T O P I C
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
IT DIDN’T JUST START WITH HITLER
PRESCRIPTION FOR SURVIVAL
PRESCRIPTION FOR SURVIVAL
(Program Note to
'The Indestructible Jews'
Max I Dimont, 1971
IT HAPPENED ONLY ONCE IN HISTORY!
‘Jews, God and History’
Max I Dimont, 1994
THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Max I Dimont, 1984
THE PEOPLE THAT WOULD NOT DIE
THE ROAD BACK
THE AGE OF HEROISM
TOUCH OF THE FUTURE
Jewish history consists of a unique series of events—accidental or purposive—which have had the practical effect of preserving the Jews as Jews in an “exile” to fulfill their avowed mission of ushering in a brotherhood of man. Whether this mission was initiated by God or retroactively attributed to God by the Jews themselves in no way alters our thesis of a Jewish manifest destiny. We contend that this exile is not a punishment for sins, but a key factor in Jewish survival. Instead of having doomed the Jews to extinction, it funneled them into freedom.
The unique flow of the Jewish saga is often lost sight of because it is obscured by the artificial plateaus of history known as ancient, medieval, and modern. But if we were to view history as the ebb and flow of civilizations shaped by the clash of ideas, rather than see it as the rise and fall of empires shaped by fortunes of war, we would perceive a more meaningful unfolding of Jewish destiny. To behold such a total panorama of Jewish history as it flows within the context of world history, let us step outside the usual chronological anchorage of events and survey the past from a different frame of reference.
From this new vantage point, we will behold world history not as a succession of dynasties but as tidal waves of civilizations. We will see the Akkadian-Sumerian city-states and the Egyptian kingdom sweep in on the shores of the planet Earth, followed by the emergence of the Baby-lonian and Assyrian empires. These in turn are inundated by the Persian tidal wave of success. Persia is washed away by the Greek idea, and the Greeks are then engulfed by the legions of Rome. Next, the Byzantine and Islamic civilizations flood over the shores of history, and feudalism rises in Europe. Finally, we will see the Modern Age wade in on the stilts of capitalism and industrialism.
But where are the Jews? We have raced through 5,000 years of history and not beheld a single one. We know they are there, somewhere, so we look again, more closely this time, and we do see them, but in a most peculiar position. They are riding cultural surfboards on the crests of these tidal waves, precariously bobbing up and down with the rising and falling fortunes of these civilizations.
If we focus the lens of history on this phenomenon, we behold another unique sight. After the flow of a civilization has reached its high point, we see it slowly ebb and ultimately sink into the depths of historical oblivion. And we see the Jews in that civilization go down with it. But whereas each sunken civilization remains submerged, the Jews emerge time and again from seeming doom, riding the crest of a new civilization rolling in where the old one once flowed.
We see the Jews make their first appearance in history in the Babylonian world, about 2000 b.c. When the Babylonian state disappears, the Jews make their entry in the Persian Empire. As the Persian world disintegrates, they announce their debut in the Hellenic drawing room. When Rome conquers the “world,” they settle in western Europe, helping the Romans carry the banners of business enterprise into barbaric Gaul. When the star of Islam rises, the Jews rise with it to a golden age of intellectual creativity. When feudalism settles over Europe, they open shop as its bankers and scholars. And when the Modem Age struts in, we find them sitting on the architectural staff shaping it.
What can we make of these events? Are they mere accidents of history? Are they but meaningless facts, a series of causes and effects without a definite design? Or does this improbable succession of events have a predetermined purpose? If so, who drafted such a blueprint? God? Or the Jews themselves?
The answer depends not only on faith but on how one views history. Voltaire, representing the rationalist view, saw history as “little else than a picture of human crimes and misfortunes.” Jews, representing the humanistic view, attempted to invest history with a moral purposiveness. Therefore it was not survival for its own sake that guided them through the obstacle course of their history. They never jettisoned their ideology even in the hour of peril. What the Jews themselves have thought of their destiny has shaped their history more profoundly than did events. And in the end their unique way of thinking about themselves produced three pronounced and fundamental differences between Jewish history and the history of other peoples.
First, there have been twenty to thirty civilized societies in the history of mankind, the number depending on how one defines a civilization. The usual life span of a civilization as a culture-producing entity has been 500 to 1,000 years. Then the civilization has either stagnated or disintegrated. The Jews are seemingly the only exception to this “rule.”
Second, the moment a people lost its country through war or some other calamity, that people either disappeared as an ethnic entity or regressed into a meaningless existence. The Jews, however, though conquered time and again, though exiled from their homeland, did not die out. Against the odds of history, they survived for 2,000 years without a country of their own.
Finally, no people except the Jews has ever managed to create a culture in exile. The Jews, however, in exile created not just one but six different cultures, one in each of the six major civilizations within which their history flowed.
When we stated that the normal life span of a civilization is but 500 to 1,000 years, we were not speaking of survival in a biological sense. In such a sense, the modern Greeks are the descendants of Homer’s heroes just as much as the modern Jews are the descendants of the biblical Abraham. We are referring to the continuity of those ideas that spark a culture. When that continuity is disrupted, the culture dies. In such a sense, the Greeks today are no longer of a dramatist, it has bequeathed us a sixteenth-century Jewish kabalist, a mystic philosopher named Isaac Luria, whose ideas constitute a perfect outline for such a drama.
Facts about Luria are meager. Born in Jerusalem in 1534, and educated in Egypt, he was buried in Palestine in 1572. According to pious legends, Luria immersed himself in the Kabala at the age of six, acquiring his kabalistic wisdom in cheerless, bleak, one-room schools, which today would be considered unfit for the culturally deprived. His learning soon earned him a reputation as a saint. But Luria lived the life of an ascetic on weekdays only. On the Sabbath he came home to his wife, and sired a brood of children.
Like Jesus, Luria wrote nothing down; he merely taught. Just as we have to depend on Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John for what Jesus said, so we have to depend on the disciples of Luria for what he said. The kabalistic teachings by Luria’s apostles made a tremendous impact not only on Jewish life but on Christian thought.
Luria, according to his disciples, developed a remarkable theory of the evolution of mind, matter, and history—a philosophy of the exile and the redemption of man that can be interpreted on many levels. Stripped of its metaphysical language, Luria states that all matter, thought, and human experience pass through three stages, or cycles.
The first stage Luria called the tzimtzum, the “contraction,” that is, the “thesis” of history, or, the “statement.” This first stage is a cosmic drama that ushers in world history and the special role of the Jews. Here Luria saw a twofold action taking place. As God brings all the dissident elements of Jewish history into a thesis of world history, God also simultaneously withdraws Himself from that which he has created and retreats into an exile within Himself.
