Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Perpetuating Cycle of Abuse in Jewish History

Looking at the news and seeing the bloody teenagers beaten with the batons of Israeli police or reading that while Hamas terrorists grow in power the Israeli government carries on a war against the settlers, is difficult to comprehend.

But for a moment let us look further back at last week's Parsha. The Jewish people have been redeemed from slavery. We would expect them to be overjoyed and yet soon enough, they are demanding to return to Egypt. How can they possibly wish to return to a land where their children were butchered and they were slaves?

These two sets of events may be far apart in years but they are both linked from the beginning of the Jewish nation to its possible end.

An oppressed minority has one of two possible reactions. Either it clings more tightly to its values and identity or it begins instead to identify with the oppressor. When it comes to identify with its oppressor, it begins to try and become like him by matching his appearance and culture but finally in the most important point, it finds a victim to abuse. A victim that is like him so that he can fully identify with the oppressor and escape from being the victim. This is a pattern that holds true for any number of peoples from African-Americans to Indians to the Jews as a people subdivide into groups that cling to their heritage and others that attempt to imitiate their oppressors.

A famous midrash tells us that the Jews in Egypt did not change their language or dress. Why is this so significant? Changing yourself to appear more like the majority is an act of assimilation. An act of identifying with your oppressor. Jewish attempts at assimilation historically began with an attempt to appear like their majority but then quickly became aggressive assaults on Jews who retained their values. In the middle ages Jewish converts to Christianity quickly outdid their masters in furious attacks on Judaism. In the 19th century, the Haskalah which began as a reform movement teamed up with the Czarist government to further oppress Jews.

When we look at the panoply of Jewish history, time and time again we see Jews inexplicably turning on Jews. Whether it's in the earlier times of Hellenists or early Christians collaborating with the romans or in the 20th century with the Kapos or Messianic Judaism or Jewish liberals who hate Israel or the metal batons falling at Amona, they all have one thing in common. A segment of the Jewish people empathizing with their oppressors so much so that they do everything in their power to become the oppressor.

An abused child often identify with the abuser growing up to become abusers themselves and finding victims that allow them to fully become the abuser, instead of remaining the victim. This is an escape route that allows the child to escape from being the victim. Jews have been trying to escape from being the victim for the longest time. For thousands of years the same pattern has played itself time and time again. Like no other people the Jews have assimilated, have become distributed among many peoples. Yet there is no real escape.

Israel was recreated by men determined to create a 'new' kind of Jew. Yet they fell into the same old Galut mentality themselves as had the kings of Israel of old. Israel has done everything possible to achieve acceptance by the world community and the Arabs and yet have met with rejection time and time again. The average Israeli has become increasingly apathetic and withdrawn, no longer believing that events can be changed but at the same time lacking the will to move from the current course. Time and time again polls show that most Israelis believe peace is hopeless and yet support negotiations, believe that the terror will not end and yet support the ongoing policies. This is the catatonia of the victim who sees no way out, believes in no answers and can do nothing but clings to the comfort of the abusive routine.

The secular Israeli elite by contrast respond to the world's rejection and their own failure to appease the abusers through concessions by emphathizing only more strongly with their oppressors through finding victims to abuse. The victim of course must be someone who reminds them of their essence, their identity and nature. For Jews those are of course religious Jews. It is no coincidence that the campaign of hatred against religious Jews has increased as the situation with the Palestinians has broken down more and more. For the secular Jews, the religious Jews always represented the real reason for Anti-Semitism. For many of the secular Jews of Israel, the settlers have come to represent the reason there is no peace or acceptance for them, they argue. The cowardice the government displays in allowing Arab terrorists to pound Israel with rockets is funneled into brutal assaults against the settlers. The very helplessness only incites further brutality as it creates a greater need to identify with the enemy.

