Mientras escribía este ensayo, el titular de un periódico me llamó la atención: “Las personas más ricas del Reino Unido han desafiado la recesión y se han vuelto aún más ricas durante el último año”. Esto a pesar de que la mayoría de las personas se ha vuelto más pobre, o al menos ha visto que sus ingresos no han aumentado desde la crisis financiera de 2008. Como dice el refrán, “no hay nada más cierto: los ricos se hacen cada vez más ricos y los pobres, más pobres”. La legislación social de Behar se enfoca en este fenómeno.
Vaikrá 25 establece una serie de leyes cuyo objetivo es corregir la tendencia hacia la cada vez mayor y más radical desigualdad producto de la economía de libre mercado. Así, tenemos el año sabático en el que las deudas son canceladas, la tierra queda sin explotar y sus productos, que no deben ser cosechados, pertenecen a todo el mundo. Encontramos el año del Jubileo, en el que, con algunas excepciones, la tierra ancestral retornó a sus propietarios originales. Encontramos también la orden de ayudar a los necesitados: “Si alguno de tus hermanos israelitas empobrece y no es capaz de mantenerse, ayúdalo como lo harías con un extranjero o un desconocido, así podrá continuar viviendo cerca de ti”.1 Y existía la obligación de tratar a los esclavos no servilmente, sino como “trabajadores contratados o residentes temporales”.2
Como bien señaló Heinrich Heine: “Moshé no quería abolir la propiedad privada; deseaba, por el contrario, que todo el mundo tuviera algo, de modo que nadie, debido a su pobreza, fuese un esclavo con mente esclava. La libertad fue siempre el pensamiento más importante de este gran emancipador, y todavía respira y brilla en todas sus leyes referidas a la pobreza”3 .
A pesar de la antigüedad de estas leyes, una y otra vez han inspirado a quienes luchan por la libertad, la equidad y la justicia. El verso sobre el Año del Jubileo, “Proclama la libertad para toda la tierra y a todos sus habitantes”4 , está inscrita en la Campana de la Libertad de Filadelfia. El movimiento internacional que comenzó a finales de los años 90, que involucró a más de 40 países para hacer campaña por la cancelación de la deuda del Tercer Mundo, fue llamado Jubileo 2000 y se inspiró directamente en esta parte de la Torá.
Es inusual relacionar la Torá con la política económica. Resulta evidente que no podemos hacer ninguna inferencia directa de leyes hechas hace más de tres mil años, en una época agrícola y para una sociedad que vivía con consciencia bajo la soberanía de Di-s, y relacionarlas a las circunstancias del siglo XXI, con su economía global y sus corporaciones internacionales. Entre los textos antiguos y la aplicación en nuestros tiempos, está el proceso cuidado de la tradición y la interpretación (Torá shebe’al pe).
No obstante, pareciera haber algunos parámetros importantes. El trabajo —ganarse la vida y el pan de todos los días— tiene dignidad. Un salmo dice: “Cuando comes gracias al trabajo hecho por tus manos, eres feliz y te irá bien”5 . Decimos esto cada sábado por la noche, en el comienzo de la semana laboral. A diferencia de las culturas aristocráticas como la de la antigua Grecia, el judaísmo nunca fue desdeñoso con el trabajo o la economía productiva. Y no es partidario de la creación de una clase ociosa. “El estudio de la Torá sin una ocupación fracasa y lleva al pecado”6 .
Por eso, a menos que existan razones de peso, uno tiene derecho a los frutos de su trabajo. El judaísmo desconfía de los grandes gobiernos que violan la libertad. Esa es la esencia de la advertencia del profeta Shmuel acerca de la monarquía: un rey, dice, “tomará lo mejor de tus campos y viñedos y olivares y se lo dará a sus asistentes […]. Él tomará una décima parte de tus rebaños, y ustedes serán sus esclavos”7 .
El judaísmo es la religión de gente nacida en la esclavitud, anhelante de redención; y el gran agravio de la esclavitud contra la dignidad humana es que priva de tener la riqueza que uno crea. En el corazón de la Biblia hebrea está el Di-s que busca la libertad de culto del ser humano libre, y la propiedad privada es una de las defensas más poderosas de la libertad, como base de la independencia económica. La sociedad ideal prevista por los profetas es aquella en la que cada persona es capaz de sentarse “debajo de su vid y de su higuera”8 .
La economía libre utiliza el combustible de la competencia para mantener el fuego de la invención. Mucho antes que Adam Smith, el judaísmo había aceptado la idea de que los mayores avances son a menudo provocados por unidades poco espirituales. “Noté”, dice el autor de Kohelet, “que todo trabajo y todo logro florece de la envidia por el prójimo”. O como los sabios talmúdicos dijeron: “Si no fuera por la inclinación al mal, nadie construiría una casa, se casaría con una mujer, tendría hijos, o participaría en un negocio”. Los rabinos incluso favorecieron el libre mercado en la propia esfera de la educación judía. Un maestro establecido, dicen, no puede oponerse a un rival en una competencia. La razón que dieron fue simple: “Los celos entre los eruditos aumenta la sabiduría”.
