We did not spill blood for this land in order to adopt Western culture – we could have easily assimilated in the days of the Hellenists and the Crusaders and disappeared from the world. On the other hand, if we have already attained this land, why do we continue to insist on calling ourselves “the chosen people” -- a people that does whatever it feels like and turns its back on those weaker than itself, on those among it who are weak and on those who are willing to do anything in order to belong?
A conversation on identity and values, then and now ............
MK Yossi Beilin and Rabbi Israel Eichler
The concept of “chosen people” is not unique to the Jewish people. It exists in the tradition of many Eastern and Western nations, strengthening national pride and enabling endurance of difficult periods as a united people. These periods are usually viewed as tests by God. All in all this is not a bad arrangement with the Lord. If all is well with the ‘chosen people’, it is because God chose them and benefits them; if bad, it is a sign that the Lord is testing them in order to know if they are worthy of his choosing by putting them through difficult trials.
Nations that are prepared to believe that God has chosen them often fall into pridefullness, smugness and even racism. Two-thousand years in the Diaspora as an afflicted, humiliated, ostracized and rejected people, were the years in which belief in being the chosen people enabled us [the Jewish people] to bear the suffering. But a people that maintains this belief even when governing its own independent country, may reach dangerous levels of arrogance.
We do not have “blue blood”. Our uniqueness stems from our particular history, culture and status as the “people of the book”, and not from any special genes. “Chosen people” is not a standing that permits us to behave as we wish -- harshly, cruelly and even ruthlessly towards those weaker than we -- just because we once ‘won’ the ‘Born to be a Country’ contest [refers metaphorically to a local Israeli TV show contest called ‘Born to Dance’]; chosen peoplehood should be a goal for us. We can achieve this if, through our behavior, we set an example of concern for others, assistance to our fellow human beings, worry for the future generations, efforts to reduce social differences and by adopting the important principle of “tikkun olam” which for generations of Jews represented the central concept of their identity.
Israel was, for the most part, like that in the 50s and 60s, but has moved further and further away from this model in its attitude towards others and towards its own people within the country. Since then we have become captives of the occupation and of our control over another people, and have even abandoned the welfare state that promises all its inhabitants basic services and a minimal standard of life, and have instead turned into a capitalist country in which the chasm between the rich and the poor is the largest in the Western world after the United States.
Meanwhile, our chosen people has acquired for itself a posture of turning away, which does not reflect its true character. We grant a full monopoly to define “who is a Jew” to the various religious streams, and deny ourselves, the non-religious majority, the right to decide who is a Jew in our own eyes. We are pushing away the best of our people – those who grew up as Jews and see themselves as part of the Jewish people, even if according to religious law they are not defined thus, and even if they are not observant. We have remained with the old definitions, which consider as a Jew only a person who is a [recognized] member of the Jewish religion, so that if someone is the son of a Jew but his mother is not Jewish – the individual is not considered as a member of the Jewish people. Instead of drawing closer to us mixed couples and their children, we are diminishing the Jewish people with our own hands.
There are those among us who prefer to wring their hands on the dwindling down of the Jewish people, while at the same time continuing to insist that even those who wish to join us and can prove their specific connection [to the Jewish people], cannot become Jews without undergoing a religious ceremony that is foreign to most Jewish people today who are not observant. The genetic concept of a “chosen people” as a people that was chosen and does not need to prove itself anew every day can easily repel many people from joining us. A different concept of “chosen people” as a goal and as an ideal will give our people greater appeal and worth and will welcome many of those who wish to join us to do so.
It is said that the Hanukkah candles whisper in their glorious radiance about the inner beauty of Judaism. A tiny candle of olive oil shines from the entrance of the house outwards. This is the light of wisdom and knowledge that transforms life into an exciting thread of endless significance. The perpetual flame is thus reduced to a small continuous glow that fills the soul with a spiritual pleasure that cannot be enhanced. The Greeks also had wisdom.” Divine beauty for beauty.” The Greeks presented exterior beauty without inner substance, immersing man in emptiness that darkens the soul. The illusory lanterns of Greek wisdom spread colored lights that changed with the tempo of the dance. The Hellenists were not satisfied with the light of the colored lanterns that induced the body to dance. They tried to extinguish the candle of pure unblemished oil. As the Prophet Jeremiah said: “………….They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.” [Jer., 4:22].
