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THE PROBLEM OF JEWISH
An HIR series
A well rounded social scientific explanation for why so many innocent Jews have been murdered throughout history, and continue to be murdered today, requires an understanding of the forces that cause non-Jews to kill, naturally, but also an understanding of those forces within the Jewish community that make their self-defense less effective than it could be. This series is concerned with the second set of questions. In Part 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this series I examine the ways in which a good many Jewish leaders sabotage Jewish self-defense. In this installment and the next I will address certain disadvantages of ordinary Jews themselves when it comes to dealing with anti-Jewish terrorist attacks.
Given that there are many significant differences between religious and secular Jews, it has seemed useful to me to examine them separately, so in this piece I will consider certain negative consequences of Jewish religious piety to an effective Jewish self-defense. In the next piece I will consider how certain ideologies common among secular Jews also have negative consequences to the same. It must be kept in mind, however, that some of what I say here is applicable to secular Jews and vice-versa, to different degrees. After all, the center of gravity of Jewish culture is the Jewish religion, and therefore it affects many Jews who profess no allegiance or interest in the Torah. Conversely, though secular Jews are more easily influenced by the ideologies of the Gentile world, religious Jews are surrounded by this world too, and especially through their exposure to secular Jews, and therefore they are not entirely immune to some of the forces that affect secular Jews more strongly.
Naturally, social science needs to do more work on this question, and I offer what follows as a preliminary exploration. Considering the historical record, and also the contemporary situation, it seems to me that the ways in which Jewish piety sabotages Jewish self-defense can be grouped into the following four useful categories, not necessarily exhaustive (click on each title for the full discussion):
1) Inflexible interpretations of the Law of Moses. This includes a radical aversion to the shedding of blood, which leads many Jews to the ethical error -- committed in tragic good faith -- that self-defense is unlawful. It is not.
2) Innocence. The Jewish laws are designed to produce an ethical civilization, and one side effect of growing up under the influence of these laws is a stubborn commitment to the idea that humans are basically good. This is innocence. It is an error, because humans are not basically good; humans are pliable, and they respond to their environments. The ancient Greco-Roman aristocracies, for example, were entire societies of murderers (the men), because this is what their culture brought them up to be (see point 3 on Messianism, for a description of Roman society). It was not impossible for an individual to rebel against such a culture but the point is that it was not easy, and those who didn’t rebel were not basically good. One may certainly argue that such people were victims of their social system, as was the case also with many Nazis, whose minds were poisoned by propaganda, but that still does not make them basically good. The stubborn belief of many Jews that humans are basically good blinds them to the evil that always waits in ambush for them, and this ‘see no evil’ attitude is deadly.
3) Messianism. The Jewish concept of the Messiah is a beautiful idea, but it can make some pious Jews complacent. It can make them think that everything will be okay because surely the Messiah is coming this time. He will come if we believe it passionately enough. Granted, he didn’t come last time, or the time before that, or the time before…, and millions upon millions of Jews died. Granted. But surely he is coming this time. (Never mind that this is what many Jews said last time around.) Too much certainty about the imminent coming of the Messiah can hurt Jewish self-defense.
4) Fatalism. God is in control of history, so let Him do what He will (He must have a Higher Reason for everything He does). This results from a tendency to read the Hebrew Bible as literal history (God is represented in the Bible as the author of historical outcomes). The same tendency leads to the absurd interpretation that the attacks of foreigners against the Jewish people are deserved punishments from God, which produces a deadly defeatism that once again sabotages Jewish self-defense.
1) Inflexible interpretations of the
Law of Moses
Summary: This includes a radical
aversion to the shedding of blood, which leads many Jews to the ethical error
-- committed in tragic good faith -- that self-defense is unlawful. It is
I will begin with an example from antiquity.
The Jewish movement had flourished and grown considerably under protection of the Zoroastrian Persian Empire, a benevolent state founded by Cyrus the Great that had liberated a great many peoples from oppression and that protected religious, economic, and civil freedoms over a vast swathe of humankind. But Alexander of Macedon had destroyed all that, and the largest of the successor states to his astonishing land grab, the Seleucid Empire, now controlled what the Greco-Macedonians called Coele-Syria (or ‘Syria and Phoenicia,’ or ‘Coele-Syria and Phoenicia,’ depending on the text), after wresting this area from another successor state to Alexander’s conquest: the Ptolemaic Empire. Coele-Syria had earlier been, roughly, the Persian ‘Province Beyond the River’ (beyond the Euphrates, as seen from Babylon), and it included the lands of Judah, Samaria, and environs.
At this time the Seleucid king was one Antiochus Epiphanes, who perceived a threat to his rule in the worker protections of the Law of Moses, which were based on the story of a revolutionary movement: a successful slave revolt against an oppressive Egyptian king (Exodus). The Greco-Macedonian aristocracy was running a heavily militarized, repressive, and slave-making state, so before the pro-worker ideology of Judaism could spread any further (in those days it was a passionately missionary religion, converting pagans at a feverish rate) Antioches Epiphanes decided to erase Judaism from his domains. The First and Second Books of Maccabees, which Christians will find included in their Bible as canonical books, are ancient Hebrew texts that narrate this attack against the Jews in Judah. Below I combine excerpts from the two books to give you a taste for what these horrors were like.
[Excerpts from the Books of Maccabees begin here]
…the king [Antiochus Epiphanes] sent an Antiochan senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their ancestors and no longer to live by the laws of God; also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and to call it the temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Gerizim [Samaria] the temple of Zeus-the-Friend-of-Strangers, as did the people who lived in that place.
Harsh and utterly grievous was the onslaught of evil. For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit. The altar was covered with abominable offerings that were forbidden by the laws. People could neither keep the Sabbath, nor observe the festivals of their ancestors, nor so much as confess themselves to be Jews. -- 2 Maccabees (6.1-6)
[Antiochus Epiphanes] appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the sons of Judah to offer sacrifice [to pagan gods] town by town. Many of the people, everyone who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had. …The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant [the Torah, which includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy], or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. -- 1 Maccabees (1.51-58)
On the monthly celebration of the king’s [Antiochus Epiphanes’] birthday, they [the Jews] were taken, under bitter constraint, to partake of the sacrifices; and when a festival of [the Greek hero-god] Dionysus was celebrated, they were compelled to wear wreaths of ivy and to walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus. At the suggestion of the people of Ptolemais a decree was issued to the neighboring Greek cities that they should adopt the same policy toward the Jews and make them partake of the sacrifices, and should kill those who did not choose to change over to Greek customs. One could see, therefore, the misery that had come upon them. -- 2 Maccabees (6.7-9)
According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks. -- 1 Maccabees (1.60-61)
For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. They publicly paraded them around the city, with their babies hanging at their breasts, and then hurled them down headlong from the wall. Others who had assembled in the caves nearby, in order to observe the seventh day [the Sabbath] secretly, were betrayed by Philip and were all burned together, because their piety kept them from defending themselves, in view of their regard for that most holy day. -- 2 Maccabees (6.10-11)
[Excerpts from the Books of Maccabees end here]
Despite the fact that Jews faithful to their religion were being attacked with various forms of terrorism, they found it difficult to fight back. As we see in the incident above, many interpreted that fighting on the Sabbath would be to profane it, and thus did not fight -- even to save their lives. These were very pious people, who found violence extremely difficult, and their piety directly contributed to their deaths and, moreover, gave courage to their enemies.
