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Five Famous Non-Jews on the Uniqueness of the Jewish People

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March 27, 2022 | by Rabbi Ken Spiro

The survival of the Jewish people is unique in the annals of history.

Compared to the history of other peoples, Jewish history is just plain weird. Things happen to us, for better or worse, that just don’t happen to anyone else.

Perhaps the best way to see the unique nature of Jewish history is through the eyes of non-Jews who can view it more objectively. These five famous non-Jews have taken note of the uniqueness of the Jews:

1. Blaise Pascal, 17th century French philosopher and mathematician:

This people are not eminent solely by their antiquity, but are also singular by their duration, which has always continued from their origin...and in spite of the endeavors of many powerful kings who have a hundred times tried to destroy them...they have nevertheless been preserved... “Pensees” 1670

2. Thomas Newton, 18th century Bishop of Bristol, England:

The preservation of the Jews is really one of the most signal and illustrious acts of Divine Providence…and what but a supernatural power could have preserved them in such a manner as none other nation upon earth hath been preserved …. We see that the great empires, which in their turn subdued and oppressed the people of God, are all come to ruin… Dissertations on the Prophecies; which have remarkably been fulfilled, and at this time are fulfilling in the world (1754)

3. Leo Tolstoy, Russian novelist:

What is a Jew? This question is not at all so odd as it seems. Let us see what kind of peculiar creature the Jew is, which all the rulers and all the nations have together and separately abused and molested, oppressed and persecuted, trampled and butchered, burned and hanged...and in spite of this is still alive. What is a Jew? Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, “Jewish World" periodical, London 1908

4. Mark Twain, American author:

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream -stuff and passed away; the Greek and Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone The Jew saw them all, beat them all… All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality? “Concerning the Jews” Harpers, 1899

5. Nikolai Berdyaev, early 20th century Russian philosopher and theologian:

Its survival is a mysterious and wonderful phenomenon demonstrating that the life of this people is governed by special predetermination…The survival of the Jews, their resistance to destruction, their endurance under absolutely peculiar conditions and the fateful role played by them in history; all these point to the particular and mysterious foundations of their destiny... The Meaning of History, 1936

In essence, these five famous personalities are saying: “Isn’t it amazing that the Jewish people have suffered for so long at the hands of so many and yet they have survived, while so many of those nations who persecuted them are gone.”

Why are they all focusing on the same theme? To understand this, we need to take a quick look at a few very unusual aspects of Jewish history:

Hated: The Jewish people have been around for a very long time – more than 3,000 years – and from the get-go they’ve been the objects of intense hatred and persecution, so intense a special word was invented to describe it: antisemitism. Jews have lived around the globe throughout their long history and where ever they went, antisemitism followed.

The hatred of the Jews has proven to be history’s longest, most universal, most irrational and deepest hatred. Logic would dictate that such an intense hatred would make the odds of Jewish survival small indeed, yet this wasn’t the only obstacle the Jews had to overcome.

Exiled: The Jewish people began their national history in the land of Israel 3,300 years ago, where they lived as a nation for over one thousand years, yet they have spent the last two thousand years in exile, wandering around the world as strangers in a strange land. Most of the ancient nations of the world are no longer extant, even though very few of them were exiled from their homeland. Most nations do not survive exile; they assimilate into their host society and over time disappear.

Amazingly, the Jewish people were exiled twice (first 2,500 years ago at the hands of the Babylonians, and then 2,000 years ago by the Romans) and survived! That is unique in the annals of history.

Scattered: If surviving as a people in exile for millennium wasn’t a big enough challenge, for most of that time Jews lived in hundreds of communities scattered around the world. Isolation, persecution, expulsion, forced conversion and outright slaughter destroyed many of the communities and stifled population growth. Despite being around for thousands of years and traditionally having high birthrates, the Jewish people remained a tiny nation and today are just .2% of the world’s population.

Jewish survival is one huge contradiction. Exiled, dispersed, few in number and constantly persecuted – all of these factors should have been nails in the coffin of Jewish people’s existence. The Jewish people should have disappeared. Yet the nation survived, outlasting many of those nations who tried to destroy them.

That is what these five non-Jewish thinkers quoted above found so amazing (and none of them witnessed the astounding return and rebirth of Israel in the mid-20th century).

David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, once said, “For a Jew to be a realist, he has to believe in miracles.” A cursory glance at the survival of the Jewish people attests to their amazing history.



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