A National Return to Hashem – The First Step

The almost wall-to-wall fury of the world community against Israel’s boarding of the Mavi Marmara surprised even some veteran advocates for Israel, who daily trudge through the slime of international hatred of the Jewish State. There was something almost other worldly about the fevered attacks from a world that can take years to react to the slaughter of innocents by the thousands, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands. (In a relatively recent listing of the number of deaths in trouble spots around the world in the last half century, the Middle East conflict is ranked…..49th.) The throngs gathered in capitals around the world to pounce upon Israel with only isolated calls to first learn of the facts. Even if one were not frum and already disposed towards such a view, one could come to the conclusion that hatred of Jews was a cosmic force, an inexplicable part of the fabric of the universe.

The world is not yet ready to march on Yerushalayim, in the manner of the haftorah on Sukkos. It doesn’t have to. It merely has to turn Israel into a pariah state, cut down on economic and cultural cooperation, and increasing isolation will convince a few Israelis here and there to give up the battle and move to Tarzana. This, in turn, will but a dent into the standard of living for those who remain behind, and convince more yet to emigrate. The effect will snowball, until Israel becomes an unsustainable state.

The previous few lines encapsulate the current strategy of what is called the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions), and is what Palestinian leaders are looking to as far more effective than armed struggle against a superior military force. It will succeed, c”v, unless Israelis can once again act with the resilience and fortitude they did when putting the State together. It is insufficient for us in the Torah community to look smugly at the inability of Israel’s secular left to motivate another generation. The ship is sinking, and we are on it.

The secular left is not all of Israel, or even close to a majority. The greater number are still believers in G-d, even if estranged from observance. We need to find people who can reach them, who can make them believe in themselves again as special people with a special history and a special mission. The best vehicle, of course, is full commitment to Torah. But for those who are not yet within hearing range of our message, we need to find ways to remind Israelis what they are going through. The following piece by Dennis Prager, reprinted from the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, is a brilliant articulation of a message that needs to be brought to our non-observant brethren in Israel:

Anyone who has the chutzpah to write a public letter to 6 million people needs to explain where he is coming from, so permit me to briefly identify myself.

I am an American Jew — a proud American and a proud Jew. As I told an audience of Israeli Americans, I have two fathers — Avraham Avinu and George Washington. Born three months after Israel was born, I, unlike 2,000 years of Jews before me, have never known a world without a Jewish state. I was raised in Hebrew-speaking religious schools and in a Hebrew-speaking summer camp, have been to Israel about 15 times and made a documentary in Israel during the height of the terror attacks in Jerusalem (“Israel in a Time of Terror”) on how you cope with terrorism. While I have strong opinions on settlements, peace, territory, etc., unlike many American Jews I do not express them publicly. I do not believe it is the business of any American Jew to tell a mature democracy faced with threats to its existence what policies it should follow. Living in the safety of America, 10,000 miles away, I won’t tell you — whose lives are on the line every day — what you should do.

But there are things I would like to say to you that have nothing to do with policy matters. They are about God, the world, Europe, America and Christians.

I fully understand why most of you are not particularly religious, even why many of you are anti-religious. You were raised that way, and the models of Jewish religiosity you often see in Israel are not particularly inspiring. The religious parties in Israel are often corrupt, and they seem to exist primarily to enrich religious institutions; many religious Jews live on the dole; and while there are many inspiring Orthodox Israelis — a disproportionate number of the best and brightest in the army, for example — the fact is that Judaism is rarely made intellectually or morally relevant to you.

I am not writing to make you Orthodox (I myself am not Orthodox — I call myself “religious non-Orthodox”). Rather I am writing to ask you how you cannot see the transcendent — specifically the divine role of the Jews — in your situation. I want to know how you explain to yourselves your isolation in the world (and how you explain the American exception to this rule).

The Jewish state is in exactly the same situation as the Jewish individual was in Europe before the Holocaust. The individual Jew in Europe was demonized and dehumanized despite his enormous contributions to Europe’s culture, science and thought, and despite his moral decency. Today the Jewish state is equally demonized and dehumanized despite Israel’s essential decency and its utterly disproportionate contributions to mankind’s well-being. Just consider how many Israeli scientists have developed medicines and medical technology that save countless lives around the world. Whose hospital was the most effective in Haiti in the first days after that country’s devastating earthquake? How much technological innovation comes from your little state compared to almost any country in the world?

And yet you are truly hated. Genocidal Sudan is elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the misogynist primitives of Iran are elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, but Israel is the one country that is never elected to these U.N. commissions and has been the most censured country in the history of the United Nations.

