The Jewish world is in crisis. We are reluctant to confront the issues that divide us. This leaves the argument to those least rationally qualified to defend our position. Poet, WB Yeats wrote, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” It is they that shout the loudest and by the tactic of intimidation, prevent dissenting points of view from being expressed.
We fear creating schisms between our separate “tribes,” as occurred between Sunni and Shia Islam in the 7th Century CE, and among Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation. The catastrophic split between Judaism and Christianity must have appeared at the start, as one more minor controversy within the family. While the separation of Reform from Orthodox Judaism is a distant memory it engenders similar levels of acrimony within the orthodox Jewish establishment. Inter-communal communication will not heal the rift, but we all need soul searching if violent confrontation by extremists is to be avoided.
The different sects of ultra-Orthodoxy sprang up around the mid-18th Century as a response to the dire conditions that prevailed amongst Jews in Eastern Europe. Ultra-Orthodox Judaism is characterised by an emphasis on prayer and joyful singing; it added a spiritual dimension as a means of soothing the wounds created by centuries of persecution. The Satmar and other anti-Zionist Haredim interpret faith as being outside of man’s dominion and therefore, any political creation was against Gods will, anathematized, a crime against Torah. It is ironic that this ultra-Orthodox opposition to Jewish statehood reinforces an antisemitic narrative of exile and powerlessness as proof of punishment for past “crimes.” The theology of both missionary faiths (Islam and Christianity) is based on the supersession or replacement of one God-given religious mandate with another. Judaism is characterised by a 4,000-year long journey of organic growth and change. It is this concept of growth that the missionary faiths use to justify supersessionist-replacement doctrine. According to the missionary, human “interference” in God’s plan creates an altered faith, changed from the original. The result is that the mandate is nullified. Without that growth, the ultra-Orthodox community would not have come into existence.
So, while the various Haredi communities evolved to survive, they reject that very impulse in any other Jewish community by denying the legitimacy of the non-Haredi community.
An example of this bigotry is in the recent threat of Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef – that ultra-Orthodox Jews should go to Europe rather than live under a coalition government, the same government they refused to join! One of the older commentaries of Jewish literature states that it is because of a failure of Jewish unity that the Jewish commonwealth fell in 70CE. The ultra-Orthodox reject Jewish unity under any circumstances and in Israel they demand and receive total control over all matters of Jewish faith.
We have external threats to contend with and we cannot confront them in a unified way because we do not have a unified leadership.
But the main issue isn’t our fight with the ultra-Orthodox. Nor is it with an imperialist Islam that justifies conquest through theology. The Abraham Accords have proven incorrect the idea that conflict with Islam is intractable. Our relationship with the nations of the world is our primary issue and our greatest challenge.
Human nature is anchored in self-interest. Judaism has represented, for much of its history, a distracting object of curiosity and acrimony since our tribes made monotheism the centrepiece of their political aspirations. We have not been a formal mi http://gty.im/456843588 ssionary faith for over 2,500 years and have deliberately discouraged conversion for almost 2,000 years. That last point makes us small enough to be an object of easy ridicule because crucially, our size makes it difficult to defend ourselves. At the same time, we provide a large enough target for an ongoing campaign of discrimination.
The cause does not need to have a moral or ethical component if it can be sold as having one. Truth is always open to interpretation and reinvention when we embrace the latest cause. Noam Chomsky summarised this selectivity thus: “the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” We call this censorship ‘political correctness.’
The worlds’ two missionary faiths have successfully harnessed this belief by first conquering much of our world, putting to the sword anyone who objected to that conquest and then integrating into their empires their vassal nations by forcing their captive, subject peoples into converting to the missionary faith as a means of controlling them. In South America it remains the descendants of the conquerors who are in charge and the natives who are subject to poverty and disenfranchisement. In the Muslim world, tribalism maintains a balance of terror that manages to subdue or kill its natives, while retaining most of the wealth in the hands of elites whose legitimacy is dependent on their ability to create and sustain an atmosphere of fear.
In George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”, ‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’ is the slogan of the fictional English Socialist Party led by Big Brother. Orwell understood that the erasure of history is a useful tool to control the present narrative and to influence the future. To achieve this Orwellian deal there are challenges to overcome. To create a false narrative there must first exist a victim to be lionised and the second, a victim to be demonised. To realize this, we must never allow the truth to get in the way of a good story. Malcom X put it simply thus: ‘the Media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.’
That is why antisemitism (anti-Judaism) exists today. If it weren’t us, polite society would have to find another group to persecute because while humanity’s tensions can only be inadequately addressed by liberal amounts of money, people need a cause to deflect their attention from the pain and confusion of living in the modern world. Humanity is wired to see patterns. In pre-Modern times it helped us to survive. It created cognitive ease – the comfort of familiarity is not necessarily a positive emotion. Hate is also a familiar and comforting emotion. Those patterns continue to influence us today. It is why antisemites can always find a conspiracy to attach to Jews. To quote Keith Kahn-Harris “modernism has created an ever-widening gap between belief and emotional comfort.” That gap creates the space in which hate prospers.
Probably the main impediment to solving Israel’s war for survival is its disunity in peacetime.
People who must work to live tend to focus their energies on maintaining a balance in their lives between what is important to them and what is necessary. It is why, for unity to have a chance, Israel must have separation of Synagogue and State.
This does not preclude constitutional guarantees for those to whom religion is a central facet of their lives, similarly, those guarantees will need to reconcile with the needs of secular society.
A society that takes individual responsibility for one another will be more caring. The State may guide people, but it is people who exist to serve – without prejudice to sex, race, or religion.
For unity to succeed we must return to a more considerate, less nihilistic society. Radical “honesty” freely expressed can only create a fractured, angry world. It’s time to apply the brakes and have a rethink of the journey ahead. Unity is not a luxury; it is a necessity for survival.