An encyclopedic overview — reading time 15 minutes
Many Jews don’t like that we’re so special. Now, all People have special points but Jews are really unique on top of that. Such dislike of being different than others we find especially with Jews who don’t know or practice much of Judaism. Some Jews carry a reactive pride (“You treat us as less, we’re actually better”), or nationalistic pride (“You hate us and want to destroy us, but we’re the strongest, the best”). Truth is — as we’ll see below, in many points — there are no People like the Jews.
This doesn’t disturb just Jews, and many of us. It also seems most irritating to many Gentiles. Especially to those whose mind has been taken over by their own supposed supremacy, superiority, or overblown centrality. But also, to those obsessively trying to simplify and generalize everything. Time and again, the Jews don’t fit the rule or the norm. There are historic trends that work for every Nation but not for the Jews. One example is that after a People gets to be a dominant world force, its influence will suddenly fall and that Nation then has nothing more than its memories to cherish. Its glorious past. Not so the Jews. Jews are significant in every era. And their influence doesn’t wean. If anything, it only grows. Not from dirty tricks or secret power, as antisemites claim but by sheer hard work. The irritation about Jews so often being an exception goes so far that my rabbi claims that if one isn’t fond of the Jews, one will hate them.
Jews are not a race. (NB: All living people are part of the human race, homo sapiens sapiens. What is commonly called the human race is in biological terms a subspecies. Still, we use the word Racism to describe the systematic ill-treatment of non-Caucasian groups. Just like we use Sexism for the oppression of women though men are also a sex. And Antisemitism for Jews’ oppression although Gentile Arabs are Semites too.) There are Jews of any skin color, eye color, skeletal variation, height, and genetic variation that can be found among the human ‘race.’ In fact, Israeli Jews from every ‘racial’ background ‘intermarry’ so fast (without any busing or government program) that sociologists already can’t distinguish between Jews from Arab and from Western countries. Only, Judaism dictates that, at least, the religious traditions from a husband’s side are maintained in the family (but the woman can privately keep her previous habits.) So are the Rabbis racists? Heaven forbid! No Ashkenazic rabbi (we hope) teaches without quoting Maimonides or Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and no Mizrachic rabbi would fail to quote Rashi, Reb Moshe Feinstein, or Rav Neuwirth.
Jews are not a religious community like Muslims. They also don’t all believe in basic dogmas as Christians do. There are Atheistic Jews.
Jews are not a People committed to the same ideas or principles, like President Biden just defined citizens of the US, subscribing to the same (amendable) man-made Constitution. Jews agree on nothing (“Two Jews, three opinions”) but have no disagreement on that (or do we?).
Jews are not just a group with a shared history or cookbook. Jews come from every culture and with every cuisine in the world.
Jews are not a Nation defined by their geographic location or origin. Jews have been living (and still are) as a separate community on every continent and in every country (unless expelled by force).
So, what are Jews? Jews are a People, a Nation, defined by a Covenant. Our nationality is based on a Mission that we can’t get away from. We are G^d’s designated People and He is our (committed) G^d. Not the earlier settlement in Palestine returned Jews to there but rather the Covenant.
This doesn’t mean that He does preferential treatment, Heaven forbid. Chosen means: You are specially gifted, I’ve a special Calling for you, you are my emissaries. Thus, G^d has higher expectations of Jews and needs to be stricter with Jews. When Jews adhere to this Mission, they will get more reward. That’s not favoritism. We work for it. It certainly a privilege to be a Jew but we’re not privileged. But a Jew who disobeys the Tradition could end up less meritorious than a pious Gentile! Yet, the best way for a Jew to look at our nationhood is to celebrate it and be proud of it. Not the pride of superiority but the pride that leaves no room for shame. So many Jews have a Jewish identity only of victimhood (pogroms, Crusades, Inquisition, expulsions, Holocaust) or nationalism (Zionism). It’s important to learn, understand, and be proud of our inherited wisdom and highest Mission.
