Op-Ed: Are We Repeating the 1930's?
Rabbi Berel WeinRabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history.
The film, Ominous Skies - 1930 – 1939, produced by Destiny Foundation as part of its Faith and Fate series of the story of the Jewish people in the twentieth century, is now screening in a number of venues worldwide.
I have attended and spoken at a number of these venues, and I find that I am invariably asked, by very concerned Jews, as to whether there is a parallel between our times and that decade of the 1930’s and its awful result.
I am not a prophet and any answer to such a loaded question requires great caution and wisdom, if even any answer at all should be advanced. Nevertheless, since I was forced to confront this question myself during the production of the film, I am taking the liberty of sharing some of my thoughts with my readers.
There certainly are disturbing similarities in our current world with the mood prevailing in the 1930’s.
Great national and personal economic troubles are present today just as they were then.
The national leader of a large non-democratic country hurls insults and threats of annihilation against the Jewish people.
Anti-Semitism, in all of its masquerading guises, flourishes all over the world, especially in the Moslem society and in the European countries.
All this was present in the 1930’s. The leaders of the Western world seem to be quite apathetic, at best, regarding this threat to the Jews, just as they were in the1930’s. A strong case for the similarity between 1933 and 2012 can be made. That is why our world is so scary for Jews.
Yet there are very fundamental differences that truly distance our current time and situation from that of eighty years ago. The mere fact that the Holocaust occurred makes it quite unlikely that, God forbid, it could occur once again. As bigoted and deceitful as the Western world is regarding Jews, it views Iran and its threats as being intimidating not only to Israel and Jews but to the vital interests of the West itself.
The failed policy of appeasement at any cost is unlikely to be adopted again. The United States is no longer a bastion of isolationism and if sufficiently provoked will undoubtedly take action to protect its own strategic interests. But the main difference between what is now and what was then is the existence and prowess of the State of Israel.
No one can say what the Holocaust years would have been like had the State of Israel existed then. But there can be no doubt that somehow that fact alone would have made a difference. It is interesting to note that for the first time in nineteen centuries the major powers in the world are concerned about what the Jews are going to do to defend themselves. Somehow we are now being asked to not do something! That is also a major difference between our current decade and that of the 1930’s.
I think that internally, within the Jewish people itself, we are better off than we were eighty years ago. Even though the Torah world of the 1930’s in Europe was decimated if not completely destroyed by the Holocaust – and those raw numbers have yet to be made up – the Torah world in the midst of the Jewish people has renewed itself strongly and vibrantly.
The study of Torah has become immensely popular and widespread throughout the Jewish world.
The study of Torah has become immensely popular and widespread throughout the Jewish world. In the 1930’s no one would have imagined filling Binyonei HaUmah, let alone MetLife Stadium in New Jersey to celebrate the completion of the daily learning cycle of the Talmud.
The main Hassidic courts and dynasties have rebuilt themselves in numbers, wealth and influence. They are secure enough in themselves to indulge in the internal battles for succession and power that marked the Hassidic world of the nineteenth century.
The attraction of the doctrinaire atheistic Left has waned in the Jewish world. The Left itself, and especially the defunct Soviet Union, destroyed itself in front of our very eyes. The allure of secularism has given way to materialism and consumerism.
It is no longer a militant religion unto itself. And, automobiles and trips, no matter how elegant and expensive they may be, will never speak to or satisfy our inner being’s soul. All of the false gods, the mighty idols and icons of the 1930’s now lie smashed and discarded in the ash heap of history.
So even though there are similarities between the 1930’s and our time, I think that the differences far outweigh them.