The Obligation of Oze

Allen: "Well, well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point, I think."

Myles Kantor,

Arutz 7
[The following is based on a speech delivered by the author at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, New York, on January 8, 2005.]

Key lessons can come from unexpected places.

In Woody Allen's Manhattan, his character attends a benefit at the Museum of Modern Art and has this exchange:

Allen: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey, you know? I read this in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, you know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to 'em.

Man: There was this devastating satirical piece on that on the op-ed page of the Times. It is devastating.

Allen: Well, well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point, I think.

Woman: Oh, but really biting satire is always better than physical force.

Allen: No, physical force is always better with Nazis, 'cause it's hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.

This seems to be just comic, but it highlights a major deficiency in Jewish life. To put it in Hebrew, we need oze.

Most basically, we need oze in the physical sense Allen advocates. Non-Jews and Jews alike often perceive us as a people of the brain and not body. We properly encourage intellectual excellence, but often view physical excellence as unimportant or "goyish".

Accordingly, comedian Jackie Mason has noted how the IDF is "a direct contradiction to the image of a Jew." The Jews-as-brainy-wimps image is the basis of jokes like this:

Two Jews are dragged by anti-Semites before a firing squad.

The first one cries out: "Stop! Stop! You're murdering an innocent man."

"Shh," says the second, "Don't make trouble."

No doubt the trauma of exile and adaptation to hostile foreign lands figures significantly here. As Zionist pioneer Ze'ev Jabotinsky wrote to young Polish Jews in 1927, "The Galut has weakened our bodies, has undermined the foundations of our vital force."

In his classic book The Jewish Mystique, Ernest van den Haag described the "infinite cost to their [Jews'] self-esteem" caused by developing "a vast tolerance for unjust burdens, in learning to suffer without striking back."

Two recent incidents show the persistence of this mentality.

From a May 6, 2004, story in the Jerusalem Post: "In Amsterdam, a Turkish man, apparently mistaken for a Jew, was verbally abused and beaten up by two Arab immigrant youths. A Jewish retirement home was firebombed. Observant Jews no longer feel safe wearing yarmulkes in public."

From a December 3, 2003, story in the New York Times, titled, "Attacks by Arabs on Jews in France Revive Old Fears": "The boys hide their skullcaps under baseball caps. The girls tuck their Star of David necklaces under their sweaters."

These stories are infuriating on a couple of levels. It is infuriating to see Jews attacked, and it is infuriating to see Jews hide their Judaism. Such meekness not only damages Jewish welfare; it is contrary to Judaism.

When the Hivite prince Shechem raped Dinah and took her captive, according to the Bible, did her brothers Shimon and Levi plead for her release and make offerings? They liberated Dinah, killed Shechem and all the city's men, and seized the livestock, women and children.

When Moses saw the Egyptian beating a Jew, did he invite him to a sensitivity seminar to improve Egyptian-Jewish relations? "Va-yakh et ha-Mitzri." ("And he slew the Egyptian.")

Later, Jews like Shimon Bar-Kokhba and the Maccabees weren't pushovers, either.

Indeed, strength is a mitzvah, as well as a tradition. Deuteronomy 4:15 commands, "v'nishmartem meod l'nafshoteichem" ("And you shall guard your souls"), which has been interpreted to require healthy behavior.

Maimonides similarly observes in the Mishneh Torah, "The body being healthy is of the ways of the Lord, for it is impossible to understand or know the knowledge of the Creator while unwell. Therefore, one should keep away from things that destroy the body, and accustom oneself to healthy and curing matters."

Thus, pumping barzel (iron) is as Jewish as a Beit Midrash (study hall). With every curl of a dumbbell or repetition of a bench press, a Jew fulfills Halakha, bonds with an ancient identity, and promotes the dignity and survival of Jewry.

In asserting this, I follow Jews like the 19th century Zionist Max Nordau, who called for Muskeljudentum (muscle Jewry). "Let us take up our oldest traditions," he said, "Let us once again become deep-chested, taut-limbed, steely-eyed men."

We need only be who we are.