The never ending “Jewish Wars”.

By Ted Belman

As much as I accept the facts laid out by Francisco Gil-White in his articles on Jewish Leadership, I cannot fully embrace his conclusions. Am I thus being objective or biased?

In the first century Josephus wrote the Jewish Wars referring to the wars between the Jews and the Romans. This title may just as well referred to the war between the Jewish masses and the intelligentsia or elite or the establishment or the leaders, however you want to refer to them. This division existed during the occupation by Greece also.

The destruction of the Second Temple resulted in a long period of rebuilding generally around Rabbinic Judaism until the eighteenth century.

In the seventeenth century the Jewish masses in Poland turned to Hasidism which believed spiritual devotion extended beyond the technical requirements of Jewish religious law. Thus Jews turned to the Kabballah and Messianism.

The Jewish Virtual Library records,

With the decline of Polish Jewry in the wake of the various catastrophes that overwhelmed them in the 17th century, the centre of Torah scholarship moved to Lithuania, which had been less affected by the tragedies. The Lithuanian Rabbis continued to uphold the traditional Jewish approach that equated religious leadership with scholarly mastery of the Talmud and the codes of Jewish religious law.

They were known as the Misnagdim,, the opposition.

The Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, was an intellectual movement in Europe that lasted from approximately the 1770s to the 1880s. The Haskalah was inspired by the European Enlightenment but had a Jewish character. Literally, Haskalah comes from the Hebrew word sekhel, meaning “reason” or intellect” and the movement was based on rationality. It encouraged Jews to study secular subjects, to learn both the European and Hebrew languages, and to enter fields such as agriculture, crafts, the arts and science. The maskilim (followers of the Haskalah) tried to assimilate into European society in dress, language, manners and loyalty to the ruling power. The Haskalah eventually influenced the creation of both the Reform and Zionist movements. Jewish Virtual Library

Thus the conflict between the elite and the masses continued to flow through Jewish history, a class struggle if you wish.

The Jewish Enlightenment reverberated throughout the nineteenth century, which was called the Age of Ideology. Jews were questioning their faith and turning to secularism and Communism in addition to Zionism. Aside from the issue of faith, the Jews were also debating how best to put an end to antisemitism. Some argued that having a state to call their own would normalize the Jews and result in the end of anti-semitism. Others argued that only by denying your religion and opting for universalism, promised by communism, would Jews be accepted. Finally, many Jews clung to orthodoxy.

The Twentieth Century brought us the Holocaust and the birth of Israel. Neither brought about the end of antisemitism. But the debate goes on.

The elite in Israel argue for a state like any other state, for joining the EU and argue against Torah Judaism. They see religion as fanaticism and ignorance, and as a bar to their acceptance in the world or at least by Europe. America still likes religion and tha tis why Israel is favoured by Americans.

The religious on the other hand, as the Blues Bothers said, are on a mission from God.

Each side sees the other as the death of them. Thus we have an existential battle. But the secular have fear in their eyes as the religious are soon to be in a majority. This is the real demographic threat. They even recognize that the long term future of Judaism as a culture and people belongs to the religious and that there is no Jewish future in their plans. Thus the secular are more aggressive and vicious in their attacks.

But not all secular are against religion or traditional Judaism. Many are Jewish nationalists who despite being secular in practice still identify with traditional Judaism and with Israel as a Jewish state. As a result they side with the religious.

So why don’t the others just leave and leave Israel to the Jews. This is very complicated. They may be cosmopolitan or nationalistic. By the latter I mean they consider themselves as Israelis who founded the state and they don’t want the religious to now steal it from them. They were the original Zionists and complain that the religious have made Zionism a dirty word.
Thus both sides have a proprietary interest in winning. The secular have the power but the religious have the masses. A classic struggle.

So there is some truth in Gil-White’s hypothesis that the elite want to destroy the Jews. But it is not the whole truth. One can easily argue that the fate of the Jews rests with the fate of Israel. Decisions are made by the elite, not on the basis of what will destroy the Jews but on what will preserve Israel. I firmly believe that Rabin thought he was acting in the interest of the Jews when he agreed to Oslo. Peres on the other hand had visions of a New Middle East, which necessitated a New Israel.

So do I believe that the Jewish leadership want to kill Jews. The answer is an emphatic “no”. Do I believe that there is a class struggle? Yes.

March 5, 2007 | 3 Comments »

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