The second stage, Luria called shevirat ha’keilim, the “breaking of the vessels.” This would be the “antithesis,” that is, the “counter-statement.” In this phase, everything that had been brought together in the first stage is shattered, and the Jews are strewn as “exiled lights” over the face of the earth. Now both Jews and God are in “exile.” This second stage is a “cosmological drama that determines man’s place in it.”1
The third stage Luria called the tikkun, the “restoration.” Again, in Hegelian terminology this would be the “synthesis,” the joining of the statement and the counterstatement into a new, higher concept. In this stage, all that was shattered in the second is unified into a new, greater, and final totality. “The process of tikkun . . . corresponds to the process of mundane history. The meta- historical process and . . . the religious act of the Jews, prepare the way for the final restitution of all the scattered and exiled lights. The redemption of Israel concludes the redemption of all things.”2
We propose, in this book, to present the idea of Jewish history dramatically, by transposing Luria’s three stages into three acts, each act 2,000 years long. We shall fit the 4,000-year history of the Jews into the first two acts. Then we will permit ourselves to speculate about Jewish and world destiny in the subsequent 2,000 years—the third act.
Our first act, extending in time from Abraham to Jesus, will serve to prepare the Jews emotionally and intellectually for survival in a Diaspora. Our second act, extending in time from Jesus to Ben-Gurion, will show the Jews strewn as “exiled lights” throughout the Diaspora in order to accomplish their mission. Our third act, extending in time from Ben-Gurion to 2,000 years into the future, will usher in the final accomplishment of the Jews—the messianic age of man on earth.
The first 2,000 years of Jewish history that comprise our first act will proceed like a Greek predestination drama, with God seemingly the author and divine director. But whereas in a Greek predestination drama the characters are not aware of their ultimate destiny as they are pathetically driven toward it by remorseless gods, the participants in our Jewish predestination drama are told in advance what their roles are to be. Stoically, heroically, they act out these roles, even when aware of an ultimate tragedy awaiting them personally, always believing firmly in the grandeur of the final destiny of the Jews themselves.
The ideas contained in the first act profoundly affect not only Jewish history but world history. These ideas successively shape Jewish character and Jewish destiny. They free the Jews from time and space, train them for world citizenship, and shape them for survival in their great exile in the first century CE. Though the people in this first act are insignificant in numbers, they cast a giant shadow before them. Our stage is the world, and our audience its inhabitants.
IT HAPPENED ONLY ONCE IN HISTORY!
A streamlined review of the four thousand years and the six civilizations which have cradled the Jewish people, examining some of the perverse factors in one of history’s most illogical survivals—that of a nation which has proclaimed itself God’s Chosen People, and almost has the world convinced of it.
Jews, God and History
(Revised and Updated Edition)
Max I Dimont, 1994
There are nearly five and a half billion people on this earth, of whom less than eighteen million—less than one third of one percent—are classified as Jews. Statistically, they should hardly be heard of, like the Ainu tucked away in a comer of Asia, bystanders of history. But the Jews are heard of totally out of proportion to their small numbers. The Jewish contribution to the world’s list of great names in religion, science, literature, music, finance, and philosophy is staggering.
The period of greatness of ancient Greece lasted five hundred years. Then that nation lapsed into a people of herdsmen, never again to regain its former glory. Not so with the Jews. Their creative period extends through their entire four- thousand-year history. Their contributions have been absorbed by both East and West, though neither is always aware of it or willing to admit the debt if made aware of it.
From this people sprang Jesus Christ, acclaimed Son of God by more than 850 million Christians, the largest religious body in the world. From this people came Paul, organizer of the Christian Church. The religion of the Jews influenced the Mohammedan faith, second-largest religious organization in the world, with over 400 million adherents claiming descent from Abraham and Ishmael. The Mormons say they are the descendants of the tribes of Israel.
Another Jew is venerated by more than one billion people. He is Karl Marx, whose book Das Kapital is the secular gospel of Communists the world over, with Marx himself enshrined in Russia and China. Albert Einstein, the Jewish mathematician, ushered in the atomic age and opened a path to the moon with his theoretical physics. A Jewish psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, lifted the lid of man’s mind. His discovery of psychoanalysis revolutionized man’s concept of himself and the relation of mind to matter. Three hundred years earlier, a Jewish philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, pried philosophy loose from mysticism, opening a path to rationalism and modem science.
Through the ages, the Jews successively introduced such concepts as prayer, church, redemption, universal education, charity—and did so hundreds of years before the rest of the world was ready to accept them. And yet, up until 1948, for close to three thousand years, the Jews did not even have a country of their own. They dwelt among the Babylonians, lived in the Hellenic world, stood at the bier of the Roman Empire, flourished in the Mohammedan civilization, emerged from a twelve-hundred-year darkness known as the Middle Ages, and rose to new intellectual heights in modem times.
Great nations of the pagan era which appeared at the same time the Jews did have totally disappeared. The Babylonians, the Persians, the Phoenicians, the Hittites, the Philistines—all have vanished from the face of the earth, after once having been great and mighty powers. The Chinese, Hindu, and Egyptian peoples are the only ones living today who are as old as the Jewish people. But these three civilizations had only one main cultural period, and their impact on succeeding civilizations has not been great. They contained neither the seeds for their own rebirth nor the seeds for the birth of other civilizations. Unlike the Jews, they were not driven out of their countries, nor did they face the problem of survival in alien lands. The Greeks and the Romans are the only other nations which have influenced the history of Western man as profoundly as the Jews. But the people who now dwell in Greece and Italy are not the same as those who dwelt in ancient Hellas and Rome.
Thus, there are three elements in Jewish survival which make the history of this people different from that of all other people. They have had a continuous living history for four thousand years and have been an intellectual and spiritual force for three thousand years. They survived three thousand years without a country of their own, yet preserved their ethnic identity among alien cultures. They have expressed their ideas not only in their own language, but in practically all the major languages of the world.
Little is generally known of the extent of Jewish writings m every field of human thought. The reason for this is not hard to find. To read French, German, or English literature or science one needs only to know French, German, or English. To read Jewish literature and science one has to know not only Hebrew and Yiddish, but also Aramaic, Arabic, Latin, Greek and virtually every modern European language.
All civilizations we know about have left a record of their history in material things. We know them through tablets or ruins dug up by archaeologists. But we know of the Jews in ancient times mostly from the ideas they taught and the impact which these ideas had upon other people and other civilizations. There are few Jewish tablets to tell of battles and few Jewish ruins to tell of former splendor. The paradox is that those people who left only monuments behind as a record of their existence have vanished with time, whereas the Jews, who left ideas, have survived.
World history has hurled six challenges at the Jews, each a threat to their very survival. The Jews rose to each challenge and lived to meet the next.
The pagan world was the first challenge to Jewish survival. The Jews were a small band of nomads, stage extras among such mighty nations as Babylonia, Assyria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Persia. How did they manage to survive as a cultural group during this seventeen-hundred-year span of their history, when all these great nations clashed and annihilated one another? During this period the Jews came perilously close to disappearing. What saved them were the ideas with which they responded to each of the dangers encountered.
Having survived seventeen hundred years of wandering, enslavement, decimation in battle, and exile, the Jews returned to their homeland only to run into the Greco-Roman period of their history. This was their second challenge, and it was a miracle that the Jews emerged from it at all. Everything Hellas touched during those magic years of her greatness became Hellenized, including her conquerors, the Romans. Greek religion, art, and literature; Roman legions, law, and government—all left an indelible stamp on the entire civilized world. But when the Roman legions were defeated, this culture collapsed and died. The nations which were subjugated first by Greece and then by Rome disappeared. New nations took their place by force of arms. The Jews however remained, not by the might of their arms but by the might of their cohesive ideas.