The question is, why? Why is your tiny decent state the most hated in the world? Could it be because you are the one Jewish state? If there is a more convincing reason, I have yet to encounter it.
The secular founders of Zionism and of Israel were certain that if the Jews had their own state, the Jew’s situation would be normalized — Jews would have a state like every other people and no longer be strangers in others’ countries — and Jew hatred would die out. They were right about part one, wrong about part two. The Jewish state has indeed normalized the Jews’ situation — but Jewish normalization means being hated for being Jewish, whether as a state or as individuals.

This is not easy for you to hear, and it is not easy for me to write. But the Jews, as flawed as we are, serve as a moral pole on the world’s moral compass: The worst individuals and the worst groups hate the Jews. It is a lousy role, but it cannot be avoided. Ever since the Jews brought the morally judging universal God and the morally demanding Torah and Prophets into the world, we have been hated. In a brilliant play on words, our rabbis wrote 2,000 years ago that the sinah (Hebrew for hatred) against Jews comes from Sinai, where the Jews received the moral code known as the Ten Commandments and, tradition holds, the Torah.

Like it or not (and what normal person would like it?), we are God’s Chosen People. But Israelis, because they are well educated and because European Jews founded the state, are profoundly secular and reject any religious/moral role for the Jews. You founded a Jewish state ethnically, but you looked to Europe as much as Judaism for your social values.

And now look around. Your support does not come from the secular Europe so many of your parents identified with but from the most religious of all the great nations on earth — America.
Given your views on religion, it probably seems odd, if not embarrassing, to many of you that the most fervent supporters of Israel in the world are deeply religious Christians.

But it is not odd and surely should not be embarrassing. The people who affirm what we in America call Judeo-Christian values, i.e., values emanating largely from our Torah — the only words inscribed on America’s national symbol, the Liberty Bell, are from the Torah — are far more morally clear than nearly all the secular professors at Oxford, the Sorbonne or America’s elite universities. The greatest antipathy to Israel in the Western world emanates from the secular university, while the greatest support comes from religious Christians and other conservatives (including secular ones) who share the Judeo-Christian value system.

This ought to have a very big impact on you. Hundreds of millions of human beings want your country destroyed, some by peaceful means (as if that were possible) and most through genocide.
And a major source of their support comes from those who hold values you most respect. If it were up to many of Oxford’s professors, you would cease to exist.

Perhaps you should reconsider your secularism. As I said, this is not a call for you to become Orthodox. It is a call for you to take the God of Israel, His Torah and His values seriously. Without God, it is impossible to understand why the Jewish state, of all the countries in the world, is the most hated. And without God, there is no solution.

For the skeptics among us, I remind you of the words of the Meshech Chochmah in Nitzavim, s.v. veshavta:

This, then, is what is implied by והשבות אל לבבך : Ahavas Yisrael is etched into the heart [of each Jew]. When he listens to that which was carved into his heart at Sinai, and remembers his [original authentic] thinking – then he will certainly “return to Hashem your G-d.” After he returns to his people, he will certainly return to his G-d.

May HKBH give us all the vision to find each other, and through that, to find Him.

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12 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    In the early 1970’s, a political science professor at MIT told me that he expected Israel to become a pariah state of the type described in the above article. It has taken these many years since for the nations of the world to dare express their actual feelings. What “liberated” them to do this was the Palestinian Arab myth ably promoted by mass media, universities, the Left, and various large Christian and Muslim denominations. This myth satisfies many psychic needs of antisemites, so they are unlikely to give it up willingly.

    While we need to continue making our case to those who will still listen, our main job, as always, is teshuvah. This applies to Jews everywhere, not only in Israel. Once we get straight with HaShem, the rest will fall into place.

    A related point: Despite everything, many secular or otherwise non-Orthodox Jews in the public eye have continued to make the case for Israel. They would become much more effective in conveying a true, consistent message if they themselves became baalei teshuvah.

  2. motty says:

    The religious parties in Israel are often corrupt, and they seem to exist primarily to enrich religious institutions; many religious Jews live on the dole; and while there are many inspiring Orthodox Israelis — a disproportionate number of the best and brightest in the army, for example — the fact is that Judaism is rarely made intellectually or morally relevant to you.

    Like it or not (and what normal person would like it?), we are God’s Chosen People

    While I appreciate the general thrust of your quote of Prager’s letter. I must wonder about the above excerpts…

    If we should not like being God’s chosen people then would not the sane choice be to seek a way out? Is this an argument that is meant to convince someone that running away is the wrong answer?

    If the name Cross-Currents reflects,”the timeless flow of authentic Torah thought, and the ebb and tide of current affairs.” the you should be waving the banner of ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu

    [YA – Indeed, ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu R Us. The author, however, is not Orthodox. We assume that our readers would rather read the originals of important pieces coming from outside our community and consider where the authors come from, rather than feed them only bowdlerized versions. Maybe we need to hear more often that for people who have not accepted the ole mitzvos with simcha, there is much to run away from – until they reflect upon arguments such as are presented by Dennis Prager.]