Greek culture glorifies physical strength and idolizes crude worldliness. A culture that shines externally and introduces the tainted street atmosphere into the home. The [eight] days of Hanukkah symbolize the struggle between the two types of lights, both of which glimmer -- one, a small bright candle that symbolizes the sons of light, and the other, an illusory lantern for those who inhabit the dark. One heralds the hope and yearning for the bright light at the end of the tunnel. The other, the light of an underground train that tramples all those who blindly fall on its tracks. The Hellenists try to represent the little pristine Jewish light as a doctrine of ignorance and gloom. But man’s task is to understand and to learn, to know and to distinguish between light and darkness, and to correctly decide between good and bad, between holy and unholy, between Israel and the rabble, between the seventh day [of rest] and the six days of work.
When the exterior becomes the essence and the interior is emptied of contents, outer beauty turns into the deceptive cause that leads man and nation to Hellenism. The doughnuts, the card games and the sports under the name of Maccabi turn the noblest holidays into celebrations of assimilation. Parties and indifferent ceremonies without content, physical training and sports, all represent the falsehood of glamour and the emptiness of beauty. The Greeks sought to develop physical training and to infiltrate their godless Hellenism and philosophy into the wisdom of Israel. They sought to defile the Menorah [Sabbath candleholder] and destroy the Hanukkia [Hanukkah candleholder].
This week [mid-December 2006] an Israeli financial tycoon who emigrated abroad and did well until he fell to the lowest level and married a gentile, was interviewed. He became a living example of how detachment from Jewish doctrine destroys the family. With no shame he told how in his home Hanukkah candles are lit side by side with the lights of a gentile holiday. This is Hellenism that began with a simple disengagement [from Judaism], and in thin, nearly invisible steps lead to the bitter end of a holocaust by assimilation. I am writing only for those who consider assimilation a holocaust. Those who view it otherwise are free to cease reading further.
No, assimilation does not start with the adoption of Christian holiday practices side by side with the Hanukkiah. As with millions of American Jews and with the assimilating Israeli, it actually began with traditional education and even with the singing of “Maoz Tzur” , but without understanding the difference between Hanukkah candles and decorative candles on the table in a Chinese restaurant. His teachers did not distinguish [for him] between inner and outer feelings, between spirituality and worldliness, and did not know how to instill the Jewish experience into the hearts of their students.
The root of evil in Greek wisdom is the disconnection between science and knowledge, and between the duty and obligation to live accordingly. Just knowing the truth does not obligate anyone. The Greek philosopher Aristotle used to say: “When I eat I am not Aristotle”. The Torah of Israel has binding obligations for every act of life. When a Jew eats or sleeps, and when he studies or prays, he must always live according to Jewish doctrine. His task is to totally subjugate the material to the spiritual. A Jew must direct the actions of the body to the needs of the soul. When behaving as proscribed by [the Jewish] law, the worldly and material become commandments and good deeds. That is the major difference between Greek culture and the small candle [of Judaism] that fills the soul and lights the way for one’s entire life.
Whoever thinks that the Jewish people should adopt Western culture in today’s world has no reason to celebrate the battle waged by the Maccabeans against the Greeks and the Hellenists. It would have been easy to assimilate in the days of the Hellenists and the Crusaders, and to disappear from the world. A pity on all the blood and tears that has flowed on this land since ancient times until today. Thousands of years our forefathers held on to the golden chain, intertwining link after link with deep devotion. The Israeli people will survive forever. But alas for all those who knowingly and those who without realizing it, disconnect from this ancient people.