La economía de mercado es el mejor sistema que conocemos para aliviar la pobreza a través del crecimiento económico. En una sola generación, en los últimos años, ha sacado de la pobreza a 100 millones de indios y 400 millones de chinos, y los sabios vieron la pobreza como un ataque a la dignidad humana. La pobreza no es una condición bendita u ordenada divinamente. Es, dicen los rabinos, “una especie de muerte” y “peor que cincuenta plagas”. Ellos dicen: “Nada es más difícil de soportar que la pobreza, porque el que es aplastado por la pobreza es como uno al que todos los problemas del mundo se le aferran y sobre el cual todas las maldiciones de Devarim parecen haber descendido. Si todos los otros problemas se colocan de un lado y la pobreza en otro, la pobreza los supera a todos”.
Sin embargo, la economía de mercado es mejor produciendo riqueza que repartiéndola de forma equitativa. La concentración de la riqueza en pocas manos otorga un poder desproporcionado a algunos a costa del resto. Hoy, en Gran Bretaña no es inusual que los CEO más exitosos ganen al menos 400 veces más que sus empleados. Esto no produjo crecimiento económico o estabilidad financiera, sino todo lo contrario. Mientras escribo estas palabras, uno de los asesores de Margaret Thatcher, Ferdinand Mount, acaba de publicar una crítica sobre la desregulación financiera introducida por ella: Los nuevos pocos. El reciente libro del economista surcoreano Ha-Joon Chang, 23 cosas que no te cuentan sobre el capitalismo, es igual impresionante. No es una crítica a la economía de mercado, que él cree que es el mejor sistema que existe. Pero, en sus palabras, “necesita de un cuidado y una regulación cuidadosa”.
Eso representa la legislación contenida en Behar. Nos dice que un sistema económico debe existir dentro de un marco moral. No necesariamente debe tender hacia la igualdad económica, pero debe respetar la dignidad humana. Nadie debe quedar preso de forma permanente en las cadenas de la deuda. Nadie debe ser privado de una participación en la riqueza general, que en los tiempos bíblicos significaba poseer una parte de la tierra. Nadie debe ser esclavo de su empleador o empleadora. Toda persona tiene derecho —un día cada siete, un año cada siete— de descansar de las infinitas presiones del trabajo. Nada de esto significa desmantelar la economía de mercado, pero puede implicar su periódica redistribución.
En el corazón de estas leyes se encuentra una visión profundamente humana de la sociedad. “Nadie es una isla”. Somos responsables unos de otros y estamos implicados en el destino del otro. Quienes son bendecidos por Di-s con más de lo que necesitan, deben compartir algo de ese exceso con los que tienen menos de lo que necesitan. Esto, en el judaísmo, no es una cuestión de caridad, sino de justicia: eso es lo que significa la palabra tzedaká. Necesitamos un poco de este espíritu en las economías avanzadas de la actualidad si no queremos ver miseria humana y malestar social.
Nadie lo dijo mejor que Ieshaiau en el primer capítulo del libro que lleva su nombre: Busquen justicia, alienten al oprimido, Defiendan la causa del huérfano, Defiendan la causa de la viuda… La humanidad no fue creada para servir a los mercados. Los mercados se hicieron para servir a la imagen de Di-s que es la humanidad.
Notas al Pie
3. Israel Tabak, Judaic Lore in Heine, Johns Hopkins University Press, reimpresión, 1979, 32.
prevalence of suicide in our society has been gradually rising.1 In fact,
according to recent data, suicide is one of the leading causes of death
among the ages of 10 and 34, second only to unintentional injury.2 From the
perspective of halachah, some of the
fundamental questions we need to answer are: What is the halachic/philosophical
objection to suicide? What are the halachic ramifications of one who commits
suicide? What are the halachic criteria for a death to be considered a suicide?
How do we address the many instances of suicide, individual and communal, that
occurred throughout our long, tragic history of persecution?
Nature of the Halachic
prohibition of suicide is based on a verse in Genesis: “And surely your blood
of your souls I will demand.”3 The Talmud
quotes Rabbi Eliezer, one of the great
Tannaic sages, who interprets this verse as meaning, “And surely from your
souls (‘from yourselves’) I will demand your blood (‘I will hold you liable for
taking your own life’).”4 So we know
that suicide is prohibited, but what is the rationale?
its heart, the rationale stems from the basic concept in Jewish thought that
one’s body is not his own property but a loan from G‑d; one has no autonomy
over his own body or the bodies of others.5
Based on this concept, just as one may not murder his fellow, one is similarly
forbidden from “murdering” himself. Indeed, Maimonides rules that one who
commits suicide is guilty of murder and will be held accountable in the
more philosophical level, there are several other rationales that make suicide
a distinctly reprehensible act.7
begin with, one who commits suicide has by definition committed a sin without
any option for repentance. Furthermore, one’s death, in and of itself, can
achieve atonement, in some instances achieving atonement when Yom Kippur
cannot.8 By killing
oneself, one’s death becomes a sinful act9
rather than an atonement, and in a sense, one has “squandered” this opportunity.