This is not elitism or racism. Anyone who is equally suitable can become a Jew. Also for that, one needs to work. But one cannot be un-Jew-ed. Once you’re suitable, use the talents and brains you have. You cannot say that you want to live from lower expectations. (Yet, higher expectations don’t need to oppress once one understands how friendly G^d is. The stern face G^d is sometimes given is not a traditional Jewish view, but a result of assimilation to non-Jewish attitudes and traditions.) It’s a two-sided Covenant that you cannot break one-sidedly. (One can behave so evilly that you can’t be counted as a Jew anymore but that’s a very tall order.)
This Divine Mission has special consequences for what is a proper relationship between Jews and Gentiles. Non-Jews should show extra respect for Jews. (People should respect all fellow humans (and all of Creation) but more to our parents and teachers. Humility is vital.) We are their teachers. But also Jews must show much humility. On the one hand, we must be very humble because arrogant people cannot hold on to wisdom and make for lousy teachers. On the other hand, we must know our place and show our dignity. Too much meekness throws off the Mission too. It’s a fine line. I once met a senior rabbi who walked like an emperor but talked to you as a close friend. It’s also untrue that as the designated teachers of the world, we know everything better. We will learn more from our students than we can ever teach them. But that only, when we come to them as teachers, not as their students, Heaven forbid. And Gentiles should not treat Jews as their students. (Or pray for them or bless them as if they are closer to G^d, which is the ultimate chutzpah.)
Different from missionary monotheist religions and political parties, we don’t try to make proselytes. There is no need for the whole world to be Jewish. Gentiles can be saintly too. In fact, it’s much easier to be a saint when you’re a Gentile. Jewish life is really very laborious and challenging.
Racism and Antisemitism
That Jews must not intermarry with Gentiles is not a form of racism or nationalistic supremacy at all. It has a very bad odor if an Italian and a Greek don’t want to marry. But Jews must marry in to preserve the Jewish People. We have no permission to water down or assimilate away the only People with a Divine Mission. But the education against marrying out does not mean we can’t have close Gentile friends. Yet, we all know, there is a difference between a platonic friendship and romance. Still, we mustn’t (falsely) portray Gentiles as subhuman or monsters or untrustworthy (from being hurt by Gentiles) to discourage our kids from marrying them. Because when they then meet one who is absolutely wonderful, will they not immediately fall in love? Rather, say: “They are dear and wonderful like us, but what can we do, the L^rd has forbidden us to intermarry.”
Jews do not believe in a static Universe. The world was created from scratch, is going through processes, and has an ending. So, we believe that there is progress in the way we can be a Light unto the Nations. This progress is both on a personal level (from birth onward, so to speak) and on a national level. Much of our difficulties to be proper Jews come from centuries of oppression by non-Jews. But they also stem from being human. Our job is not so simple. That doesn’t give Gentiles the right to criticize us. First, you oppress and mass murder us, and then, you blame us for hurting? Are you so sure you’re doing any better than the Jews? Holding the Jews to a higher standard is the prerogative of G^d. So, as long as no Gentile can prove he’s G^d, s/he’d better honor the Jews. For centuries, most of the time, Gentiles were an enemy to keep at bay. With heightened understanding by Gentiles of the evil of Jew-hatred (after the Holocaust) and the creation of a Jewish State (after 50 years of Zionism), we finally got some space to resume our Role vis-à-vis the Gentile world. Yet, we are still limited in serving the Nations with insights as long and as much as disdain for Jews is widespread and we’re under constant attack.
Often, Jews and Afro-Americans, and Jews and Muslims are portrayed as intrinsically hostile to each other. This is a trick of divide and conquer by the powers that be to stay in charge. People who stoke tensions between these close relatives are acting as enemies of the class revolution.
It is especially ironic to see White Americans scold Israel for being racist, imperialist, and genocidal. Those whose ancestors stole the land from the Natives whom they tried to exterminate, built the land with racist theory and Black slave labor, and locked the doors to Jews fleeing Hitler. Israel is the nation-State of the Jews. Each People is entitled to at least one State. Even contemplating the Jewish State’s right to exist is already antisemitic.