The third challenge to the Jews came about through a phenomenon which is unique and unparalleled in history. Two Judaisms had been created, one in Palestine, the other in Diaspora, a word from the Greek meaning a “scattering,” or “scatter about,” and signifying that body of Jews scattered about in the gentile world outside Palestine. From the time of the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem by the Babylonians in the sixth century b.c. to the time of the liberation of the Jews from the ghettos in the nineteenth century a.d. was the era of the fragmentation of the Jewish people into small groupings, dispersed over tremendous land areas and among the most divergent cultures. How could the Jews be kept from assimilation and absorption into the sea of alien people around them?
The Jews met this challenge with the creation of a religious-legal code—the Talmud—which served as a unifying force and a spiritual rallying point. This was the “Talmudic Age” in Jewish history, when the Talmud almost invisibly ruled the Jews for close to fifteen hundred years.
In the seventh century, Judaism gave birth to yet another religion—Islam, founded by Mohammed—and this was its fourth challenge. Within a hundred years the Mohammedan Empire rose to challenge Western civilization. Yet, within this religion, whose adherents hated Christianity with an unrelenting hatred, the Jews not only survived but rose to one of their greatest literary, scientific, and intellectual peaks. The Jew in this age became statesman, philosopher, physician, scientist, tradesman, and cosmopolitan capitalist. Arabic became his mother tongue. This era also saw the philandering Jew. He not only wrote on religion and philosophy, but also rhapsodized about love. Seven hundred years passed and the pendulum swung. The Islamic world crumbled and the Jewish culture in the Islamic world crumbled with it.
The fifth challenge was the Middle Ages, and this period was a dark one for both Jew and Western man. It was a twelve-hundred-year fight by the Jews against extinction. All non-Christian nations which were defeated in the name of the Cross were converted to the Cross, except the Jews. Yet the Jews emerged from this twelve-hundred-year dark age spiritually and culturally alive. The ideas their great men had given them had been tested and found workable. When the walls of the ghetto fell, it did not take the Jews more than one generation to become part of the warp and woof of Western civilisazion. Within one generation, and within the shadow of the ghetto, they became prime ministers, captains ol industry, military leaders, and charter members in an intellectual avant-garde which was to reshape the thinking of Europe.
The sixth challenge is the Modem Age itself. The appearance of nationalism, industrialism, communism, and fascism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has held special challenges for the Jews, in addition to a new, virulent disease of the Western mind—anti-Semitism. New responses for survival have had to be forged to meet these new challenges. Whether these responses will be adequate, only the future will tell.
We see, then, that Jewish history unfolds not within one but within six civilizations. This contradicts many schools of history, which hold that this is an impossibility since, like a human being, a civilization has only one life span, usually lasting five hundred years, but no longer than a thousand years. Yet, as we have seen, the Jews have lasted four thousand years, have had six cultures in six alien civilizations, and most likely will have a seventh. How can we reconcile fact and theory?
There are eight basic ways of viewing history, each from a different vantage point. Generally, a historian selects a face of history to his liking, thus stressing the viewpoint which seems best to him. We will make use of all of these faces of history except the first one, the “unhistoric” or “Henry Ford” way. It was Ford who once declared that “history is bunk,” and that if he wanted to know anything he could always hire a professor who would tell him. This view sees all events as unrelated occurrences, a mishmash of dates, names, and battles, from which nothing can be learned or divined.
The second way of looking at history might be termed the “political interpretation.” Here, history is looked upon as a succession of dynasties, laws, battles. Kings are strong or weak, wars won or lost, laws good or bad, and all events are presented in neat order from A to Z, from 2000 b.c. to 2000 a.d. This, as a rule, is the type of history taught in schools.
A third face is the geographic one. According to this school, climate and soil determine formation of character. This idea originated with the Greeks. Even today there are many who contend that the only scientific way to explain man’s social institutions is to study his physical environment, such as topography, soil, climate. This is a rather difficult theory to apply to the Jews. They have lived in practically every climate, yet managed to retain a common ethnic identity and culture. This is evident in Israel today, where Jewish exiles from all over the world—Arabia, North Africa, Europe, America—within a short time were fused into one people. It cannot be denied, though, that geographic factors have changed or modified many traits and behavior patterns of the Jews.
The fourth way to interpret history is an economic one. This is the Marxian school. It says that history is determined by the way goods are produced. Let us suppose, says the Marxist, that the economy of a feudal system is being changed to capitalism. This new capitalistic mode of production, says the Marxist, will change that country’s social institutions—its religion, ethics, morals, and values, in order to justify and sanctify and institutionalize the new way of economic life. In the same way, if a capitalist country were transformed into a communist society, it would automatically begin to change its cultural and social institutions to conform with the new way of producing things until the new way of life became part of everyday behavior.
The fifth is an even newer concept than the economic interpretation of history. Founded by Professor Sigmund Freud at the beginning of the twentieth century, this school holds that social institutions and human history are the result of a process of repressing unconscious hostilities. Civilization, says the psychoanalytic historian, can be obtained only at the price of giving up the lusts that lurk in our unconscious—unbridled sexual gratification, murder, incest, sadism, violence. Only when man has mastered his impulses can he turn his energies into creative, civilizing channels. Which impulses man represses, how severely he represses them, and what methods he uses for this repression will determine his culture and his art forms, says the psychoanalyst.
The sixth face is the philosophical one. Its three most famous followers are the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the Prussian philosopher-historian Oswald Spengler, and the British historian Arnold Toynbee. Though these three philosophical interpreters of history differ widely, they have this in common: They see history not as ;i series of isolated happenings, but as a flow of events having continuity. Each civilization, they hold, follows a more or less predictable pattern. They think of each civilization as a living thing, which, like a human being, has an infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity, old age, and finally death. How long a civilization lasts, they say, depends upon the ideas and ideals by which that civilization lives. The philosophical interpreters of history try to discover these forces within all civilizations in order to find their common element.
In Spengler’s view, civilizations are foredoomed to death. Civilizations go through the spring of early origins, mature into the summer of their greatest physical achievement, grow into the autumn of great intellectual heights, decline into the winter of their civilization, and finally die. Writing in 1918, when England was at the height of her prestige, and Russia and China but fifth-rate powers, Spengler predicted in his book The Decline of the West that Western civilization was in the winter of its cycle and would die by the twenty- third century, to be superseded either by a Slavic civilization (Russia) or by a Sinic one (China), which were in the spring of their development. This way of viewing history is known as “cyclic,” because each civilization has its own beginning, middle, and end.
