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March 6, 2015 / 15 Adar , 5775
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Who’s Afraid of Putin?


putin napoleon

But thanks to the Persian Emperor Cyrus, Jews living in the Empire and in the renewed satrapy of Israel enjoyed an era of toleration. The Macedonian Alexander the Great followed suit. Toleration meant it didn’t matter what or who you worshipped, so long as you accepted the conqueror’s authority. Persia was an absolute dictatorship. Greece had a modified form of democracy. What Jews who lived under both regimes cared about was less the style of government than the practicalities of earning a livelihood. Conflict was over trade, rather than religion. But once again Jew argued with Jew, as the Maccabean revolt illustrated.

Under the Roman Empire, too, Jews lived and thrived, some in the East and some in the West. They had to choose which leader to back, of course. One moment it was Pompey. The next it was Caesar. I am sure they had PACS in those days too. Tensions between East and West resurfaced. Some Jews revolted against Rome and looked to the Parthians for support. Others, like Josephus, abandoned their people and chose to live acculturated in Rome. And there indeed they lived peacefully, flourished, and were (eventually) accepted. Then too disagreements between the Jews in Israel and those in the Diaspora were common.

With the rise first of Christianity and then Islam, we (along with home-born heretics) were persecuted most of the time, occasionally tolerated, rarely accepted. So we kept on moving, when we were not expelled, which proved our salvation, searching for safe havens in and between the rival camps.

On to modernity. Jews living in Germany were sure their cultural tradition put them at the comfortable and safe center of civilization. Like Napoleon, they looked down on Britain as a nation of shopkeepers. Jews fought on both sides in the First World War. Many supported the rise of fascism. And I recall both in England and Israel meeting refugees from Hitler who still believed that Germany was heaven, and Nazism had all been a terrible mistake.

I rehearse all this to make the point that we have always been faced with conflicting politics and realities and have tried to tread warily through the minefields. Sometimes we got it right. More often we got it wrong. I can’t think of a better example than the conviction of the ultra-Orthodox leadership, almost to a man, a hundred years ago that Eastern Europe would be safer for the Jews than anywhere else.

I am both rational and mystical. I am in part liberal and part conservative. The challenge most of us have is to make the right micro-decisions, even if we cannot make the right macro ones. If there is a metaphorical message in our holy texts, it is that in the end (and sometimes it’s a very long end) God (or history) sides with the ethical, regardless of their identity or their affiliation.

About the Author: Jeremy Rosen is an Orthodox rabbi, author, and lecturer, and the congregational rabbi of the Persian Jewish Center of New York. He is best known for advocating an approach to Jewish life that is open to the benefits of modernity and tolerant of individual variations while remaining committed to halacha (Jewish law). His articles and weekly column appear in publications in several countries, including the Jewish Telegraph and the London Jewish News, and he often comments on religious issues on the BBC.


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24 Responses to “Who’s Afraid of Putin?”

  1. Ch Hoffman says:

    1. it's tolerance, not toleration
    2. your message is so far disjointed that the only thing one could actually glean from it – right upfront – is that you feel the need to express your dislike for the president of the united states while at the same time drawing false and incomplete analogies from your distorted view of Jewish and world history

    What would you have had the president of the US do differently in the situation? Bluster like Dick Cheney? Smile like Ronald Reagan? or just pout?

  2. Cherie Lewis says:

    An excellent article!

  3. i am not afraid .

  4. i am not afraid .

  5. i am not afraid .

  6. Is he sitting on the toilett ? :-)

  7. Who is afraid of Putin? Barak Obama

  8. Patricia: you are correct!!

  9. You have the Wrong impression of Obama. He is destroying America And his Supporters Still Believe he is doing a Wonderful Job. He is Not incompetent, he knows Exactly what he’s Doing. Or the powers who are pulling his strings are doing!!

  10. Interesting read ….. !

  11. Zehachi Aziz says:

    russia is not IRAK or IRAN ….

  12. Eduardo Mazo says:

    catch the simple bluff, no it is real to retract.

  13. Jan Frank says:

    I agree Joyce Guthrie But our God is mightier..

  14. Audrey Papke says:

    And who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf: I’m more in fear respect of Virginia – go Liz Taylor. Is this a Napoleon hat?

  15. Audrey Papke says:

    You can't deny him congrats on a safe Olympics.

  16. Audrey Papke says:

    Ukraine shot down a jet just after 911, oops, just practicing. What are the odds?

  17. Audrey Papke says:

    Winston Churchill once said, "They'll take France, but the won't take England." Who knows, the other side might get Ukraine, if accepted by the EU, which is no given, but they won't get Crimea, literally or de facto.

  18. Mr. Rosen has joined the fools well evidenced on this page.

  19. Since Obama has been President, I have fallen for Putin. At least you sorta know where Putin stands, Obama, not so much.

  20. I AGREE BUT I DONT KNOW HOW MUCH BETTER ANYONE ELSE WOULD BE

  21. Well balanced and reasonable article. Thanks.

  22. I had questioned what was going on and appreciate the heads up. Thanks for sharing.

Comments are closed.

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