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Right from Wrong: No wonder antisemites hate us

Jews cannot escape targeted hatred by changing their address.

By Ruthie Blum - May 2, 2019
 
 
 
antisemitism
 
 
 

Hate Stops Here rally against antisemitism sponsored by the World Zionist Organization. (photo credit: WORLD ZIONIST ORGANIZATION)

It was horrifically fitting that Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day mere days after a crazed Jew-hater went on a shooting spree at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego, killing 60-year-old Lori Gilbert Kaye and costing Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, 57, his index finger. In an additional tragic twist, the two other congregants who miraculously survived with shrapnel injuries were 34-year-old Israeli Almog Peretz and his eight-year-old niece, Noya, whose parents fled incessant Hamas rocket fire in their hometown of Sderot to live in the United States. You know, for a little peace and quiet, away from blood-thirsty terrorists trying to murder them for being Jews. That was eight years ago.

Sadly for the Dahan family, the synagogue attack was not their first brush with antisemitism in America. In 2012, their house in Sunny southern California was spray-painted with a swastika.

 
There is no moral to this story other than the obvious one: Jews cannot escape targeted hatred by changing their address.

This unfortunate but age-old fact hit home again hard in two new reports, one by the Anti-Defamation League, and the other by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry in conjunction with the European Jewish Congress, or EJC. According to the ADL report, which was released on Tuesday, “The US Jewish community experienced near-historic levels of antisemitism in 2018, including a doubling of antisemitic assaults and the single deadliest attack [the Tree of Life Synagogue slaughter in Pittsburgh] against the Jewish community in American history.”

The Kantor Center report, which was published on Wednesday, reveals an equally bleak picture. Summarizing the report’s findings, EJC president Moshe Kantor said, “Antisemitism has recently progressed to the point of calling into question the very continuation of Jewish life in many parts of the world. As we saw with the second mass shooting of a synagogue in the US, many parts of the world that were previously regarded as safe no longer are.”

Pointing to the “disgraceful cartoon” in last Thursday’s international edition of The New York Times – which depicted a blind, kippah-wearing US President Donald Trump being led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a seeing-eye dog with a Star of David hanging from his collar – Kantor illustrated the way in which antisemitism “has entered gradually into the public discourse. Threats, harassments and insults have become more violent, inciting to even more physical violence against Jews. It feels like almost every taboo relating to Jews, Judaism and Jewish life has been broken.”

Antisemitism, Kantor explained, “is no longer limited to the far-left, far-right, radical-Islamist triangle; it has become mainstream and often accepted by civil society.”

That’s for sure.

One need only observe the Nazi-themed graffiti and unapologetic Israel-bashing on college campuses across North America and Europe to grasp just how “mainstream” antisemitism has become in places where it was formerly frowned upon, or at least kept under wraps in the aftermath of World War II. The senseless slaughter of six million innocent Jews will do that – for a short while, anyway.

Interestingly, the steady rise in antisemitism has run parallel to an ever-increasing attention to the Holocaust – with monuments, museums and educational programs cropping up everywhere – and legal systems criminalizing its denial. Apparently, it is far easier and more rewarding to mourn dead Jews than it is to coexist with live ones.

But why? What is it about Jews that has driven people bananas throughout the ages and still does? After all, it’s not as though we are a homogeneous group. The quip, “two Jews, three opinions” applies just as much to our streams of religion as it does to our schools of thought.

One scholar who spent the better part of his life trying to get to the bottom of this mystery was the late historian Robert Wistrich, author of A Lethal Obsession: Antisemitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad.

IN AN interview with The Jerusalem Post in 2007, Wistrich said: “One of the things that enabled the Nazis to succeed was the abundance of ‘fellow travelers.’ Hitler’s rise to power was not self-evident, particularly in such a highly civilized and educated society as Germany. Yet there were many circles that, in moments of crisis, were ready and willing to contemplate collaboration with the Nazi Party.... These circles included intellectuals, members of the upper-middle class, industrialists, church leaders and academics. Antisemitism was particularly attractive in academia.”

