American Jewry and the Biblical Paradigm of Antisemitism

Hi Ran,

How’s it going? I want to pick up on a very uncomfortable and extremely sensitive topic. You touched upon it your last letter, when you wrote: “My perspective about the future of American Jewry is more based on faith-based historical patterns and perspective. In my mind, when we see a very large, successful and well-integrated Jewish community which is deviating further and further from its Jewish roots, and specifically during the era of Kibbutz Galuyot (prophesied in-gathering of Jewish exiles from all countries back to the Land of Israel – my words), when the unmistakable historical/prophetic direction is Israel retaking its place as the center/nucleus of the Jewish world, G-d will not let the phenomenon that is America Jewry remain undisturbed. When American Jews en mass are abandoning their identity, and by and large not taking part in the the era of Kibbutz Galuyot, G-d is gonna give it a big ol’ whooping, a huge wake-up call. So based on this perspective, I believe that American Jewry is on the brink of cataclysmic changes in terms of American society turning hard core against them.”

Torah prophecy combined with a basic understanding of millennia of Jewish experience was a major factor in my own decision to make aliyah. I remember trying to explain my decision to my grandparents, who implored me not to leave what they referred to as the “golden medina.” And no doubt it was just that for countless European Jews fleeing persecution as well as their descendants who continue to live fulfilling lives in this wonderful country. I’d imagine most American Jews feel more than a bit touchy about this topic for good reason; it could be they take offense at the very notion that America could ever become less than hospitable to immigrants and minorities in general, and the Jewish people in particular. It could be that they’re aware of the pattern of Jewish history, realize there are (to my knowledge, at least) few if any exceptions to this pattern, and yet for whatever reason aliyah is simply not an option for them. It could be one spouse would like to raise their children in Israel while the other prefers to remain here.

These are all extremely difficult issues, which I don’t dismiss lightly. Still, the fact remains that the American Jewish era is a beautiful yet small blip on the timeline of our people’s history. There have been other golden ages for world Jewry and almost all came to a relatively abrupt and similar conclusion.

You have a sweeping knowledge of Jewish history, so there’s no need for me to confirm the truth of what you wrote in your last email; you can probably rattle off 20 different exiles that follow the pattern you describe.  But, did you know there is an eerily precise template presented in the Torah for the cycle of Jewish migration, acceptance, hostility and eventual persecution? A Biblical paradigm for the recurring pattern of antisemitism throughout history. As I’m sure we’ve talked about in one of our marathon, over-night discussions, it makes no difference whether you read the Torah literally, metaphorically or a mix of both. And it’s freaky that no matter which country or time period you choose to examine, the Jewish experience fits very neatly into this original template – the correlations are startling!

I’ll say right off the bat; I can’t say with any certainty that American Jewry will follow this pattern and that prevailing currents can’t be reversed. I can’t pretend to know the nuances of how this will happen in America nor when. No one does. However, it would be one hell of an historical anomaly if it didn’t happen at all. We see this pattern playing out (rather, wrapping up) right now in France. Some of the Jew hatred has been brought to the surface by French policy towards Israel but interestingly, most of it has been imported and the French government is attempting to protect its Jewish population. Actually, a quick Google search will turn up recent instances of French officials literally begging Jews to remain as aliyah to Israel gains momentum.

Let’s take a look now at the Biblical ‘origin’ of this pattern. First, I’ll summarize the events presented in the Torah, and then I’ll bring you the particulars, the actual text of the Torah, broken down stage by stage. Towards the beginning of the Torah, in Parshat Vayeitzei Yaakov flees from his brother Esav. He finds refuge in a place called Haran and takes up residence at Lavan’s house. We soon discover that Lavan, who appears to act with warmth and hospitality, is actually driven by ulterior motives. Hashem’s blessing, accompanied by Yaakov’s many years of hard work bring good fortune to Lavan’s entire household – a fact not lost on Lavan himself, who becomes ever more exploitative and resentful of Yaakov’s success.

So there is our forefather, Yaakov, living in a foreign land as a guest. Lavan’s sons grow envious of the outsider who, having arrived empty-handed has now amassed a small fortune. As their envy turns to disdain, they begin dredging up conspiracy theories, making false accusations against Yaakov, charging that he stole from their father. At the same time, Lavan himself, frustrated by economic setbacks and baffled by Yaakov’s success, grows increasingly hostile. Yaakov begins to sense the change taking place in his adopted land but remains complacent even as suppressed hostility turns to overt hatred.

