No More Sinat Chinam

We are on the eve of Israeli elections and American Jewry, even without a vote, seems as engaged as every Israeli. Listening to the pundits, media, and the rhetoric of opposing parties, nothing less than the future of the state is at stake—the consequences are existential.

If these assumptions are correct, this means that no matter who wins tommorrow, the State of Israel will in short time cease to exist—according to conventional ‘wisdom’ either by a future Iranian bomb or by Palestinian national aspirations; the result of one party neglecting or diminishing the threat of one in favor of the other. This makes the upcoming election a kind of electoral “Mutually Assured Destruction.”

But is it? Is the vote a zero-sum game? Surely, both parties recognize the legitimacy of each other’s concerns; certainly both recognize that both Iran and the Palestinians are pressing issues that need to be resolved. No one can doubt that Herzog and Netanyahu love Israel any less than the other. How can such an outcome result in the the loss of Israel as a Jewish State at best or another Holocaust at worst?

Perhaps current conventional wisdom is correct but for unconventional—or rather older, conventional, reasons; perhaps it’s not the electoral outcome but the acrimony and rhetoric itself that is the greatest threat to the Jewish people. How else to explain the electoral results and (hopefully) media balderdash in such existential terms?

To quote Abraham Lincoln, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Lincoln’s house was America; but the original house, as he well knew, was The House of Israel.

Sadly, that divided house is once again the House of Israel.

This internecine strife is the most immanent existential threat.

It is disunity that will destroy Israel. Not Iran. Not the Palestinians.

In fact, every time Israel fell, it fell because it was a house divided. The first time, Israel saw its demise when the Kingdom divided between North and South, in the time of Jeroboam and Rehoboam. The last time, a phrase was coined to define the discord that brought about its downfall, sinat chinam, meaning baseless hatred between Jew and Jew.

The term may be Talmudic in origin, but Josephus, himself a Jew but by this time in allegiance with the Romans, came to the same conclusion in the most authoritative secular history of the fall of Jerusalem. In his account, The Jewish War, Josephus observed first hand that civil war, waged between the various Jewish fractions inside the walled city, brought about the destruction of Israel. Rome may have been at the gates, but Israel did not fall to the force of any Roman phalanx.

This same threat, sinat chinam, is upon the land today. No external force can defeat an undivided House of Israel. Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved by the will of one party alone; so too the conflict with Iran.

In his “House Divided” speech Lincoln did not suggest that America would not permanently endure if slavery continued to endure; to the contrary. Lincoln understood that America would endure. He only meant that America would not endure “half slave and half free.” America would become one thing or the other, but not both, and Lincoln was right.

This is an important point. Israel is not America. America is a big melting pot; it could and did survive its self-inflicted wounds. Israel cannot. Nor can Israel ever be or see itself as one thing or the other. It cannot endure any more fractiousness. If it is to survive Israel must always be the one and only thing it has always been: the (undivided) House of Israel.

If there is to be true peace in the Middle East there must first be peace between Jew and Jew. And not just between Jews in Israel, but all world Jewry. This is what matters most. Not the electoral outcome.

Only in the absence of sinat chinam can any external and dire issues be resolved. Only in the absence of sinat chinam will Israel and Jewry–and all the world–survive and prosper.

About the Author
David Weinstein is a practicing physician and writer.
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