When a prominent Israeli professor said that when he sees religious Jews he understands the Nazis, what he was really expressing was a desire to be a Nazi and to be free of being a Jew. To be the oppressor and not the victim. When the left slanders Israel by claiming that what the Jews endured at the hands of the Nazis caused them to become like the Nazis, they are half-right. Only it is not the Arabs who are the victims but other Jews.

Enduring suffering either teaches you to morally overcome or to escape. Enduring abuse either teaches you the inferiority of your oppressor or convinces you of your own inferiority. The product of thousands of years of oppression beginning in Egypt has drawn some Jews to hold more closely to being Jews and taught others that the only way to be free of being abused for being a Jew is to abuse other Jews.

Moshe saved a Jew from being beaten by an Egyptian only to find one Jew beating another. The Jews who returned to Israel too have come to find that for those who do not want to be Jews, their only escape is to beat other Jews. For over a decade Israel has been making increasingly devastating concessions for nothing in return. These acts of madness were the Jewish State beating itself over and over again in hopes that if enough blood was drawn it would be finally accepted into the community of nations. Now Hamas has come to power and the international community in turn recognizes Hamas and demands that Israel continue giving it money.

A sane state at this point demands a halt to this but a sane state would never have gotten to this point. Only a victim state could or would allow things to get this bad. Only a victim state would continue negotiating the terms of its own dismemberment with the murderers of its own children. And finally only a victim state would respond to the situation by sending out its police to beat its own citizens.

If Israel and Jews are to survive we will have to stop being victims and pegging our self-esteem to the esteem of the world but recognize that being hated and rejected and oppressed and wronged is not an indictment of ourselves but of them. Reasoning, teaching tolerance, appealing to a common humanity are utterly futile tasks. One is reminded of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol before the start of the Six Day War trying to avoid a conflict by offering to take the Soviet envoy to see for himself that there was no troop buildup. This was of course a futile and pointless offer. The USSR didn't care whether there really was a troop buildup, except as a cause for war.

Today the secular left which blames the settlers, the anti-zionist chassidim who blame the zionists and every faction and group that tries to pin blame for the situation on other Jews is similarly missing the point and wasting their time. The teeming hatred of so many for so few Jews is fundamentally and eternally irrational. No excuses or explanations can cause it to make sense. Consider Japan which has and never had any native population of Jews, in whose religion Jews do not figure at all, and yet has a productive industry of best-selling books that demonize Jews. To be confronted with Anti-Semitism is to be confronted with a vast incomprehensible mass insanity, which to fully contemplate is to step towards the brink of madness.

To attempt to rationally understand Anti-Semitism is futile. There is only one answer and only one source for the hatred. We are Ivrim. Hebrews. The meaning of the word Ivri is Ever HaNahar, the other side of the river. We descend from Avraham and Yitchak and Yaakov who cast aside the pagan gods of the time to worship the one true G-d and we are hated for it as they are hated for it. The nations from Egypt to Midian, from France to Germany; called on us to abandon our ways and join with them and yet those Jews who foolishly did so found that they were hated still. Spain forced the Jews to convert to Christianity and yet their children and their children's children continued to be persecuted, generation after generation.

Our persecutors like Jews themselves understand innately that what we have cannot be cast aside, it remains a part of us. Those peoples and those Jews who try to remake Jews into something more 'acceptable' find that no matter how hard they labor it is never enough and turn furiously on them when their efforts are frustrated. Not Jews themselves nor non-Jews can manage to undo the Jewish people. When their efforts at conversion and assimilation fail they turn to horrific bouts of mass murder but those too fail. Any other people which saw mass slaughter and attempts at genocide in nearly every generation around the world would have long since ceased to exist but we have been living this way for thousands of years and despite the horror of it; we are still here.

And the horror of it is great indeed. Since 9/11 Americans and some westerners have begun to gain a small glimpse of what it is like to be rabidly hated by billions around the world, to know that seemingly ordinary men you have never met, whom you have done nothing to, would eagerly kill you simply for who you are. To know that those same men blame you for running the world, putting mind altering chemicals in their water and stealing their organs and whatever lunatic ideas their minds can come up with. This is a part of being a Jew. To some Jews it becomes all they can see. To some Jews it becomes all they want to escape, even at the cost of becoming like those men, so they can finally be free of the press of that great murderous irrational hatred.

