October 31, 2013

Legalizing Pot

Currently the Knesset is debating the issue of legalizing pot. To be more accurate, it is debating legalizing pot for medical reasons. This is a position that has already found favor in 20 States in the USA. Furthermore, the states of Washington and Colorado have actually legalized recreational pot, even if the Federal government has not! But that’s the USA for you. In the UK, in recent years, various ministers have tried testing the waters to legalize pot, but they have only got as far as telling the police not to make a fuss over small amounts of pot for personal use. A typical Anglo fudge.

In Israel it is believed as many as 1 million people use the drug, which is readily available (even if officially illegal) from all sorts of sources including interestingly, Christian, Jewish and Muslim as well, of course, from the usual suspects. Westerners tend to think of religion as a definite killjoy. In Israel religious communities of all sorts are less opposed to the use of pot in practice if not political stance. Perhaps pot and alcohol are the only way many strictly religious people can cope with the restrictions of faith (or perhaps the claustrophobic communities)!

In 1967 after the Six Day War, East Jerusalem was flooded not only with tourists but with Israelis who wanted pot. Sacks of all different varieties were as common as peanuts and sunflower seeds throughout the Old City markets. I had an old friend who was living in what was officially a hotel but was in fact a den of vice with a very cheap overnight rate, just inside the Damascus Gate. I was at the time, of course, a good black-hatted yeshiva bochur and purely out of friendship, I assure you, I found time to pay him a visit. I recall being overwhelmed by, amongst other things, the powerful aroma of pot. Yet, dear reader, I give you my word of honor, my virtue remained intact!

Several years later I was the rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in Glasgow when the same friend came to visit me on his way back from Afghanistan. This was forty years ago, before the Russians, the Taliban, or the Americans. He was dressed in a flowing scarlet cloak, bright green trousers, and a brown Afghani soft hat on his head. Thus clothed he just dropped in on me one Shabbat morning in my synagogue. My congregants were shocked but, given my position and he a friend, he was actually called to the Torah in his gear. He was a scholar of no mean attainment, despite his lifestyle, and he performed well. I took him home, fed him, and after Shabbat went out he insisted I have a smoke. The last thing I wanted was to be the first Scottish rabbi to be charged with drug use, and I told him that if he wanted a puff he should step outside into the garden, albeit it was a frozen Scottish winter’s day. Which is what he did. But then I had second thoughts and joined him and had my first and only spliff. It didn’t do anything for me but he clearly was in a happy place.

Many years later and I am now in the holy city of Antwerp. There I have a friend who is Belzer Chasid trying bravely to lead a normal life in the Ghetto. He tells me the only way he can survive without going mad is by smoking vast amounts of the weed. I am scandalized. Yet now twenty-five years later, he is a successful businessman, a father of many children, and the grandfather of lots more. He is still as good a Chasid as he ever was, and he puts it all down to pot. Go figure.

I have always been uncomfortable with any kind of dependency, even placebos. People pop far too many pills, or visit miracle rabbis and pseudo kabbalists, and they are all hooked in one way or another. Yet I strongly believe in legalizing drugs. That goes for the heavy ones, let alone the soft ones. Prohibition rarely works. It didn’t with alcohol. It opens the demand up to criminals and drug lords. It drives people underground and inhibits rehabilitation. If all drugs were legalized and taxed, part of the revenue could be used for helping, if not curing, addicts. We do this with gambling, alcohol, tobacco, and indeed with Vicodin and other medical opiates. Even then there are abuses. If the concern is that addicts put society at risk, so do alcohol and guns. Too many human beings find life too hard or self- control too difficult, to manage without their goodies or their props.

Religion has used drugs of various sorts throughout its history. Some people even think the incense used in the Tabernacle, the Knei Bosem (Exodus 30) was, if not marijuana, some other hallucinogen. I chuckle at the thought of all those Israelites crowded into the Temple getting a high. Perhaps that explains why we lost two Temples. John Allegro even argued that the Dead Sea sects were permanently high on mushroom-based drugs.

When I was a headmaster I asked the great and much missed Lubavitcher Rebbe to send me teachers who would inspire my charges with a love for Judaism. Two lovely fellows arrived and did a great job inviting pupils to their homes, and I was delighted until I discovered they were plying thirteen-year-olds with vodka. Any religion that requires artificial stimuli, as far as I am concerned, is dishonest, crazy, or dangerous. Perhaps all those people who have visions of the Virgin Mary have been taking something.