addition, the act of suicide implies that one is declaring autonomy and
“playing G‑d,” so to speak, and is, therefore, an implicit rejection of G‑d’s
sovereignty. The act of suicide also intimates that one is denying that the soul
in fact lives on and will face judgment before the Heavenly court, thereby
implicitly repudiating the immortality of the soul.
that suicide is considered such a reprehensible act, what are the halachic
ramifications for one who commits suicide? (Please note, we are referring to
one who has unequivocally committed suicide; as we’ll see later, there are a
number of criteria that must be met in order to characterize one as such.)
writes that when one commits suicide, we withhold all traditional rites and
rituals from him, such as mourning him or eulogizing him, but any rite or
ritual that is performed as an honor for the living is not withheld.10 Maimonides further implies that one who
commits suicide has no share in the World to Come.11
Burial in a Jewish Cemetery
respect to burial, the Jewish community does nevertheless ensure that the
suicide receives a burial.12 However, the
question often arises as to whether the suicide victim can be buried in a Jewish
cemetery. The classic halachic works do
not mention this restriction when discussing the laws of suicide.13
there is a more general ruling mentioned in the Talmud that one does not bury a
“wicked” person near a “righteous” person.14
There are halachic experts who have applied this general ruling to suicides,
stating that insofar as this person’s death itself was an act of sin, we have
no choice but to consider him wicked and to apply this restriction.15 It should be
noted, though, that applying this restriction does not preclude a suicide from
being buried in the Jewish cemetery, it just mandates that he be buried at a
distance from others.16
Kaddish for Suicide
respect to saying the Kaddish prayer, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, a great 18th-century
European rabbi and halachic authority known as the Chatam Sofer, writes that
insofar as the Kaddish prayer elevates the soul of the departed, why would we
not say it for one who commits suicide? In his words, “Because he did not
behave as a Jew, should we not save him from the abyss? If he fell, should we
not raise him back up?”17 Rabbi Sofer
further writes that even though there is the opinion that we do not mourn for a
suicide, if the lack of mourning will result in unbearable shame for the
family, then the family may go through the traditional rites of mourning to be
spared the embarrassment.18
we’ll soon see, given the strict definition of suicide in halachah, it is quite rare for these harsh ramifications to be
Halachic Definition of Suicide
does halachah define a suicide?
Maimonides writes that “one who [explicitly] states that he is ascending to the
roof [to jump], and then is seen immediately ascending to the roof in anger and
falling to his death, is assumed to have committed suicide.”19 A similar
phraseology is used in the Code of Jewish Law.20
Yechiel Epstein, one of the renowned halachic experts (poskim) of the 19th century, elaborates on this definition of
suicide in his classic work Aruch
HaShulchan. Rabbi Epstein writes that essentially only one who kills
himself while being of clear and sound mind, free from internal or external
coercion, is considered to have committed suicide. If, however, it’s possible
that there is another factor at play, such as extremes of fear, pain, distress
or mental illness, then it’s almost as though this person were “coerced” into
suicide, and it’s not considered a suicide of clear and sound mind. This does not
mean that misery is a valid excuse for suicide, only that, post facto, we do
not treat the deceased as a suicide.21
examples of extenuating circumstances in which the person is considered
“coerced” to commit suicide, as it were, are the fear that he would otherwise
be tempted to sin22 or a
misguided attempt to achieve atonement.23
arises from the writings of Rabbi Epstein and others is that essentially we
latch onto any rationale we can to avoid considering it a deliberate suicide in
the halachic sense. In other words,
it is not considered a true halachic
suicide as far as mourning and burial are concerned unless there is no other
on the circumstances of the death, there are three basic types of rationales we
can attempt to apply when considering whether it was, in fact, a suicide:
this person didn’t, in fact, kill himself.24
2) We know
for sure that this person killed himself, but there was some time lag between
his actions and his death, and therefore it’s possible he regretted his actions
before he died.25
3) We know
for sure that this person killed himself with immediacy; however, it’s possible
there was some compelling factor, such as extreme distress or a misconception,
“coercing” him to commit suicide.2627
the extremely limited halachic definition of suicide, it is rare to find a situation where we cannot apply some rationale or another to preclude it from
being considered a suicide, and it is therefore rare to actually apply the
halachic ramifications discussed above. (Of course, the above discussion in no
way legitimizes or minimizes the fact that one may not take his own life.
Rather, we are determining how the action is to be perceived after the fact.)
Precedents in Jewish History
with these qualifying factors, we can better explore and understand the
multiple tragic accounts of suicide throughout our long history.
only explicit suicide mentioned in the Bible is that of the great King Saul, the first Jewish king.
