Jewish do-gooders: Naivete is worse than ignorance

Believing in the possibility of Utopia on earth when bombs are going off in marketplaces is worse than ignorance.

Rabbi Berel Wein,

Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein
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Ignorance is curable by knowledge, naiveté much less so.  The naïve person, in most cases, is well aware of the facts. Nevertheless, he or she refuses to draw the correct and logical conclusion from those facts. Fanciful, wishful thinking clouds one’s rational judgment. It is as though one believes that by wishing so, it will indeed turn out to be so. 

The Torah bids us to be an optimistic and hopeful people, yet it warns us not be a naïve people. The paradox of Jewish belief is that it is utopian in nature but it is very wary about pursuing policies or revering individuals who are purely messianic and utopian in nature and conduct. 

Part of its rejection of Christianity was the latter’s rejection of the true nature and desires of humans in the naive pursuit of a perfect world and a utopian future. It is to this very idea that Maimonides addresses himself by stating that the world will continue as it is even in the messianic era. 

The line between optimism, the belief in a better future and naïve wishful thinking is often blurred by humans. But there is no doubt that such a demarcation line does truly exist. As dangerous to society as ignorance is, I believe that naiveté is a far more dangerous and destructive human failing. The tragedies of the twentieth century and the attendant deaths of so many tens of millions of people came not from ignorance of facts and of history but rather from beliefs in terrible utopian ideas of empire, social class, economic wealth and naively foolish biological and racial theories.       

On my recent trip to the United States I was privy to a conversation between a very intelligent community-minded, fine Jewish woman who was about to embark on her first trip to Israel. She was trying to employ a tour guide who would take her to see the “settlements” in Judea and Samaria. She also wanted him to arrange a meeting with a fair-minded Arab family with whom she could discuss her ideas about a permanent peace. I flippantly interjected: “So would we in Israel!” 

The problem with most of the do-gooders in the Jewish community is not that they are insincere or ignorant of the facts and issues that confront Israel, it is that they are hopelessly naïve about the Palestinian street and leadership. They have constructed an imaginary scenario in their minds and like all standard utopians, refuse to be budged from it by acts that they themselves are well aware of. 

Thus many are led to believe, in their own naiveté, that the desired result is not only achievable but it is at hand if only Israel would somehow remove the “settlements.” Whether actually viewing the facts on the ground will somehow sober her to the realities of our situation is questionable. Such people usually find it difficult to abandon cherished long-held beliefs and proposals. Witness those who supported the Soviet Union for over seventy years of murder and tyranny. That was the ultimate example of naïve behavior in our time.           

The Oslo Agreements and the twenty year aftermath of violence and disappointment has pretty much cured most Jewish Israelis of their naiveté about the Arab world and its attitude towards the Jewish state. The original naiveté took two different and widely variant directions. One naïve belief was that there was going to be a greater Israel from the river to the sea.  

Somehow the Arabs and the world were going to accept this vision and allow it to be translated into reality. The other path of wishful thinking was that the Arabs would now come to accept Israel as a legitimate country and presence in the Middle East by trading land for peace. Both of these naïve visions have proven to be unrealistic and most of the Israeli public has now accepted this reality. 

The Arab world and particularly the Palestinian Authority have never been cured of their naïve vision of the fact that somehow they can make Israel disappear by terror, lawsuits, UN resolutions, stonewalling all proposals and by not fulfilling past commitments. As long as the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian street continues to fantasize that what it wishes is what it will get, then there will be no meaningful progress towards a settlement and modus vivendi with a permanent Israeli presence in the Middle East.

So we are  faced with dealing with continued naiveté instead of just plain ignorance. And that is really the crux of the problem.








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