I am in favor of helping those who suffer pain, but still I am wary of drugs of any kind. I believe a person healthy in body and mind should avoid them. Not all users are addled addicts and just as some people like alcohol in moderation perhaps pot works for others too despite the dire warnings of brain damage. I have on occasion taken a sleeping pill. In other words, as adults we have a responsibility to be sensible in our tastes and indulgencies and there are limits to government interference.

I see the useless drug wars that narcotic agents wage all over the world. They haven’t succeeded so far so why not legalize and tax? Bureaucracies and government agencies seem to have a record of incompetence, political interference, and vested interests. Just look at the US tax system or the Affordable Care Act. Do you really need any more proof? Let the sick, the poor and the weak have their little pleasures. The role of government is to ensure they do not harm others.

We have a tradition of allowing our children to drink wine for kiddush. Usually our children do not grow into alcoholics. Control, education, and moderation are the best means of bringing people up to know where the limits are, not legislation.

October 24, 2013

Pew Jews

Oh, dear. American Jewish poobahs are all upset by a Pew Foundation survey that “discovered” that the intermarriage rate in the USA is at 58 percent, up from 46 percent in 1990, and 17 percent before 1970. Overall, 22 percent of U.S. Jews describe themselves as having no religion, meaning they are much less connected to Jewish organizations and much less likely to be raising their children Jewish. Amusingly, 42 percent respondents said having a good sense of humor was essential to their Jewish identity. Whereas observing Jewish law mattered only to 19 percent. On the flipside, over 90 percent of those who identified as Jews by religion and are raising children said they are raising them Jewish or partially Jewish. By comparison, about one-third of those who identified themselves as Jews of no religion are raising their kids as Jewish in any way and the figure is much less if the mother is non-Jewish.

Would you take seriously a survey based on 3,475 random telephone calls? It’s enough to give the science of polling a very bad name. Still, several commentators have torn the method and the findings apart. But so what? Everyone knows American Jewry is reaping the whirlwind of minimal positive religious affiliation over the years. We may well lose a generation of donors, machers, and politicos. But “ease and salvation will come from somewhere else”, as Mordechai once said.

Isn’t it blindingly obvious that most nominal Jews, most nominal anything, are on the way out? Only commitment and education stand in the way of oblivion, whether for Judaism or even a modern state. It’s quality, my dear, not quantity. My late father gave a speech on a visit to Johannesburg in 1952 in support of Jewish education in which he said that although the Jewish people can never disappear, millions of individual Jews had done and continue to. The biggest threat is ignorance. The Am Haaretz (the ignoramus) simply does not have the resources to stand against the weight of secular society. Only Torah gives the Jew the tools to survive.

The fact is that cultural changes play out over a century if not more. From the time of The Enlightenment, European Jews have been assailed on all sides and have been either willingly or by compulsion abandoning Judaism in the hundreds of thousands. The Orthodox synagogue I was rabbi of in Central London, The Western, founded in the eighteenth century, discovered that by the end of the nineteenth century not one of the descendants of the original two hundred founding families was still Jewish. Just consider how many Jews in the past century were lost to Communism, let alone materialism, assimilation, and Nazism.

The Jewish community in the USA today is predominantly descended from of the millions who left Europe in the face of poverty and persecution. Many had already rejected religion and intended to cast off all vestiges of their Jewish past. The Jews who came to America were notorious for the way religion disappeared in their desperate struggle to rebuild a life in the US. (Just re-watch Woody Allen’s Annie Hall to get a sense of how far being “American Jewish” was, a generation ago, from being “committed Jewish”.) This was, tragically, precisely why so many Orthodox leaders in Eastern Europe were opposed to emigration. Generations were given no Jewish education of any substance. Jews who still wanted to hold on to a vestige of tradition often turned to a variation of Judaism which tried to stem the tide of assimilation by accommodation and compromise. But in the latitude of its overindulgence, a generation grew up with insufficient knowledge of Jewish texts or passion for religious life.

For most, Judaism was a social club. So why should not their children join a bigger and a better social club? The die was cast. True, those generations produced Jewish writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, and comedians of note and significance. But their great achievements were to create a vibrant culture of Jews without Judaism. Judaism was an anthropological phenomenon with which they had an accidental connection.

