Anti-Semitism Is As Old As The Jews, And Is Here To Stay [Parshat Mattot By Rabbi Zalman Lent]

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In 1891 Theodore Herzl moved to Paris to work as foreign correspondent for the Neue Freie Presse based in Vienna. He was 31 years old. At the time, his working theory on anti-Semitism he encountered was that it was because Jews were “different.” His solution to the problem was total assimilation and even conversion out of the faith, relegating the “different” Jew to the annals of history.

Herzl was rudely disabused of this theory in 1894 when he was sent to cover the infamous Dreyfus trial, where French officer Alfred Dreyfus was falsely convicted of treason.  As Herzl stood there he heard a chilling chant from the bystanders, “A mort les Juifs! – Death to the Jews,” four short words which gave Herzl much food for thought.  He realised that even assimilation and conversion would not help this deep-seated hatred of the Jew, and he sat down and wrote “The Jewish State,” arguing forcefully for the Jewish people to have their own homeland, a place where they would never again be hated for being different.

A hundred and twenty years later, I wonder what Herzl would have thought if he would have been standing in Paris this past Sunday in Bastille square. There he would have seen hundreds of violent protestors attacking Jewish targets and screaming four words he would sadly be very familiar with, “A mort les Juifs! – Death to the Jews,” alongside the less familiar “Allahu Akbar” and “Hitler was right.” He would have seen a Jewish store nearby trashed with iron bars, and young men hospitalised and hundreds of Jews trapped inside a synagogue for hours until police arrived to disperse the crowds. To be visibly Jewish in France (and some other parts of Europe) today can attract hostility and aggression, even physical violence. We must not forget Ilan Halimi Hy”d who was kidnapped and tortured to death in 2006 simply for being a Jew or the schoolchildren murdered in Toulouse in cold blood in 2012, again simply for being Jews.

Tragically, anti-Semitism is as old as the Jews, and is here to stay. We are now in a period of time in the Jewish calendar known as the Three Weeks, when we mourn some of the horrors committed to the Jews over the generations, specifically the destruction of both of our Holy Temples in Jerusalem. But the list of tragedies also includes public burning of a Torah Scroll, the Roman slaughter at Beitar and the expulsion from Spain in 1492.

Through the generations, through pogrom, expulsion and auto-da-fe, Roman, Cossack and Nazi, the Jew has rarely been permitted to live a peaceful existence.

In the Middle East today it is no different. As Jews fled the Holocaust back to Eretz Yisrael, the land gifted to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they wanted nothing more than to be allowed to live in peace with their neighbours. Time and again they were attacked and butchered, succeeding in defending themselves only by countless miracles. In 1957 Golda Meir said “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us,” and nearly sixty years later we see the same cycle repeating itself. Israel is attacked and bombarded with rockets from within civilian areas, drawing retaliatory fire and the tragic death of innocent bystanders, especially children.  Just Yesterday UNWRA condemned the storing of twenty Hamas rockets found in one of its schools, something they vehemently denied was happening in past conflicts.

Yesterday morning as a humanitarian ceasefire was being declared, thirteen terrorists were spotted emerging from a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa in Southern Israel and the area was bombed by the IDF. They left behind a heavy cache of munition, rocket launchers, small arms and indications that they planned to attack and kidnap Israeli residents of the Kibbutz. Those who remember the slaughter of the Fogel family in their beds in Itamar in 2011, including the near decapitation of a tiny infant, will be only too aware of what kind of  horrors were thwarted this morning by a vigilant IDF.

What do Israelis want? They want to be left in peace, to live their lives with their loved ones without fear of rocket or RPG. But more than that, they want their neighbours to live like that too! They (mostly) want their Arab neighbours to prosper, to be content, and to be able at some point to work together in harmony as has been the case on the past; to remove the road blocks and checkpoints, and together to savour the wonders the Land has to offer. Surely it is time to put the next generation first; to give them a chance of a peaceful life; a life without hatred and fear. It happened here in Ireland, as the desire of parents that their children grow up in a better reality led warring factions to (slowly) make peace; and in Gaza it could happen too, as long as hatred of the Jews takes second place to love of their own children.

What is the solution to this age-old problem, the “Esau hates Jacob” paradigm?

Our Sages are clear; they tell us that the cure for external hatred is internal love. The cure for hatred without cause is love without cause. We are told that the spiritual cause of the destruction of the Second Temple was internal rivalry and friction … sadly something Jews are quite good at.  We are also told that that solution is simple – remove the hatred and the good stuff happens by itself. That is our mission in this Three Week period … to heal as many personal conflicts we may have with those around us, and like a stone thrown into a pond, the ripple effect will spread to the entire world around us. The small changes we make in our own lives, will hopefully end up changing the entire world for the better.  Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Zalman Lent


Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and director of Chabad of Ireland.


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