Wistrich attributed this elite affinity to “resentment that these ‘outsiders’ were actually changing the societal agenda and modern culture as a whole.”
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The fact that Jews did not see themselves as “outsiders,” but rather as “super-Germans, super-French [or] super-Englishmen,” only made it worse, according to Wistrich.

“This is one of the most intriguing features of the antisemitism that became so rampant in Europe before the Holocaust, and which was a main cause of it,” he said. “The more that Jews became similar to their neighbors – the more their differences were dissolving – the more the problems that had been bubbling beneath the surface became acute.”

Well, we now know what solution the Nazis, with a little help from Europe’s enlightened chattering classes, came up with to tackle those problems: the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question,” genocide.

Yes, the way to rid society of its ills was to kill off all Jews everywhere. No exceptions, no exemptions. Not even for the “good” ones, who viewed themselves as distinguishable from and superior to those, say, with sidelocks.

The establishment of the Jewish state in the Land of Israel, then, was a blessing and a necessity. More importantly, it was an answer to our own Jewish question. For some, it was a biblical calling; for others, a national one. What it has been for all of us, however, is a country in which we are free to be who we are, individually and collectively, without fear.
Well, sort of.

Being surrounded by external enemies who tried to wipe us out from the outset, and have been trying to do so ever since, did put a damper on the dream of a safe haven. But at least we created an army, in which each of us is compelled to serve, for the purpose of confronting those enemies. That Israelis commemorate Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars exactly one week after weeping for and paying homage to the Jews annihilated by Hitler’s death machine is not coincidental. The proximity is purposeful.

So, too, is the fact that Israeli Independence Day begins at the end of Memorial Day. First we remember all those who lost their lives for being or fighting to protect Jews, then we party. Heartfelt tears before genuine jollity.

And there is much for us Israelis to be happy about, in spite of our ongoing low-grade conflict with Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists, and the looming threat of full-scale war, directly or indirectly, with a nuclearizing Iran.

As if that weren’t sufficient cause for despondence, Israel has become a punching bag for Western elites engaged in a concerted campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state through boycotts, divestment, sanctions and lies.

Nevertheless, Israelis will celebrate Israel’s 71st birthday next week with great fanfare, and with good reason. Against all odds, the persecuted “collective Jew” is full of life in every respect, with the highest fertility rate in the Western world.

It is also packed with paradoxes, being simultaneously Middle Eastern yet Western; cosmopolitan yet provincial; frenetic yet relaxed; religious yet secular; conservative yet prone to liberal fads; a bureaucratic nightmare yet heaven for entrepreneurship; ill-mannered yet empathic; marriage-oriented yet a singles’ paradise; exorbitantly expensive yet a tourist’s dream; somber yet sexy.

These seeming contradictions are both the result of and responsible for the miraculous fabric of Israeli society, in all its weirdness and with all its warts. The Jewish state, in a nutshell, is enviable, and envy breeds hate.

No wonder antisemitism is busting out all over. But we’ll prevail. We always have.
Halachic considerations around giving women the vote
 

With the upcoming elections, I have been addressing the halachic considerations around giving women the vote. In the previous column, I wrote about the first government elections that took place in Israel in 1920 and the rabbinic attitudes toward suffrage.

Votes for women was one of the most contentious issues sweeping the Western world and both chief rabbis at the time, Rav Abraham Isaac Kook and Rav Ben Zion Meir Uziel were asked their opinion on the matter. I presented Rav Kook’s approach, in which he came out against giving the vote to women for fear it would threaten the traditional family structure and lead to the anarchy he saw developing in Europe and America.

We will now turn our attention to the contrasting approach presented by Rav Uziel, who embraced the change and ruled in favor of not only giving the vote to women but also allowing them to run for elected positions.