They come to think of their Jewishness as a curse like wealth, as something that they can give away to appease those who hate them. And when they think they have given it all away. When they have become Progressives, Communists, Liberals, Socialists Messianics, Conservatives, Jews for Marx and Jews for Nader and Jews for Jesus and Jews for Allah and Jews for Bhudda and find that they are still hated; they shout all the more eagerly for those who still have their Jewishness to give it up and turn on them angrily blaming those Jews for existing and defeating their efforts to escape and become their enemies. Yet the wealth they have they cannot give away, for all their many laborious efforts.

Ve'Atem Tihiyu Li Mamlechet Kohanim Ve'Goy Kaddosh - And You Will Be To Me A Kingdom Of Priests And A Holy Nation, G-d said to us. A rich man can give away his wealth but can a Kohen give away his priesthood to another? Perhaps he may want to, perhaps he may even try but such a thing is impossible. He cannot give it up. He can eat from impure foods, he can befoul himself in every manner and yet as a king's son remains a prince, so too he remains what he is.

One day in a far-off land revolutionaries came to overthrow the King. They drove away the King, contaminated his palace, defiled his name and rewrote the history books. They captured the King's sons demanding that they renounce their rights to the throne or be executed. Some refused and were murdered. Some escaped and tried to blend in with the populace. Still others agreed signing away their royalty, putting on common clothes and even working for the new government to help imprison their own brothers.

Yet no matter how even these befouled themselves dressing in rags, demeaning and lowering themselves and shouting revolutionary slogans; the new government hated them as much as it hated the remaining sons of the king, for on their faces as on the faces of all his sons it could be still seen that they were royalty. The new government which now claimed that it had taken the authority of the old King by right and disvolved his old kingdom needed them to sign the papers renouncing their heritage to participate in the charade but deep down inside they knew it was a charade and the more this knowledge haunted them the harder they worked convincing the remaining sons to sign the papers promising that they would be accepted and tolerated, convincing them that the new government was really the fulfillment of all that the old kingdom was meant to be. Some of the princes tired of the suffering and persecution signed and some resented those of their brothers who remained true believing that the continuing hatred they suffered even after their defection was because of them and became the most rabid persecutors of their brothers.

And yet still those sons of the king took common work and did the most difficult of labors often driven from their posts before they were even paid and yet they remained true knowing that the old kingdom was not gone but would return again and that all the new governments were hollow lies. As they walked the streets, whether they were of the brothers that had stayed true or those who had not, all who saw them knew deep inside that they were the sons of the King and that the King and his kingdom would return again. Some of the people were filled with hope at this, others with frustration and rage and they hurled bricks and beat them. And the sons who had proven false too threw bricks and beat them the hardest.

As the hooves of the returning king's armies sounded again on the royal road the mob and the false sons redoubled their rage and their assault. All the leaders of the new government too shouted all the louder leading the assault. In all the din the true sons of the King could not hear the sounds of their father's return and many began to despair thinking that there was no hope and that this was their destiny and some in that hour joined their enemies. And yet others understood that the fury of the enemy was a blessing, a signal that their father was coming and like Rabbi Akiva at the ruined temple, they laughed for joy.


Lemon-Lime Moon said...

Guilt will make a person evil over time.
When people say they "understand" the enemies hatred for "certain" ones of a group, it is their own self hatred and guilt speaking.
When a person wanders far from G-d there is a conscience,(no matter how unused to exercise) that will boil in the background.
Because such a one has no moral foritude to do tshuva(repent)and turn their life around, it comes out in various forms.
One of them is hatred for others whom he perceives as worthy of hate, although in truth he hates them because he knows they are doing what he himself should be doing.

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