In contrast to the cyclic view, we have Toynbee’s “linear” concept, as expressed in his Study of History. Toynbee holds that a civilization is not an independent totality but a progression—an evolution—from lower to higher forms. So, for instance, in his view the Islamic civilization was derived from lower Iranic and Arabic cultures, which in turn were given birth by something he calls “Syriac society.” Thus, the Islamic civilization need not have died, Toynbee holds, but could have evolved into an even higher culture had it responded properly to the challenges hurled at it in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In the Toynbee philosophy, civilizations can go on eternally if they continue to meet new challenges with the right responses.
Since the history of the Jews did not fit into either Spengler’s or Toynbee’s system, Spengler ignored it and Toynbee reduced it to an occasional footnote, describing the Jews as fossils of history. Yet, if both Spengler and Toynbee had been less blinded by prejudice and misconceptions about Jewish history, they could well have fitted it within the framework of their philosophies. In this book, we shall use their theories to explain this seemingly “impossible” Jewish survival.
The “cult of personality” is the seventh face of history. Proponents of this school hold that events are motivated by the dynamic force of great men. If not for Washington, they say, there would have been no American Revolution; if not for Robespierre, there would have been no French Revolution; if not for Lenin, there would have been no Russian Revolution. Men create the events, claim these historians, in contrast to the economic interpreters who insist on the exact opposite, that events create the men.
The eighth face of history, the religious, is both the oldest and newest concept. The Bible is the best example of this type of historical writing in the past. This way of viewing history looks upon events as a struggle between good and evil, between morality and immorality. Most Jewish history, until recent times, has been written from this viewpoint.
The religious way of writing history has become discrediled in modern times. But it has been resurrected by a new genre of writers known as “existential theologians,” such as the Roman Catholic Jacques Maritain, the Russian Orthodox Catholic Nikolai Berdyaev, the Protestant Paul Tillich, and ilie Jewish Martin Buber. In essence, these existential theologians hold that though God may not interfere directly in the shaping of history, it is the relationship which man thinks exists between him and God that does shape history. We are so obsessed today by the notion that only “scientific facts” have validity, we are inclined to forget that people holding “unscientific,” unprovable ideas may determine the course of history more often than do rational facts.
This is especially true in the case of the Jews. Martin Huber holds that the central theme running through their history is the relation between the Jew and his God, Jehovah. In the Jewish religious view of history, God has given man freedom of action. Man, as conceived by the Jewish existentialists, has the power to turn to God or away from God. He can act either for God or against God. What happens between God and man is history. In the Jewish way of looking at things, success in an undertaking, for instance, is not viewed as blessed by God. A man may arrive at power because he was unscrupulous, not because God aided him. This leaves God free to hold man accountable for his actions—both successes and failures.
This man-God relationship was responsible for the great gulf in thinking which began to separate the Jews from the rest of the pagan world four thousand years ago. The pagan idea of god tied man to his gods. The Jewish concept of man’s relation to God freed the Jews for independent action. Western man, in fact, did not arrive at this idea of religious freedom until the Reformation, when Martin Luther rejected the Papacy and changed the man - God relationship to one approximating that of the Jews. Luther then invited the Jews to join Protestantism, because he believed there now was no gulf between Judaism and Christianity.* There is not a single “concrete fact” in this series of events, only men holding “unscientific ideas”; yet we can see how decisive were these unprovable ideas for the course of world history.
The circle is complete. Beginning with God as the Creator of history, man invented other explanations—an anarchic one viewing history as a series of blind events, a philosophic one looking at history as a series of purposive events, an economic one holding productive methods as a determinant force, a psychological one giving priority to unconscious drives, a “great man” theory hewing to the idea of man himself as the creator of his historic destiny, and, fnally, back to God at the helm.
In this book we shall view Jewish history from all vantage points, without stopping to debate the merits or demerits of theological disputes. Whether true or not, men have always believed in “unscientific concepts,” and these beliefs often are the real “facts” which shape their destiny. This author holds with the psychoanalytic, philosophical, and existentialist interpreters of history, that ideas motivate man and that it is these ideas which create history. A society without ideas has no history. It merely exists.
For an analysis of the meaning of man’s freedom from God and self accountability, the interested reader is referred to Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom.
THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
Max I Dimont, 1984
The People That Would Not Die
On the face of a precipitous rock rising, 1,700 feet into the sky, the scribes of Darius I, King of Persia, 2,500 years ago, chiseled this message:
“I am Darius, King of kings, King of Persia, King of Babylonia, Assyria,. Arabia, Egypt. . . ”
The inscription went on to list the twenty-three countries he had vanquished, and ended with this prediction:
My empire will endure forever and ever.”
Darius should never have gone into the prediction business. The Persian Empire lasted only two hundred years. It was smashed by Alexander the Great of Macedonia.
Darius however, had not invented the custom of predicting eternal life for one’s own empire. There were many precedents. Two thousand before him, another king, Sargon the Great, united the Akkadian and Sumerian city-states into the world’s first empire (around 3,500BCE calling himself “King of Universal Dominion,” he too predicted his empire would last forever. It lasted only a century and then was devastated by barbarian invaders. Other kings after Darius proclaimed the same. But their empires, too, disintegrated.
Along with these empires, the people who had founded them vanished also—the Hittites, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans. Although the people who now live in the countries called Egypt and Greece still call themselves Egyptians and Greeks, they are so in name only. They are no longer the same ethnic people who had lived there in ancient times. They no longer have the same religion, the same language, or the same traditions.
There is, however, one exception. There still exists one people that lived at the same time as all these ancient empires, a people that still has the same religion, the same language, the same ethnic unity it had 4,000 years ago when it started out in history. This people is still as mentally alert and alive today as it was then, and yet more modern than ever. It is the Jews.
The Jews helped build cities in Egypt, witnessed the rise of the Assyrians to world dominance, beheld the resurgence of the Babylonians and the destruction of Nineveh. They were scribes and cupbearers to the kings of Persia. They were on hand to greet Alexander the Great when he passed through Jerusalem on his way to conquer the world. They saw the Greek civilization succumb to the legions of Rome, and stood at the bier of Julius Caesar.
Through the centuries, and against all odds, the Jews survived. They survived the fall of the Roman empire. They survived Muslim rule as mathematicians, poets, and scientists; they survived the feudal experience as scholars, businessmen, and ghetto tenants. And, after surviving the Modern Age as statesmen, avant-garde intellectuals and concentration camp victims, a small segment of the dispersed Jews returned, after a 2,000-year absence, to Palestine to reestablish the State of Israel.
Incredible, yet true.
Who are the Jews, and where did they come from? How were they able to survive where others perished? What gave them the ability to endure?
It was not survival for its own sake that guided Jewish history. Whereas the French philosopher Voltaire saw history as “little else than a picture of human crimes and misfortunes,” the Jews invested history with a moral purpose. They were forever mindful of the warning in the Torah that “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). That vision was their life raft for survival.
The saga of the Jewish people is a fantastic adventure story. It is the story of a people in quest of the Promised Land. It is the biography of a people whose ideas conquered men’s minds and toppled empires. It is the saga of a people that produced great warrior kings, prophets, messiahs, philosophers, and social reformers whose collective ideas influenced the world without making them its master.
