An Enduring Pathology

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Torah reading, Eikev, deals with one of the most controversial ideas in Jewish and world history: the notion that the Jews are G-d’s chosen people. We should not underestimate the significant role this doctrine has on the attitudes of the nations toward Jews around the world and Israel. Antisemitism is not a thing of the past, but is extremely alive and flourishing.

The current hostilities between Israel and Hamas have fueled a new round of worldwide Jew hatred and condemnation of Israel. The vitriol has reached insane proportions. One needs to probe the deeper causes behind the philosophical distortion that has consumed the defenders of the Hamas terrorists. The facts are not difficult to discern. Anyone can see that Israel is a peace-loving, modern democratic state that gives full rights to all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. 

Israel is an outpost of scientific and technological progress that extends assistance to all in need, such as the victims of Syria’s civil war and even Palestinians wounded in the current conflict. Its goal is to establish peaceful relations with its Arab neighbors, and to work together to facilitate the economic and cultural advancement of the entire region.

It harbors no animosity towards Arabs and other gentiles and has no wish that harm should befall them. However, the opposite side does not feel the same way. They seek the utter annihilation of Israel and the Jewish people, and have no compunction about using every means, including nuclear weapons, to attain this. In the current war, they aim their rockets indiscriminately, not differentiating between military and civilian targets. 

By contrast, Israel fights back in the most humane way possible, seeking to minimize civilian casualties. This is a formidable task, as Hamas deliberately launches rockets from schools and homes to maximize the deaths of Palestinian civilians so as to score propaganda points against Israel.

Hamas, like ISIS and the other Islamic terrorists, adheres to extreme (and perverted) religious teaching that extols the brutal executions of “infidels,” including innocent women and children. ISIS has already slaughtered whole groups of innocent civilians, simply because they don’t adhere to the particular theology championed by the group.

One would expect that the advanced, civilized nations that advocate religious freedom would overwhelmingly support Israel in her noble effort to defeat Hamas. Yet, such is not the case. The truth is just the opposite. Outside of the US and Canada, support for Israel is hard to come by. There has been an alarming outbreak of antisemitism in Western Europe, triggered by the events in Gaza. 

How can a modern secular democracy feel sympathy for Hamas, which negates every human right? What is the deeper explanation behind the pathological support for Hamas and the visceral hatred for Israel that is manifested by so many Western democracies?

One of the most potent forces in history is antisemitism. On Tisha b’Av we spent hours recounting all the tragedies that have occurred throughout our history in the Exile. In virtually every European country there were pogroms, Inquisitions, and expulsions, all of which culminated in the Holocaust. The soil of Europe is drenched with Jewish blood. Except for a few places like Denmark, the Nazi killers were assisted by the local “willing executioners” whose barbaric hatred of the Jews rivaled that of the Nazis. 

Antisemitism is not a simple phenomenon and has many causes. Chief among them is the misunderstood and much-distorted doctrine of the “chosen people.” The Rabbis say that the Torah was given on Mount Sinai, which is related to the Hebrew word sinah (hatred) because “from there hatred went forth to the entire world.” 

Religious envy is clearly at the heart of the classical antisemitism of both Islam and Christianity. The grudging and repressed recognition that G-d chose the Jews leads many to a posture of resentment and hatred. Sigmund Freud once said that, ever since the Jews proclaimed that they were G-d’s chosen people, the rest of the world has behaved as if, deep down, they truly believed it.

For the past 2,000 years, much of the world has been indoctrinated with virulent antisemitism. In spite of all the progress in the realm of human rights, we see that old, bad habits die hard. The current outbreak of venomous hatred for Jews and Israel is clearly a relapse into an ancient pathology that the Western world is unwilling to acknowledge. 

Jews should not despair and must remember that it is Hashem who has chosen us for a very special mission, to sanctify His name in the world. Let us devote all our energies to the achievement of that goal and not be deterred by the baseless hatred of twisted souls.

Shabbat shalom.