It was not an isolated event. Here is another incident along the same lines:
“At that time many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to live there, they, their sons, their wives, and their livestock, because troubles pressed heavily upon them. And it was reported to the king’s officers, and to the troops in Jerusalem the city of David, that those who had rejected the king’s command [to abandon Judaism] had gone down to the hiding places in the wilderness. Many pursued them, and overtook them; they encamped opposite them and prepared for battle against them on the Sabbath day. They said to them, ‘Enough of this! Come out and do what the king commands, and you will live.’ But they said, ‘We will not come out, nor will we do what the king commands and so profane the Sabbath day.’ Then the enemy quickly attacked them. But they did not answer them or hurl a stone at them or block up their hiding places, for they said, ‘Let us all die in our innocence; heaven and earth testify for us that you are killing us unjustly.’ So they attacked them on the Sabbath, and they died, with their wives and children and livestock, to the number of a thousand persons.” -- 1 Maccabees (2.29-38)
Eventually, the priest Mathathias, and his sons, including most famously Judah the Maccabee, led the miraculous Maccabean Revolt and kicked out the Greco-Macedonians. This demonstrates that Jews can be the world's best warriors, because the Greco-Macedonians had been, up to this point, unbeatable the world over, and the Jews who defeated them were mostly peasants whose most important weapon, for they were otherwise poorly armed and badly trained in warfare, was their fervor to defend their way of life from antisemitic terrorists. But this military miracle did not happen before Mattathias insisted on a change of ideology, spurred by the above massacre:
“When Mattathias and his friends learned of [the massacre], they mourned for them deeply. And all said to their neighbors: ‘If we refuse to fight with the Gentiles for our lives and for our ordinances, they will quickly destroy us from the face of the earth.’ So they made this decision that day: ‘Let us fight against anyone who comes to attack us on the Sabbath day; let us not all die as our kindred died in their hiding places.’” -- 1 Maccabees (2.39-41)
What is worse for Judaism? For all the Jews to disappear “from the face of the earth” or to make an exception when the enemy attacks on the Sabbath? Naturally, the first is worse. Mattathias’ decision was sensible. But it was not easy for the Jews to see this.
I think Mattathias' argument applies today. If the Jews are once again destroyed by the millions, this time in Israel, Torah observance will once again suffer, because Torah observant Jews will be quite numerous among the multitudes slaughtered. After all, it is in Israel that Orthodox Judaism is flourishing the most. So the Jews should make it clear that the murders of innocent Jews will not be tolerated. This would require 1) abolishing in its entirety the Oslo Process circus; 2) retaliating decisively when external enemies attack the Jewish state to exterminate its people; and 3) never returning territory won in such conflicts.
The difficulties Jews encounter defending themselves from murderous attacks are in large part due to the fact that the Torah produces an ethical civilization, and those brought up as observant Jews within this civilization find it very difficult to kill, under any circumstances. Historian Anita Shapira has tried to shed light on the question of whether the Jewish ethos -- its predominant patterns of thought -- contributed to the fact that, for a long time, the Jews in British Mandate ‘Palestine’ in the first half of the 20th c. did not effectively defend themselves. The context is dramatic because the Jews were being attacked with spectacular waves of terrorism that included torturing young children to death, and whose chief organizer was Hajj Amin al Husseini, who would later become, with Adolf Eichmann, the great architect of the Nazi genocide, and after that the father of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas's 'Palestinian' movement.
There are, in my view, a great many problems with Shapira's interpretations. Though she pays some attention to the fact that the British were actively encouraging the Arab racist attacks, and sabotaging Jewish self-defense, putting the Jews in a very difficult situation, she downplays this considerably.[2a] She also shies away, almost entirely, from confronting the manner in which the mainstream Zionist leaders supported rather than confronted the British, something that eventually made necessary the creation of a clandestine Jewish army, the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, in order to inflict real costs on the Arab terrorists.[2aa] (In addition, Shapira defends in places the standard antisemitic representation of Jewish immigration to British Mandate 'Palestine' as somehow objectionable, even though she herself grants that the Jews were buying land from those who had title, and allowing the landless Arab workers to continue working it, for they felt an obligation to help them, as she herself documents.[2ab])
But having said all that, Shapira does present considerable evidence to support her view that killing, even in self-defense, does not come easily to those raised in Jewish civilization. This helps explain why the mainstream Zionist leaders could get away with their support for British policies, and why in the face of the greatest terrorist attack, in 1936, most Jews acquiesced in a policy of 'self-restraint.'
“In 1936, an issue confronted the men of Palestine -- whether to shoot back or not shoot back at the Arabs who, with British connivance, were raiding and terrorizing the Jewish settlements. All the various parties, clans, and sects of the new land voted for Havlagah -- 'self restraint' -- all except one group. This group detached itself from the Haganah [the Jewish self-defense forces], pledged to passivism, and called itself the Irgun Zvai Leumi.”[2b]
As Anita Shapira documents, many Jews wanted to believe that the Arab terrorists who were killing their children could be won over, and some even wrote about their reluctance to retaliate after terrorist attacks lest their children grow up as anti-Arab racists! Such remarkable views must stem in part from the fact that, as Shapira herself points out, there are “three sins” that “rather than commit, a Jew preferred to be killed” -- these are “‘idol worship’...along with bloodshed and incest.”[2bb]
But what is especially difficult, it seems, is shedding blood in hatred or anger, because on occasion Jews have preferred to commit suicide, in fact, to shedding the enemy’s blood in self-defense. A dramatic example took place during the anti-Jewish exterminations of the Middle Ages, narrated by James Carroll in his history of Western antisemitism:
[Quote from James Carroll begins here]
The crusaders were unleashed, storming through the city [of Mainz], looking for ‘the circumcised.’ The Jews who had eluded crusaders, or bribed them during the early phase of the Rhineland incursion, had been succeeded, especially in Speyer and Worms, by Jews who were murdered in cold blood. By the time of Mainz, crusader ferocity was at its peak, fueled by a cross-inspired righteousness… More than one thousand men, women, and children huddled in the courtyard of the archbishop’s palace [this man appears genuinely to have tried to save their lives]. They knew very well what had happened elsewhere in the preceding weeks, how bribes and flight had failed, finally, to protect even children. In Mainz, Jews had time to reflect on what was coming, and they knew that the only possible escape was through apostasy [idolatry, to them]. Some few took that way out, but to most conversion to Christianity was more unthinkable than ever…
Solomon bar Simson wrote:
“The hand of the Lord rested heavily on His people, and all the Gentiles assembled against the Jews in the courtyard to exterminate them… When the people of the Sacred Covenant saw that the Heavenly decree had been issued and that the enemy had defeated them and were entering the courtyard, they all cried out together -- old and young, maidens and children, menservants and maids -- to their Father in Heaven… ‘There is no questioning the ways of the Holy One, blessed be He and blessed be His Name, Who has given us His Torah and has commanded us to allow ourselves to be killed and slain in witness to the Oneness of His Holy Name…’
“Then in a great voice they all cried out as one: ‘We need tarry no longer, for the enemy is already upon us. Let us hasten and offer ourselves as a sacrifice before God. Anyone possessing a knife should examine it to see that it is not defective, and let him then proceed to slaughter us in sanctification of the Unique and Eternal One, then slaying himself -- either cutting his throat or thrusting the knife into his stomach.’”
[Quote from James Carroll ends here]
From one point of view this looks like an impressive ethical statement: the Jews would not shed the enemy’s blood. From a different point of view, however, perhaps this is an ethical error (though one committed in good faith, in an attempt to please a God that frowns on violence -- something that cannot be said for the ethical error of the antisemitic murderers). As the economists have taught us, a basic principle of human behavior is that if people want to do something, and you lower their costs of doing so, they will do it more. Not exactly rocket science, as the economists themselves often point out with some impatience. It follows that murderous antisemites will kill more Jews the lower the perceived risks to their endeavor. Given this, the ethical thing to do, when under terrorist attack from antisemites, is for the Jews not to lay down and die but to go down fighting, taking as many of the antisemitic murderers that came to get them, thus sending a message that one cannot simply kill Jews with impunity, and so reducing in this way the probability of further murders of innocent Jews. This was the ancient priest Mathathias’ argument.