To tell this 4,000-year story of triumph and grandeur, comedy and tragedy, as the Jews marched through four continents and six civilizations ... in four millennia, we will take advantage of many viewpoints. We will not however, debate the merits and demerits of different religious interpretations, for all are equally valid in Jewish history.
The Road Back
In 1897 in Basel, Switzerland, the delegates to the first Zionist convention rose to give Theodor Herzl a standing ovation. He had called the convention and proposed that the Jews return to Palestine to establish an independent Jewish homeland.
That evening Herzl wrote in his diary, “In Basel I founded the Jewish state.... Maybe in five years, certainly in fifty, everybody will recognize it.”
Herzl was wrong. It took fifty-one years.
But who was Theodor Herzl?
An event in Paris in 1893 catapulted Theodor Herzl on to the Jewish scene. It began with an aristocratic scoundrel named Ferdinand Esterhazy, a major in the French army who lived above his means. To supplement his income, he sold French military secrets to the Germans. Suspicion settled on a Captain Alfred Dreyfus because he was the only Jew on the French general staff. To its horror, the general staff discovered that Esterhazy, not Dreyfus, was the traitor. But how could they accuse a French aristocrat and career officer of espionage? It seemed too absurd. To guard itself against such an absurdity, an army court sentenced Dreyfus to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. There he would have rotted away but for a Catholic colonel named Georges Picquart who stumbled upon the truth. At the risk of his own career, Colonel Picquart went public with his findings.
A nationwide crisis erupted. France was divided into two camps— those for Dreyfus who demanded justice, and those against Dryfus who demanded death to all Jews as traitors. The hysteria grew, and wild street- fights developed.
Into the fracas stepped a world-famed French novelist named Emile Zola, who published a pamphlet entitled J’Accuse. In it he openly charged the French government with a frame-up of Dreyfus. Esterhazy confessed;
Dreyfus was exonerated, promoted to major, and given the Legion of Honor.
The story of Dreyfus himself is unimportant to Jewish history; what is important is that with the Dreyfus affair, political Zionism was born. Its founder, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), was not the kind of messiah pious Jews had envisaged would lead them back to Zion.
Theodor Herzl, handsome and aristocratic, was born in Budapest, the son of a rich, partly-assimilated Jewish family. Admitted to the bar in Vienna, Herzl gave up law for a career in journalism. Sent by his newspaper to Paris to cover the Dreyfus affair, he threw himself into the fight to free the captain. Herzl, who at one time had toyed with the idea of converting to Christianity, was shocked into Jewishness when he heard the* mob in the streets shout, “Death to the Jews!”
Almost overnight Herzl became the prophet of Zionism. In a short time he hammered out The Jewish State, the book that shook the Jewish world. He wrote: “The Jews who wish it, will have their own state. Wt shall at last live like free men on our own soil, die peacefully in our own beds. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness.”
The coming Zionist revolution had been sparked.
Herzl was a prophet in a hurry. He had no time for intellectiml debates. He offered the Jews freedom, not in stages but in one daring stroke. He held out to them the image of the proud people they had otn i been; he had no place for the derided ghetto Jew. And the people loved him for it and shouted, “Long live Herzl, the king!” They wanted a men siah not in rags but in morning coat and striped trousers. They had laid enough of rags in the ghetto.
Any sane man could have said in 1897 that Herzl was a nut, that his ideas would never succeed. They also could and did tick off a long list of “why not.” There were only thirty-five thousand Jews in all Palestine the country was a swampy, malaria-ridden wasteland; Hebrew had not been a spoken language for 1,700 years—one could not even ask for a cup of coffee in it. Besides, Palestine belonged to the Ottoman empire and who was going to fight the Turks for the Jews?
The trouble with people of little faith is that they have no idea of the power of faith. It was faith in the Zionist idea that motivated Jews from all over the world to settle in the Palestine of the Ottoman empire. They drained the swamps, ended malaria, and turned Palestine once again into a land of milk and honey.
A fanatic named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda went to Palestine and single handedly shaped biblical Hebrew into a modern Hebrew so you could ask for “a cup of coffee with croissants, please” in that language.
Two more fanatics—a Jew named Vladimir Jabotinsky, a bohemian Russian drama critic, who had been thrown out of Odessa for abusing the police chief; and a Christian named Orde Wingate, a British (future) Major General born with Old Testament prophecy in his bones—organized the Jews in Palestine into fighting units.
And finally, in 1917, a British peer, Lord Arthur James Balfour, issued a document bearing his name which declared: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
Thus, a mere twenty years after the first Zionist congress in Basel, there existed a framework for a future independent Jewish state.
The guiding hand behind Lord Balfour and the Balfour Declaration was that of aristocratic Chaim Weizmann (1875-1952), a passionate Zionist and renowned chemist. Born in an obscure plot of mud named Mote near Minsk in Russia, Weizmann was educated in Talmudics in the Pale and in science at Swiss and German universities. In 1904 he was appointed lecturer in biological chemistry at the Manchester University in England, in 1916 he was named director of the British Admiralty chemical laboratories. It was here he made the momentous discovery that helped England win World War I.
German submarines were sinking boats carrying Chilean nitrates to England, desperately needed as a source of explosives. Weizmann found a way of producing acetone, an essential ingredient in the synthetic manufacture of such explosives, and turned his discovery over to the British. This brought him in contact with the highest personages in the British ministry, giving him the opportunity to interest many members in the Zionist cause, including Lord Balfour. When the draft of the Balfour Declaration was shown to Weizmann, he exclaimed, “We can hear the steps of the messiah.”
The allies won World War I. The Ottoman empire surrendered, and Palestine was turned over to England as a mandate, consonant with the Balfour Declaration.
In the three decades of the mandate (1920-1948), the British showed their preference for the Arabs by doing their best to antagonize the Jews. In 1922, they partitioned Palestine in two, giving three-fourths of it— 30,000 square miles out of 48,000—to the Arabs who created the kingdom of Transjordan, later renamed Jordan. They ignored the recommendation of their own Peel commission (1938) to partition what remained of Palestine into an Arab and Jewish state. They tried to freeze the Jews into a minority status by restricting Jewish, but not Arab, immigration. The Arabs, instead of embracing the British with loyalty for these favors, betrayed them by joining the Nazis in World War II against the British. But when the Arabs realized that their Nazi comrades were losing the war, they promptly switched their allegiance back to the British.
The chemistry of the Jews had meanwhile changed. The statistics of the Holocaust had proven to them that the philosophy of accommodation no longer worked. This was the time to fight back. No more holocausts—German or Arab.
Zionist history was now ready for a man of action to infuse the torrent of events into the Jewish dream of an independent state. That man was David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), born in Plonsk, a dreary factory town in Poland. A rabid Zionist at age ten, he hitchhiked in 1906 to Palestine but was expelled by the Turks in 1915, as an Allied sympathizer.
In 1918, when Adolph Hitler was a corporal in the German army, Ben- Gurion was a corporal in the Jewish brigade of the British army.
