Nisan Jaffee
Former Ornithologist

The Lord of the Rings, the Jewish People, and Antisemitism

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, two powerful forces, one overwhelmingly strong (evil, the East) and one much weaker (good, the West), engage in an epic struggle.  The outcome of this war will determine the fate of the entire Middle Earth, until at least the next Age of the world.

In this battle between power and power, the predicted outcome would be a winner and a loser.  But Tolkien raises the question, what if instead of one power defeating the other power, we just destroy the source of power?

This source of power was created by the forces of Evil long before, and that is the Ring of Power.  Note, that it is not the Ring of Good, nor the Ring of Evil, but the Ring of Power.  He who has it, rules.  To the good or the bad is up to the possessor.  This Ring was lost centuries ago, and has recently come into the possession of the West.

But this Ring of Power is also a corrupter.  It is inclined toward evil. Whoever tries to use it, even for the Good, will ultimately be corrupted.  The objectively weaker side, the Good, makes an astounding decision.  They decide to forego power, and attempt to destroy power itself, the Ring of Power.  

The Ring is mostly evil, but both Good and Evil require its energy for their strength.  The West knows this.  Though with the Ring destroyed, almost all the power of the East will be shattered, the West itself will be diminished as well.  Nevertheless, messengers are sent with the Ring, into the source of evil, endangering the world if it falls into the wrong hands.  This strategy is unimaginable to the Evil, so it is caught off guard. 

Ultimately, at the very moment that Evil becomes aware of what’s happening, the Ring is destroyed.  Evil is reduced to gnawing on a stump in the dark, and Good will never be as good as it was, nor as good as it could have been.

Now, I have read this trilogy hundreds of times.  I will just open one of the books at random and start reading.  Recently, I came upon a copy of Faith after the Holocaust, by Eliezer Berkovits.  It was written during and after the Six Day War, and published in 1973.  And I see a common theme.

He says some interesting things about the interaction between Power vs Powerlessness.  He distinguishes between what he calls Power History, and what he calls Faith History.  

According to Berkovits, the history of nations as we know it is Power History.  The use of power to obtain power.  The history of what IS.   The history of the Jewish People, he describes as Faith History – what OUGHT TO BE, that is, moral history.   

God did not create good and evil as such.  But in order for there to be the possibility of good, there must also be the possibility of evil.  And God knew that humanity could not survive in a world based on Din, Judgement.  So the world was created through Rachamim, Mercy.  God’s forbearance from executing Din, his Rachamim, creates the possibility for mankind to be cruel, as he awaits the evildoer’s tshuva, his return.  “God’s very mercy and forbearance, his very love for man, necessitates the abandonment of some men to a fate they may well experience as divine indifference.”

God may “Hide his Face”, but that does not mean he is “absent” from history.  According to Berkovits he is, instead, “silent”.  God seems powerless, or silent, because to exert his Power would be to make it impossible for humanity to exist. “Man can only exist because God renounces the use of force on him.”

“The Rabbis of the Talmud saw the mightiness of the Almighty in that he controls his inclination to judge and to punish, and behaves in history as if He is powerless…Yet He is present in history.  He reveals His presence in the survival of His people Israel.”   How else could a powerless people have survived?

So there is a history of nations which is naturalistic, based on power and economics.  And the history of Israel, which exists in a supranational dimension.  “Both histories take place in the same time dimension and occupy the same space; together they form the history of mankind.”  The IS, and the OUGHT.

“Jews have survived as a homeless people through the long centuries without political might and significant material power, while mankind has pursued the illusion that human destiny is to be determined by exactly those factors that the Jewish People were lacking.”

Berkovitz posits that without the power of antisemitism, the Nazis would never have been able to rise to Power.

This powerless Jewish People has been perceived through the centuries as having a controlling power; that they have a sinister ability to conspire against the powerful and drain their strength.  That they have the true, hidden power.  

This irrational, paranoid, and unsupportable fear – completely contrary to Power History – drove the Nazis to divert massive resources to annihilate the Jewish People, thus ensuring their own defeat.

“Only a small people whose very existence is forever assailed by the forces of power history and yet survives and has an impact on world history, completely out of proportion to its numbers and its material power, proves the validity of another dimension of reality and testifies to God’s ‘powerless’ guidance of the affairs of man…not by might or by power, but by spirit…there is no other witness that God is present in history but the history of the Jewish People.”

So, getting back to The Lord of The Rings: the leaders of the West choose the willingness to relinquish the use of power as their decisive weapon against the power of the East.  Rather than trying to wield this Ring of Power, they send it far beyond their reach and beyond temptation, to be destroyed.  They choose Spirit over Power.

The Ring of Power is entrusted to the least of the peoples of Middle Earth, who have lived peacefully for centuries, and mostly beyond the awareness of power history.  Insignificant. Powerless.  Barely an afterthought in the power history of Middle Earth, yet the only people to prove resistant to the  corruptive power of the ring.

A powerless people is chosen to destroy the source of power.  Evil forces pursue them to regain the Ring of Power.  Yet the eye of the Evil in the East is drawn away from its true peril, distracted by those who appear to pursue Power History, not recognizing the influence of Faith History upon the fate of Middle Earth.

About the Author
Born in New York City in 1952, Nisan moved in 1967 to St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. He graduated from Colgate University, and received an MA in Biology from William and Mary. Nisan resided in Charlottesville, VA, Newtonville, MA, and Baltimore, MD before making aliyah in 2013. He has been married for 40 years, with three adult children and ten grandchildren. He lives in Efrat.
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