Go up like a wall

The similarities are striking when the history of Zionism is compared to the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile and the building of the Second Temple.  So are the differences. Book review.

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Rochel Sylvetsky,

Rochel Sylvetsky
Rochel Sylvetsky
Rochel Sylvetsky

Does history repeat itself?  Looking at the increasing anti-Semitism in the world, one hopes and prays that the world has learned the lessons of history and stops short of attempting a repetition of the 19th century's catastrophic enactment of that ancient, base and baseless hatred.

History is never repeated in exactly the same way, but its lessons can be applied to what seem to be a similar set of circumstances. The differences, however, do have a part to play. The Holocaust was perpetrated against a people without a state, or an army – all things Jew-haters have to contend with today, and where, consequently, they direct much of their venom. Delegitimizing Israel, attacks on Jews in the West who express pro-Israel sentiments, spreading false stories of IDF atrocities are intended to neutralize the Jewish game changers that, with G-d's help, have taken up positions on the anti-Semitic playing field. since 1948. That is why anti-Zionism is simply anti-Semitism.


The Holocaust was perpetrated against a people without a state, or an army – all things Jew-haters have to contend with today, and where, consequently, they direct much of their venom.
There is another set of circumstances where history seems to be repeating itself and that is the aliya of Diaspora Jewry to the homeland re-established in 1948. The similarities are striking when the history of Zionism is compared to the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile and the building of the Second Temple. 

Chananya Weissman, educator and author of books on a variety of Jewish subjects, has taken an in depth look at  the last three prophets (Hagai, Zechariah and Malachi) of Babylonian exile times and in a skillful analysis that uses accepted commentaries and his own powers of analogy, has written a concise 120 page book of comparative Jewish history.  He not only compares our situation today with that of Second Temple Jews, he places the Second Temple in a long term context with an original twist.

The book can be seen a clever mussar (moralistic) speech aimed at Diaspora Jewry (hope my family in galut reads it) and an exposition of contemporary parallels to  problems faced during the Second Temple period, but it is also a fast-moving yet innovative way to study the  three last prophets, often the least learned.  The writer gets to the crux of each commentator's way of explaining verses and follows through each one's approach, comparing them to one another. He doesn't get caught up in the "anything-goes" literary-analysis-oriented Bible study espoused by some religious Bible scholars today, sticking to traditional commentators - Radak, Metsudot etc. 

And now, the comparisons. For starters, the 1917 Balfour Declaration, 1922 San Remo Conference and 1947 UN vote in favor paved the way for international recognition of the renewed Jewish State, while the Edict of King Cyrus of Persia in the first year of his reign allowed the exiled Jews to return to Judea and rebuild.

The Jews comfortable in Diaspora countries continue to come to Israel in small numbers, building rich Jewish life and Torah learning in exile instead, while, naturally, Israel serves as a haven and welcoming home for Jews who are persecuted or economically suffering in other countries. Then, as now, the wealthier Babylonian Jews stayed in their new homes, economically successful and building a religious life that included the great yeshivas where the Babylonian Talmud was recorded for future generations.

Judaism today is facing observance challenges from Reform Conservative, Open Orthodoxy (never mind their now calling themselves Modern Orthodoxy,, I liked it when they were honest and defined themselves accurately, as clearly different from traditional//centrist/ modern Orthodoxy) and  certain rabbinic groups (some of the rabbis are members of OO) . Topics include attitudes to intermarriage, conversion and LGBT. The leaders of the Jews returning from Babylon contended uncompromisingly and successfully with intermarriage, Sabbath observance - we don't know what leniencies were proposed there and rejected by mainstream rabbis (pardon the anachronism) - and the attempts of local non-Jews to join them.

Not everything has a parallel. It seems feminists were not an issue because there is no mention of women trying to take over men's roles in Jewish ritual at the Temple.


It is somewhat comforting looking back to see that even then there were those who thought Judaism has to be adapted to whatever is au courant, because their efforts, despite the damage they caused, entered the dustbin of history.
It is somewhat comforting looking back to see that even then there were those who thought Judaism has to be adapted to whatever is au courant, because their efforts, despite the damage they caused, entered the dustbin of history.

Besides the obvious, today's mass communication and vastly easier means of travel, there are other innate differences between then and now. The Jews at the beginning of Second Temple times still had prophets who urged them to return, guided them and chastised them. Those were the last prophets in the Bible. Today it is only Zionist rabbis and leaders, idealism and the desire to be part of the rebirth of Jewish nationhood that pull at Diaspora consciences  - and not hard enough, it seems.

Now for a word about some of the insights, which you may or may not agree with, but which are examples of the author taking the long view of history:

-The 2nd Temple was an opportunity for redemption, but the Jews did not merit it, he writes. Looking back, the writer sees the Second Temple as ending up serving a different purpose than the one intended. Instead of redemption, it became a temporary way to keep the Jews alive as a people, end rampant intermarriage, bring them back to keeping the Torah – no redemption, because they fell short.

-Israel today and those Jews who oppose its existence are taken to task with an analysis of  the much-argued Talmudic three oaths of Tractate Ketubot about the form redemption takes. One of them, in its negated form, gives the book its name. The author claims there is no excuse for not recognizing G-d's Hand in the miracle of Israel's establishment today, especially since it comes after a debacle, as prophesied.

-Are  we doing it again? Are the lingering Diaspora Jews, the Jewish opposers of the State of Israel and the policies of  the Israeli government going to lead us, G-d forbid, to the end of this commonwealth? The writer notes sadly that the destruction of Israeli towns has been successfully accomplished only by Jews;  our enemies couldn't succeed in conquering even a village after the War of Independence.

Put not your faith in the goyim  Weissman says, not even democratic goyim, using the famous story of the Jew who said  hello and the Jew who didn't as an illustration. If you don't know the story, you will find it at the end of the book in the midrashic section.

Go Up Like a Wall, published by Shortstop Ltd.  was not written in order to enhance the author's economic situation. It is given out free of charge at various locations, is online, and in fact I saw people taking it from the stack left at Jerusalem's Israel Center,  but it can be obtained through Amazon or by writing endthemadness@gmail.com.

And to my dear family in the USA, whom I sorely miss: Read the book. If you take the Tanach seriously, you cannot but be driven to a rethink about what you are doing there in America…

 








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