  3. Ori says:

    Motty: If we should not like being God’s chosen people then would not the sane choice be to seek a way out? Is this an argument that is meant to convince someone that running away is the wrong answer?

    Ori: Dennis Prager isn’t writing to an Orthodox audience. He’s writing to a secular Israeli audience. People who don’t want to be God’s chosen people. It makes sense to tell them “bummer, you’re stuck with it, do the best you can”.

  4. lacosta says:

    i think that r adlerstein may need to update this column in light of the re-igniting today of the war [ maybe the final battle? ] between haredi and hiloni. if one reads a digest of editorialists from today’s israeli papers [available at the failedmessiah blog eg] , one will see that they regard the challenge to the supreme court as a battle for the soul of the state– and call upon the hiloni to take a stand for his rights ….

    [YA – Not sure what this demonstrates other than the need to offer Israelis an alternative to their image of what Torah is about, which, whether accurate or not, does not leave them with much to cheer or identify. Twenty years ago, the Bostoner Rebbe zt”l said that the only solution he could see to the hatred of Yiddishkeit by Israelis is the aliyah of many American haredim. Americans, he said, know what it is like to live in a melting pot society, and how to speak to neighbors with whom they disagree.]

  5. Shades of Gray says:

    “May HKBH give us all the vision to find each other, and through that, to find Him”

    A beautiful and contemporary example of a vision and of it’s subsequent realization can be seen in the remarks of R. Pam zt’l, made in 2001 in connection with the tenth anniversary of the founding of Shuvu, the Israeli network of Torah schools for Russian children. He quoted R. Zaidel Semiatitsky, who in the 1950’s, was instrumental in bringing Moroccon and South American children to yeshivos in America and England (as quoted in Deah V’dibbur, February 28, 2001):

    “HaRav Semiatitsky had described how in parshas Shemos, Hashem commanded Moshe to take his staff and throw it to the ground. When he did, it turned into a snake and Moshe ran away. Then Hashem told him to grab its tail. Moshe followed Hashem’s instructions and the snake turned back into a staff.

    “`This,’ said HaRav Zaidel, `is the story of Bnei Yisroel,'” said HaRav Pam. “Take the kids and throw them to the ground, saying they have no emunah — then they become poisonous snakes. But if you take these children in your hand, they become the matteh Elokim, the staff used to perform Hashem’s miracles.”

    More recently, R. Berel Wein wrote of a hopeful trend, comparing the current era to the turbulent period described in Sefer Shoftim, and then to the subsequent times of Shmuel (Jersalem Post, May 28, 2010):

    “There is an obvious longing within the people to somehow return to a status and level of Torah observance – to at least a minimum level of piety, social justice and comportment. And there are great people waiting in the wings that will reverse all of the negative trends of the people… The power of belief and resilience has been the greatest asset of the Jewish people over all of its ages and trials. The Book of Shoftim/Judges is but a prelude to the book of Shmuel and its story of Jewish greatness in the Land of Israel thousands of years ago.”

  6. Ori says:

    Lacosta, given the demographics I expect that in fifty years most Israelis will be religious. Because of “kol Israel arevim ze laze(1)” and the historic track record of religious parties in Israel, I expect this religious majority to enforce as much of Halacha as possible on all Jews in Israeli territory.

    I doubt the change between the current situation and that Halachic state will be wholly peaceful. Today’s issue is just one of the minor skirmishes.

    (1) Literally, “all of Israel are responsible for one another”. A religious belief that if one Jew sins, all Jews may be punished.

  7. dr. bill says:

    lacosta, today may be a watershed. However, defying the supreme court is not the real issue to most israelis. They now see just how much tolerance and respect for the other really exists, not just in the fringe groups of the eidah but in the mainstream of the chareidi movement(s). Any hope for the Meshech Chochmah’s brilliant insight for returning to God via his people is a few steps further from realization.

    Rabbi Alderstein, refering to “hatred of Yiddishkeit by Israelis” as opposed to what they perceive as the yiddishkeit of the chareidim (and RZ settlers), and the “aliyah of many American haredim” as opposed to many american religious jews is hardly in the spirit of the article. Do you (or the rebbe ztl) really think that Israeli society hates Yiddishkeit or rather what they perceive has become of the RZ and chareidi groups? (There are jews on the left who hate the religion and jews on the right who hate the state, but forget the fringes. Both live in the distant past.)

    Ask anyone about RSZA ztl or leBadail leChaim Rav Amital to name just two. Can anyone recall an untoward remark directed their way from secularists in Israel? Even if you were right about Israelis hating Yiddishkeit, people can overcome it; in any case you are by and large incorrect. In fact, it is most often the people not the religion that is held up to ridicule.