Ben-Gurion, tough and single-minded, stated his creed in thoughts like hammer blows—unlimited immigration, creation of a Jewish army, the unification of Palestine into an independent Jewish state. His message sank into the Jewish consciousness. Instead of turning the other cheek, the Jews began returning violence with violence. Neither the British nor the Arabs liked it. They had been accustomed to docile Jews. It was so easy to deal with that kind. Now, to their dismay, they discovered—like the Nazis during the Warsaw uprising—that against armed Jews they were no longer supermen.
The Jews now openly defied the British white paper that forbade Jewish emigration to Palestine. Surviving Jews of Europe sailed their leaky boats to Palestine right under the guns of the British. Fire was met with fire. Especially feared by the Arabs and the British was the Irgun, a Jewish underground organization that returned a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye, and a hanging for a hanging. But unlike the future Arab terrorist organizations, the Irgun only attacked armed soldiers, not civilians.
Anarchy erupted. In 1947 the British threw up their hands and asked the United Nations to take over the mandate. The United Nations voted to partition Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. The Jews accepted The Arabs said “never,” and vowed to annihilate the new Jewish state tin moment the British withdrew.
Before we shift the lens of history from political to military events, let us first examine the dominant role also played by many American Jews in the establishment of the state of Israel. Among the many, tower thin Henrietta Szold (1860-1945), who brought American women into tin Zionist movement with startling results; Rabbi Stephen S. Wise (IM/4 1949), whose impassioned oratory swept the Zionist question into tin White House of President Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations and Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963), whose magnetic oratory took the Zionist question into the White House of President Harry S Truman and the United Nations.
Henrietta Szold, born in Baltimore, taught French, German mathematics, and botany for fifteen years years at a prestigious academy for girls in addition to teaching religion in her father’s synagogue. Visiting Palestine in 1909, she was enthralled by that country’s beauty but depressed by the misery of its people. Returning to the United States, she founded Hadassah which began organizing medical units of doctors and nurses to improve the health, medical care, and education of the people of Palestine. More than any other organization, Hadassah has been responsible for Israel’s hygienic, medical, and health standards which today equal or exceed the standards of even the most advanced Western nations.
Rabbi Stephen S. Wise was known as the “first apostle to the Gentiles” because he was the first American Jew to take the cause of Zionism to Christian audiences. He was a formidable orator who could whip an audience into a frenzy of enthusiasm. He was so influential that the British consulted him on the formulation of the Balfour Declaration text.
In coordination with Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jewish justice of the Supreme Court, Wise made Zionism American. Together they laid the Zionist cause on the desk of President Woodrow Wilson. As a result, Wise, in December 1918, with a delegation of Zionists appointed by the President, headed for the peace talks at Versailles. At San Remo, Italy, where the conference on the homeland for the Jews in Palestine was held, the American delegation won and the Balfour Declaration was upheld. If not for that conference, the Balfour Declaration would have been a scrap of worthless paper, for the British were having second thoughts about it, now that World War I was won.
An equally crucial test for American Jewish statesmanship came after World War II, when the British mandate had to be converted into an independent Jewish state. That was the cue for the entry of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, a towering personality and chief American architect of Zionist policy from World War II until the founding of the state of Israel.
Silver was a passionate Zionist for whom Zionism and Judaism were one. When he thundered his Zionist gospel, it was heard throughout the land, from synagogues to the White House. He was instrumental in the passage of congressional resolutions favoring the Zionist cause and reached the height of his career when, in 1947, he presented the case for an independent Jewish state to the United Nations. And he was prominent among those who influenced President Harry S. Truman’s decision to recognize the state of Israel.
Zionism had triumphed. Herzl had been vindicated. But now the mettle of the new state was to be tested on the battlefield.
The Age of Heroism
May 14, 1948, the world heard David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of the new state of Israel, declare its independence. On that day the British folded their tents, hauled down the Union Jack, and departed. And on that same day, five Arab armies invaded Israel.
The five wars that ensued could be compared to the succession of wars waged by Persia against Greece. But just as tiny Greece bested giant Persia, so tiny Israel—a country of but thirty thousand square miles with three million people—bested the giant Arab world with its combined land mass of 4,500,000 square miles and 120 million people. These five wars have been named the War of Independence (1948), the Sinai Campaign (1956), the Six Day War (1967), the Yom Kippur War (1973) and the Lebanese War (1982).
The first conflict, the War of Independence, had an air of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera. Commanding the five invading Arab armies was a spit and polish model of a British officer—Lieutenant eneral Sii John Bagot Glubb, Pascha, who issued a communiqué of victory before hostilities commenced.
The Arab high command gave a warning to the 650,000 Arabs in Israel to get out of the country in order to give the invading armies elbow room to annihilate the Jews, with the promise that they could return in a week to claim the homes and property of the slaughtered Jews. A half million Arabs heeded the call. Those Arabs who stayed became Israeli citizens; those who left became the future refugees.
At first things looked bleak for the new Jewish state. Egyptian forces struck through the Gaza Strip, Jordanians seized Old Jerusalem threatening to cut Israel in two, and the Syrians poured in from the Golan Heights. Israel reeled under the blows.Then a miracle occurred. From the memory of their history, the Jews armed themselves with the shield of King David and the sword of Bar Kochba. Sir John Bagot Glubb, Pascha, ran into a wall of steel and guts. In bold, swift counterstrokes, the invaders were driven back. Instead of annihilating Israel, the Egyptians and Jordanians annihilated the Palestinian-Arab state which the United Nations had created. Egypt annexed the Gaza Strip, and Jordan grabbed the West Bank, the two component parts of the United Nations-sponsored Palestinian state. The Arabs lost the war against Israel. General Sir John Bagot Glubb, Pascha, was dismissed by the Arabs and pensioned off by the British.
Though the United Nations did nothing to prevent Egypt and Jordan from destroying the Arab-Palestinian state, it did prevent Israel from winning the peace. Encouraged by this intervention on their behalf the Arab states refused to recognize Israel, and instead vowed a war of revenge.
Emboldened by help from Russia, Egypt in 1955 seized the Suez Canal from the French and British and, in 1956, Egypt poised her armies for a second strike at Israel.
Alert to the danger, Israel struck in the Gaza Strip and slashed across the Sinai. Within one hundred hours, Israel’s army was strung along the Suez Canal from Port Said to Sharm el-Sheikh, ready to march on Cairo.
Now the war entered its international phase. The British and the French, either independently or in concert with Israel, had ringed Port Said with warships, bombed the town, and occupied it. All seemed hopeless, when a miracle saved Egypt. The United States came to her aid.
Either fearful of an armed confrontation with Russia (as one version has it), or else irritated by the independent action of Jews, Frenchmen, and Englishmen (as another version goes), the United States pressured England and France into withdrawing their forces. Israel was left holding the bag.
The United States and Soviet Russia now pressured Israel to withdraw. And thus it came about that, instead of discussing peace, Egypt and her Arab allies prepared to fight a third time. Egypt demanded that the United Nations withdraw its peace-keeping forces so she could unleash the Egyptian tiger on Israel. The United Nations obliged.