We know the cycle of assimilation has been running its course. What has surprised us is the countertrend: the return towards ritual practice and the explosion of ultra- Orthodox Judaism once written off as a relic. Its academies are now full to the gills. Its prayer houses packed. Its centers of intensive study are overflowing. Its birthrate is staggering, and its political power frightening. In New York both candidates for mayor are scared to impose minimal safeguards on circumcision for fear of overwhelmingly Chasidic opposition. Who’d have thought fifty years ago that New York Chasidim would have the New York Democrats in their pockets! As old communal institutions are withering, other very different forms are mushrooming. Look how really a handful of survivors of Eastern Europe have completely rebuilt a lost world.

Equally impressive is the return from the dead, so to speak, of a Modern Orthodoxy that contains elements of the academic, the critical, dynamic Zionism, and successful Jewish day school education. Yes, numbers of disenchanted are leaving Orthodoxy. But just as many are traveling the other way. As one cycle of decline is running its course, another cycle is starting again. Judaism has always been a difficult option, an elite, intense way of life that most Jews simply could not cope with.

Besides the USA is not the only story. Zionism in all its varieties posits that Jewish survival depends on the Jewish state. I doubt that, because we have survived in exile for longer than we have in a land of our own. But Rav Kook was right about Israel being the inspiration of Judaism. Never, ever in Jewish history have there been so many Jews studying Torah full time, so many academics studying and writing about Judaica, so many Jewish religious and cultural institutions thriving as there are in Israel today. Never have Jews produced as much wealth in their own state as in Israel today. Yes, thousands of Israelis assimilate, too, when they exit their land. But others enrich the communities they join. Diaspora Jewry (to borrow a phrase) runs on Israel.

Anyone worried about the future is merely showing a lack of faith and an ignorance of Jewish affairs. Of course one must not write off our non-observant brothers and sisters. Throughout our history many of the alienated or disaffected have stepped up to the plate at a time of crisis. I am delighted that so many Jews of whatever persuasion or identity contribute so much to Jewish life in all it varieties. But those Jews who are unable or unwilling to live and even nominally Jewish way of life are the last people I would look to to help Judaism survive. Pew surveys are the last indicators I would rely on for predicting the Jewish future.

I am sad that we are losing so many. By all means let people donate money wherever they wish and wring their hands about the state of Jewish affairs. I never thought I’d agree with Satmar, but they have a point. Someone needs to stay at home to take care of the store. It’s the individual Jew that lives a Jewish life, often under the radar and not answering phone surveys, who has always determined the future of the Jewish people. The rest is bonus.

October 17, 2013

Rabbinic Violence

I can’t even begin to express how embarrassed I am by the case currently getting massive exposure in the United States press and TV about a collection of religious Jews who have been charged with trying to arrange for a man who refused to give his wife a Get to be kidnapped, beaten, and tortured until he capitulated.

A sting operation took place. FBI undercover agents managed to get recordings of rabbis and fixers saying how and what they would do when they got hold of the recalcitrant husband. Graphic descriptions of electric cattle prods being applied to the victim’s private parts was simply icing on the cake of self-incrimination. But I must not prejudge the issue, innocent until proven guilty and all that. Some people have argued that there are worse dangers to be pursued and this was just a politically correct counterbalance to all those stings that have trapped Muslim terrorists. Others say the victim deserves it for being such an evil person.

There are several huge issues here that concern me and should concern anyone who takes the idea of Chillul HaShem, desecrating the Lord’s name, seriously. Maimonides, in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, makes it the first principle of Jewish behavior. This whole sorry story makes for a massive humiliation of Jewish law. Make no mistake about this, any normal average non- Jew hearing all this could not but conclude that Torah Judaism has a problem with violence and corruption, and that Jewish law on divorce makes the Taliban look positively progressive.

Why is it that so many men of limited intellect and capacity around the world carry out continuous and gratuitous rape and violence against women? The answer is that they have such a profound realization of their own inferiority that they have to take it out on someone even more vulnerable and who in many primitive societies is regarded as inferior. So they take it out on women, and the women in turn take often take it out on disadvantaged weaker women, and then on their own children. Violence begets violence.

One would like to think the Torah world is better. In many ways it is. But how else can one explain the amount of petty violence apparent in certain sections of the supposedly Torah world as the product of violence done to them. This year alone the non-Jewish public has learnt of apparently religious Jews setting other Jews on fire because they disagree religiously; Jews killing and sexually abusing other Jews; and I won’t even begin to enumerate the number of charges against Orthodox Jews for corruption, deception, and financial irregularities. What is wrong with these people? Indeed, what is wrong with their rabbis who seem so in love with money that blinds them to their moral responsibility to be seen to be upholding the law of the land? Kohelet was right three thousand years ago when he said, “And money covers up everything.” And the saddest point of all is that any time I come out and say this, instead of addressing the issue, people prefer to blame the messenger, attack me, argue that other societies are worse, anything but face up to the issue.

