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Why The Timing of the October 7 Attack Matters

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Photo by cottonbro studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-of-a-book-4033820/

For most Jews, myself included, the barbaric Hamas attack of October 7, 2023 triggered strong emotions, ranging from shock and sadness to anger. Confusion and surprise about the world’s puzzling response to the attack has also predominated. How could so many people around the world react in sustained outrage to Israel’s justified counteract, which aimed to free hostages (whose capture was a war crime), punish the guilty, and deter future attacks? Why is Israel the only nation in the world so uniformly condemned for actions that, if they were taken by anyone else, would barely garner a moment’s thought or media attention?

There are no simple or easy answers to this question, but trying to understand an anomaly of this scope requires looking beyond day-to-day geopolitics and tired lies about colonization and racism. I believe a more complete and meaningful answer can be found by taking a broader view of the situation and putting the attack in the context of the Jews’ long-term historical relationship with the rest of humanity.

Professor Dara Horn offered a compelling perspective for this analysis in her thoughtful and well-researched article Why the Most Educated People in America Fall for Anti-Semitic Lies in the Atlantic. One of her main points is that today’s explosion of anti-Semitic violence and vandalism on college campuses is simply the latest in a multi-millennia phenomenon of rationalizing hatred of Jews as a fight for justice. As she describes, in nearly every society where Jews have lived, they have faced hatred and violence because they are perceived as enemies of that society—in a way that’s unique to each situation.

If the society is communist, Jews are hated for being capitalists. If the society is capitalist, then Jews are the filthy communists. If the society is rich, Jews are hated for being poor. If the society is poor, the Jews are hated for being rich, and so forth. As a result, mass murder of Jews is not a hateful act. It’s an honorable attack on the enemy, part of a struggle for justice.  As Michael Oren put it, there is “A War Against the Jews” going on right now, not a war against Israel.

But, how can this be? How can a people be hated for so many different, contradictory reasons? You want to say, “Make up your mind. If I’m a communist, why are you killing me for being a capitalist?” Just as no other country in the world is vilified like Israel, so too are the Jews vilified unlike any other minority. Why?

It would appear that each society hates Jews because Jews inflame their feelings about something they hate about themselves. For instance, if you hate yourself for being greedy and rich, then the Jewish community, which strives to be charitable, will infuriate you.

This may make sense, but it still doesn’t explain the scale or enduring nature of these hatreds. To get to the bottom of that question, we might want to explore the idea that God chose the Jews for this role in the world.

The Jews are God’s chosen people. You may not believe in God, but if you read the text of the Bible, it’s right there in print. The meaning of that chosenness is subject to some debate, but it does not mean that the Jews are superior to anyone else. (That misconception alone drives some antisemitic resentment.) Rather, a simple explanation is that God chose the Jews to follow God’s Torah and obey God’s commandments. No other nation is so obligated. The French are not commanded to eat kosher food for example. (And Lord knows, where would the French be without charcuterie, le plus grand traif?) Only Jews were chosen to hold by that obligation.

God also chose the Jews to be the exclusive people to build The Temple in Jerusalem and offer animal sacrifices on the altar there. (This is why Jews figure into many Christian narratives of the Second Coming, by the way.) The Torah devotes significant space to the details of these sacrifices, which are to be brought at certain times of year and times of day.

The Biblical commandment for the Jews, as the chosen people, to perform sacrifices in The Temple, also connects to the idea that God chose the Jews to be “a light unto the nations,” as our sages teach. The Jews are “influencers,” if you will, who are brand ambassadors for the Biblical idea of “love thy neighbor as yourself,” or, as the great Rabbi Hillel said to an idolator who demanded that Hillel tell him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot, “Do not do to your fellow what is hateful to yourself. The rest is commentary.”

Sounds good, right? Shouldn’t everyone live like that? The world has tended to disagree. Being a light unto the nations has often translated into shining an unwelcome light onto the corrupt, immoral behavior of other societies—an act that has earned the Jews no small amount of resentment, discrimination, and violence.

The Jews take their obligations seriously, however. During the holiday of Succos, on each of seven successive days, the Jews of old brought sacrifices at The Temple on behalf of the nations of the world. On the first day, they brought 14 bulls to the altar. On the second day, 13, and so on, until, over the course of seven days, the Jews had sacrificed 70 bulls, one for each of the 70 nations of the world, as defined in the Bible.

Today, without The Temple, Jews commemorate those sacrifices in prayers. On the first day, we pray for 14 bulls, so over the seven days of Succos, we have prayed for the 70 nations of the world. We remember the sacrifices we brought to atone for the sins of other nations in The Temple.

Last year, that seven-day period of Jewish prayer on behalf of the nations of the world ended on October 6. The October 7 attack occurred on the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeres, the “festival of the eighth day.” It was if the nations of the world said “Thanks, but no thanks,” for our prayers on their behalf and lashed out in resentful rage. Hamas, to me, was nothing but the tip of the spear representing an angry world that did not care for the Jews having the nerve to offer sacrifices (in spirit) to enable them to atone for their sins in front of God.

The timing of this attack was, in my view, no accident. It was the acting out of grand, invisible spiritual passions on a global scale. This, I suspect, is why it seems as if the entire world has nothing but hatred and violence in its heart against the Jews in the wake of this attack. This is why so many people around the world blame Israel for an attack it did not provoke, and why they scream and yell at Israel for fighting back.

 

Photo by cottonbro studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-of-a-book-4033820/

About the Author
Hugh Taylor is an observant Jewish writer and essayist whose work has appeared in The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and The Washington Spectator. He has worked at Silicon Valley startups and in the Fortune 100. He earned his BA and MBA at Harvard University.
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