Embrace the abnormal


Daniel Gordis is perhaps the most eloquent writer from a traditional Zionist perspective in English today. Yet even he admits in a recent essay, “A Place Called Hope” , that Zionism has demonstrably failed to deliver on either of its two great promises: the first that a Jewish state would provide increased security for Jews; the second that it would result in the normalization of the Jewish people.

With respect to security, only a UN Security Council cease-fire resolution brought a cessation of 34 days of Hizbullah shelling of Israel’s North last summer, after the IDF failed to do so.

Soon over half the world’s Jewish children may well find themselves in “the crosshairs of a nuclear Iran.” Bottom line: “It is now more dangerous to be a Jew in Israel than any other place in the world.” Still worse, Israel’s existence today makes life more dangerous for Jews around the world.

Nor is Gordis more sanguine with respect to normalization. As a journalist covering the Dreyfus trial, Theodor Herzl concluded that Jews could never be assimilated as individuals in European society. But he thought that a Jewish state could assimilate among the nations of the world.

That has not happened. The UN is a debating society for the passage of anti-Israel resolutions and maintains several large bureaucracies devoted to promoting the image of Palestinian victimization. Nearly 60 years after its birth, Israel’s right to exist is still a matter of international debate and it lacks recognized borders.

The death of Rachel Corrie – run over by an IDF bulldozer (whose driver could not see her) as she sought to prevent the destruction of tunnels through which deadly weapons were being smuggled into Gaza – became a bigger cause celebre than the murders of 300,000 black Muslims in Darfur or 500,000 Tutsi tribesmen in Rwanda. North Korea and Pakistan export nuclear weapons technology around the globe, and Iran’s president threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Yet every poll of Europeans overwhelmingly names Israel as the greatest threat to world peace.

IN THE FACE of this depressing situation, Gordis calls nostalgically for a renewal of hope, for a return to days when Jews danced the hora upon the opening of a sprinkler signaling the completion of the national water carrier. But he offers few, if any, concrete suggestions how that might be done.

No doubt the hatred directed at Jews and Israel wearies the soul. And even more so the piling on of so many Jews here and abroad in that hatred. Amnon Rubinstein described in Haaretz a few weeks back how the academic discourse in many Israeli humanities and social science departments takes place exclusively from Meretz leftwards. The president of one of Israel’s leading universities told him there are departments in which no one espousing a Zionist worldview would be accepted.

What we need, it seems to me, is an alternative post-Zionism. Rather than decrying the failure of Zionism to normalize the situation of the Jews, let us recognize that failure as the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy, “[I]t will not be! As for what you say, ‘We will be like the nations, like the families of the lands.” (Ezekiel 20:23).

It is time to embrace our abnormal existence.

The enduring, irrational, and protean nature of the hatred directed at us in all generations and all places is the greatest proof of that we have been singled out for a unique mission. The “miracle” of anti-Semitism is something that even non-religious Jews can grasp.

Rather than depressing us, we should view the rapid metamorphosis of anti-Zionism into the same old Jew-hatred as one of the clearest proofs of our chosenness, and, incidentally, of the world’s unconscious recognition of that fact. Not by accident does the UN Human Rights Commission occupy itself with no subject other than Israel, or every European paper seemingly devote two or three articles to Israel every day.

In any event, Israelis have no choice but to embrace their predicament. Alain Finkelkraut, speaking in Jerusalem Sunday night both as a Jew and as a defender of French civilization, dismissed as futile efforts to improve Israeli propaganda, for such efforts fail to comprehend the nature of the hatred.

The idee fixe of our age, according to Finkelkraut, is one that De Tocqueville associated with early American democracy: le passion de semblance, the quest for sameness. Europe’s vaunted cosmopolitanism is nothing more than an assertion of its own nullity, the denial of all differences between cultures and civilizations.

That is why European intellectuals reject the possibility of a clash of civilizations and cannot bring themselves to view Islamists as the enemy. The oft-made statement that the new Europe was born in Auschwitz is a profoundly dangerous one, Finkelkraut asserted, for it denies all history, all culture.

Against this homogenizing trend and post-national Europe, stands Israel and its claim to be both a democratic and Jewish national state. That claim enrages the Europeans in a way that Islamic theocracies and dictatorships do not. Just one more chapter in the Jew’s age-old assertion of his difference.

Contrary to the cosmopolitan quest for a world without borders, the Torah describes a world in which God created 70 different nations and assigned each its own place. And of those seventy nations, one was chosen and assigned the task of spreading the knowledge of Him.

It is that choice we will celebrate next week at the Seder. Now more than ever must we do so.

Appeared in the Jerusalem Post, March 22, 2007.

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Nachum Lamm
8 years 6 months ago

Yes, but corporal and capital punishment is not administered to people due to failings attributable to the yetzer hora. The threshold is much higher than that, and in an ideal society, sure, you may have- probably will have- sinners, but not to such a degree that such punishments will be meted out.

In fact, it makes one wonder: Without an ideal society, perhaps it would be better if punishment did *not* follow halacha strictly, but allowed for punishments harsher than that. There is, of course, ample precedent for such a concept in halachic history: The right of the king (or a substitute) to execute murderers who could not be convicted by strict halacha, for example.

Ori Pomerantz
8 years 6 months ago

Nachum Lamm, do you think that such an ideal society is consistent with human beings who have an evil inclination? Maybe I’m too cynical, but it seems to me like an impossible dream, which if pursued will be very dangerous.

Nachum Lamm
8 years 6 months ago

Aryeh- all I can say is, “Why, thank you!” You’ve obviously read my post to mean what you want it to, and accused me of losing my religion. You want me to quote Torah, I can quote Torah at you as much as you want. This just happened to be appropriate here. And, of course, it’s an undeniable fact: An ideal society would not need coercion, no?

Speaking of which, it should be pointed out that it’s likely that an ideal halakhic society has never- never- existed in Judaism, apart, perhaps, for a few days in front of Har Sinai and some scattered periods under some kings. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen- and we all hope it will- but facts is facts.

8 years 6 months ago

Nachum, it’s interesting that you quote Dinesh D’Souza for your definition of a religious or irreligious society. Why not look at what the Torah says instead of a contemporary American intellectual? If you’re going to have an authentically Jewish viewpoint about this you have to go to the primary sources before you go to Dinesh D’Souza. Even a Modern Orthodox viewpoint has to take into account at least two sources. You seem to have a completly “modern” one. The Orthodox one has been lost somewhere along the way.

Ori Pomerantz
8 years 6 months ago

Nachum, I’m talking about a society prior to Yemot HaMashiach. We don’t know when Mashiach will come, and we do know that prior to that Halacha says you should enforce it, by force if needed.

BTW, AFAIK all human societies need to enforce certain virtues, such as not murdering and not stealing, by force and the threat of force.