It was also the argument of those undernourished and grossly mistreated Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, in World War II, who, having learned the fate of the Jews who were being deported, decided to fight.
“...all the suffering Jews not yet slaughtered -- some thirty thousand weary men and women -- hurled themselves against the might of an undefeated German army numbering hundreds of thousands.
For twenty-seven days these last Jewish souls of Poland had stood with pistols and clubs and broken bottles in their hands, against German tanks, cannon, machine guns and the Luftwaffe. The Germans suffered many dead.
...the[se] few extraordinary characters were thirty-three thousand Jews who stood off three hundred fifty thousand Wehrmacht troops and thirty thousand SS troops -- their tanks and cannon -- for twenty-seven days in the Warsaw Ghetto. None of the Jews surrendered.”[3a]
Like their Maccabean ancestors, these brave Jews fought with few weapons and zero military training, and they produced another military miracle, demonstrating again that when they choose to fight the Jews are the world's best warriors.
When they choose to fight, because often they choose not to, falling into what I believe is an ethical error committed in good faith.
One can see an echo of the ethical error I am identifying here in Golda Meir’s famous statement to Anwar Sadat after Egypt attacked the Israelis in an attempt to exterminate the Israeli Jews: “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours.” I don’t believe the leader of any other country could have made a statement like this. And the point, mind you, is not that Golda Meir believed what she said but that her words resonated with many Jews, or she would not have said it. The statements of politicians must always obey the laws of the political grammar of the surrounding culture. Meir's statement resonates because it is consistent with a Jewish aversion to killing that is very strong -- so strong, in fact, that it is harder at least for some Jews to forgive having been forced to kill antisemitic murderers in self-defense, than it is to forgive the gratuitous murders of innocent Jews.
This statement by Golda Meir's is invariably quoted with admiration, but upon reflection it appears to be assigning a higher value to the lives of the antisemitic murderers than it does to the lives of innocent Jews. In the absract, forgiveness seems like a good thing. But this is not the abstract. In my view, the taking of innocent life simply cannot be forgiven, not if we want fewer innocents to be murdered. We must cherish innocent life over and above the lives of gratuitous murderers. If we don’t, we will contribute to the flourishing of gratuitous murderers. And that cannot be ethical.
I will make three final points.
The first is that since Jews are directly under attack from Muslim terrorists, who grow up in a culture that teaches them to hate life as much as the Jews love it, and to throw it away if it will kill some Jews, the Jewish situtation is especially difficult.[4a] But again, it is not ethical to allow terrorists to kill the innocent. If the only way to prevent this is to defeat the terrorists militarily, then this is the ethical thing to do.
A second, and related point, is that the Jewish aversion to killing, even in self-defense, contributes in some measure to the ease with which Jews delude themselves into thinking that it is possible to give territory to genocidal antisemites in exchange for peace -- the basis of the so-called Oslo ‘Peace’ Process. The Jews are corralled into such delusions in part because they would like to give anything other than a military solution a try. This is a tremendous error. Genocidal antisemites don’t want land; they wish to kill every Jew. If they will not leave the Jews alone, they must be militarily defeated.
The third point is that since the Israeli leadership cooperates with the enemies of the Jews, briging antisemitic genocidal terrorists into the Jewish state and giving them land and people with which to launch their assault, then ordinary Israeli patriots must fight their own leadership.[4b] This is what the Jews of the Maccabean Revolt, led by the priest Mattathias and his sons, had to do, for the Jewish leaders of that time were allying with the terrorist Greco-Macedonian assault on Judaism. Mattathias and his sons saved their faith and made it stronger, blessing humanity. It was not an ethical error: it was the right thing to do.
Summary: The Jewish laws are designed to
produce an ethical civilization, and one side effect of growing up under the
influence of these laws is a stubborn commitment to the idea that humans are
basically good. This is innocence. It is an error, because humans are
not basically good; humans are pliable, and they respond to their
environments. The ancient Greco-Roman aristocracies, for example, were entire
societies of murderers (the men), because this is what their culture brought
them up to be (see point 3 on Messianism, for a description of Roman
society). It was not impossible for an individual to rebel against such a
culture but the point is that it was not easy, and those who didn’t rebel were
not basically good. One may certainly argue that such people were victims
of their social system, as was the case also with many Nazis, whose minds
were poisoned by propaganda, but that still does not make them basically
good. The stubborn belief of many Jews that humans are basically good blinds
them to the evil that always waits in ambush for them, and this ‘see no evil’
attitude is deadly.
In the middle of the Holocaust, Anne Frank wrote in her famous diary the following words, which dramatically encapsulate the stubborn innocence of the Jews: “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.” This was written in full knowledge of the fact that the Nazis were looking for her, an adolescent girl, so that they could torture her to death for the crime of being a Jew. This is evidence of a fierce desire to find goodness in this world, and it is one of the reasons that Anne Frank is so appealing. But though we may admire her purity of soul, Anne Frank was naturally mistaken on this point: the Nazis were not “truly good at heart.” They were not good at all. Simply, they were monsters. And they murdered Anne Frank in cold blood.
Let us return to antiquity. The Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes, another monster, had already visited all sorts of murder and destruction upon the Jews in Judah, and had made it clear that he meant to abolish Judaism. Then, as the First Book of Maccabees explains,
“Two years later the king [Antiochus Epiphanes] sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and surrounding walls. They took captive the women and children, and seized the livestock.” -- 1 Maccabees (1.29-30)
2 Maccabees makes the same claim:
The claim is remarkable: the Greco-Macedonians came to Jerusalem with lots of soldiers to take away the Jewish wealth and livestock, burn the city down, murder lots of Jews, and take the women and children as slaves. These were the same soldiers who had already been murdering tens of thousands of Jews (eighty thousand in just one three-day attack according to 2 Maccabbees 5.11-14). And yet on this occasion the leader of the Greco-Macedonian soldiers simply “spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him.”
Is it really plausible that the ancient Jews were this innocent? Yes, it is.
In our own times we have seen a close parallel. The PLO, a terrorist organization pledged in its constitution to exterminate the Israeli Jews, had already been murdering Israeli Jews for many years. Then the PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, "spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him." By promising peace, the PLO gained a territorial base inside the Jewish state, and political power over most of the Arabs living there: the power to indoctrinate these Arabs into the PLO's ecstatic genocidal ideology, and the power to train them in how to kill. Immediately after the PLO was brought in, terrorism against innocent Jews in the state of Israel quintupled.
Granted, there was a worldwide propaganda onslaught to whitewash the PLO, which included giving Yasser Arafat the same Nobel Peace Prize that had been given to Martin Luther King (1964) and Mother Teresa (1979). Granted, Jewish leaders in the Diaspora, and Jewish leaders in Israel, covered for Arafat and vouched for him. Granted, most of the Israeli media covered for Arafat as well. All of this is true. But even granting all that, it is still a reasonable hypothesis that a strong Jewish desire to “believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart,” made an important contribution to Jewish gullibility that Yasser Arafat had discovered his better self.
And the above concessions in fact bring us back in circles to the same point. If Jewish leaders were apologizing for Arafat, why should ordinary Jews believe this? Jewish history is full of examples of Jewish leaders betraying ordinary Jews, and it is not exactly difficult to show that this has been happening in our time (see Part 1, 2, and 3 of this series). But imagining, let alone recognizing, that one’s own leaders are allied with the enemy is practically impossible if one believes “that people are truly good at heart,” because if one’s own leaders are “truly good at heart” they couldn’t possibly ally with the enemy...