Hashem then intervenes, commanding Yaakov to return to his home, the Land of Israel. Yaakov proceeds to discuss the matter with his wives, who have a more intuitive understanding (don’t they always?!) of the growing danger they all face. The wives exhort Yaakov to act in accordance with Hashem’s will and the entire family flees in haste.

Every Pesach (which I really missed spending with you this past year), in celebrating our national liberation from spiritual, cultural and physical bondage, we read the following passage from the Haggadah: “Go and learn what Laban the Aramean sought to do to our father Jacob. A Pharaoh made his decree only about the males whereas Laban sought to destroy everything.” Are we really to believe that Yaakov suffered greater persecution during his 20 years at Lavan’s house than did the entire Jewish nation, enslaved for over two hundred years in Egypt? Obviously not! Amalek was no more brutal than any other nation that went to war against Israel, yet they are singled out by the Torah because they were the first to attack, weakening the deterrence afforded the Jewish nation through G-D’s destruction of Egypt. In the same way, Lavan is singled out not for being the most brutal but for being the first. Lavan was the prototype and his exploitation of Yaakov set the pattern for all subsequent Jewish history.

The cycle of defenselessness, dependence and persecution began the very first time the Jews left Israel. From that point forward, whenever escaping persecution, they would find refuge in yet another foreign country whose government and people at first appeared genuine in their welcome.

וַיְהִי כִשְׁמֹעַ לָבָן אֶת שֵׁמַע | יַעֲקֹב בֶּן אֲחֹתוֹ וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבֶּק לוֹ וַיְנַשֶּׁק לוֹ וַיְבִיאֵהוּ אֶל בֵּיתוֹ

“Now it came to pass when Laban heard the report of Jacob, his sister’s son, that he ran towards him, and he embraced him, and he kissed him, and he brought him into his house.” (Vayeitzei 29:13)

I’d like to point out an interesting caveat – particularly that of the Hellenic period as well as post-Enlightenment Europe;  Jews have been offered the opportunity in theory for acceptance as equals with individual rights ‘protected’ by law. This often comes, however, at the expense of having to shed any outward sign of distinctiveness (more so the higher one wishes to climb within the social hierarchy) and embrace varying degrees of assimilation. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression; to be more “German than the Germans.” Even this aspect of exile and anti-Semitism can be learned out from Yaakov’s experience with Lavan; “and Laban said to him, ‘indeed, you are my bone and my flesh.’ And so he stayed with him.” Vayeitzei 29:14)

In most cases the Jewish people as a whole arrive at their new destination empty-handed and impoverished. Most of our grandparents, immigrants to America, began as street peddlers, moving up to become barbers, tailors, retailers etc. Hashem’s blessing, coupled with the focus on education, hard work and self-improvement leads the Jewish minority to eventually achieve prosperity within their new home. The host country at first acknowledges and even celebrates Jewish success and contribution to society.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו נִחַשְׁתִּי וַיְבָרֲכֵנִי יְהֹוָה בִּגְלָלֶךָ

“And Laban said to him, ‘I see the Lord has blessed me for your sake’.” (Vayeitzei 30:27)

In the next stage, trouble begins; prosperity and acceptance eventually lead the Jewish people to stop longing to return to their eternal homeland or even forget entirely that they are foreigners, permanent outsiders, strangers in a strange land. Social and material comfort leads to complacency, a belief that the current exile is permanent and the mentality of “it could never happen here…this time it’s different.”

וַיִּפְרֹץ הָאִישׁ מְאֹד מְאֹד וַיְהִי לוֹ צֹאן רַבּוֹת וּשְׁפָחוֹת וַעֲבָדִים וּגְמַלִּים וַחֲמֹרִים

“And the man (Yaakov) became exceedingly wealthy, and he had prolific animals, and maids and servants, and camels and donkeys.” (Vayeitzei 30:43)

As time passes, envy of the disproportionately successful Jewish minority begins to surface. Despite (and often because of) efforts to ingratiate, blend in, display national loyalty and keep a low profile, awareness grows among the general population that there is an outsider living among them. The amount of time it takes for this awareness to develop depends on the particular culture (as well as other factors such as the economic situation), but this growing awareness is predictably followed by the next stage, characterized by some form of demonization, false accusations, conspiracy theories, scapegoating and outright anti-Semitism.

