Alexander A. Winogradsky Frenkel

Beyond the pogroms

On October 7th, I wrote that the “Shoah” is over – though not the Churb’n/חורבן /destruction, used in Yiddish/ (this is felt in Israel pretty much in certain milieus) and that new times commence: we have to find new words.

A lot of people and commentators use the word “pogrom” which came into English in 1882 after the big and bloody riots against the Jews committed in the Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire. The Russian word is composed of two monemes: “po-/по- ” = and “grom-/ гром-” from gromit’/ громить ” = to destroy with much violence”. It describes actions of hatred and persecution that took place and were imagined in the Slavic areas of the Russian Empire, which may explain why it was quickly adopted by the Yiddish speakers in the concerned regions: “pogromen/פאגראמען” = “pogroms”. It is evident that, in Yiddish, it would not be natural to use a word of German or Hebrew, Aramaic backgrounds for a criminal series of acts that are typical of a certain way to persecute and assassinate the Jews in specific cultural regions and States. It should be noted that it includes the notion of “destruction” as the word “Churb’n/חורבן” that corresponds to Hebrew “Churban/חורבן” and is linked to the destruction of the Temples of Jerusalem. In particular the Second Temple in the year CE/AD 70.

The concept of “Holocaust” (Greek “burnt offering”) came slowly in the European christened languages that are used to describe “a spiritual religious sacrifice, offering”. It does not cope with the reality of what happened during World War II and the final solution whose goal was to “destroy, erase, exterminate” the Jewish people and, subsequently other human beings for different purposes. In Greek and Russian (καταστροφή\катастрофа) the tragedy is called “catastrophe”, i.e.. ” a sudden event that causes great suffering or destruction”. The Greek word refers to “καταστρέφω (katastréphō, “I overturn”), from κατά (katá, “down, against”) + στρέφω (stréphō, “I turn”).

In Hebrew, the corresponding word Shoah/שואה is present in the Bible a dozen times (Zephaniah, the Book of the Psalms). During the Middle Ages, the word began to mean disaster. Samuel ibn Naghrela, the great Talmudic scholar and statesman who lived in Moorish Iberia in the 11th century, wrote this poem: “Angered by difficulty/And angered by want of sin/And there is shoah hidden in good\And good hidden in shoah.” (Haaretz, May 1, 2019, first published in 2013, Elon Gilad).

The first person believed to use the word “shoah” specifically to describe the Holocaust was writer and editor Yehuda Erez, in 1938. He emigrated from Russia to British Mandate Palestine in 1923, wrote the article “With the Shoah in Europe” in December 1938 (note that the anniversary of the Kristallnacht is today on Oct. 30, [1938]), saying, “We are horrified at the foundation by the shoah that is taking place upon the heads of German Jewry.”

Many Yiddish-speaking Jews used the term churban/חורבן, which also means destruction or catastrophe, and historically refers to the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem, both in 586 BCE and in 70 CE. The final solution implied the
“third destruction of the Temple” as every human person is comparable to a Temple of the Spirit in both the Jewish and Christian traditions. On Tisha Be’Av (9th of Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temples of Jerusalem), the Jewish families use to gather and go to the Western Wall and chant the Book of Lamentation – Eykha/איכה that is more a “question, a profound interrogation” that describes the suffering of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. At present, their presence as the living body of the children of Israel at the very Sacred Place of the Temple Square in Jerusalem is significant. They witness the survival, the revival of the Jewish People as those called to be gathered in from exile in an independent body, the State that is ruled by the Children of Israel.

Indeed, the word “pogrom” is not correct to define what happened on October 7, 2023, as a hapax, a new action of destruction and bloodshed against the Jews. People use the word “pogrom” (also in Hebrew and Yiddish) and copy “погромы” that were and remain special. It is the only word that would correspond, in their opinion, to the assassination committed in the South Negev these days because they do not think for the moment of the new aspects of the killing, rapes, beheadings, and atrocities committed against the Israelis and other residents (Beduins, foreign workers) in a free Hebrew country.

Now, what is the Arabic word for “pogrom”? This is a very special point! Because the usual word is “فرهود/Farhud” and relates to the pogrom or wave of harsh violence that burst in 1941 against the Jews of Baghdad. It led to their being kicked off from Iraq and subsequently from all the Arab countries. It shows specific things: a) “pogroms as Farhud” target the Jews, not the non-Jews = e.g. the “Seyfo/ܤܝܦܐ” or mass murder/genocide against the Assyrians, Armenians, and Pontic Greeks. b) The Farhud was carried out in such a way that the Jews DID leave Iraq and the Arab countries in 1948-52.

Hamas has the project to oblige the Jews and Israelis to leave the Land of Israel, which goes against human attitudes and respect for life and, of course, shows the full denial of any humanness. Hamas targets to take the place of those who were called to be faithful to the Land of Israel over the millennia, to reject the name, the identity, the existence, and survival of any kind of Jewish and Israeli existence.

New words will certainly be proposed for what happened on October 7th and we ought to reflect on how to describe the specificity of the bloodshed in the South Negev. It took place for the first time in the 21st century against the Jews and the Israelis for who they are and in their home country, – i.e. in the Hebrew State, the State of the Jews, and the State of Israel that ingathers the exiled as individuals from all the Nations of the world.

About the Author
Alexander is a psycho-linguist specializing in bi-multi-linguistics and Yiddish. He is a Talmudist, comparative theologian, and logotherapist. He is a professor of Compared Judaism and Christian heritages, Archpriest of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, and International Counselor.
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