The same goes for the propaganda. Before WWII, the media said all sorts of ridiculously favorable things about Adolf Hitler and all sorts of ridiculously unfavorable things about the Jews. But Jews for the most part do not display the skepticism of the mainstream media that a history of victimization by powerful antisemites would lead one to expect.
The Jews are repeatedly destroyed by unscrupulous
enemies in part because they repeatedly refuse to see evil, clinging
stubbornly to an innocent representation of the world, one that the history
of the Jews has refuted many times over -- more so, perhaps, than has the
history of any other people. The inability of so many Jews to reason about
the structure of their situation and the nature of their enemies is simply
stunning. To make the Jews safe, I would prescribe a hearty dose of
suspicion. Innocence is deadly. This does not mean abandoning ethics, mind
you, just treating one of its unfortunate side effects.
The Jewish concept of the Messiah is a
beautiful idea, but it can make some pious Jews complacent. It can make them
think that everything will be okay because surely the Messiah is coming this
time. He will come if we believe it passionately enough. Granted, he didn’t
come last time, or the time before that, or the time before…, and millions
upon millions of Jews died. Granted. But surely he is coming this
time. (Never mind that this is what many Jews said last time around.) Too
much certainty about the imminent coming of the Messiah can hurt Jewish
In order to understand Jewish Messianism one must first understand the Jewish concept of the Messiah. I will begin by explaining what this concept was at the time when the claim was made (chiefly by Gentiles, not Jews) for one Jesus of Nazareth. In order to do that, I must first give you the context of Roman rule in the Mediterranean in the first century of the current era (CE). This will take some time, because there has been a lot of institutionalized disinformation about the ancient Romans, so please bear with me.
The Roman Empire ruled the Mediterranean with a brutality and sadism that would not be seen again in the West until the Third Reich of the German Nazis. In the Roman Empire the ‘citizens’ all had to do military service lasting twenty-five years (and they could not marry until they finished their service -- those who survived, that is). Soldiers enjoyed certain privileges and they swore personal fealty directly to the emperor (as the Nazis soldiers also did with Adolf Hitler), and for this reason they constituted a mercenary force that the emperor could use against all of the ‘citizen’ population. As happened also in the Third Reich, these soldiers were the slaves of a vast internal security apparatus that spied on everybody and with complete arbitrariness tortured and murdered anybody whose political loyalties became in the least suspect. The very well paid special mercenary force that guaranteed the emperor’s power was the Praetorian Guard, which stationed from 500 to 1000 soldiers -- dressed as civilians -- in the Italian cities, fulfilling a function equivalent to that of Adolf Hitler’s feared SS.
Because the emperor’s personality cult was literally religious, any show of disrespect to the emperor, his offices, his name, or even his effigy was considered sacrilege, and moreover an act of rebellion, resulting quite often in the execution of the offender, all of which recalls the personality cult of the Nazi fuhrer, who was in fact saluted with an extended arm in a gesture that was copied from the ancient Romans.
Everybody’s movements were closely controlled, for the Roman Empire was a vast prison, and people could not freely abandon their localities of origin (also true in Nazi Germany, where workers could not switch their place of work without government permission). Strict controls were applied over anything that was published; many books were burned and many authors tried, as happened also with the Nazis. Anybody accusing somebody else of political disloyalty -- delator -- could claim in reward a portion of the accused person’s property if the latter was found guilty, and this incentive caused everybody to distrust everybody else, for anyone could be a spy of the emperor, which is precisely how things also stood under Adolf Hitler. Only a few of the accused actually demanded their day in court because if they committed suicide, declaring themselves in this way guilty, they could guarantee the safety of their family and inherit their property to them, whereas anybody demanding trial exposed his family; in any case, very probably they would lose the trial and would then be tortured to death or exiled, for the emperor, much like Adolf Hitler, could generate in the courts any result he desired. Multitudes of political enemies, nevertheless, were not murdered or exiled but enslaved in work camps that in reality were death camps, as the Nazis also did.
The foregoing describes the situation for the militarized and dominant ‘citizen’ minority of the Roman Empire -- a tiny group of people. The situation of the oppressed classes was much worse.
Below the ‘citizen’ caste was a great multitude of serfs and artisans who in the official propaganda were technically ‘free’ but who in reality lived in informal slavery. To imagine their conditions it is enough to point out that “…poverty drove the indigent to sell their newborn to slave traffickers (who took children scarcely out of the womb and still covered with blood…). Many adults sold themselves [into slavery] in order not to die of hunger.”
Then there were the formal slaves, many of whom were brought as prisoners of war. There was no end to these wars.
“By the fourth century [BCE], Rome had evolved a pattern of warfare that centered on campaigns undertaken almost every year, a level of intensity that is unique among ancient city-states. In the process, warfare came to be deeply entrenched in Roman political and religious life, shaping the highest offices as well as the lives and careers both of the community’s leaders and of its citizens.”
In other words, the Roman Empire, as the Nazi Third Reich would also do, based its entire economy on external war, and would go to battle every spring, like the farmer to the plow, to sack neighboring cities and bring home great numbers of slaves to work the latifundia (large agricultural estates, or plantations, of the Roman aristocracy) and the mines, or else to work as servants in the Roman households. The practice of the Romans was to murder all the adult men, so the slaves brought in war were for the most part women and children. It is worth pausing to get a sense for the thoroughly pathological nature of Roman warfare:
‘[The ancient Greek historian] Polybius…says it was customary for the Roman troops to kill all inhabitants of a city they subdued. Pillaging started afterwards, after a signal had been given. He adds that he thinks the Romans did this to strike terror… As a result one often sees in towns taken by the Romans not only dead people, but ‘dogs cut in half, and the limbs cut off from other animals.’ …A relatively minor skirmish between Macedonians and Romans in 200 BCE resulted in forty fallen Macedonian cavalry. However, the extreme violence exerted by the Roman arms caused panic among the Macedonians [previously the terror of the world], who were not used to it. …The Romans…are on record as resorting to mutilation of live victims, while the details of animal slaughter which Polybius himself gives also suggest a form of social pathology. …Julius Caesar himself is quite open in his description of the slaughter of the Usipetes and Tencteri (BG 4.14f.): ‘the rest, a mass of children and women -- for the Germans had left home and crossed the Rhine with all their people -- began to flee in all directions. Caesar sent cavalry to pursue them.’ The whole crowd of Germans, children and women presumably included, were then pushed towards the junction of the Meuse and the Rhine where they were slain or perished in the river.”
The slaves that were brought home from these unbelievable slaughters did not have family life, and when the slave women bore children (often sired by the master) these were the master’s property, who was free to drown them, raise them as his own, or let them live as slaves, for the master had universal rights over his slaves and could torture, rape, and murder them at will. And these were truly great oceans of slaves: historians estimate that in Italy, in the first century, as much as half the population of Italy may have been formally enslaved. “On plantations they were often worked in irons, and at night they were housed in underground prisons.” Other slaves, the gladiators, were forced to fight each other to death in the Roman amphitheater, while the Roman public pretended it was at a cock fight. Also for the delight of corrupt Roman mobs, some slaves were simply devoured -- alive -- by African beasts (I have nothing to compare this to). These slaves at least died relatively quickly; the same cannot be said for those who were sent to die in the ancient equivalent of the Nazi death camps, the mines, where they were forced to work under torture until, exhausted, they keeled over and died. Diodorus of Sicily, writing around the year 30 BCE, described it like this in his Universal History (5.38.1-2):
“Let me continue discussing the mines. The slaves who are put to work in them produce an unbelievable amount of wealth for their masters, but they themselves wear out their bodies digging in the earth day and night, dying in droves because of the exceptional hardships they endure. No break or rest is given to them in their work, but driven on by the blows of their overseers to endure the severity of their lot, they throw away their lives in a wretched way, although some of them who can endure it, because of their bodily strength and their strong spirit, manage to live a long time. Indeed they desire death more than life, because of the magnitude of their hardships.”
