by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason in the St. Louis Jewish Light
Our Israeli brothers and sisters are under attack. So many lives have been taken. Families are bereft. So many are suffering the horrors of captivity. The depth of the evil perpetrators is unthinkable. In the midst of our pain as a People and as a Nation, it is worthwhile to consider a broader question: Why the Jews?
Sometimes called “the longest hatred,” antisemitism has persisted in various forms since our patriarch Abraham came onto the scene more than three millennia ago. Anti-Zionism, a modern iteration of antisemitism, horrifically expressed itself in Israel on Oct. 7.
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Let us be clear: the barbaric attacks launched by the murderous Hamas terrorists were not about the borders of Israel. They were not about obtaining political or military objectives. So, as antisemitism surges worldwide and even on America’s own shores, we ask: Why do they hate us?
Anne Frank wrote on April 11, 1944, in her diary: “Who knows — it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and that reason alone do we now suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any other country for that matter. We will always remain Jews.”
Anne Frank made a point of stressing that Jews have something of special value to give to the world, and that is precisely what the world has resented, and that is why people have persecuted Jews. Anne Frank identified antisemitism as a hatred of our Jewishness and our mission, a loathing altogether different from the bigotry or racism that other people’s experience.
The Talmud supports Anne Frank’s insight when it cites the source of antisemitism using a play on words: The Torah, the source of the Jewish system of laws, values, and moral standards, was received at Mount Sinai. The Hebrew pronunciation of Sinai is almost identical to the Hebrew word for hatred, sinah. “Why was the Torah given on a mountain called Sinai?” asks the Talmud. “Because the great sinah — the tremendous hatred aimed at the Jew — emanates from Sinai.”
At Sinai we were told that there is one G-d who makes moral demands on all of humanity. At Sinai, G-d gave the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions. These commandments would require humanity to acknowledge God’s immutable moral truths and change their lifestyle. Therefore, at Sinai the Jewish nation became the target of hatred of those whose strongest drive is to liberate mankind from the shackles of conscience and morality.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazi leadership despised morality and the concepts of human equality, brotherhood and love. These concepts, introduced to the world by the Jews, threatened the system of ‘natural laws of survival of the species’ that placed the Germans at the top of the human hierarchy. According to this worldview, only genocide was the “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.” And here we have it in Hitler’s own words:
”I am freeing men from the restraints of an intelligence that has taken charge; from the dirty and degrading self-mortifications of a chimera called conscience and morality …. Conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a [mutilation], like circumcision. … There is no such thing as truth, either in the moral or in the scientific sense.”
Father Marcel Dubois, once-head of the philosophy department at Hebrew University, said that the Jews are a people of a divine essence, whose role in the world is to testify to the presence of G-d. And that, he said, is the reason for antisemitism: Because the world resents the testimony to G-d’s presence and power on earth.
On Oct. 7 we saw what the absence of conscience and morality and the absence of recognition of G-d can lead to. The current war is about who we are and what we stand for. It’s an ongoing attempt to uproot our eternal values and history, our Divine mission. As the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces wage a just and heroic military battle to ensure Jewish survival, let us join hands to issue a clear statement of intent; we will not succumb, we will not submit, and we will not forsake our eternal values.
It is no coincidence that Hamas attacked on Shabbat. Shabbat is the very soul of the Jewish people and reflects the meaning of what it means to be a Jew — living a committed Jewish lifestyle in accordance with the instructions of the Torah’s timeless directives. The horrors of Oct. 7 can prompt us to take steps to embrace our treasure: Our devotion to our G-d, His guidelines and His laws. And it can also prompt us to embrace each other. Jewish unity in this time of crisis can flow from the acceptance of every Jew simply as a brother and sister, not as “Jews with labels.” Labels are helpful for clothing, but not for members of one’s family.
May it be G-d’s will that in the merit of our courageous Israeli brethren on the front lines in this existential battle for Israel’s survival, in the merit of our devotion to G-d and His instructions for living, and in the merit of our devotion to each other that He grant us success in battle, return of the captives, healing of the wounded, and a life of peace, tranquility and sustained Jewish unity.
Originally published in the St. Louis Jewish Light