By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Even those who don’t take much interest in Jewish thought probably know of the late Emil Fackenheim’s 11th (or 614th) commandment that all Jews must observe: to survive and not give Hitler a posthumous history. The State of Israel was for him the best, perhaps the only, guarantor of Jewish survival. His Zionism centred on this idea.
Ron Rosenbaum, a well known writer and author of inter alia “Explaining Hitler,” has recently published an article that predicts, albeit with a heavy heart, the demise of the State of Israel. In Fackenheim’s terms he’s also predicting the demise of Judaism.
I’m not surprised that non-Jews should be interested in the subject; some with deep concern others no doubt with glee. This may be why Michael Enright, a distinguished Canadian broadcaster and a friend of Jews, featured an interview with him in his most recent Sunday morning popular radio programme.
Several friends in Canada have written to me about it expecting me to comment, even though, of course, I didn’t hear the interview. Instead of going through Rosenbaum’s arguments and seeking comfort in a very effective rebuttal by Josef Joffe, I chose to remind them that to be Jewish you’ve to learn to cry with one eye and laugh with the other; Jewish humour is based on that. The trouble with Rosenbaum is that he cries with both eyes and with Joffe that he laughs with both eyes. As a result, I surmise that neither of them comes near the truth. Both together may perhaps come closer to it.
Yes, Israel is situated in a very bad neighbourhood. Just look what Muslims are doing to each other around us and how they treat Christians in their midst to realize that given a chance, they’d devour the Jews. (We used to say that they’d only do it to Israelis, but in view of the attacks in Toulouse, Paris and many other places – including Malmö in peace loving Sweden – and the security measures needed to protect Jewish institutions there, we now know that all Jews are vulnerable, this time from Muslim extremists.)
However, Israel is an outpost of Western civilization and much of the civilized word wants Israel to be there. When, for example, American politicians speak of their commitment to Israel it’s probably more out of self-interest than humanitarianism. Israel’s achievements in the realm of science and technology, scholarship and literature, health care and social services, and much more that makes life exciting give us reason to be amazed and full of admiration.
Yes, we shepp naches while crying with one eye and laughing with the other.
Being more prone to crying than to laughing, especially in the context of Israel, I find it more reason to cry when I think of what Jews are doing to each other in the name of religion, nationalism and greed. I’m thinking of the antics of the ultra-Orthodox in democratic Israel that many of them despise, the ultra-nationalists in the West Bank settlements and on the hill tops, and the ultra-corrupt in high places, But even then I believe that Israel will never become a Jewish equivalent of the Islamic state, or a Jewish fascist country or a Jewish banana republic rotten to the core because of corruption.
That’s why I wasn’t alarmed when I first read Rosenbaum’s piece and not elated with Joffe’s rebuttal. I trust in God. For all our crying we’ve done through history we’re still able to laugh and to hope. It behooves us, therefore, to prove Fackenheim right. As he surmised, Israel is essential for our enterprise.