Coming to Judaism - Part III

For Jews unafraid to face Jewish verities.

Rabbi Avi Shafran ,

Judaism Avi Shafran.jpg
Avi Shafran.jpg
Arutz 7

One of the most compelling factors to ponder when considering Jewish religious tradition’s veracity is something that makes us uncomfortable, but something we are in a better position today to perceive than anyone at any other time in history: the power and persistence of anti-Semitism.

That the Jewish people have been historically significant is a truism. The nation described by the Torah as chosen
That the Jewish people have been historically significant is a truism.
to live by G-d’s laws not only introduced monotheism and morality to human society, but has played a critical role in promoting a multitude of important ideas, from the legislature to textual analysis to educational systems to ethics to democracy itself (the principle by which a Jewish court operates). And, as observers as diverse as Mark Twain and Ann Landers have noted, even from a secular perspective, this influence has been overwhelmingly positive.

Which makes anti-Semitism not only unexpected, but astounding.

What other racial, ethnic, social, or religious group can claim the distinction of having been chosen as the target of one or another form of persecution during practically every period of mankind’s progression from ancient times to the present? What other group, removed from its ancestral land and scattered around the globe, can claim to have ever been subsequently singled out for extermination?

The aims of the persecutions have varied. Some of the hatred has been of a racial nature, some of a religious and some even personal. What all the animus has in common, though, is its collective focus on an unthreatening enemy: the Jews (and/or their beliefs). Whether the particular excuse was cultural (ancient Greece), religious (early Christian or radical Islamist), racial (Nazi Germany), or national (Palestinian radicals), the mark has been the same.
The ancient Greek dedicated himself to knowledge and beauty; he hated the Jew. The Crusader championed the message of the “New Testament” (peace and love of mankind, no less); he hated the Jew. The Nazi strove for genealogical purity; he hated the Jew. The Palestinian opposes what he regards as Zionist imperialism; but in the end, it is the Jew he despises.

Things might be more understandable were there, in fact, some World Council of International Jewry constantly plotting the next stage of the nefarious manipulation of world governments to its own evil advantage.  Or if, as large portions of the non-Jewish world once believed (and parts still do), religious Jews required Christian blood for matzos, an assertion for which countless Jews were tortured and killed. But we members of the tribe know well that while Jewish organizational meetings can be hellish in their own way, they are rather more mundane than the fabled assembly of the “Elders of Zion” - and that matzo containing blood would never receive rabbinic certification, much less Jewish consumer enthusiasm. Yet, the myths persevered for centuries - and, sadly, still do.

As do contemporary equivalents of ancient blood libels, in no less bizarre forms - like some Palestinians’ projection of their own murderous designs onto Israeli soldiers seeking only to protect their fellow citizens; or like much of the Arab world’s acceptance of the contention that Jews were really behind the terrorist attacks of September 11; or like media equations of accidental civilian deaths from Israeli self-defensive fire with the victims of “gunmen” gleefully seeking to kill and maim as many innocents as possible.

How is it, one can just as easily ask, that Jews are reviled in places like Idaho or Japan, where there aren’t even any members of the tribe to speak of?

One can try to address the persistence of Jew-hatred into modern times by invoking “rational” explanations: psychological concepts, social theories or geopolitical realities. But here, too, there is a less complicated, if more disturbing, solution to the riddle.

And it lies, at least for Jews unafraid to face Jewish verities, once again, in the truth of the Torah. Here, in its prediction about how the Jewish people in exile will neglect their spiritual heritage and suffer for the fact:
While Jewish organizational meetings can be hellish in their own way, they are rather more mundane than the fabled assembly of the “Elders of Zion”.

“And He will scatter you among all the nations... and you will worship other gods... and in those nations you will not rest... you will be fearful night and day.” (Deuteronomy, 28:64-66)

And so, we step back to regard the entire canvas: the monumental singularity of the revelation at Sinai; the self-defeating nature of some of the Torah’s laws; the uniqueness of the Torah’s judgmental descriptions of its “heroes”; Moses’ utter lack of qualifications for leadership; the coming to pass of the Torah’s predictions; the illogical perseverance of the Jewish people; and, finally, the sheer astonishment at anti-Semitism’s persistence.
Each of those anomalies can be countered with a different “explanation” that avoids the conclusion that the Torah is true. But at some point the thicket of complexity formed by the rationalizations must be contrasted with a simpler, straightforward, Occam’s Razor-respecting possibility: that a sort of Unified Jewish Field Theory permeates the unruly mess of oddities. The key to that UJFT is that the Torah has come to us from the Creator.

Rejecting that conclusion requires a considerable dulling of Occam’s razor, the invocation of a series of piecemeal mental contortions. One the other hand, embracing it carries life-changing implications, which can be a daunting prospect. No one ever said, though, that coming to Judaism was easy.