While in battle with the Philistines and realizing that capture was imminent,
King Saul asks his arms-bearer to kill him. When the arms-bearer refuses, King
Saul grasps his sword and falls on it, killing
himself.28 According to many opinions, his behavior is
not condemned,29 and several
explanations are given as to why this is not considered a suicide. According to
one explanation, King Saul feared that if he were captured, the ensuing attempt
to liberate him would come at the cost of many lives.30
are multiple other stories in the Talmud of suicide; of those that are not
condemned, one of the extreme extenuating circumstances of either internal or
external coercion can often be applied. One example is the famous story of Chana and her seven sons, which
takes place during the Greek persecution during the Second Temple period.31 After her
sons are killed one after another when they refuse to abandon Torah, we are
told that she ascends to the roof and throws herself to her death. There, too,
the mental distress caused by the enormity of her grief would exclude this from
being considered a suicide in the halachic sense.32
Another example is the tragic saga of hundreds of Jewish children who are being
taken captive to Rome for purposes of prostitution. All commit suicide en
route.33 The early
Talmudic commentators suggest that their suicide was driven by their fear that
they would be tortured into sinning,34
and therefore it was not considered a suicide.
a different angle, there is the interesting anecdote related about a known
sinner in the Second Temple period who has a change of heart. To gain atonement
for his past ways, he creates an elaborate scheme to punish himself with all
four methods of capital punishment simultaneously35;
upon his death, his actions are implicitly condoned.36
What he did was forbidden. However, as discussed above, since his actions were
based on the misguided attempt to achieve atonement, this, too, would not be
considered a post-facto suicide in the halachic sense.37
the tragic years of the Crusades, Jews were often forced to convert to
Christianity under threat of torture or death. Many Jews chose to take their
own lives rather than face the prospect of succumbing and undergoing baptism;
indeed, there were even those who preemptively killed their loved ones as well to
prevent this outcome. With respect to those that took their own lives in this
setting, one of the most prominent Talmudists from that era, Rabbenu Yakov ben Meir Tam, known as
Rabbeinu Tam, ruled that if one suspects that he will be tortured into
apostasy, then it may indeed be a mitzvah to take one’s life.3839
summary, then, we have seen how halachah
considers suicide to be a most serious and reprehensible act, and how there are
several serious halachic
ramifications for one who does commit suicide.
the other hand, after the fact, it is rare for one who kills himself to truly
be considered a suicide due to the extensive factors discussed above, and it is
therefore rare that those ramifications are carried out.
above, suicide is never the right choice and categorically forbidden by Jewish
law. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please get help; call
the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 and/or speak to a
mental health professional.
G‑d bless us all with complete physical, mental, emotional and spiritual
health. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I am with you; do
not be discouraged, for I am your G‑d. I will encourage you, I will also help
you, and I will support you with my righteous hand.”40
Thank you to Rabbi Avrohom Altein, Mrs. Bronya Shaffer, Rabbi Dr. Yosef Shagalow, and Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin for their assistance with this article.
5.Cited in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Rotzeiach Ushemirat Nefesh 1:4. See Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah, part 5, siman 59, where he discusses this concept with application to contemporary medical ethics. This concept is the basis for the law that one is forbidden to give his friend permission to strike him, embarrass him, or otherwise pain him (cited in the Code of Jewish Law by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Hilchot Rotzeiach Ushemirat Nefesh, siman 4).
7. The rationales in the next two paragraphs are enumerated by Rabbi Tucazinsky in his comprehensive work on the laws of death and mourning titled “Gesher Hachaim,” part 1, ch. 25.
8. Mishnah, Yoma 8:8, see also Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 1:4, where this is based on the verse in Isaiah 22:14.
9. As discussed previously, suicide is akin to murder. This idea, that an act of atonement cannot atone if the act itself was turned into a sin, parallels a more general concept in Jewish thought that “the prosecutor cannot also become the defender.” The Rebbe suggests a similar application of this concept with respect to Yom Kippur (namely, that even according to the opinion that Yom Kippur can atone without repentance, it cannot atone for the breaking of Yom Kippur laws themselves, see Likkutei Sichot vol 27 Acharei-Kedoshim).
10. Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avel 1:11. However, see Lechem Mishneh ad loc., who quotes the Ramban, who maintains that mourning is in fact done for the benefit of those left behind and therefore should not be withheld. See comments by the Chatam Sofer further in the article.
11. In Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Rotzeiach Ushemirat Nefesh 2:2, Maimonides writes that killing oneself is akin to committing murder. Elsewhere in Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:6), Maimonides writes that one who commits murder has no share in the World to Come.
12. See Shaalot Uteshuvot HaRashba, Responsa 743, among many others.
13. For example, in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, siman 345, where all the laws of the suicide are discussed, this is not mentioned. It is likewise not mentioned in Maimonides in the laws of suicide, Hilchot Avel 1:11.
14. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 47a.
15. See Gilyon Maharsha to Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 345:4. (This Maharsha refers to Rabbi Shlomo Eiger, son of the renowned Rabbi Akiva Eiger, not to be confused to Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, the famous commentator on the Talmud.)
16. Gilyon Maharsha, ibid., states that there should be at least 8 cubits (roughly 12 feet) separating his grave from the others.