Just now, there is a group of ill-informed intellectuals that demands a ‘right to exist for the Palestinian People.’ They assume that all Palestinians are Gentiles. But, all Jews are Palestinian. They assume that all Israeli Jews are Western, which is a racist assumption. Most Israeli Jews come from Arab countries (generations ago) or from Palestine itself. (They want the right to stay for US Dreamers but Jews should just leave the only place that is home to them.) They assume that Jews threw out Muslims, but the Jews can be credited for trying to build a bi-national State for 120 years already, rejected by almost every Muslim political stream and leader there ever was. Most of these ‘allies to Palestinians’ just hate Jews and don’t care about their imaginary (they don’t have any Muslim friends) Palestinians at all. Otherwise, you can’t explain how they don’t encourage the liberation of Jordan, Lebanon, Gaza, and PA territory from the yoke of dictatorial reign. They despise Israel though it is democratic to the highest order.
The Essence of Antisemitism
Two of the antisemitic myth about Jews are that we have no friends and are at the core of all trouble. Therefore, one goes against this prejudice by pointing out all the genuine friends Jews have and talking about Jews not connected to any trouble plaguing humankind or Jews in particular. (There are Jewish wisdom, foods, cultures, languages, family trees, etc.)
Some people dislike certain Peoples. This might be because of nationalism (invented hostility to justify profitable wars), rivalry, or simple slander. But the animosity that Jews receive is international multi-generational mistreatment rationalized by lies and exaggerations that is not essentially different from any abuse of any oppressed group. (There are good reasons to define Antisemitism as a form of Racism, but not because the Jews are a genetic race as the Nazis defined it.) International false reporting is widespread about Israel perpetuating the Jew-hatred. Many people can dislike Jews or Israeli Jews without ever having met one. Just like Sexism is not caused by women, Antisemitism is not caused by Jews. It’s not true that most people who speak antisemitic words or who don’t object when others speak or joke nastily about the Jews are nasty people in general.
The essence of Antisemitism is a trick by the powerful top of society to visibly employ Jews and when the populous revolts, to throw the Jews under the bus. Token rich Jews are labeled as the Jewish norm while they are the great exception. The Jews working for the rulers do so for the (temporary) protection they get promised because they have no one else to rely on. So, the lack of protection from the Gentile working-class keeps Jews ensnared in their hostage situation by the oppressive rich. The powerless of the world not only need to unite but also to include the Jews. We are valuable talented hardworking allies to have. But, more than that, as long as the masses tolerate we are kept hostage, they lack the moral strength for liberation, and the wealthy can continue exploiting us all.
The Holocaust is Unparalleled
Just as Jews are unique, so is the Holocaust. Rather than a defeat of the Jews, it was the moral bankruptcy of the West and Christianity. G^d didn’t let the Jews down. Christians are trying to redefine themselves after Auschwitz. There is some success but no perfection. Antisemitic Churches are not hunted by the others. Baptized Jews aren’t schooled in Judaism and encouraged to return to pure their People. There are still supremacist rich missionary churches targeting Jews while the rest does nothing. The Vatican (and most of the world) still objects to Jews ruling Jerusalem.
There are so many false accusations against Israeli Jews and the IDF. (Many Gentiles are IDF soldiers, including many Druze. Other Zionist Muslim-Israelis are all invited to join and some have.) These lies can be seen as an attempt to whitewash the Holocaust. The vile industrial mass murder of the Jews was ‘not so bad’ if “Israeli does exactly the same,” Israelis “are baby killers,” “mass murderers,” “genocidal,” “racist,” etc.
The German Nation has proven that a correct way out of an evil past with Jews is not by rewriting history and claiming it never happened, claiming that it didn’t happen in your name, or let the past be the past. The only way to amend such a terrible history is by acknowledging what happened, explaining sorrow (regret, revulsion) about it, and committing to stand up against this evil, never letting it get near any position of power again. But, Germans are too humble about their achievement. They should tour much of the Muslim world to tell and inspire them how to be new allies to Jews.
Until all the lessons are learned from the Holocaust, it must be taught and discussed by Gentiles. Although more and more European leaders show to be staunch allies to Jews and Israel, much Antisemitism persists there, among the religious and the secular. Even European true friends find it hard to stop lecturing Israel (as if they have superior insights or a higher moral compass). And, as long as the United Nations keeps bullying and bashing the Jewish State, the world needs to study the Holocaust and cry until it understands it enough. But we Jews should not be Holocaust Jews. The center of our lives cannot be a genocide on us, and not even a determination (or despair) to survive. The best ‘revenge’ is to live well, to live. Note that ‘Am Yisrael chai, the Jewish People is very much alive.
