Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l left us too soon but his legacy of wisdom will endure for generations. In his discussions about the growing acceptance of anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States, he clearly states that Jews cannot cure anti-Semitism, only anti-Semites can do that. His reasoning is as logical as it is sound, as he explains we are not the cause of anti-Semitism, we are the objects of it. What follows are some of the lessons I have learned from my teacher, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
In times of economic or social upheaval, societies inevitably look for a scapegoat, and we Jews are the perennial chosen people. The reasons for it are as many as people care to invent, but they all have a common source. The origins are as old as civilization itself. Millennia ago we were an irritant to the ancient empires of Egypt, Babylonia, Rome and many others; today not much has changed. The reason is because Jewish values and the concept of ‘human rights’ were derived not from man but from G-d. That belief ran counter to the dogma of the long-gone self-appointed gods of the Pharaohs and kings of a distant past. Their modern heirs are manifest in the form of today’s dictators and despots scattered around the globe. During the Jews’ two-thousand years in exile, accompanied with successive expulsions, even nations with few Jews or Judenrein managed to find a home, not for Jews, but for anti-Semitism. In recent times, democratic societies in Europe and America, have increasingly eschewed religious beliefs while backfilling the void with corrosive ideologies of statism and secularism.
Unlike the secularists, for whom the individual is subservient to the state, Judaism places the dignity and liberty of the person above the state. That is why the anti-religious Marxists of the extreme-left and the godless genocidal Nazis of the extreme-right hate Jews and Judaism. And the third leg of the tripod of anti-Semitism can be found among the under achieving Muslim nations, whose lack of accomplishments stand in sharp relief against the achievements of the Jewish State of Israel.
Although Jews are not smarter, more righteous or better than any other group, it is undeniable that we dare to be different. The genesis of that trait originated when Biblical Abraham, the world’s first iconoclast, was called upon by G-d to extricate himself from the destructive influences of his environment and set a moral course for mankind to follow. He fulfilled that charge by leaving his land, his birthplace, and his father’s house, thus freeing himself from the negative influences of a corrupt society, immoral countrymen and an assimilated family.
To make a difference, one must separate from the herd, and that was something intolerable to nascent civilizations, from Babel to ancient Egypt and continuing as modern incarnations, China, Cuba and the now-defunct Soviet Union. Fascism shared the same demands of absolute obedience and conformity, the consequences of which resulted in the rise of that scourge upon humanity, the genocidal Nazi regime. Paradoxically, both the extreme-left and the extreme-right, ideological polar opposites, found common cause in their resentment against the people who sanctified the idea of freedom of the individual. Our ancestors taught that because every individual is unique, our differences of opinion do not require agreement but are deserving of respect, because we are all created in the image of G-d.
As Jews, we have introduced many ethical values to the non-Jewish world, such as the importance of practicing social justice, kindness to strangers, and the love of your neighbor. Those tenets have stood the test of time, as evidenced by civilized societies adopting them in pursuit of higher standards of morality. But only by remembering our unique time-honored history and staying true to Judaism’s distinctive beliefs, rituals, and practices, which are not universal, but particular to us, can we contribute to mankind that which only we can give.