וַיִּשְׁמַע אֶת דִּבְרֵי בְנֵי לָבָן לֵאמֹר לָקַח יַעֲקֹב אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר לְאָבִינוּ וּמֵאֲשֶׁר לְאָבִינוּ עָשָׂה אֵת כָּל הַכָּבֹד הַזֶּה. וַיַּרְא יַעֲקֹב אֶת פְּנֵי לָבָן וְהִנֵּה אֵינֶנּוּ עִמּוֹ כִּתְמוֹל שִׁלְשׁוֹם

“And he heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that belonged to our father, and from what belonged to our father, he has amassed this entire fortune’. And Jacob saw Laban’s countenance, that he was not disposed toward him as (he had been) yesterday and the day before.” (Vayeitzei 30:44-31:2)

The Jewish people usually refuse to recognize the changing tide (we are a “stiff-necked people” after all), disregard the warning signs, and fail to consider the possibility of returning home, believing still that “this time it’s different.” Finally, Hashem must ‘tell’ us to leave – usually in the form of religious or physical persecution – a “big ol’ whooping, a huge wake-up call” as you put it. With a bit of foresight, a fraction of the Jewish population leaves early, proud and of their own free will. Part of my own family chose to leave Poland prior to the Holocaust, while others (legitimately, due to constraints) stayed and were murdered. On the other side of my family, some chose to leave Russia at the height of the pogroms, others as the Communist revolution gained traction, while others stayed behind. Throughout Jewish history, the majority, realizing the inevitable only at the last moment, are forced to flee in haste…assuming they are able to get out at all.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל יַעֲקֹב שׁוּב אֶל אֶרֶץ אֲבוֹתֶיךָ וּלְמוֹלַדְתֶּךָ וְאֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ

“And the Lord said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your forefathers and to your birthplace, and I will be with you’.” (Vayeitzei 31:3)

וַיִּגְנֹב יַעֲקֹב אֶת לֵב לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי עַל בְּלִי הִגִּיד לוֹ כִּי בֹרֵחַ הוּא. וַיִּבְרַח הוּא וְכָל אֲשֶׁר לו

“And Jacob concealed from Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing. So he and all that were his fled.” (Vayeitzei 31:20-21)

This pattern, this cycle of Jewish history then begins all over again. There is, however, one major difference today (actually, there have been short, infrequent windows of opportunity in the past as well); just as it was during Yaakov’s lifetime, our generation has been both blessed and challenged with a rare opportunity to break the cycle…returning to our own land of our own free will is once again a viable and realistic option for Jews worldwide.

At the end of your letter, you wrote “So obviously, and you already knew this, I believe (as you fear) there is no long term future for Jews in America. The mass American Aliyah will not be an Aliyah of choice, but of fear, and Jews who today would never contemplate moving to Israel will find themselves doing so, whether 5 years from now or 20 years from now. So as far as the security blanket the little blue book (American passport – my words) gives us, well – as far as I see it, whether one likes it or not, we are all Israelis now.”

You’re right, and thank G-D, both you and I have had the privilege of spending the past ten or so years planting our family’s roots deep in the soil of Eretz Yisrael. I’ll write you more about my reasoning (or rationalizations?) for returning to the US in a future email. Yaakov left Israel for his own (very legitimate) reasons, got a bit too comfortable in a foreign land, and had to have a fire lit under his backside along with his wives insistence, before going home. Do I see a similar pattern potentially taking shape right now in my own life? You betcha!

Until next time ach sheli… kol tuv from America.

Mike

Biblical Paradigm                                   Corresponding Historical Pattern

Yaakov flees Esav                                    Flight from persecution

Lavan welcomes, offers refuge           Refuge found in a foreign country

Embrace turns to exploitation            Cultural/poli/econ realities shift, exploitation begins

Yaakov’s success leads to comfort    Wealth, acceptance lead to complacency

Jealousy, accusations and hostility    Demonization, anti-Semitism

G-D tells Yaakov to return to Israel   G-D ‘tells’ us to leave, usually in form of persecution

 

For a quite thorough listing of anti-Jew massacres, pogroms, expulsions and attempted genocide in the common era; http://www.simpletoremember.com/articles/a/HistoryJewishPersecution/

 

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