Judaism is Also Unique
Judaism is not a religion or philosophy. It’s a worldview and lifestyle fused in one. It needs the right character traits, knowledge, and implementation. Character traits are mainly inherited but, with great effort and persistence, can be modified and upgraded. Knowledge, unfortunately, is not inherited. We each need to work hard to acquire it. But to really understand learning one needs to apply it. The Talmud is only part of Jewish literature but on its own already mind-boggling and unprecedented in human history.
Life in essence is not always so simple. So, Judaism cannot be simplistic. It consists of several components: A Written Hebrew Bible. An Oral Law. G^d used His Torah as a blueprint to create the world. But why did He create the world? Maybe, so that we can look at the world to know His will. There cannot be any real contradiction between these three components.
G^d created this world unfinished, perfect for its purpose. He invites us humans to join Him in bringing the world to perfection. This DIY can tremendously enhance our lives’ appreciation of this and the next world.
Judaism teaches especially men to turn from a baby who needs to receive into a grownup who needs to give. Giving to people (who are needy) counts more than giving to G^d (Who is fine without gifts). How could we honor the King while despising His children? So, humanism is an integral part of Judaism. And so are democracy and equality. People might have different obligations or tasks in life but no one is more important than anyone else (elitism comes from assimilation). Also, the unity of the Universe (!) and Physical Science are secular branches of Monotheism.
Judaism’s prayers and blessings represent at the same time talking to G^d and making declarations. Our declarations (and their implications) we should take to heart ourselves. It’s untrue that G^d is silent ever since we have no Prophets any more. When we learn His Word (Written and Oral Torah) and observe His world (Science), that’s when He talks to us. (Just, check with others if this really is G^d’s word you heard or something else.)
Judaism doesn’t want us to live spiritual but disembodied lives. Neither does it want us to act properly but unthinkingly. Our intentions are the essence while and after we act. Before we act properly, the essence is that we should act, not just to feel the right thing. If we’d wait for the right feelings to act well, we could have to wait forever. Also, feelings are fleeting. But deeds don’t only speak louder than words/ideas, but also generate feelings. So, smile and mean it, and happiness will be your share.
Judaism teaches we have Free Will and should use it. We do not need to live from greed (reward), fear (punishment), or obligation. If we execute our Jewish life from our heart, we’re beyond should and must. Being required can be reserved for emergencies only. If we really don’t want to do what’s best for the Universe and ourselves, then duty can save us. Like a safety belt or helmet isn’t to limit, steer, or take our breath away. There is a strong sense that the Heavenly Commandments are exactly what we really would like to do and refrain from. We each came to this world to do things no one else could do the same way as us. We got all the talents to do what we’re here for. If we do what we’re here for, we get tremendously happy. So we only need to do what makes us tremendously happy. G^d is in charge but He obeys humans when we try to diminish pain in the world.
Judaism teaches that the pleasantnesses of this world should be enjoyed (don’t offend G^d by rejecting His gifts) within certain limits and amounts. This world is not to indulge in maximally and not to abstain from totally.
Jews should guard not to get too close to Gentiles (intermarry) but we also should avoid isolation (unless there are only wicked people around). Men especially should marry and be part of a holy community. His partner should guide him to grow in righteousness. He may reciprocate.
Antisemites don’t have any power to hurt us. They can only be just willing useful idiots, pawns in the hand of G^d. (Though this doesn’t render them innocent. Their payment will be obtained.) By the baseless hatred that comes our way He hints to us that He wants more baseless love between us. In addition, He wants more unity, also when we are not under attack. And a rise in Antisemitism in the West is to remind Jews to make aliyah.
The above is only a drop from the ocean of Judaism. You’ll never find a religious Jew who is finished learning. Jews don’t just have a Mission to teach. We have a lot of material to cover and convey.
The above was written in five hours. Don’t expect any perfection from it.