antisemitism are the same things that will ultimately eliminate antisemitism. Join me in our next episode as we continue to explore this concept and understand how we get rid of antisemitism for good.