That will do. Many gentiles like myself grow up hearing in school that the ancient Romans were “great civilizers.” This is propaganda. The ancient Roman Empire was a ‘civilization’ run by a sadistic criminal class, much like the Third Reich (and the Third Reich considered itself a reincarnation of ancient Rome).
In the dark fog of this hell on earth created by the Romans, the Jewish synagogues, where pagans were welcomed with open arms, were lighthouses of hope for the oppressed Mediterranean workers. Many poor pagans, and many slaves who worked as servants in the households of the Romans and of the allied aristocracies, came on the Sabbath to hear the frankly subversive message of the Jews (and even some rich people came, and even Romans, seduced by the hope of an ethical future).
The Jews considered themselves the descendants of slaves who, after defeating an oppressive Egyptian king in revolution, had established a law that says: “He who kidnaps a man -- whether he has sold him or is still holding him -- shall be put to death” (Exodus 21.16). This law allowed a Jew to be a ‘slave’ but not by force -- only voluntarily, to pay his debts; and on the seventh year, according to the same law, the slave had to be set free and given a little something with which to start his life in freedom (Deuteronomy 15.12-15).
In truth, these were employees -- and carefully protected employees at that. In his six years of service the slave could not be mistreated in any way, and any evidence of physical abuse would cause a judge automatically to set him free: “When a man strikes the eye of a slave, male or female, and destroys it, he shall let him go free on account of his eye. If he knocks out the tooth of his slave, male or female, he shall let him go free on account of his tooth” (Exodus 21.26-27). And the slave could not be psychologically abused, either, or disrespected, for any slave so mistreated could simply run away and take refuge in somebody else’s household, and then he could not be returned for the law forbade it: “You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him” (Deuteronomy 23.16). Anybody killing his slave risked the death penalty (Exodus 21.20-21). Naturally, the slaves got to rest on the Sabbath, like everybody else (Deuteronomy 5.12-14). On top of all this, the rabbinical laws later collected in the Talmud specified all kinds of obligatory deferences to the slaves: when the household sits (apparently all together) to eat, the slave must be served first; if there is only one pillow between master and slave, it goes to the slave; etc. This legal atmosphere was naturally conducive to more than cordial relations between master and slave, and at the end of six years many slaves undoubtedly chose to remain with their masters, so in order to prevent the formation of a hereditary caste of slaves the laws of the Jubilee (Leviticus, ch.25), required all slaves, whether they wanted to or not, to be set free every 50 years.
Not surprisingly, a great many pagans converted to Judaism and as a result the Jews became -- in the lower estimate of most historians -- something like 10% of the Roman Empire. But this statistic does not fully describe their political power, because there was an even greater population of so-called ‘God-fearers’ who hadn’t yet converted but attended synagogue and observed some of the Jewish laws, and who were allied with the Jews. So the Jewish political movement had something like a quarter to a third of the Roman Empire: astonishing. Not surprisingly, for those who understand this context, the Roman aristocracy lived in terror of the Jews. In the early first century the powerful Roman senator Seneca expressed his fear as follows: “The customs of this accursed race [Jews] have gained such influence that they are now received throughout all the world. The vanquished have given laws to their victors!”
The ancient Roman historian Dio Cassius expressed himself thus:
"I do not know the origins of this name [Ioudaios = Jews] for them, but it also refers to the other persons, even foreigners, who eagerly pursue their customs. And this people is even among the Romans. Though often curtailed, it increased to the greatest extent so as to win by force the freedom of its religious belief."[27a] (my emphases)
This is grudging Roman respect for the widespread appeal, grass-roots power, and bravery of the Jews.
To cap it all, the Jews were anxiously waiting for ‘the Messiah,’ a warrior/saint who would defeat the Romans by the sword in revolution, making the Torah the law of state in the Mediterranean, and thus ending oppression everywhere.
Now the last point, I know from experience, is especially surprising to many people. Not only because most people do not study history but because the concept of ‘Messiah’ that is most commonly known is that of the Christians, where the universe is conceived as a great temple in which to offer a sacrifice in the manner of the ancient pagans and Jews. In those days, one would kill a lamb, a goat, a dove, etc., spill the blood on the altar, and burn some of the victim so that the gods (in the case of the Jews, God) could enjoy the aroma or otherwise draw sustenance and pleasure (the priests would then eat the offered/cooked animals). This was done, for instance, when it was a matter of asking for a favor, giving thanks, or expiating a sin. The more dramatic the context (for example, if a serious sin had been committed), the more expensive the offered victim had to be. Following this model, in the Christian concept of ‘the Messiah,’ God sends to the world His own son so that, in murdering him, men can offer the most expensive victim for the forgiveness of all sins: “Lamb of God [a reference to Jesus in his status of sacrificial victim], who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us…” (In perpetuity, and in ritual fashion, believers would henceforth eat, in the manner of priests, the offered victim: this is the sacrament of the eucharist). Salvation, then, would be God’s business, and it would suffice for men to recognize, by accepting Jesus as Savior, the painful favor that the Father had bestowed in sacrificing His own son to Himself.
The Jewish concept of ‘the Messiah’ was entirely different, and this helps explain why very few Jews recognized the validity of the Christian movement. The Jews were not looking to expiate the world's sins but to liberate it from political oppression; they were looking for someone to beat the Romans, not to get crucified by them. And in fact the Messiah would be identified retroactively, following his revolutionary victory. If he got crucified, by definition, he could not be the Messiah; you had to win first, in order to demonstrate that you were ‘the One.’ Of course, quite a few individual Jews convinced themselves that they were the Messiah, and made the claim for themselves in advance of their victory, hoping in this way to mobilize many Jews and...win. This produced one revolt after another, and the Romans were having to put them down. The most successful of all was the revolt led by Simon Bar Kochba in the second century, which succeeded in re-establishing an independent Jewish state in Judah for the space of three years, an achievement that led a great many Jews, including the famous Rabbi Akiva, to hail him as ‘the Messiah.’ But he wasn’t the Messiah, and the Romans defeated him in the last chapter of a genocide against the Jews that may have been greater than Hitler’s, in proportional terms, and that lasted, in all, a good 135 years.
That’s how the Romans solved their ‘Jewish Problem’: they gave it a Final Solution. (To learn more about this ancient genocide, and its cataclysmic impact on World History, read The Crux of World History.)
Where did the Jewish concept of the Messiah come from? Well, the Messianic tradition is most closely identified with the Book of Isaiah. In it, we find this passage:
[Quote from the Book of Isaiah begins here]
Thus says the Lord to His Messiah, to Cyrus -- whose right hand I have held -- to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut:
[The Lord:] “I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, so that you may know that I, the Lord, Who call you by your name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob My servant’s sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things. Rain down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together. I, the Lord, have created it.” -- Isaiah (45.1-8; emphasis mine)
[Quote from the Book of Isaiah ends here]
This is interesting because not only does the Book of Isaiah, the source of the Messianic tradition, identify the Persian King Cyrus the Great as the Lord’s Messiah, but it also turns out that Cyrus fits the bill precisely.
