Peace and Pluralism
In a few days, I will be going away for two weeks, and Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein asked me to make a contribution to the blog before I go. Reb Yitzchak, your wish is my command. This is in response to some of the opinions recently expressed on the blog.
The mission statement of the Pesach Seder is, I think all would agree, the “Avadim Hayinu” response to the Four Questions. It encapsulates the essence of the ritual. We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. The Almighty miraculously brought us forth to freedom. In recognition, we spend the night discussing the wonders and glory of the Almighty.
There is another bit of information embedded in this mission statement. We declare that if the Almighty had not extracted us from Egypt we would still be there to this very day. This is certainly interesting and important, but why does it belong in the mission statement? Why is it so central to the essence of the Pesach Seder?
About twenty years ago, I had an argument with my father zecher tzaddik livrachah. I claimed that the Soviet Union would eventually fall and that the two Germanies would be reunited. He claimed it would never happen. I insisted that in the history of the world there has never been an empire that did not eventually crumble under its own weight. Even empires that provided services to their colonies, such as the British and Roman, eventually collapsed. Certainly then, an empire such as the Soviet Union that only sucked its colonies dry could not last very long. And when it collapsed, nothing would keep the Germanies from being reunited. My father, who spent some time in the Soviet Union during the Second World War, disagreed. “I was there!” he said. “With terror you can keep it up forever! And they will never allow the Germanies to reunite.”
Well, history has borne me out simply because I, never having experienced the fright of Soviet oppression, could see things objectively. My father was too emotionally involved.
Oppression cannot be sustained forever. Nevertheless, the Baal Haggadah tells us, our bondage in Egypt would have endured until today, something that has never happened in history. How could such a thing be? Because our bondage was through and through. Physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual. No inner seed of independence remained. This was the bondage from which the Almighty extracted us.
Apply this concept to the West Bank and Gaza. It is clearly impossible to keep these people subservient forever. Regardless of the quality of life we might provide for them, we cannot hold them against their will indefinitely. It is historically impossible. (Imagine if the Russians occupied Appalachia and provided jobs for the unemployed. The hill people would still come after the Russians with shotguns.)
Either we annex the West Bank and give them the vote, which we would never do, or we must withdraw from the occupation. I believe we have no choice. And the demographic clock is ticking fast. It is estimated that within twenty years or so, the Israeli Arabs will constitute 40% of the population, what with the extremely high Arab birth rate and the low Israeli birth rate combined with high rates of emigration and abortion. At that point, the Arabs could conceivable take control of the government by forming a coalition with some of the extreme parties. If such a thing should happen, Heaven forbid, where would we be?
And what can we do to stop it? Sterilize all the Israeli Arabs? Drive them all out in a campaign of ethnic cleansing as in Kosovo? I do not see Jewish soldiers dragging Arab mothers from their homes and throwing them into trucks. And besides, NATO would probably bomb us.
So what are we to do? I think we have to prepare for such a possibility in a generation or two. We must work toward ensuring that if there will be a transition to a multi-national state, it should happen without bloodshed. Therefore, it is critical that we arrest the curve of violence right now, so that the Arabs of that time will not have grown up as stone-throwers.
I do not advocate a stupid peace. I think we need to revive some of the skills of the much-maligned ghetto Jew who knew how to negotiate with wisdom and cunning. We need to make the Arabs feel that every inch that is returned tears out another piece of our heart, which it does. Furthermore, any peace that is negotiated would have to be a vigilant peace, perhaps supported by a strong presence of American troops. But something has to be done. Inaction invites disaster.
The Israelis want to live in peaceful coexistence with the Arabs, but the Arabs view our presence in the Middle East as the Naqba, the Disaster; they would love to drive us into the sea. That will never change. Nonetheless, we need to find an accommodation that will reduce their bloodlust. It can be done, and it must be done.
The situation in the Middle East presents us with a good analogy for the internal situation of the Jewish people. The liberal streams seek pluralism. They want peaceful coexistence with the Orthodox. But for the Orthodox, the Conservative and Reform are our Naqba. It is an unmitigated disaster for the Jewish people that these ersatz creeds occupy large swaths of Jewish ideological territory. And much as the people that profess adherence to these creeds are our dear and beloved brothers and sisters, we want nothing more than to drive these creeds into the sea.
Fortunately for us, the conflicts within Judaism are without bloodshed in the literal sense, and therefore there is no need for an accommodation. There is no justification for ever agreeing to peaceful coexistence. Thousands of outreach people are working tirelessly to rescue our brothers and sisters from the ideological foe. We are engaged in an ideological war with the forces of heresy, and we will not be satisfied until we have achieved complete victory.
Yes, we want to bring down the citadels of Conservative and Reform. They are an affront and a travesty. It does not matter that people are perhaps more likely to return to Judaism through these streams than if they had been completely secular. It is not our role to play G-d. These usurpers are occupying sacred ground, and we must expel them. The Jewish people will be far better off when there will be only Orthodox on the Jewish ideological landscape. I do not know exactly how it would work itself out, but I have no doubt that it is true.
N.B. Some may wonder why I co-authored One People, Two Worlds if I feel strongly about the evils of pluralism. First of all, the book was a battle rather than a dialogue, as a number of Reform rabbis lamented. But there is much more to it. I think I have written more than enough this time. If readers are interested, I will gladly offer my perspective on the book and the controversy at another time.