Years ago, I knew a top professional in the Middle East. He was born and raised Jewish and at a certain point decided to convert to Islam. He dressed like an educated Muslim, recited its dogma and served as a spokesman of sorts to explain Islam to the West — particularly its opposition to Israel.
Despite his devotion, I noticed that few if any Muslims associated with him outside of work. Indeed, some of them made fun of his pretensions. I was puzzled and asked a young Muslim why people were making fun of a man who had done everything that Islam preaches.
His answer: “We have a saying: Never trust a convert. If he is willing to betray his faith, he is capable of betraying everything else.”
In Moses’ address to the Jews before they set out to the Land of Caanan, he repeats the admonition to follow G-d’s commandments. But then he adds a twist: “And you shall follow them and perform them because this is your intelligence and understanding in the eyes of the nations — that they will hear of all these laws and say, ‘Only a smart and understanding people is this great people.”
We all want to be seen as intelligent, especially by those outside our community. We want to be able to walk into a room and dazzle our hosts — whether in London, Paris or New York. We want gentiles to see us as no different from them. We want to be part of this great international club that makes money and parties hard on the weekend.
And yet, Moses tells us that this will never last. The gentile might see us as clever because we are successful in business or diplomacy. But what they mean by “clever” is what the dictionary defines as “superficially skillful.” What they really want, Moses says, is for us to inspire them by our faith in G-d and devotion to His commandments.
This is highly incongruent to the ethos of assimilation and secularism. Those who follow this path have convinced themselves that the more we dismiss our heritage, the more we’ll be liked by the gentiles or at least tolerated in their company. It has been an experiment that has never succeeded in more than 2,000 years. As Michael Laitman wrote in his 2019 book “The Jewish Choice: Unity or Anti-Semitism,” attempts by Jews to assimilate, including their conversion to Christianity, sharply intensified gentile hatred. In reference to Weimar Germany, Laitman, a leading kabbalist, said, “It proved that for all their efforts, Jews were still pariahs.”
The Holocaust did not stop Jewish efforts to assimilate, to prove they were smarter than the rest. For some, the genocide provided an opportunity to understand those who tolerated the worst mass murder in history. In January 1998, the German Bundestag invited Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer to explain the Holocaust, particularly why ordinary Germans allowed it. In his address, Bauer, for decades the head of research at Yad Vashem, rejected the notion that the Germans were anti-Semitic. Instead, the failure by German society to protest the Holocaust stemmed from a “general queasiness regarding the Jews…This queasiness made it practically impossible for a general protest against the murder of Jews to develop.”
How did the Germans react to Bauer? Many of their intellectuals used Bauer’s apology to oppose a Holocaust memorial in Berlin and reject any examination of Germany’s past. Today, Berlin is regarded as the most anti-Semitic capital in Europe.
What Moses was saying to his people was that G-d wanted Jews to think small. Observe the Torah and you’ll get everything, including the respect of the gentiles. Abandon the commandments and you will be alone and hated like no other people.
Amazingly, every anti-Semite has agreed with this. Over the last 100 years, haters from Henry Ford to Hitler asked the same question: Unless the Jew follows G-d’s commandments and shines the light for the world, what good is he? What they seem to have most hated was the penchant of assimilated Jews to denounce their devout brethren. Vasily Shulgin, a senior member of the Russian parliament in 1917, had this to say in his book “What we don’t like about them”:
“Jews in the 20th Century have become very smart, effective and vigorous at exploiting other people’s ideas. However, this is not an occupation for teachers and prophets, not the role of guides of the blind, not the role of carriers of the lame.”
Even as they killed more than six million, the Germans remained obsessed with the behavior of the Jews. In the Lodz ghetto, an SS man could not stop watching Haim Neta Tiger. He was 104 years old and could sew as fast as a man 50 years younger. Tiger showed no fear of the German and kept reciting Psalms as he worked in the sewing shop.
“You amaze me Jew,” the SS officer said. “But there are not many like you among the Jews.”
“There are many,” Tiger responded. “But you don’t know them.”