Torah is supposed to be pure, enlightening, and reviving, says the Book of Psalms. But this makes Torah out to be unfair and discriminatory. This whole episode revolves around the offensive fact that if a husband refuses to give his wife a religious bill of divorce she can never ever, ever remarry. How on earth can God’s law discriminate so against women, leaving them trapped and hopeless? And why do people then resort to violence outside of the law when one would expect the law to defend the disadvantaged?

A thousand years ago Rabbeynu Tam, the greatest rabbi of his day, forbade beating men up as a way of compelling a recalcitrant husbands to grant a Get. Why? Many argue because it created a very negative impression in a Christian world which any way at the time did not recognize or approve of divorce. Rabbeynu Tam was indeed worried about how we would appear to our non- Jewish neighbors. But at least the Christians found a way round it by annulling marriages, usually on spurious grounds. We too have this possibility. There is a principle in Jewish law “Whoever marries does so according to rabbinic law and therefore the rabbis have the right to annul a marriage.” But rabbis have consistently refused to make use of this power. Sometimes I wonder if its either pigheaded stubbornness or just male chauvinism. Sadly it lays women open to blackmail. But if we were really worried about making fools of ourselves and demeaning Torah in non-Jewish eyes, why are we not concerned about doing something about it?

According to Jewish law, if, after I have made a commitment, I discover something about the other party that had I known about beforehand I would never have bound myself in the first place, that agreement is null and void. Wouldn’t any woman say that if she had known what evil her husband really capable of before she married him she would never have married him in the first place? Isn’t that, equally, grounds for invalidating the marriage agreement? If, understandably, one doesn’t want to use this power cavalierly, why not at least occasionally, as a recent Beth Din in Israel did? This whole public relations fiasco would never have arisen if there had been a fair way of releasing a woman legally through the Torah.

Frankly, I’d love to beat up any bastard who so cruelly ruined a woman’s life and made her suffer till her dying day. But I cannot because I fear the consequences, I hate violence, and because it would be a terrible Chillul HaShem.

So I blame the rabbis who refuse to find ways of releasing women whose husbands withhold a Get for this public humiliation of Judaism. It isn’t enough that we have bred a generation of religious toughs who use violence as a way of resolving differences, but that we actually encourage them to do so because the law as currently applied is giving no alternative.

If the Talmud is so authoritative and important, and if there are religious authorities who rabbis simply ignore it when it suits them, how in Heaven’s name can I call them anything else but those who assist in desecrating the good name of Heaven and Torah? The Talmud says in Yoma, only death atones for anyone guilty of desecrating the Name of God. By refusing to act within the law we are only encouraging others to break the law.

October 10, 2013

Ovadia Yosef Z"L

As a young man finding my way forward in the world of Torah study, I was completely bowled over by the genius of Rav Ovadia Yosef, who died this week. In all the contemporary rabbinic responsas I had read, nothing came near to the phenomenal breadth of his learning, his marshaling of sources, and above all his tolerant, often lenient conclusions.

The great Ashkenazi contemporary authorities I was studying almost invariably came to strict, restrictive conclusions. There was an almost undeclared agenda to constantly raise the bar rather than lower it. And they completely ignored the more recent great Sephardi authorities. It was almost as if they thought Sephardi scholarship ended with Maimonides.

From the moment I picked up the early volumes of his magisterial response, “Yabia Omer”, in 1957 I was completely won over by Rav Yosef‘s different approach. He brought the widest range of sources. He weighed the body of opinion and allowed the pure law to speak for itself, and most importantly of all, where he could he would find a lenient resolution. It was as if a new, younger, brilliant Chief Justice was suddenly appointed to the Supreme Court, stood head and shoulders above the other justices, and promised to sweep away all the cobwebs and vested interests. Having such a wider vision, he knew the range of options that went well beyond the conventional wisdom.

He was a product of the East. The Sephardi world was very different than the negative, cramped, inward-looking approach of Eastern Europe. Rav Yosef was brought up under Islam, where tensions were more political than religious. On many theological fundamentals Judaism and Islam agreed. Whereas under Christianity the bitterness of the Jewish experience, as well as the theological differences, created a far more negative approach to the world around them. True, the Shia mullahs were just as oppressive as Dominican friars, but under much of Islam Jews lived at peace and in cultural symbiosis.