On June 5, 1967, an Arab force of 650,000 men; 2,700 tanks; and 1,090 aircraft was unleashed against Israel. In six days it was all over. But instead of the smile being on the face of the Egyptian tiger it was on the faces of the Israeli victors. The world was stunned with admiration for Israel’s brilliant victory.
Egypt, Syria, and Jordan screamed for the United Nations to stop this wanton Israeli victory, and the United Nations responded as predictably as Pavlov’s dog. But this time Israel refused to evacuate the Sinai, Golan, West Bank, and Gaza Strip. Old Jerusalem, which had been reconquered from Jordan, was incorporated with New Jerusalem into one city— Jerusalem.
Encouraged by the support of the United Nations, and rearmed by the Russians, the Arabs prepared themselves for yet a fourth round of war. They struck on October 6, 1973, starting the Yom Kippur War, which almost cost Israel her existence.
It was 2:00 p.m., Yom Kippur; the entire nation was at prayer. Then, suddenly, heaven and earth erupted in horrid sound as bombs and shells exploded. This was the hour and day Egypt and Syria had chosen to invade Israel with a combined force of 800,000 men; 4,800 tanks; and 900 front line planes—more tanks than had been used by either Russians or Nazis in the great tank battle at Kursk in World War II.
Just as the United States was unprepared for the attack on Pearl Harbor, Israel, too, was unprepared for this invasion. At the crucial Bar Lev line which stretched along the Suez Canal for 105 miles, Israel had only 438 soldiers, three tanks, and seven artillery batteries.
Suddenly, before the astonished eyes of this small force there appeared tens of thousands of Egyptians, crossing along the entire length of the Suez Canal on anything that could float. By the end of the day, most of the Israeli defenders were dead. Thirty thousand Egyptians dug in on Israeli soil. Within a week the force grew to two-hundred thousand.
But Israel had a surprise for Egypt. Stashed twenty miles behind the Bar Lev line stood a tank division which she hurled at the Egyptians. Egypt, however, had an ever greater surprise for Israel. The division was met by a deadly barrage of new, hand-held, radar-guided, Russian-made Sagger rockets which could home in and annihilate a tank and its entire crew with one shot. Within an hour the Israeli tank division was annihilated.
The news from the Golan front was equally dismal. The Syrians were slashing their way across the Golan toward the Jordan Valley for a mareli on Jerusalem. By nightfall the Israeli lines were broken. The peril to Israel had never been greater.
Israel decided to concentrate its entire might on delivering the Syrians a post-Yom Kippur knockout punch. It was a grinding, remorseless fight, man against man, tank against tank, plane against plane—the survival nl Israel against Syrian prestige. In the end Israeli grit won; the Syrians wen hurled back to Damascus.
Israel now turned her fury on the Egyptians, avenging her previous defeat by decimating Egypt’s main tank force.
By a stroke of luck, an Israeli advance unit stumbled upon a gap between the flanks of the two Egyptian armies along the Suez. Boldly in the night, Israeli troops pushed without pause through that gap, across the Suez and into Egypt.
The Egyptians woke the next morning to behold the spectacle of Israeli soldiers on their soil, demolishing their missile batteries, destroying their tank depots, and marching toward Cairo, after having bottled up the two Egyptian armies in the Sinai like a twin fetus in a test tube Egypt screamed for help.
Not a single Arab nation heard that cry, for none came to help. But Russia heard. She gave America an ultimatum—either order Israel to retreat to her 1967 borders, or Russia would send troops to Egypt to push Israel back.
President Richard Nixon, not one to take too kindly to a Russian ultimatum, ordered an alert of all American armed forces—land, sea, air, and atomic—throughout the world. Russia backed down and accepted the American plan which called for Israel not to annihilate the two Egyptian armies and to withdraw all her troops from Egyptian soil. Israel complied, and the Yom Kippur War was over.
And would you believe it? The cry was heard again: “Israel must withdraw to her 1967 borders,” shouted the Arabs, “and then we will kill her.” It was as if vanquished Nazi Germany and defeated Imperial Japan had demanded the right to dictate peace terms to the victorious allies in World War II. Not only was the situation ludicrous, it was obscene. Never before in history had victors been forced to beg the vanquished for peace.
After four years and no peace, one segment of Israeli society began to think that perhaps the best policy for Israel was to give in to the demands of the Arabs, retreat to the 1967 borders, and trust Arab goodwill. Another segment warned that surrender to the Arabs would mean the extinction of Israel. The time had come, they felt, to put an end by force to this deadly farce.
Was this a repetition of history—a repetition of the great debate in Jerusalem in 70 c.e. between the peace party and war party as to what course to take in the face of the Roman threat? Whose view should prevail—that of Johanan ben Zakkai advocating surrender, or that of Eleazar ben Yair counseling war.
The same debate had taken place in the 1930s with a different cast of characters. Which policy should the Western democracies have adopted vis-a-vis Nazi Germany—that of Neville Chamberlain’s peace party advocating an accommodation with Hitler or that of Winston Churchill’s war party counselling a stand against Hitler? In the words of Montaigne’s epigram, “The more things change the more they remain the same.”
This same debate is taking place in the United States today. What stand should the United States take vis-a-vis Russia? Should it be the Chamberlain line of accommodation or the Churchill line of standing up to the aggressor.
The answer depends upon the perception one has of the enemy. Then the responses are rationalized accordingly. Survival depends upon having the right perception and tailoring the response to it. History permits no second guessing.
After the Yom Kippur War, a new mood swept Israel. Menachem Begin, former head of the Irgun, was elected prime minister. For openers, he set the Arab world in turmoil with an announcement that the West Bank of the Jordan River was not occupied territory but Judea and Samaria, part of Israel itself. A second jolt to the Arabs came with his policy of increased Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria, Golan, Gaza, Sinai.
Was Begin borrowing a page from American history? Wasn’t that how the West was won? First came the settlers; then came the soldiers to protect them; and then came a request to be included in the Union. Were these new Israeli settlements preludes to annexations?
Whose land is Palestine anyhow?
There are three main arguments used in discussions on what belongs to whom: Who was there first? Who has been there the longest? Who won the war?
On the merits of the first argument, Israel is first by a big margin. The Jews got there first in 1,000bce and the Arabs did not get there until 648ce—1,600 years later.
The second argument is a numbers game. The answer depends on when one starts counting. In 800bce, the Jews were the majority in Palestine; in 800ce, it was the Arabs. In the twelfth century ce, when the Christians had established the Latin kingdom in Palestine, the Christians were the majority. In 1947ce, it was the Arabs; in 1948ce, it was the Jews.
Thus far only the third argument—Who won the war?—has ever prevailed historically. The winner determines the verdict as to whal belongs to whom. In history, the winning or losing of a war is not a moral judgment but a statement of fact. The Jews got Palestine by defeating the Canaanites and the Arabs got Palestine by defeating the Byzantines The Crusaders lost Palestine to the Mameluks who lost it to the Turk who lost it to the English who asked the United Nations to take over the headache. After the United Nations partitioned the country, the Arabs defied the United Nations and lost four times on the battlefield. And thus far the Jews have been able to hold on to their land against all aggressors
Everyone predicted that the Arab response to the Jewish settlement o! the West Bank would be a fifth war. To everyone’s surprise, instead ol war came the first Arab peace offer.