Cyrus was truly a rare phenomenon: a complete megalomaniac who craved world power in order to do good. He fought repressive rulers and liberated many different peoples, creating an enormous empire where freedom of religion, the rule of law, civil and economic liberties, and peace were zealously protected. He was a defender and protector of ordinary people. He took more than one place without a fight because the people would hand him their kings in fetters. The imagery above is precisely that of a liberator: he would “make the crooked places straight” and “break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron,” that is, he would make honest what was dishonest and set people free. With God’s help, he would “pour down righteousness” and “bring forth salvation,” which in this context is political salvation, precisely what Cyrus achieved for great multitudes of people. In particular, Cyrus allowed the Jewish ruling class that had been forcibly exiled to Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar’s extermination to return home to Judah; he subsidized the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple; and he encouraged the growth of Judaism, a precedent followed by later Persian kings, as recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehamiah. As a result, Judaism grew at an astonishing rate within the Persian Empire. (To learn more about the impact of Persian ideology on World History, read The Crux of World History).
Cyrus was indeed the Messiah.
Of course, Cyrus was not Jewish, but the Book of Isaiah seems to be saying that this does not matter, for it has the Lord saying: “I have even called you by your name; I have named you [the Messiah], though you have not known Me [though you are not Jewish].”
Can there be another Messiah? If we interpret the concept of ‘the Messiah’ as the Messiah (‘the One’ -- as in the only One), then naturally no: the Messiah has come and gone: it was Cyrus. If, however, we interpret ‘the Messiah’ as referring to a category of person, then in theory there may one day be another. But let’s be reasonable: this is extremely unlikely. People like Cyrus don’t exactly grow on trees: we are talking about a historical aberration, here. That said, there is no denying that it would be nice to once again have someone as spectacularly successful as Cyrus defending ordinary people, and this hope obviously lies at the root of the Jewish Messianic tradition. Although the modern Jewish concept of the Messiah may not be an exact copy of the Cyrus prototype, it does share in common with it the idea that the Messiah will come to make the Jews safe, and to bring political liberation and social justice for the entire world. The most important significant new twist on the concept is that a great many Jews now believe it is the ethical behavior of Jews that will cause God to send the Messiah and save the world.
Now, concerning the possibilities for Jewish self-defense, I think the Messianic tradition is a double-edged sword. In the first century, this tradition was arguably a good thing for the Jews, because it inspired many individual Jews to try to be the Messiah, an ambition that was probably necessary for a successful challenge to the Roman Empire. Although nobody succeeded, the ancient Jews did come very close to bringing down the Romans and liberating the Mediterranean, and it is possible to argue that the Messianic fervor was in part responsible for this near success. These days, however, the Messianic tradition probably has a negative effect on Jewish self-defense because nobody much tries to be the Messiah (it is definitely frowned upon). If the Jews all wait for the Messiah to come, because the Messiah will rain down from heaven if they are all good enough, then they will wait in vain. And if they are very confident that the Messiah will come (and the creation of the state of Israel has made many Jews quite confident, and this confidence grows as the situation becomes more apocalyptic, in a maddening irony…), then they may become complacent. It appears that many pious Jews have indeed become complacent, leaving self-defense to the supposedly imminent Messiah. This greatly increases the vulnerability of the Jewish people.
If the Jewish people is to avert another genocide, quite simply, it must defend itself rather than wait for a miracle that has in fact not come to save the Jews in past genocides (of which there have been plenty). Perhaps there will be a Messiah, but it is crucial to understand this: if all the Jews choose to fight for their right to be Jews, rather than wait for the Messiah, then it is more likely that a Messiah will emerge. Simply waiting for the Messiah does not increase the probability that he will manifest himself.
Summary: God is in control of history,
so let Him do what He will (He must have a Higher Reason for everything He
does). This results from a tendency to read the Hebrew Bible as literal
history (God is represented in the Bible as the author of historical
outcomes). The same tendency leads to the absurd interpretation that the
attacks of foreigners against the Jewish people are deserved punishments from
God, which produces a deadly defeatism that once again sabotages Jewish
Let’s go back to antiquity again. The author of the Second Book of Maccabees was obviously very proud of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes, which he celebrated. This revolt defeated the terrorist attack of the Greco-Macedonians, who had attempted utterly to destroy Judaism. But despite all that, the author of 2 Maccabees nevertheless interprets the Greco-Macedonian attack as deserved punishment. In a prefatory passage to the author's horrific description of how Antiochus Epiphanes -- just to give himself sporting pleasure watching their unbelievable suffering -- tortured to death every individual member of a Jewish family that would not break Jewish law, the author explains that all of this suffering is somehow divinely ordained:
“Now I urge those who read this book not to be depressed by such calamities, but to recognize that these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people. In fact, it is a sign of great kindness not to let the impious alone for long, but to punish them immediately. For in the case of the other nations the Lord waits patiently to punish them until they have reached the full measure of their sins; but he does not deal in this way with us, in order that he may not take vengeance on us afterward when our sins have reached their height. Therefore He never withdraws His mercy from us. Although He disciplines us with calamities, He does not forsake His own people. Let what we have said serve as a reminder; we must go on briefly with the story.” -- 2 Maccabees (6.12-17)
I find it offensive to suggest that a mother and her sons can possibly deserve to be scalped and then boiled alive, which is what the author goes on to describe. And yet this is the interpretation: the Lord was punishing his Chosen People, and his Chosen People ought to rejoice in this, moreover. What accounts for this remarkable interpretation?
It is orthodox, in fact.
Consider an earlier Jewish book: the Book of Jeremiah. Here is the prophet Jeremiah addressing a group of Jews that have taken refuge in Egypt after the Chaldean King Nebuchadnezzar launches a genocidal attack against Judah:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: You yourselves have seen all the disaster that I have brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Look at them; today they are a desolation, without an inhabitant in them, because of the wickedness that they committed, provoking me to anger, in that they went to make offerings and serve other gods that they had not known neither they, nor you, nor your ancestors. Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying “I beg you not to do this abominable thing that I hate!” But they did not listen or incline their ear, to turn from their wickedness and make no offerings to other gods. So my wrath and my anger were poured out and kindled in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; and they became a waste and desolation, as they still are today. And now thus says the Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel; Why are you doing such great harm to yourselves, to cut off man and woman, child and infant, from the midst of Judah, leaving yourselves without a remnant?” -- Jeremiah (44.2-17)
This goes on for a while. In fact, the entire Book of Jeremiah is one long attack against the Jewish people for having become idolatrous, which implies all the murder and oppression associated with idolatrous societies. And Jeremiah is supposedly channeling God, who takes responsibility for Nebuchadnezzar’s attack, calling it a divine punishment for the iniquity of the Jews.
Most of the prophets imprecate against the Jews along these lines, and in fact the entire ‘History of Israel’ contained in the Hebrew Bible (see the Books of Kings and the Books of Chronicles) is like this, explaining that every devastating attack by foreigners against the Israelites was an Act of God, punishing His Chosen People for idolatry.
Now, Orthodox Jews read these books as literal history, and once this has been understood it is obvious how this prepares them to accept the view that more recent attacks by foreigners against the Jews have also been deserved punishments sent by God for having failed to be sufficiently ethical. This is a tragedy so immense it is difficult to characterize.
Here is historian of Judaism Shaye Cohen explaining how Jeremiah’s arguments have affected the Jewish people throughout the ages:
"This prophet [Jeremiah] had warned the inhabitants of Jerusalem that their rebellion against the king of Babylonia was also a rebellion against God. The prophet counseled surrender. Nebuchadnezzar was performing God’s will in his assault on the holy city, and the Jews were foolish to believe that they could flout God’s will. The Jews were condemned to failure because of their sins; Nebuchadnezzar was merely God’s agent for their punishment (Jeremiah 25). …these ideas had an enormous impact on subsequent Jewish thought and practice. …The prophesies of Jeremiah…provide the ideological context for the political behavior of the Jews in antiquity (and, indeed, of medieval and modern times as well)."[29a]
I have in fact met Jews who defend the view that the Holocaust -- the Holocaust!! -- was God’s punishment on the Jewish people. But whatever one may think of the historical truth of the ancient books of the prophets, it should be obvious that the victims of Hitler’s genocide were innocent. None of them deserved what happened, and the argument is most clearly made for the children: surely nobody can rationally defend that they deserved to be tortured to death. And yet some Jews are attracted to the argument that this was a divine punishment on the Jews because they read the Hebrew Bible as literal history. They do not deny the evils of the Nazis, as indeed they don’t deny the evils of Nebuchadnezzar, but in both cases some Jews consider them to have been instruments of God shaping History. Naturally, one important consequence of this outlook is to make Jewish self-defense difficult: if the punishment is divinely ordained and deserved, what resistance can rightfully be offered?
