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Hatred and Hope

Rabbi Avi Shafran

Current Jewish events are both foreboding and absurd. One "side" of the conflict preaches hatred and rejoices at every slaughtered child or parent; the other responds by seeking to arrest individuals guilty of murder, and regrets every unintended civilian casualty - the only kind there is. Then an "objectivity"-addled world labels the calculus a "cycle of violence" - as if it were a wheel without a beginning rather than Jew-hatred without end. The tragic zaniness proceeds with the solemn offering of body counts that obscenely mingle innocent victims and suicide bombers; and calls for "restraint" in dealing with terrorists are soberly issued by a world waging a war on terrorism.

If it all weren't so tragically reminiscent of Tisha B'Av, the traditional day of Jewish national mourning, it would instead bring Purim to mind. Yet even through our tears, we are afforded a recognition: yes, this is indeed the exile from whose shadow Jews have prayed for millennia to emerge. Our generation, we now know, has not escaped its tragedy; nor have freedom or even a Jewish State abbreviated it.

The shining hopes held out by the "isms" - to use the droll term coined by a great rabbi of the pre-Holocaust era, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman - have, as he predicted, proven only the phony glitter of fools' gold. The faith that was placed in internationalism, humanism, socialism and Zionism (created, no less to ensure, at last, a safe haven for Jews) has proven a poor investment indeed.

By stark and telling contrast, some Jews have always understood that there is only one ultimate path to our redemption, that our true power lies more in prayer than in politics; more in Torah than treaties; more in merits than munitions.

There is, to be sure, great value in pursuing diplomatic and military strategies. But such efforts, Jewish tradition cautions, must always be undertaken with a clear understanding that the race will ultimately go not to the swift or the clever or the strong, but rather to the good.

The global theater of the absurd has been graced (or, better, disgraced) too by another well-known performer: outrageous anti-Semitism. And so we have come to witness a resurgence of Jew-hatred, from old haunts like France to new ones like Scotland, and telling occurrences like the Islamist home movie of Daniel Pearl's confession of Jewishness, slaughter and decapitation. And then there is millions of Muslims' belief that Jews were really behind the September 11 attacks; an Arab press that has resurrected blood libels; and the publication of new editions of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," presented as nonfiction.

The madness has rained existential puzzlement on Jewish intellectuals. Jonathan Rosen, writing in The New York Times Magazine, described his discomfort during the Durban orgy of Israel-hatred, which receded prematurely into ancient history when September 11 arrived mere weeks later. "Jews were the problem," he wrote, "and the countries of the world were figuring out the solution. The past had come calling."

In Commentary, Hillel Halkin wrote from a similar daze. He too received a first punch from Durban, "the largest and best-publicized international anti-Semitic rally in history," and remains confounded. "[T]he demoralization caused by the persistence of anti-Semitism is profound," he agonized, at least "for the Jew unshielded by religious belief." That dismissive phrase says it all, revealing how tightly shut even a brilliant mind can be. The persistence of Jew-hatred is explainable only in the context of Jewish religious belief.

We Jews were promised security and happiness, our tradition informs us, when we lived G-d-focused lives and heeded the Torah's laws; when we stuck to our collective identity and refused to dissolve in the ocean of nations.

Should we abandon our Torah, though, we were warned, we would be dispersed among those very nations. And, again as warned, should we try to escape into the mirage of assimilation and pretend to be things other than Jews, the world that had demanded our dissolution into itself will suddenly refuse to hear of it and mark us as Jews with the indelible paint of hatred and blood. Just as we have seen, and see.

More than an understanding , though, is discernable through out tears; so, incredibly, is hope.

After the destruction of Jerusalem's Holy Temple, the Talmud relates, Rabbi Akiva saw a fox emerge from where the Holy of Holies had stood. He responded by laughing. Challenged, he explained that the prophets had foretold both the Temple's destruction and the Jewish people's exile as well as the eventual return of the Jews to their land through the messianic redemption. Witnessing the extent of the former's fulfillment, he explained, reassured him that the latter would no less fully come to pass.

Like Rabbi Akiva's colleagues, we Jews these days find it difficult to smile, much less laugh. But we can still strive to internalize the faith the sage expressed - and help bring about what he foresaw.


Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.

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