17. Chatam Sofer, Even Ha’ezer 69. A similar opinion is brought by the Sdei Chemed, Hilchot Aveilut 120.
18. Chatam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah 326. See footnote 10 above.
19. Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avel 1:11.
20. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 345:2.
21. Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh De’ah 345:5. There are several earlier sources that provide a basis for his opinion, for example the anecdote of the washerman related in Tractate Ketubot 103b, as per the explanation of the Yaavetz ad loc. See footnote 27 for discussion of the degree of underlying distress which must be present.
22. See Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 40a, where it is referring to a more severe sin involving illicit relationships.
23. See Shevut Yaakov 2:111.
24. Chatam Sofer, Yoreh De’ah 326.
25. See Gilyon Maharsha to Yoreh De’ah 345.
26. See Aruch HaShulchan Yoreh De’ah 345:5.
27. In order for the suicide to be considered “coerced,” there has to be a relatively extreme degree of distress, pain, fear, etc. If one were to posit that any degree of distress qualifies the suicide as being “coerced,” then there would be no halachic entity of suicide, given that anyone who commits suicide presumably has some degree of distress. Of interest, there is a work which was produced in the 18th century titled “Besamim Rosh,” initially attributed to the great 13th century sage known as the Rosh, which suggests exactly this position—that any degree of distress whatsoever ought to qualify the suicide as “coerced.” Besides for the fundamental problem with such an approach (that suicide in halachah would lose all meaning), most scholars now consider the Besamim Rosh to be in fact penned by a more contemporary scholar with his own agenda and intentionally misattributed to the great Rosh as a means of gaining legitimacy.
29. See Radak to I Samuel 31:5, Radvaz to Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Avel 1:11, and many others.
30. Yam Shel Shlomo to Bava Kama, 8:59; there it elaborates that King Saul knew that his death was imminent regardless. Another reason given there is that it was not considered a suicide because he killed himself to prevent the widespread desecration of G‑d’s name that would result if the great King Saul was captured. According to others, King Saul was simply terrified of the pending torture should he be captured, and therefore his suicide was “coerced” by fear.
31. Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Gittin 57b.
32. In the version of this story quoted in Midrash Eichah Rabbah 1:50, the text states clearly that “that woman became insane, fell from the roof and died.”
33. Babylonian Talmud, Ibid.
34. Tosafot “koftzu” ad loc.
35. There were four possible methods of capital punishment meted out by the Jewish courts: stoning, burning, decapitation, strangulation. This man erected a creative contraption which would allow him to kill himself with all four methods simultaneously.
38. Rabbeinu Tam, quoted in Tosafot “Ve’al” to Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Avodah Zarah 18a. With respect to those that preemptively took others lives, see Daat Zekeinim to Genesis 9:5, where this behavior appears to be strongly condemned, based on a chilling anecdote. However, the Beit Yosef writes (Tur Yoreh Deah 157) that there are conflicting opinions regarding its permissibility.
39. As alluded to in the article, there are times when a Jew may choose to be killed, depending on the circumstances, and it may in fact be a mitzvah to do so. The extent of this permit and situations in which it is lauded are beyond the scope of this article. See Is a Jew Required to Die Rather than Transgress a Torah Command?
Todos los años, el 15 de mayo, los palestinos conmemoran el Día de la Nakba. La Nakba o “catástrofe” se refiere al desplazamiento de los palestinos después de la independencia de Israel en 1948.
Este concepto entró en la conciencia pública con la conclusión de los Acuerdos de Oslo, desarrollados con la Organización de Liberación de Palestina (OLP), la organización que afirmaba representar a los refugiados. El mandato declarado de la OLP era garantizar el “derecho de retorno” de los palestinos. El líder de la OLP, Yasser Arafat, inauguró el Día de la Nakba en 1998.
Grupos de árabes israelíes también conmemoran la Nakba, dirigida por los partidos políticos árabes de Israel.
Uno de los mayores problemas de los palestinos hoy día es el creciente sentimiento en el mundo árabe porque consideran que los palestinos son ingratos. El mundo árabe, devastado por los desastres y las guerras, se queja porque los palestinos no muestran ninguna sensibilidad con respecto al sufrimiento árabe. Los palestinos exigen que las naciones árabes descuiden sus propias crisis y se centren sólo en el “sufrimiento palestino”.
Arabia Saudita aún recuerda y lamenta el apoyo de los palestinos al tirano iraquí Saddam Hussein cuando invadió Kuwait en 1990 y Arabia Saudita en 1991.
La vida de los palestinos en Israel
Según todas las mediciones, la situación de los palestinos en Cisjordania, y definitivamente en Israel, es mucho mejor que en cualquier país árabe.
Un hecho distintivo es que hay miembros árabes en la Knesset. La Knesset israelí es el único parlamento en el mundo donde hay una representación conspicua y orgullosa de parlamentarios de origen palestino. Tal representación no existe en Jordania, o incluso en Ramallah o Gaza. Sólo debajo de una foto de Theodore Herzl y la bandera israelí en el parlamento israelí, los parlamentarios palestinos pueden hablar y actuar libremente, tanto que algunos israelíes se quejan de demasiada libertad, y por sus actitudes desafiantes.
