As fate would have it, we have always stood in the way of those striving for world power: Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Christians, Nazis, and Communists. While this – serving as an obstacle on the way to world rule – may seem quite an honorable mission, it is also bound up with a lot of inconvenience. No one has failed to stumble over us, to sidestep the puzzle of the Jewish barrier. Neither can radical Islam do it. A. Toynbee, who hasted to declare us to be “a historical fossil” overlooked this mission of the House of Jacob, which has not yet lost its actuality. The sets are changing, the actors and their roles are not.
Judaism is a family, tribal business. “However divided Jews may be today in their religious (or non-religious and even anti-religious) ideology, however furiously they may argue with each other about the role of the Halacha in today’s life, all of them undoubtedly agree that the Jewish religious law does not apply to non-Jews. They disagree about to what degree (if at all) this law applies to Jews, but no one suggests that non-Jews must obey the commandments that the Torah prescribes ‘to children of Israel’ (R. Yoshpe, “What Is Jewish Philosophy”).
The local, familial character of the Jewish religion has always disheartened Jewish superintellectuals. Pasternak’s Gordon, who had a chip on his shoulder about his origins, verbalizes this grudge quite tangibly: “their national idea has forced them, century after century, to be a people and nothing but a people – and the extraordinary thing is that they have been chained to this deadening task all through the centuries when all the rest of the world has been delivered from it by a new force which had come out of their own midst… In whose interests is this voluntary martyrdom?… Why don’t the intellectual leaders of the Jewish people ever get beyond facile ‘Weltschmerz’ and ironic wisdom?”
It seems that we paid quite a price for this wisdom of ours. It is surprising that Pasternak failed to see that it was this tribal character which saved Judaism from the devil of the lust for universality. Our argument with Christianity is ages old. Hillel advised not to do onto one’s neighbor what you do not want to be done to yourself. This demand seems far more modest than the moral duties which the founder of Christianity made his followers shoulder. But it happens to be that not increasing the evil weighs more, on the world history scale, than forceful propagation of the good (including the universalizing of democracy). If the bandits who rule in Gaza found themselves next door to a Christian state and showered its towns with rockets, the whole Gaza Strip would be reduced to a pile of crushed stone. And again, everyone knows it, including those who deny it. The state of Israel’s practice exhibits our age-old debate with Christianity in a new light. Israel has managed to keep a human face in an inhuman situation.
The basis for this practice lies in an astonishing synthesis of liberalism and traditional Jewish mentality; Jabotinsky may have foreseen the possibility of such a synthesis. M. Aldanov, who hated the Jewish revolutionaries who crowded the political scene in the beginning of the 20th century, once made a vitriolic remark about them, calling them “Prometheuses from heder.” Aldanov’s sarcasm, in this case, dims the heart of the matter: while heder did have a deep impact on Ben Gurion and Israel’s other founding fathers, it apparently left no trace in the minds of Trotsky, Zinoviev and Uritsky, whose cosmopolitan activities evidently contradicted Judaism’s familial thought patterns.
The graft of democracy on the Christian stem has not entirely benefited it, for liberalism has choked and crushed religion in the West. As for Islam, this graft has never succeeded in any Islamic country. No, Islamic countries do not object to the benefits of civilization: Twitter and Facebook are filled with cannibal slogans and the atom bomb is undoubtedly the most important scientific achievement for radical Islam.
Controlling one’s hatred is a hard thing to do. The human soul has a predisposition to Manichaeism: it yearns to know where exactly in the world evil is – obviously, with the sole purpose of eradicating it (together with its bearers, to be sure). Judaism seems to have once and forever done away with the idea of evil’s independent existence; nevertheless, relapses of Manichaeism sometimes occur in unexpected areas, like, for example socialist ideology. Remember “Warszawianka”?
“Storm of hostile whirlwinds is howling above us, Dark evil forces oppress us today.” You can object to this, for does not the Bible teach us: “You who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalms 97:10). But pay attention: “evil”, not: “the evil ones,” a distinction that is even more difficult to grasp. Nevertheless, Talmudic Judaism insists on it.