Violence against Jews
I shudder from all the terror against Jews – both in Israel and abroad. Synagogues bombed, shootings at Jewish Community Centers. Why would anyone do such a thing? It seems so unfair to single out Jews for this violence. How can this be prevented in the future? What should be the response of American Jewry? And what can I do to help?
Please! Help me understand this tragedy.
The Aish Rabbi Replies
Make no mistake: These are attacks specifically against Jews. After the Los Angeles JCC shooter was arrested, he said it was "a wake-up call to America to kill Jews." Police also discovered a map with circles around Los Angeles Jewish landmarks like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the University of Judaism and the Skirball Cultural Center.
So we have to ask ourselves: Why were the Jews targeted? And why have Jews been targeted for anti-Semitism in the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Pogroms, the Holocaust – and ever since the days of Abraham when King Nimrod threw him into a fiery furnace?
The Torah teaches that anti-Semitism will exist. The Talmud (Shabbos 69) declares:
"Why was the Torah given on a mountain called Sinai? Because the 'sinah,' the hatred of the Jews, emanates from Sinai." (Sinah, the Hebrew word for hatred, is pronounced almost identically to Sinai.)
Before the Torah was given, people built their lives on a subjective concept of right and wrong. At Sinai the Jewish people were told that there is one God who makes moral demands on human beings. You can't just live as you please; there is a higher authority you are accountable to.
The Jewish people were commanded to be a "Light Unto the Nations," to communicate the message of morality to the world. So despite the fact that Jews were never more than a tiny fraction of the world's population, Jewish ideas became the basis for the civilized world. And with that, the Jews became a lightening rod for those opposed to the moral message.
"Providence has ordained that I should be the greatest liberator of humanity. I am freeing man from the restraints of an intelligence that has taken charge, from the dirty and degrading self-mortifications of a false vision called conscience and morality, and from the demands of a freedom and personal independence which only a very few can bear." (from "Hitler Speaks" by Herman Rauschning)
Anti-Semitism cuts to the core of what it means to be a Jew. But tragically, some leaders have tried to skirt the issue by viewing the Los Angeles attack in a universalistic mode, "as an American issue, not a Jewish issue." By doing so, they reduce the incident to dumb luck. There is nothing to learn from this event, they say. The shooter could have picked any target; the Jews were simply in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
If we don't understand the root of anti-Semitism, then we have gained nothing from the experience, and we have created no barrier against its being repeated.
I recently heard an incredible story. A Russian who had immigrated to Israel brought his son to enroll in yeshiva, a school of Talmudic study. The dean of the yeshiva was a bit surprised, seeing that this man and his son were clearly not observant. "I'll gladly to enroll your son," said the dean, "but please tell me – why did you choose a yeshiva, rather than some secular school?"
"I'll explain," said the man. "When I was a little boy in the Ukraine, the Nazis came and ordered every male out into the town square. There, everyone was ordered to drop their pants. Whoever had a circumcision was shot on the spot.
"So I figured, if an anti-Semite like this should ever come again, at least my son should understand what it's for."
A recent rash of anti-Semitic incidents rattles the nerves. Statistics showed a total of 1,750 hate crimes in 1998, an average of nearly five per day. In California alone.
It seems to me that with all the options for assimilation in America today, every Jew has two choices: Either opt into the Jewish future, or opt out.
If monsters try to kill us because of our Jewish heritage and values, shouldn't we know what that heritage and those values are? If, G-d forbid, one should ever die because he or she is Jewish, what an even greater tragedy that the person died without knowing what it meant to be Jewish.
In the concentration camps, the Nazi guards wanted to humiliate the Jews and make them suffer emotionally. One time they took an Ark cover out of a synagogue, and hung it above the entrance to the gas chamber. "Let's see your God save you, now!" they mocked.
Then something extraordinary happened. Certain Jews, standing in line for the gas chamber, began dancing and singing in small circles. The Nazi guards were shocked – their fun was spoiled. What the guards did not realize was the meaning of the Hebrew words written on the Ark cover: "This is the gate of God, the righteous shall enter therein." (Psalms 118:20)
You see, the solution to anti-Semitism is the flip-side of the cause. Jewish values are the cause of anti-Semitism, and Jewish values are the solution. Only by studying Torah – and teaching it to others – can Jews ever hope to bring the world to a point where evil is eradicated.
When human beings embrace the moral doctrine that Judaism brought to the world from Sinai – that there is a God who demands ethical behavior from every human being – then there will be no holocausts.
And that is the exquisite irony of Jewish history.