En segundo lugar, Israel es el único país en el Medio Oriente que absorbió completamente a los refugiados. No se sabe bien, pero hay refugiados palestinos de las aldeas que fueron abandonados durante la guerra, que fueron absorbidos por otras ciudades y aldeas en Israel. Israel les ha otorgado la ciudadanía plena, y son ciudadanos con iguales derechos, derechos que les permiten votar por la Knesset. Jordania también le otorgó a los palestinos la ciudadanía, pero no completa. No hay datos estadísticos sobre esto, pero la mayoría de los ciudadanos jordanos de origen palestino no se les permite votar por el parlamento jordano, lo que hace que esté lejos de ser representativo de la verdadera cantidad de palestinos entre la población.
Finalmente, en estos tiempos, una verdadera Nakba está ocurriendo, pero no en Israel.
El desastre de Siria, incluyendo la nueva catástrofe palestina allí, es mucho mayor que la Nakba de 1948. Muchos miles de sirios y palestinos han sido desplazados del campo de refugiados de Yarmouk en Damasco, lugar que una vez albergó más de 100.000 residentes, pero recientemente fue arrasado durante la guerra civil siria. Cientos de palestinos y sirios murieron allí en combates y bombardeos con bombas de barril por parte de las fuerzas sirias.
Sin embargo, esto no interesa en lo absoluto a los partidos árabes en Israel. Incluso la OLP, que se supone represente a los refugiados desde 1948, ha ignorado completamente el desastre palestino que está ocurriendo en Siria. Como resultado, los refugiados no consideran a la OLP como un cuerpo que los cuidará y representará. Los sitios web de los refugiados palestinos en Siria no buscan ayuda ni simpatía ante la Autoridad Palestina de la OLP.
Acerca de Pinhas Inbari: es un veterano corresponsal de asuntos árabes que anteriormente publicó en los periódicos Israel Radio y Al Hamishmar, y actualmente se desempeña como analista para el Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
‘As a sign that you have read this, send me a blue thread in a parcel’: The heroic tale of young Ravensbrück inmates whose coded messages to their families were no less than genius.
The 27 letters were hidden for decades. Stuffed into furniture in the home of Krystyna Czyz, they were found by her daughter only in 2010. All were written by Czyz and sent to her parents from the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. All contained secret, coded messages that were added to the text by way of a simple but clever method: writing with urine. With courage and daring, a small group of inmates managed to send out reports about the crimes being perpetrated in the camp, particularly the medical experiments carried out on them.
Krystyna Czyz was only 15 when she decided for the first time to resist the Nazi occupation regime, immediately after the Germans invaded Lublin, her hometown in September 1939. Her parents joined a clandestine cell that provided classes for children whose schools had been shut down, while their daughter served as a communications officer and lookout in the Polish underground. Czyz was arrested in 1941, and after half a year of Gestapo interrogations and torture she was deported, along with other adolescents and women from the underground, to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was forced to wear the inverted red-triangle patch denoting her status as a political prisoner.
Tens of thousands of women – Germans, Jews, members of the resistance, Gypsies – were incarcerated in the camp, situated north of Berlin. Most of them were ultimately murdered. In the summer of 1942, SS physicians began to conduct medical experiments on them under the direction of Karl Gebhardt, who had the distinction of being the personal physician of SS head Heinrich Himmler. The victims included at least 74 young Polish women, most of them members of the underground. Their legs were gashed with pieces of glass and wood, and bacteria were introduced into the wounds. The ostensible aim of the experiments was to test potential infection-fighting medications. The Germans termed the victims “rabbits.” Czyz and her friends Wanda Wijtasik, Janina Iwaska and Janina’s little sister Krystyna were among them. The physical damage inflicted on them made even the thought of escape pointless.
In January 1943, after months of brutal experiments, Czyz, now 20, and her friends decided to rebel – by reporting secretly about the experiments to the Polish underground. By this means, they thought, the reports would be conveyed to the Polish government in exile, the International Red Cross and foreign governments, and the horrific crimes being committed by the doctors in the camp would be revealed to the world.
The question was how to get the information out of the camp. Their only form of communication with the outside world was the one letter each inmate was permitted to write to her family once a month. The letter had to be written in German, its content limited to a report about their supposedly good situation, and it was subject to SS censorship. Anyone who deviated from the restrictions risked death. One member of the group suggested bribing the camp’s female guards or administrative personnel to smuggle the letters out, but they knew that if they were informed upon, they would be executed. A cleverer solution was needed.