Following is an excerpt from his response to the question (all translations: Zvi Zohar):
“If anyone should tell us that women should be excluded from the voting public because “their minds are flighty (daatan kalot)” (Shabbat 33b and Qiddushin 80b) and they know not how to choose who is worthy of leading the people, we reply: Well, then, let us exclude from the electorate also those men who are “of flighty minds” (and such are never lacking). However, reality confronts us clearly with the fact that, both in the past and in our times, women are equal to men in knowledge and wisdom, dealing in commerce and trade and conducting all personal matters in the best possible way.

Rav Uziel was unwilling to consider the traditional Talmudic attitude regarding women’s intellectual capabilities when making his decision.
Instead, he based his halachic opinion on the reality he saw in front of him and which he emphasized, included the past as well as the present. When addressing the question about possible licentiousness if women leave the homes to vote, he questions how there can be immodesty when “each person goes to the poll and enters his voting slip?

If we start considering such activities as licentious, no creature would be able to survive! Women and men would be prohibited from walking in the street, or from entering a shop together; it would be forbidden to negotiate in commerce with a woman, lest this encourage closeness and lead to licentiousness. Such ideas have never been suggested by anyone.”

He also rejected the concern for preserving peace in the home, asking why a wife’s agency in this matter is more of a threat than adult sons still living at home who may choose to vote in opposition of their fathers. He directly confronted Rav Kook, who expressed concern for wives forced to flatter their husbands by voting against their own personal wishes or causing a rift by opposing their husband and voting for another candidate.

Rav Uziel called this “a newly contrived basis” to oppose women’s voting and dismissed this concern as having no validity. He concluded that women can vote since they are bound “by the collective obligation to obey the elected officials who govern the nation” and thus should be part of the community that votes such officials in.

Rav Uziel uses a similar lens from which to address the possibility of electing women to positions of public office.

First, he seriously considered some of the halachic issues. First and foremost there is a statement in the early Tannaitic midrash Halacha Sifre Deuteronomy that only a king may be appointed to the exclusion of a queen. Based on this, Maimonides writes in his seminal halachic code Mishna Torah, “And likewise, all public appointments in Israel are to be made from amongst the men and not the women. Therefore a woman should not be appointed as head of a community” (Hilkhot Melakhim 1:5).

These sources seem to pose serious deterrents to the possibility of women running for office. Despite this, Rav Uziel recognized that within the halachic tradition, there is room for a different conclusion. He wonders whether women are fundamentally ineligible to function as judges or whether it is a concern with the principle of dignity of the community. If it is the former, he acknowledges, there is nothing to do since the Torah has deemed her ineligible. However, if it is the latter, then if part of the public chooses her as their representative and proxy, there is no violation of this principle.

He addresses other halachic issues in his responsa, namely the question of serara (appointment of women to positions of power) and conventions of modesty. Again, in contrast to Rav Kook, who was concerned for the preservation of woman’s modesty and gentle character, Rav Uziel has no such concern.

“Logic dictates that in no serious assembly or worthy discussion is there licentiousness. Daily, men meet and negotiate with women in commercial transactions, and yet all is peace and quiet. Even those inclined to sexual licentiousness will not contemplate the forbidden while seriously transacting business… Meeting in the same enclosed area for the sake of public service – which is tantamount to service of the Divine – does not habituate people to sin or cause levity; for all Jews, men and women alike, are holy and not suspected of violating conventions of modesty or morality.

In Rav Uziel’s approach, we see a willingness to engage in halachic decision making as reflective of the social reality taking place around gender interaction. He applies his keen halachic thinking to preserving both the integrity of the tradition with the enormous changes occurring both inside and outside the communities committed to such tradition.

The writer teaches contemporary Halacha at the Matan Advanced Talmud Institute. She also teaches Talmud at Pardes along with courses on Sexuality and Sanctity in the Jewish tradition.