This is absurd, and if reading the Hebrew Bible as literal history produces such absurdities, we have an excellent reason to be skeptical that this is how the Hebrew Bible ought to be read.
But there are other reasons. As I have argued at length in The Crux of World History (see the Meta-Interlude), ‘Jeremiah’ never existed. Neither did the other prophets. The archaeological evidence is perfectly conclusive that before the Babylonian exile, the Israelites didn’t know the Torah and were polytheists. In other words, they were polytheists precisely as ‘Jeremiah’ accuses, but they were honest polytheists -- not renegades from the Torah, as ‘Jeremiah’ would have it -- because they didn’t know the Torah.
So what happened?
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are made up mostly of collated official documents from the Persian period (some of them in the original Aramaic -- the bureaucratic language of the Persian empire -- rather than in translation to Hebrew), plus fragments of the memoirs of these two leading participants. As such they have a better claim to being a bona-fide historical witness than anything else in the Hebrew Bible. So it matters that these books narrate that when the Israelite ruling class, after having been forcibly exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, was liberated by the Persian King Cyrus the Great and allowed to return to Judah, it ended up in serious political struggle with the Israelites who had remained because these latter didn’t want to follow the Torah. Why? Naturally, because they didn’t know the Torah, a revolutionary new book that the exiles brought and that made its first appearance in history coinciding with the advent of Cyrus (the Messiah, according to the Book of Isaiah -- see question 3, above).
According to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, after some important struggles (which I argue lasted a whole 150 years!), Ezra and Nehemiah succeeded in convincing the Israelites to follow the Torah, and thus was born the Jewish movement: monotheism, brotherhood, peace, and social justice. It appears that, in order to strengthen the stability of this ethical movement some pre-existing Israelite texts were rewritten. This naturally required collecting all copies of the historical books of the Israelites so that the new version could not be challenged, and the Second Book of Maccabees says that this was done:
“Nehemiah…founded a library and collected the books about the kings and prophets, and the writings of David, and letters of kings about votive offerings.” -- 2 Maccabees (2.13)
Ezra himself is credited by the tradition with having done the work of rewriting the history of the Israelites:
“A re-writing of the history of the [southern Israelite] kingdom of Judah (and ignoring that of [the northern kingdom] of Israel) designed to stress religious rather than secular matters was included also [in the Hebrew Bible]. This makes up the two parts of Chronicles, and, according to tradition, it was Ezra himself who wrote it.”
Why rewrite the History of Israel? Because keeping stable an assertive ethical movement that demands social justice is extremely difficult. Repressive ruling elites (as happened in the case of Antiochus Epiphanes, then with the Romans, then with the Catholic Church's Holy Roman Empire, with the Protestant kings and electors, with the Zarist Empire, and finally with the Nazis), will perceive the movement as a threat, naturally because repressive ruling elites are against social justice. The long history of genocidal attacks against the Jewish people is more than sufficient demonstration of this point.
Now, when a movement like this is the victim of a terrorist attack, its members will be severely tempted to abandon their ethics. If this happens, the movement is dead, even if the members survive. How to preserve the ethical ideology of the movement in the face of terrorist attacks? Tell the members that to abandon ethics is to bring upon oneself the attacks of foreigners, and that only by becoming more ethical can peace be found again. This way, foreign attacks will be interpreted as a punishment from God from which only an increase in ethical behavior can deliver them. The consequence of this psychological orientation is that terrorist attacks will not weaken the ethics of the orthodox core of Judaism, but strengthen it, and this is how the world's only movement for social justice that is eternally stable was produced. Remarkable.
What the rewritten 'History of Israel' tells the Jews follows the model of the Torah itself, laid out with great clarity in its last book, the Book of Deuteronomy. In this book, the Jews are told that if ever they stray from their ethical path, the Lord will send foreigners to bring terrorist destruction on them. The list of predicted horrors is quite detailed and quite long, and moreover it will remind you vividly of the Nazi onslaught (see Deuteronomy 28.15-69; it is reproduced in the Meta-Interlude of The Crux of World History). So, in my hypothesis, the ‘historical’ books of the Hebrew Bible were rewritten by Ezra and Nehemiah so it would appear that the predictions of Deuteronomy had already come true in the experience of the Israelites, thus raising the prestige of the Torah. The brand new Torah that Ezra and Nehemiah were pushing the Israelites to follow was sold as the supposedly ancestral Israelite religion, and the Israelites themselves were represented in the new history as always having had great difficulty following it, thus bringing upon themselves, repeatedly, the Lord’s destruction. In this way, the founders of the Torah movement sought to scare the Jews into remaining ethical, come what may, for the benefit of humankind.
Naturally, this all produced a sharp contradiction in Jewish ideology, because the Jews simultaneously believe, based on the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, that God bestowed upon humans free will, which is an idea entirely incompatible with the view that God is in control of historical outcomes. But this has not been a special problem because people are perfectly capable of holding, simultaneously, completely contradictory ideas.
All of this is explained in detail, with a careful presentation of evidence, in the Meta-Interlude of The Crux of World History. The point for us here is that for many Jews, reading their books as literal history has made it quite difficult to take up arms in self-defense. It is perhaps high time that we recognized the logically obvious: A good God will not wantonly murder His Chosen people, and if He gives us free will He cannot be determining historical outcomes. The historical and archaeological evidence supports the view that reading the Hebrew Bible as literal history is an error, and once this has been accepted the above major contradictions will also disappear from Judaism, making it easier, moreover, for Jews to defend themselves. This will not mean that they have to sacrifice their ethics, because fighting in self-defense is not an ethical error. What is an ethical error, in my view, is allowing the innocent to be murdered, thus making things easier for the murderers, and causing more innocents to die in like fashion.
There is, finally, a Messianic fatalism subscribed to by many religious Jews that says God will determine history in the following way: send the Messiah in order to then establish a legitimate Jewish state. In other words, the creation of the State of Israel does not bring us closer to the coming of the Messiah, but the other way around: a legitimate Jewish state can only be created after the Messiah comes, and therefore, so long as he hasn't come, the present state of Israel is illegitimate and offensive to God: a sin. Out of this general perspective has emerged a tiny sect that, despite being tiny, is quite troublesome. You may remember a group of Orthodox Jews in Israel that recently supported the Holocaust denial conference organized by the Iranians: Neturei Karta. This organization does all sorts of ridiculous things to assist the enemies of the Jewish state.[28a]
Naturally, Neturei Karta is quite extreme, and does not represent a majority of Orthodox Jews. In fact, fierce Jewish patriots are easier to find among the Haredim -- the religious Jews -- and the news service run by religious Jews in Israel is the most patriotic: Israel National News. Moreover, it is religious Jews who are defending the strategic territories that Israel's secular government wants to give away to the terrorist enemies of the Jews. But the problem with Neturei Karta is not that their views are numerous but that they have tremendous propaganda value for the enemies of Israel: the spectacle of so-called ‘ultra-Orthodox’ Jews, however few, denouncing in public the state of Israel together with its terrorist enemies, is very harmful to the efforts of Jewish patriots to recruit sympathetic non-Jews to their cause, and it raises the prestige of antisemitic attacks against Israel. In addition, it contributes to the negative prejudices many secular Jews have about religious Jews, which in turn hurts Jewish unity and therefore Jewish self-defense.