The very next day four young inmates – Krystyna, Wanda, Janina and her sister – wrote letters to their families. Ostensibly, they were as mundane as the earlier missives. In an interview with her that was published in 2015 in a book about the camp’s history, Czyz related that when her family received the letter, her father read it aloud and they all scrutinized the text for hints about her health, but the usual blandness seemed to prevail. Nevertheless, something about the letter struck Krystyna’s brother as different. His sister mentioned in it their admiration for the children’s book “Satan from the Seventh Grade,” recalling how amazed they had been at the protagonist’s cleverness and resourcefulness. He found the mention of the book odd. Why was his sister suddenly referring to a book they had adored as children? But then he remembered the novel’s plot and understood the hint.
The book, by the Polish writer Kornel Makuszyski, tells the story of a seventh grader who is known for his acute intelligence and his detective skills. While investigating a mystery he is caught by criminals and imprisoned in a cellar. To ensure that his disappearance does not arouse suspicion, they demand that he write a letter to an adult friend of his, a professor, saying that he’s gone on a trip for a few days. The boy writes the following letter:
“Greetings to you, Mr. Professor! I may be a little insane, because I have gone completely on my own to an unfamiliar area, but luck plays into the hands not only of sane people but also insane ones like myself, and I am only sorry, Mr. Professor, that you are not here with me. It didn’t take long before I found a delightful girlfriend, so I don’t know when I will be back. I am enjoying the trip very much. Long live summer vacation! The area here is very pretty, and I write this without exaggeration and from sincere observation, but even so, Ejgola is much prettier. Regards to Wanda, and I miss Mrs. Teresa and all the occupants of the house. Yours, Adam.”
The recipient finds the letter suspicious. To begin with it, the way it was written was confusing, with some of the lines being short and others long, with no obvious logic. Some sentences broke abruptly midway through, only to continue on the next line, and there were also mistakes in several of the names mentioned in the letter. The recipient inferred that the deliberate mistakes were intended to attract his attention and to signal the presence of a secret message embedded in the text. It emerged that the letter contained an acrostic, spelling out the warning: “Safeguard the house.”
Krystyna’s brother thus inferred that she too must be sending a secret message. Even though the letter was blurry, the family was able to work out an acrostic. The concealed message was “list moczem,” meaning “letter in urine,” in Polish. When it comes in contact with paper, urine loses its color quickly and becomes invisible on the page. However, if the paper is heated, the writing reappears. Czyz’s mother applied a hot iron and the secret message was revealed.
“We have decided to tell you the whole truth,” Krystyna wrote in the margins of the letter using a thin stick dipped in her urine. She elaborated on the medical experiments to which she and her friends had been subjected, and signed off by noting that the family should expect similar letters in the future. Czyz was sufficiently resourceful to ask her parents to acknowledge – in code – in their next letter to her that the secret message had been received. She, for her part, read the response from her family carefully, to find the code word that confirmed that her message had been deciphered.
The four inmates sent increasing numbers of coded letters. They improved their methods, filling every empty space in the letter and even the envelope with the clandestine messages. To transmit longer messages, they divided the text and each of them sent part of it to her family; the families then met secretly to piece together the full text. The messages in the letters described the atrocities perpetrated in the camp, including the experiments conducted by the German doctors. They also reported the death of several young women in the wake of the experiments, and noted the physical and mental damage suffered by those who survived. The letter writers stuck scrupulously to the facts and refrained from complaining about the situation or about the conditions in the camp. They provided first-hand testimony about the crimes being perpetrated in Ravensbrück, in the hope that revelation of the information would somehow help to bring about an end to the Nazis’ deeds.
“Up to January 16, 1943, 70 persons were operated on altogether,” Czyz wrote in a secret message in March 1943. “Out of this number, 56 were from the Lublin September transport, 36 of these operations began with infection (3 without incision) and 20 bone operations. In bone operations, each incision is opened again. No more new operations since Jan 15.”
She went on to list the names of the victims, their serial number in the camp and the type of operation they underwent. “Infection operations August 1st 1942: Wojtasik Wanda 7709, Gna Maria 7883, Zielonka Maria 7771…” She added the names of the doctors who carried out the experiments (source: “Ravensbrück: Inside Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women,” by Sarah Helm).
“As a sign that you have read this letter, send me a blue thread in a parcel …,” she wrote to her parents. “You can send a note hidden in the double bottom of a tin. Write at least once, describe the political situation. I am waiting for that! Message continued in letters from Wanda and Janina.”
At the same time, the young women made plans to escape from the camp. In May 1943 Janina Iwaska’s father received a letter in German from his daughter: “Dear Bolust! I received packages from you on 23/IX [Sept. 23] and 5/X [Oct. 5]. We thank you very much for this. I am writing you a very short letter today, because I don’t have much time. But Ninka is writing a long letter. She is released from work for a few days due to illness. In her letter you will discover exactly how we spent Easter. There is nothing new here, spring is marvelous. Thanks to everyone for sending regards. I kiss you strongly.”
The real message appeared on the envelope holding the letters, and was decoded by Janina’s father: “Five female Polish political inmates have escaped. We are preparing a new escape. Send in a parcel: a compass, an accurate map of Germany, two false identification documents with photographs that are not especially characteristic. As much Reichsmarks as possible and some jewelry (gold!). Send to: Krzysio Starszy in the Generalgouvernement, possibly through the organization. Comfortable shoes, 2 sponges. The mission [must be carried out by] June 20th, please hurry… Address the parcel to me. The map, identification documents and money, you should send in a strong, double-bottomed box.