The Sephardi world had no Reform movement. In Ashkenaz the rabbis were constantly fighting an internal schism. Their response was to tighten up, and if you didn’t like it you could jolly well go and join Reform or some other breakaway. Since the Sephardi world had no Reform, their rabbis had to deal with the full range of Jewish behavior, and their communities embraced the most lapsed as well as the strictest. Their halachic decisions had to take note of the full range of the faithful, not just the most pious.

And thirdly the Sephardi world seemed much more in sympathy with the poor, and therefore more lenient and less financially demanding. You could not ask a penniless family to have two dishwashers!

The downside of the Sephardi world, as much as of the poor Ashkenazi, was the superstitious belief in wonder, miracle rabbis, and Kabbalists. Rav Yosef bravely and courageously had no sympathy for religious hucksters and snake oil salesmen. Of all the Ashkenazi halachic masters, I dare to say only the late Rav Moshe Feinstein was his equal.

Rav Yosef was a powerful advocate and campaigner for Sephardi rights. In his early editions of “Yabia Omer” he railed against young Sephardi yeshiva students aping the Ashkenazi rabbis in dress and attitude. He insisted that the different Sephardi approach to Torah study be given equal standing in a world that, sadly, tended to look down on Eastern culture and still to this day too often discriminates against Sephardim.

This led him to form the Shas party in 1984. For years he was a voice in the wilderness. At last Shas gave him the power and the platform, although he had to battle major Ashkenazi authorities like Rav Shach, which ultimately led to an acrimonious split.

This was the moment that I lost my innocent reverence of the great man. I had been disappointed when in his term as Chief Rabbi he engaged in unseemly rivalry with his Ashkenazi colleagues. I put this down to the “Kinat Sofrim”, the Talmud’s phrase for the competition between intellectual giants. But party politics was another matter. I have always detested religious politics. Much of the good that Shas did, as a social movement, was undermined by the bargaining, haggling, and corruption that inevitably characterizes the world of politics. Of course religion is concerned with every aspect of human life. And I believe religious people should, as individuals, be involved in the political process. But when a party devoted specifically to religious issues enters the fray it invariably, regardless of the religion or the denomination, falls to the worst of political shenanigans. And so it has been with Shas, now divided into warring factions.

There was another aspect to this. Politics requires the sound-bite, the crowd-pleasing demagoguery, and Rav Yosef allowed himself, as he grew older and feebler, to be used. As indeed have too many venerable religious leaders. He came out with insulting, banal generalizations about non-Jews and about Jews he disagreed with, comments he would never have made in his early days. It is a feature, again, of Israeli life to argue via humiliation and disrespect instead of ideas. Was it senility, or being surrounded by fixers and middlemen in his old age? Whatever, it remains a shadow on his legacy.

He strongly believed in the ideal of Jewish-Arab coexistence and argued halachically in favor of “Land of Peace". Being a child of the Muslim world he, more than any other contemporary Israeli rabbi, met and got on with Arab clerics and politicians. He also understood the Arab mentality and antagonisms of the Arab Street and was skeptical about the Arab will to come to terms.

What is his legacy? There are those who say he capitulated to Charedi Ashkenazi orthodoxy in the end. It is true his sons and the Shas leadership now ape the Ashkenazi rabbis. Still he was a polymath like no other in the field of Jewish jurisprudence, an absolute giant. There is no one now in the field to compare with him. As far as his impact on the Jewish State is concerned, he helped raise Sephardi pride. But the struggle goes on. To this day, unbelievably, there is discrimination in Charedi Israel against Sephardim. There is still an excessive preoccupation with minute strictness in Jewish law and sadly political life in Israel is as disappointing today as when he entered the field hoping to change it.

There is no one who comes near to wearing his mantle. No Elisha to his Elijah. The Chariot of Israel has departed.
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RIGHT OR RIGHT
by Jeremy Rosen

I have written a short book setting out my attitude to religion in general and Judaism in particular. It is an argument for a thinking, analytical religion as opposed to fundamentalism and for the combination of rationalism with a spiritual existential approach to Judaism. It is called Right or Right: How to reconcile rationality with religion and you can find it on Amazon and Kindle.

