The Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim famously wrote that in the wake of the Holocaust there was a 614th commandment not to give Hitler a posthumous victory. Jews were obligated to survive as Jews, or else they would be doing the work of Hitler, who wished to exterminate them.
Fackenheim’s emphasis was on sheer group survival, although he surely meant that there was an obligation not merely for Jews to survive, but for them to survive as Jews. For there is really no separate commandment for Jews to be Jews, certainly not in response to Hitler. In fact, if Jews cease to be Jews in any meaningful moral/religious sense, if they cease to aspire to the higher vision of life that the Torah and morality vouchsafes them, if they are simply a group like any other group, then there is no moral imperative, or for that matter, religious imperative, for them to survive. Throughout the ages, wicked Jews were put to death – by God, or by other Jews – and nobody wept because these Jews failed to survive – but because they failed to survive as Jews
In the Passover Haggadah we read
Go out and learn what Laban the Aramean sought to do to our father Jacob. For Pharaoh decreed only against the males, but Laban sought to uproot all, as it is written (26:5), 'An Aramean sought to destroy my father’ (text taken from here)
According to the commentary of Rabbi Menachem Kasher in the Haggadah Shelemah, Laban’s sin was worse than Pharaoh’s, for the latter intended the physical destruction of the Jews, whereas the former intended their spiritual destruction through assimilation. I would add to Rabbi Kasher – through assimilation to Laban’s tribal mindset.
Hitler did not merely want to destroy the Jewish people, though that genocide is horrendous crime enough – he also wanted to destroy their decency, their insistence on remaining moral agents. He wanted to turn them into animals moving in packs, clawing against each other for survival. He wanted to destroy their humanity.
Throughout the ages there have been Jews who convinced themselves that they are bound by the most basic and banal tribal “commandment” – the commandment to fight all who dishonor the tribe. So it was with Simeon and Levy, who led the massacre against the people of Shekhem, and who then wished to kill their own brother Joseph – for which they were castigated by their father, Jacob. Levy’s divine recompense was to be denied any part of the Land of Israel, for what God would give a fanatical mafioso like Levy a portion in the land? Better keep his ilk in the Temple, far away from land, settlement, and politics. From Simeon and Levy to Rabbi Meir Kahane and the West Bank racist rabbis, the Kena’im – the zealots – have done greater harm to the Jewish people than all the external enemies of the Jews together. Jewish self-government of the Land of Israel was stopped after a zealot killed Gedalya, the Jewish governor appointed by Nebuchadezzar. Jerusalem was destroyed, and tens of thousands killed, because of the zealots. Jewish autonomy was thwarted, due to the ultra-nationalist Jews.
The Judaism that arose from the ashes of the Temple – rabbinic Judaism – eschewed the fanaticism of the zealots. Only in times of national madness – when messianic fervor enflamed rabbis like Akiva and Simeon b Yohai – were the Jews once again doomed to repeat the mistake of the zealots. And all Jews suffered for their messianic madness.
Far worse than the religious Jewish zealot is the secular Jewish zealot. Himself an am-haaretz, an ignoramus, when it comes to the demands that Jewish tradition and morality make upon the Jews to act decently, the secular zealot will never forgive those Jews who seek justice and truth when it may dishonor the tribe. Some secular Zionist thinking rejected these Jewish moral demands as the product of a “golus mentality.” Such zealots made the Jewish nation into an idol and worshipped it as the supreme value.
The tribal contempt that Simeon and Levy felt toward the inconvenient truth-teller Joseph is mirrored today by the tribal contempt that the new zealots feel towards inconvenient truth-tellers, like Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and, most of all, Judge Richard Goldstone. The pathological contempt felt towards this man by new zealots like Alan Dershowitz and John Podhoretz demands an explanation.
I maintain that the contempt felt towards Richard Goldstone by Podhoretz, a man totally without any credentials when it comes to knowledge of Jewish tradition (can he understand Hebrew?) or international human rights law, is indicative of this peculiar form of Jewish selbsthasse, this chafing at the yoke that morality places on the Jew, and for that matter, on all decent people. It is the contempt that the zealots felt towards the rabbinic Jews, the contempt celebrated by the suicide terrorists at Masada, the contempt felt towards all Jews who place loyalty to God, Torah, and Truth, over loyalty to the tribe.
Am I exaggerating? According to Podhoretz here, Goldstone “was chosen because he was Chosen. The powers-that-be at the UN plucked Goldstone from septuagenarian obscurity two years ago to serve as the front man for the commission designed for the purpose of trumpeting Israel’s guilt precisely because he is a Jew.” Evidence for this assertion? None, of course. And what were Goldstone’s motives for accepting the position? Here Podhoretz is at first glance kinder than Dershowitz, who speculated he was angling for a Nobel Prize.
What Goldstone himself thought when he was plucked from obscurity at the age of 71 and placed at the red-hot center of world politics is between him and his Maker.
Again, obscurity? The man who had been the chief UN prosecutor in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, who had served on the South African Constitutional Court until retirement in 2003, who had chaired the Independent International Commission on Kosovo from August 1999 until December 2001, who had served on the Independent Inquiry Committee into the Oil for Food scandal, chaired by Paul Volcker, in 2004? Goldstone’s motives for accepting the UN fact-finding position may be unknown to Podhoretz, but they were all over the web: Inter alia
Goldstone explained that he had long "taken a deep interest in Israel, in what happens in Israel, and I have been associated with organizations that have worked in Israel" and "decided to accept it because of my deep concern for peace in the Middle East, and my deep concern for victims in all sides in the Middle East.”
And this is precisely what disgusts a secular Jewish zealot like Podhoretz – not the findings of the Goldstone Mission, but the very act of betrayal of the tribe by a Jew who evinces a deep concern for victims in all sides in the Middle East. And why does he feel no sympathy for Goldstone, now that he has been attacked by the Left?
Because the damage Goldstone did by fronting this report is inseparable from the fact of his Jewishness. If he had been deserving of special praise for having supposedly transcended the parochial interests of his people and speaking out, then one can also say he is deserving of special criticism for having allowed his Jewishness to be used as a weapon against the Jewish state.
In fact, Judge Richard Goldstone deserves no special praise for “transcending the parochial interests of his people.” He is a judge, goddamit – that’s what judges are supposed to do! Nor is he deserving of special criticism for having allowed his Jewishness to be used as a weapon against the Jewish state. He is a judge, goddamit – of what relevance is what other people will do with what he writes? Goldstone, according to Podhoretz, should have refused to head the UN fact-finding mission because inevitably that mission would have found Israel guilty (after all, the UN is anti-Semitic to its core), and inevitably his Jewishness would be used as a weapon against the Jewish state. He should have known that no matter what his motives are, no matter how much he acted in the name of justice and truth, no matter how much his expertise and experience would have contributed to the mission, he should have disqualified himself because he knew that his Jewishness would be used by the goyyim against the Jewish state.
Who would have thought that the son of Norman Podhoretz, of all people, would counsel a Jew not to do what he thinks is right -- because it could provide “fodder for the anti-Semites”. Oy, such a shonde/shame!
Is this not the hatred of doing the right thing because it may harm the tribe – and not even the tribe, but a part of the tribe that has behaved abominably? Is this not the epitome of tribalism that the Torah calls upon all decent people to transcend? Should an Italian judge disqualify himself from sitting on a Mafia case because Italian-baiters will use his Italian identity to legitimate their hatred?
Ribono shel olam, as Akiva Ernst Simon asked, “Are we still Jews?”
(h/t to Ali Gharib)