The larger point is this: without Messianic Jewish fatalism as a tendency among Orthodox Jews, Neturei Karta would not have emerged. And the more generalized Orthodox uneasiness with the Jewish state so long as the Messiah has not arrived is not exactly conducive to a vigorous defense of the Jewish state and its boundaries.
The next piece in this series is:
Footnotes and Further Reading
 Shapira, A. 1992. Land and power: The Zionist resort to force 1881-1948. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 "How did
the 'Palestinian movement' emerge? The British sponsored it. Then the German
Nazis, and the US"; from UNDERSTANDING THE PALESTINIAN MOVEMENT, An HIR
series, in four parts; Historical and Investigative Research; 13 June 2006;
by Francisco Gil-White.
[2a] To learn about the British policy, consult:
[2aa] Supporters of the PLO have accused the Irgunists of having been terrorists themselves but the historical documentation shows this to be a slander. Consult:
[2ab] To read documentation on how the Zionist Jews acquired their lands in the Middle East, visit:
[2b] Hecht, Ben. 1999 . Perfidy. Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House. (p.24)
[2bb] Shapira, A. 1992. Land and power: The Zionist resort to force 1881-1948. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press. (p.64)
 Carroll, J. 2001. Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (pp.261-62)
[3a] Hecht, Ben. 1999 . Perfidy. Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House. (pp.96, 164)
[4a] "The religion of peace?: What, exactly, is
'moderate Islam'?" from THE CULTURE OF ISLAM; Historical and
Investigative Research; 10 January 2007; by Francisco Gil-White.
[4b] "What is the problem with the Israeli ruling
elite? Is it stupidity? Or is it something else?"; THE PROBLEM OF JEWISH
SELF-DEFENSE An HIR series, in four parts; Historical and Investigative
Research; 12 September 2006; by Francisco Gil-White.
 The 1968 PLO Charter states the objectives of the PLO as follows. Article 9 says that “armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.” That’s worth chewing on for a second, because the PLO could have written the same thing like this: “it is required that Palestine be liberated in the act of killing people.” Killing which people? This is relatively obvious. Article 15 of the PLO Charter states that it is “a national duty to repulse the Zionist imperialist invasion from the great Arab homeland and to purge the Zionist presence from Palestine,” and article 22 declares that “the liberation of Palestine will liquidate the Zionist and imperialist presence.” In other words, the PLO, which organization asserts that ‘Palestine’ may be ‘liberated’ only in the act of killing people, explains that its goal is purging and liquidating -- that is to say, exterminating -- “Zionists.”
 Kenneth Levin writes:
For greater ease of comparison, this means that after Arafat’s PLO was brought inside Israel, the rate of terrorist murders against Israelis by ‘Palestinians’ was equal to 72 people per year. By contrast, before the PLO was brought in, the rate had been around 15 people per year. The Oslo process therefore immediately quintupled the ‘Palestinian’ terrorism against the Israelis.
 Boatwright, M. T., D. J. Gargola, and R. J. A. Talbert. 2004. The Romans: From village to empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (p.302).
 Shirer, W. L. 1960. The rise and fall of the Third Reich: A history of Nazi Germany. New York: Simon & Shuster. (p.230)
 The Romans (p.304).
 Sheldon, R. M. 1987. Tinker, tailor, Caesar, spy: Espionage in ancient Rome. Ph.D., University of Michigan. (p.163)
 Campbell, B. 1994. The Roman army, 31 BC - AD: A sourcebook. London and New York: Routledge. (p.38)
 Tinker, tailor, Caesar, spy (pp.161-62)
 Tinker, tailor, Caesar, spy (pp.162-63)
 Tinker, tailor, Caesar, spy (p.156).
 Tinker, tailor, Caesar, spy (pp.160-161)
 Tinker, tailor, Caesar, spy (p.162)
 Esler, P. F. 2000. "The Mediterranean context of early Christianity," in The early Christian world, vol. 1. Edited by P. F. Esler, pp. 3-25. London and New York: Routledge. (pp.12-13)
 Veyne, P. 1987. From pagan Rome to Byzantium. A history of private life. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. (p.55).
 The Romans (p.76).
 Isaac, B. 2004. The invention of racism in classical antiquity. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. (pp. 216-17)
 From pagan Rome to Byzantium (pp.52, 59, 61)
 Hopkins, K. 2004. "Conquerors and slaves: The impact of conquering an empire on the political economy of Italy," in Roman imperialism: Readings and sources. Edited by C. B. Champion, pp. 108-161. Bodmin, Cornwall: Blackwell. (p.112)
 Sheldon, R. M. 1993. The Spartacus rebellion: A Roman intelligence failure? International journal of intelligence and counterintelligence 6:69-84.
 Quoted in Hopkins (2004:154)
 “Many gentiles, both men and women, converted to Judaism during the last centuries bce and the first two centuries ce. Even more numerous, however, were those gentiles who accepted certain aspects of Judaism but did not convert to it. In polytheistic fashion they added the God of Israel to their pantheon and did not deny the pagan gods. Throughout the Roman empire various practices of Judaism found favor with large segments of the populace. In Rome many gentiles observed the Sabbath, the fasts, and the food laws; in Alexandria many gentiles observed the Jewish holidays; in Asia Minor many gentiles attended synagogue on the Sabbath… The phenomenon of [the so-called] ‘God-fearers’ implies… [that a]ncient Judaism was visible and open to outsiders. Gentiles were able to enter synagogues and witness the Jewish observances. Josephus insists that Judaism has no mysteries, no secrets that it keeps hidden from curious observers (Against Apion 2.8, & 107). This claim is not entirely true, but it is essentially correct.”
SOURCE: Cohen, S. J. D. 1987. From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. (pp.55-56)
 Quoted in the fourth century Roman author Augustine of Hippo’s City of God (6.11).
[27a] Quoted in: Slingerland, D. 1997. Claudian policymaking and the early imperial repression of Judaism at Rome. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press. (pp.62-63)
 “When any of you sin in that you have heard a public adjuration to testify and -- though able to testify as one who has seen or learned of the matter -- you do not speak up, you are subject to punishment... When you realize your guilt...you shall confess the sin that you have committed. And you shall bring to the Lord as your penalty for the sin that you have committed, a female from the flock, a sheep or a goat, as a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for your sin.” -- Leviticus (5.1-6)
“He shall remove all its fat..., and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar for a pleasing odor to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf, and you shall be forgiven.” -- Leviticus (4.31)
“The priest who offers [the victim] as a sin offering shall eat of it; it shall be eaten in a holy place, in the court of the tent of meeting.” -- Leviticus (6.26)
[28a] Consider the following behaviors of Neturei Karta, and their justifications (this was 1994, when the so-called Oslo 'Peace' Process was being jump-started). No matter when the Messiah comes and what he does, it is quite impossible for me to imagine that he will approve of Neturei Karta.
Gaza Journal; Rabbi on the Messiah's Team, and Now Arafat's, The New York Times, August 20, 1994, Saturday, Late Edition - Final, Rabbi Moshe Hirsh, Section 1; Page 2; Column 1; Foreign Desk , 950 words, By CHRIS HEDGES, Special to The New York Times , GAZA, Aug. 14
Rabbi Moshe Hirsh, the only Jew in Yasir Arafat's
Palestinian government, believes he is charged with a divine mission in this
era of peace and reconciliation.
 Said during the Catholic Mass.
[29a] Cohen, S. J. D. 1987. From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.
 Asimov, I.
1971. The land of Canaan. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. (p.151)
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