October 03, 2013

The Undivided Past

There are several words used in the Bible to describe the Jewish people. At one stage we were simply tribal. Then we became an “Am”, a people, a “Goy”, a nation, a “Mamlacha”, a kingdom. Post-Biblically, if the gentiles called us Jews, Judeans, Israelites, Hebrews, Yids, or whatever, we used “Yisrael” as the name of choice, in the main, which meant a people, a culture, a religion, a relationship with God and a land, all of that in varying and amorphous degrees. We knew what it meant, even if others were confused or bemused. It takes one to know one.

Under pagan empires religion was not a factor, just loyalty to an overarching regime or royal family. If you were a serf it was loyalty to your lord and village. Neither the Persian, nor the Greek, nor the Roman Empires cared how you worshipped or behaved, so long as you professed loyalty to the empire. Then Christianity emerged as the religion of the Roman Empire and other religions were marginalized. Ironically the bloodiest battles were within Christianity, between one theological variation and another. The same thing happened under Islam. Ideals soon got perverted by politics and as today, Muslims of different sects killed more Muslims than all their enemies put together and doubled. Freud memorably described this internal divisiveness as “the narcissism of minor differences”.

In the West, most Jews that non-Jews encounter are not particularly committed to being Jewish. For Jews like a Soros or a Zuckerberg, it’s an accident of birth, a minor casual affiliation, like belonging to the Church of England. And this explains why most of those in the West who think about the matter reckon that the Jews are not really too concerned about having a land of their own and that it was only the accidental intervention of imperialist powers that explains the Jewish presence in the Middle East. It was a misjudged adventure. And really the Jews ought to pick up and leave and stop being nasty to the indigenous population.

It takes an objective observer to notice that for millennia Jews have shared a powerful core identity, even if in almost every situation except when they were given a choice, most Jews actually abandoned the community of Jews. But it took a determined minority within a minority to fight hard, relentlessly, and ultimately victoriously for its Jewish identity.

In his book The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences, David Cannadine writes:
“Egypt under the Pharaohs may have resembled a nation…but there was no accompanying sense of public culture or collective identity. As for the ancient Greeks, their limited pan Hellenic aspirations embodied in their shared language, Homeric epics and Olympic games foundered on the disputatious reality of their fiercely independent city-states. Similar objections have been made to claims that the Sumerians, the Persians, the Phoenicians, the Arameans, the Philistines, the Hittites and the Elamites were ancient nations, or that the Sinhalese, the Japanese or the Koreans might be so described during the first millennium of the common era. Only in the case of Israel does it seem plausible to discern a recognizable ancient nation with its precise though disputed territoriality, its ancient myths, its shared historical memories of the Exodus, the Conquest and wars with the Philistines, its strong sense of exceptionalism and providential destiny and its self-definition against a hostile “other” and its common laws and cultures. These were and are the essential themes in the unfinished history of the Jews this example has also furnished ever since a developed model of what it means to be a nation.” (p. 58)
Throughout exile we somehow did preserve a sense of belonging to a people, to a tradition, to a land, a sense of community, Klal Yisrael. This is why the problem of Israel in the Middle East, the Jewish problem, is so intractable. The overwhelming majority of Jews now living in Israel or the West Bank are committed to the notion of a Jewish people. It is not to be compared as ignorant opponents of Israel try, to a few British or white imperialists imposing themselves on a vast majority “other”. Some may try to delegitimize us by overturning a decision of the United Nations, but they cannot delegitimize or wish away the Jewish people.

As we start to read Genesis again, I am always amazed by the commentator Rashi’s famous question, a thousand years ago. Why did the Bible start with Genesis with its stories, instead of Exodus with its laws? Cannadine would say because any nation needs its myths and its epics. But Rashi says it’s because other people will always be telling us we have no right to the land. That’s why the Bible starts off with God creating the world, to let us know that there are greater forces than mankind that decide how things are going to be.

There’s a good series you can find on YouTube, Simon Schama on the history of the Jews. Now he’s Jewish in his fashion, but hardly a poster boy for Jewish continuity; yet he concludes that it is the Torah that has kept us going. And the Torah is the origin of our peoplehood and the connection with our land.

Way back we took on a mission to mankind in general and to a geographical location specifically. We have always had our delegitimizers. But no matter what others may say, enough Jews have the strength to defy the odds, to stand up and to fight for what is as much historically theirs for far longer than anyone else’s.

So here we go again, another year, another cycle, more threats, more hatred, and yet we are not only still around but, if anything, demographically and ideologically getting stronger despite laughable statistics, telephone surveys and prophets of doom. We are and have been a nation longer than anyone else. Although that has not always guaranteed victory, it has ensured survival.