    I for one was impressed with Tzippi Livni’s recent chiding of Israelies over their (lack of) attendance of shuls. I am, for the sake of argument, even willing to ascribe to her only political motives. Nonetheless, it tells you something about the reality of the modern israeli secularist that is quite different than hating Yiddishkeit. In a mirror opposite of Beruryah’s wise words, for many secular Israelies, it’s the people not their religion.

    [YA – It should have been obvious that I meant what they have been led to believe is Yiddishkeit by focusing on the behavior of certain people, and not Yiddishkeit itself. And I would add to your list former Chief Rabbi Lau, and Kiryat Shemoneh Rav Tzefanyah Drori. In both of these cases, I have personally seen the outpouring of love for them from people very far removed from regular religious practice.]

  8. Chaim Fisher says:

    And in all these issues, passport fraud, announcements timed for the visit of the American Vice-President, killing the Flotilla members, some at quite close range apparently, we so perfectly orchestrated our actions so as to appear kind, gentle, and committed to all the ways of peace that they would have us hew to.

    We did nothing that any intelligent person would ever say would risk the tiniest chance of insulting others or being misinterpreted. We went beyond the pale, over the top, to the end of the line in care, understanding, and righteousness.

    Furthermore, having understand the language that other nations were broadcasting to us, we always struggled to express ourselves exactly and precisely in their terms. If they were calling for fairness to our enormous Arab population, we spoke exactly in those terms, merely demanding that they declare their state to be all Jewish and nothing but Jewish, and sing Ha Tikvah with, preferably, tears in their brown Arab eyes. How diplomatically we framed our minimal needs in the terms of those who would criticize us!

    It’s simply infuriating to see how far we went to meet people who think otherwise than us, and how they almost literally would spit in our face no matter how much care we took not even to make them raise an eyebrow at us!


  9. lacosta says:

    but i think that while there is some actual jew-hatred on the secular left, i think they also have 2 kinds of fear— 1] being made a BT, like many acquaintances and family that’s already happened to and
    2] a fear, not unjustified , of Taliban Judaism. [the vision of blowing up buddha statues in Talibania comes to mind] . when they see/hear stories [are they ALL made up?] of acid-burning-modesty-patrols , ramat-bait-shemesh-anti-religious-zionism pogroms etc what should they think?

  10. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I don’t agree with Ori that it will take 50 years for Israel to be a majority religious. An important part of the process is the Israelis who leave the country and discover their Jewishness. There will be massive American aliya as the anti-Semitism continues to increase in America. Obama will be a one-term president, but the right-wing Pat Buchanan-type people with backlash. When the anti-Semitic genie is let out of the bottle, right and left matter little. But the Jewish people will return to Hashem as He has promised.

  11. Tal Benschar says:

    Let’s review a bit of history. The Zionist movement and the founders of the State were dominated by self-described Socialists, who had a very strong element of what we in the West would call Bolshevism. These people hated yiddishkeit — not individual malefactors, but yiddishkeit. They did everything they could to uproot Torah from the Jewish people.

    While this group is no longer the majority and does not have the power it once had, their successors nevertheless form an elite group which still dominates Israeli society in many ways. They certainly dominate the courts and the media. They retain an anti-religious agenda. The Israeli media, for example, gives an almost uniformly negative picture of anything Charedi or religious.

    Don’t be fooled by talk of “democracy.” These people believe in democracy as much as I believe in the philosophy of Mao Tse Tung. What they in fact believe is that by virtue of their being the “enlightened” ones, they are entitled to rule over everyone else and, where they can, bring them to “enlightenment.”

    This latest outrage by the Israeli Supreme Court well illustrates the point. It is one thing to order a school to stop discriminating (put aside whether that charge is real or cooked up.) It is quite another to order parents, individually, and on pain of contempt and jail, to send their young children to a particular school which they believe would be inimical to their education. We went through integration in America in the 1950s and 60s. There were many Court orders on the subject. But it never occurred to any American judge that he or she had jurisdiction to order individual parents to send to a particular school. (In fact, many white parents sent their children to private schools to avoid integration.) If an American judge tried that, the Supreme Court would slap him down hard. Parental rights were recognized long ago in cases like Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) and Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972).

    The Israeli Supreme Court knows no limits on its own power. That’s not “democracy” or “rule of law,” that’s tyranny.

    Until you dislodge this elite group from its grip on power, you will not be able to bring large numbers of Israelis back to Torah. They have an ideological interests in stopping that, and they will use their power — including the media’s power to whip up hatred — to stop it.

  12. Ori says:

    Yehoshua Friedman, I agree that the process may take less than fifty years. I chose a point in the future when I am pretty sure the process will be completed. However, I don’t think the anti-Obama backlash would be antisemitic. I’ve lived in the bible-belt (Texas) since 1998, and it’s a non starter.

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