Abram Epstein

Judaism’s spiritual Holocaust 2021

Teddy Kollek, the late, beloved mayor of Jerusalem was once asked what was the most important reason for building sprawling municipal parks in the heart of the city. He answered that it would mute the loud arguments Jews were always having in the streets. And those arguments go back to Abraham challenging God’s decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. (How can you demolish a place if there are as many as ten good people there?) In today’s world, God is a spectator to arguments which end with vitriol and hatred. Israel’s Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev has had the “audacity” to outspokenly condemn Settler attacks on innocent West Bank Palestinians for what they are: Jewish acts of brazen “terror.” To this, Religious Zionism  chairman B. Smotrich replied, “…You are just a bastard…you shed the (Settlers’) blood in filth…so you can play enlightened.” 

If one takes a look at the original Torah passage spelling out the Covenant between God and Abraham, the exact wording in Beresheit 17: is “Walk in My ways…” inviting discussion, especially when political conflicts turn ugly. Obviously, we have reached a fork in the road.

Once upon a time, civilized Jewish debate formed the heart of discerning “God’s Ways.” Our Talmud was partly based on differences of opinion about Torah mitzvot (Commandments) and how they should be practiced. Often there would be a vote and the majority decided on the outcome which became “Halacha”– the legal religious path; our traditional observances. Rabbis may wave their editions of Tanach, the  (Hebrew Bible), and Roshay Yeshivot (Yeshiva Directors), may brandish their tractates of Talmud, but no  Jerusalem park will quiet the violence being done to the irreconcilable abyss opening between Jews who exalt their political policies as vouchsafed by Divine Will, and those of us who don’t.

In these brief observations, I would expose my fellow Jews who have drunk the Kool-Aid that God is whispering truisms about “His Ways” through their elite Torah wisdom. Like Dracula is recognized by his terror at sunlight, they decry even the hint Jews are not “Chosen” (a poor euphemism for superior to other Peoples). They will strike out at so-called “intruders” in their “promised” realm…and if there are those who suffer from disease or onslaught by ruthless enemies, they may even say they are victims being punished for sins known only to God. Early Torah perceptions gave us such primitive antecedents. They originated in pre-scientific times when leprosy, blindness and other chronic afflictions were so considered. Brought forward in extremely Orthodox circles, there are those today who believe the Holocaust was possibly a purification event.

Only the most extreme, you say? Maybe, but most still buy into the paradigm that Jewish suffering is punishment. And pretty much to the last rebbi of the Haredi ilk, all are always speaking for God. The rest of us so-called Jews barely make it into their club. 

“Chosenness, one should note, ” is a contagion. And it is a trans-religion disease. Christianity and Islam both want to save everybody else by having you become just like them. Only then is your soul guaranteed the legitimacy their doctrines promise. And it is true Jews have, because of our history of forced conversions, had an aversion to proselytizing others. Further, most of us (even the right-wing Haredim publicly) don’t like the idea that we would label ourselves “racially” superior.” We know what that can lead to. So, instead, the “God-speakers” (Ok, I’ve dreamed up a label for Jews using Orthodox Judaism to claim they know what God thinks) lean on“spiritual” superiority, not biological. But “facts on the ground” as they say: Israel’s subjugation and oppression of Palestinians, along with newly revealed horrific details of 1948 mass civilian murder during the War of Independence, aren’t fooling anybody. Jewish ghouls are out of the archives and in the sunlight–no revised history, please. (BTW, I am not disputing that our War of Independence was a most heroic and monumentally historic victory enabling the rebirth of Israel. But there is never an excuse for the unprovoked massacre of civilians as the NAZIS did to us.) 

Not biological “chosenness?” Just take as an example the refusal of Israel’s Ministry of the Interior to grant citizenship to a Ugandan Kibbutznik, Yosef Kibita, who has a legal Israeli-court recognized Conservative conversion, and been actively practicing Jewish tradition for four years–for no other apparent reason than he is Black (this, also the opinion of Rabbi A. Sacks, Director of the Rabbinic Assembly of the Conservative Movement in Israel).

So where does this leave us? Once, through a dialectical confrontation we illuminated a path; we discerned God’s “Ways.” Spiritual insights elevated us, in bygone eras, to heights which may have made us “chosen” among other Peoples who were also  “chosen” in the same sense as leaders are selected to explore and map a direction worth following. We were and may continue to be a special People in the future, I suggest, only if we strive toward the realization of Zechariah’s vision.

Ironically, one of our most “Messianic” prophets, Zechariah, alive during the rebuilding of the Second Temple, imagined a time when all mankind would be equal, joining together as one: 

“u-sh’mo-echad…” (Zech. 14:9)

A concluding, 2021 insight: Just as we sense time passes, and resolve to improve our lives, or do tikkun olam (repairing our damaged world to reduce misery), Torah teaches us to strive for justice by opening our hearts to the plight of others. The voices of those who reject accommodation and a revitalization of the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, “God-speakers” pronouncing the Covenant as a text on their personal iPhone, are causing a genuine spiritual Holocaust among our People. If they are permitted to have the say about who is and who is not to be a full and equal citizen of Israel: Muslims, Christians, Converts to Judaism by any movement-ordained rabbi from whatever worldwide community–exercising a bizarre cult-like hold on Israel’s body politic– a desecration of the Covenant itself will have occurred which may take generations to heal. 

Zionism, the once-glorious movement which inspired us and the world to bring us home, has become a deformed replica of its former ideals, malignant with exaggerated elements of hegemony justifying the occupation of the West Bank. Those preaching Settlement expansion and subjugation of the Descendants of Ishmael (the Palestinians), who demand annexation of Judea and Samaria, and would fully rule indigenous Arab populations (the Nation-State law) are fomenting a destruction of the very fabric of Judaism. Young Jews worldwide are no longer going to synagogues. Israel is being equated with an apartheid, racist state which is founded on principles of Jewish superiority over perceived racially inferior Arabs. Black immigrants to Israel are being deported, while black converts are being denied citizenship. “God-speakers” are claiming this is what it means to walk in the “Ways of God.” The abused People are now doing to others what has been done to her: Confining them in ghettoes of despair under the heavy military laws of oppression. If so-called “Religious Zionism” prevails, we who survive may well see ourselves in a very shattered mirror where no semblance of a recognizable past remains.

About the Author
Abram Epstein, a New Yorker, has served as Director of Education for several synagogues and actively participated in the Manhattan Educators’ Council. His graduate studies at New York University’s Hagop Kevorkian Center focused on ancient Near Eastern religion and Biblical Judaism. He is a recipient of the university’s prestigious Founders’ Award for Academic Accomplishment and has a screen credit as Historical Consultant for "The Seventh Sign" starring Demi Moore. His other books include, "The Historical Haggadah," "The Matthias Scroll," "A Documented Biography of Jesus Before Christianity," and most recently, "The Matthias Scroll–Select Second Edition." Abram invites communication on his FB page: "Abram Epstein" or "Abram's Historical Writing."