The first to divine the meaning of the new Israeli diplomacy was Egypt’s President Anwar el-Sadat. Of all Arab countries, Egypt had paid the highest price for the four wars in men, money, and material. The other Arabs had always been willing to fight to the last Egyptian. Sadat wanted no more of it. He also realized he would not win back the Sinai on the battlefield and that the price of the Sinai would go up as Israeli settlement increased.
The time to strike a bargain over Sinai was now, while Prime Minister Begin was waiting for his first peace customer. Boldly, Sadat made his bid for peace and, equally boldly, Begin accepted. The two embraced before an astonished world; and with the cooperation of the United States a peace treaty was hammered out.
Menachem Begin could now turn his attention to a new crisis developing in Lebanon. The Syrians had invaded Lebanon and installed Russian-made missiles on Lebanese soil but pointing at Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—a terrorist army subsidized by the Arabs and Russia—had also invaded Lebanon, and now almost a million Palestinians squatted in the land, terrorizing the Christian Lebanese population, while increasing deadly PLO. raids on Israel.
What should Israel do? Wait until she was again invaded and then defend herself, and be annihilated if she lost? Or make a preemptive strike against the PLO and the Syrians?
Amidst great controversy, Begin made the decision that it was time for Israel to make the omelette instead of again being one. If the Arabs wanted a total war of the entire Arab world against Israel, so be it. Begin felt that Israel had to take a stand, she could not survive an indefinite series of wars forever.
Swiftly, Israel’s army slashed deeply into Lebanon. The Christian Lebanese hailed them as liberators. In quick succession the Syrian missile sites were obliterated; Russian planes were shot down from the sky like pheasants in season and the PLO was routed from its strongholds in Southern Lebanon.
The world press warned Israel not to move further north; that if it dared march on Beirut, every Arab country would declare war on Israel and that Russia would intervene. Israeli forces marched north and routed the PLO from Beirut.
Not a single Arab country came to the aid of the PLO. or Syria. Russia stayed out, content to issue a few abusive missives but no missiles. The PLO was forced to evacuate Beirut. The United States, however, stopped the war before Israel had time to drive out the Syrians.
The Lebanese War is still too close to our times for history to judge its effect. But some results can be assessed. Though the war did not make the Arabs love Israel any more than they had, it did force them to reassess how much their hate had cost them, and how absurd the wars had been. Even more important, the Arab states began to realize that the longer they postponed a valid peace, the higher the price would be in the future.
Israel prays for peace. But as in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah the people are rebuilding Israel with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other, ready for either peace or war.
A Touch of the Future
Even more amazing than her victories on the battlefield against incredible odds, are Israel’s victories in the field of social achievement. She is the only country born in the aftermath of World War II that has achieved a standard of democracy and groceries equal to that of the most advanced nations in the Western world
In 1900, after twenty centuries of exploitation by a succession of invaders (Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Christians, Mamluks, and Turks), Palestine had become a poverty-stricken province in the Ottoman empire, barely able to support 150,000 people. Fifty years later, after the arrival ol the first Zionists, Israel became a modern agricultural and industrial stall supporting over four million people.
Since her independence in 1948, the original 650,000 Jews in Israel have ingathered more than three million Jewish immigrants from all over the world, quintupling her population. Within one generation, Israel migrated them all into one proud nation.
From its very inception as a state, even as the War of Independence was being fought, Israel laid the foundation for a nation based on the Mosaic concept of equality with justice for all. No Jew anywhere in the worId needed to pass a means test to become an Israeli citizen. All a Jew had In do was to land in Israel and openly declare that he or she wanted to become a citizen of the country.
The franchise, universal education, and the right to hold a job in accordance with one’s ability was granted to all, irrespective of race, creed, color, sex, or previous condition of servitude. For the first time in history, Arab women could vote, a privilege no Arab woman has in any Arab country.
In the academic world, Israel created one miracle after another. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, founded in 1920, already vies in academic honors with Harvard, Oxford, and the Sorbonne. The Weizmann Institute of Science has become world famed for its innovations and discoveries. The Technion in Haifa is famed for its pioneering in agricultural and aeronautical engineering and in chemical technology.
As the country grew, so grew the number of schools, theaters, museums, symphony halls. Israel has more bookstores and art galleries per capita than any other nation in the world. Its infant mortality is the lowest in the world; its literacy rate among the highest, despite the fact the majority of its population is not as yet native born. The joke in Israel is that it is the only country in the world where children teach parents the native tongue, for the children grow up with Hebrew whereas many parents have to learn it.
In Israel, four thousand years of history look down every day upon citizens and tourists. But Israel is also a touch of the future. In spite of all technological advances, the Jewish people still have a vision of the messianic ideal—the redemption of the Jews through the soil of Israel. No philosophy, no logic, no science has altered this Jewish belief in a prophetic manifest destiny. The distant past is closer to the heart of the Jew than recent history. Nothing—not anti-semitism, not fascism, not communism—can uproot this attachment of the Jews to their past history, or blind their vision of the future.
The Prophets were the first to call upon the Jews to enter world history as a prototype of an ethical world community and to be an example for mankind. Is Jerusalem, now the spiritual homeland for Diaspora Jews, destined to become the spiritual world capital for all mankind? Is the Judaism of the Prophets destined to become a universal creed for the universal man of the future? In the words of Isaiah: “For out of Zion shall go forth the Law and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”
After two thousand and five hundred years, Isaiah’s words still express the longing of human beings of all faiths, the universal hope of mankind.
We have now traversed four thousand years of history—from Abraham, the first Jew, to Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of the new Jewish state.
We saw Jewish history begin with a handful of Hebrews wandering around the Mesopotamian world. Today there are over fifteen million Jews—four million in Israel and eleven million in the Diaspora. During their four-thousand-year odyssey they have visited practically every civilization and now reside in all five continents. Could we now perhaps paraphrase the words of Isaiah thus: From Zion shall go forth the Law and in the Diaspora it shall reach all mankind.
Though we have come to the end of the Second Act, we have not come to the end of Jewish history. There is yet a Third Act to come— another two thousand years with new challenges and more exciting adventures for the Jews.
Jews have given the world God, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, Spinoza, Marx, Freud, Einstein. They have given the world the Torah, the Prophets, democracy, Christianity, Mohammedanism, socialism—even theoretical physics. These are the ideas governing two-thirds of the world today. Who else has a track record like this?
You are members of a team of winners!
If you don’t believe it, ask yourself, Where are all the others who started out with the Jews forty centuries ago?
However, at this point we must issue a word of caution. Thus far the Jews have seemed indestructible. But their indestructibility does not spring from any innate Jewish physical or mental qualities. What has given the Jews their indestructibility has been their ideas stemming from the Torah. It is these ideas that are indestructible, and the Jews with them. The moment the Jews forsake these ideas, they become as destructible as any other people.
The message is clear: If the Jews want to remain indestructible, for the sake of Jews, God, and History, they must hold on to those ideas; they must not give up now