“You have to do it very skillfully, carefully and invisible … underneath a jar of jam, a secret message tucked in a tube of toothpaste. At the bottom a rusks box. Sender: Agnieszka Kopertowska, Krakowskie Przedmiescie 26.4. Destroy the letter, in case anything happens, you know nothing.” (Source: http://www.alvin-portal.org; Polish Research Institute, Lund University, Sweden).
Whether the plan to escape was implemented fully is not clear, but all four women survived. After the war Czyz went on to pursue an academic career; Wanda became a psychiatrist; Janina was a journalist in Paris; and her younger sister became a doctor.
For their part, Czyz’s parents forwarded the detailed reports to the leaders of the underground in Lublin. From there they were sent on to Warsaw, then to the Polish government in exile based in London, which conveyed them to the headquarters of the International Red Cross in Geneva and to the Vatican. The government in exile called for a halt to the crimes being committed in the camp. The IRC replied that the subject was being examined but that the German authorities did not permit visits to the camp.
Despite that, the contents of the letters were made known to the world. At 7:10 P.M. on May 3, 1944 – nearly a year and a half after the first secret message was transmitted – a radio station in England belonging to the Polish underground broadcast an item based on the secret messages in the letters. The broadcast was meant for the world, but primarily for German intelligence who would be listening in. “In the concentration camp for women in Ravensbrück,” the announcer said, “the Germans are committing new crimes. The women in this camp are being submitted to vivisection experiments and are being operated on like rabbits. The [occupation] authorities have made lists of all women who had to submit to such operations. It is feared that these records are being kept for the purpose of murdering these women so as to obliterate all traces of their crimes… At present there are close to 3,000 Polish women in the Ravensbrück camp.”
The broadcast continued with a warning to those in charge in the camp: “For the fate of the women in the concentration camp of Ravensbrück all Germans are responsible: SS officers and doctors of the administration of the camp. The prime responsibility therefore falls on the commandant of the camp… his adjutant… and the chief woman guard. All these we are warning solemnly that if any mass murders are committed, or if the vivisection experiments continue, they will be held responsible – they and their families. We have established their identity and we are finding out particulars about their families. May they remember that their days are numbered. We shall find them even if they are to hide under the earth. None of the hired assassins of Ravensbrück will escape justice.” (Source: Sarah Helm)
Czyz related in an interview that news of the radio broadcast reached the inmates and stirred great excitement. After months of risking their lives on a daily basis, the four young women discovered that their reports were reaching destinations far beyond the gates of the camp.
After the war Czyz studied geography and became a research fellow at Lublin’s Maria Curie-Skłodowska University. She passed away in 2011.
Death by hanging
In 1945, as the Nazis’ defeat loomed, the SS began the evacuation of Ravensbrück; most of the prisoners still alive were sent on a death march in Germany. On April 30, the Red Army liberated those who remained. The four letter-writers survived and went on to have families. The female SS guards and warders were captured by the Allies and tried in Hamburg in the 1946-1948 Ravensbrück trials. The secret messages transmitted by the victims of the experiments were entered in evidence against them. Eleven of them were sentenced to death for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Karl Gebhardt, who supervised the experiments in the camp, was sentenced to death in the Doctors Trial held in Nuremberg in 1946-47. He was hanged on June 2, 1948.
This article is based on a chapter from Dr. David Gil’s forthcoming Hebrew-language book “The Art of Hiding.” www.artofhiding.com
If we put together recent discoveries in neuroscience with Midrashic tradition we may be able to shed new light on the meaning of the central mystery of Yom Kippur: the two goats, identical in appearance, over which the High Priest cast lots, sacrificing one as a sin offering and sending the other, the scapegoat, into the wilderness to die.
In past Covenant & Conversation essays on Acharei Mot, we have looked at the scapegoat as it figures in Jewish tradition and, in a very different way, in other cultures. But there are other dimensions of the rite that cry out for explanation. We argued that there were two goats because Yom Kippur represents a dual process of kappara, atonement, and tahara, purification, directed respectively at guilt and shame. But this does not explain why the two animals were required to be as similar as possible to one another, nor does it account for the role of casting lots (goralot). Presumably, these elements were designed to inspire feelings of awe and penitence on the part of the crowds that thronged the Temple on the holiest day of the year, but how and in what way?
Over the centuries, the Sages sought to decipher the mystery. Two animals, alike in appearance but different in fate, suggests the idea of twins. This and other clues led the Midrash, the Zohar, and classic commentators such as Nahmanides and Abarbanel to the conclusion that in some sense, the two goats symbolised the most famous of all the Torah’s twins: Jacob and Esau.
There are other clues too. The word se’ir, “goat,” is associated in the Torah with Esau. He and his descendants lived in the land of Seir. The word se’ir is related to sei’ar, “hairy,” which is how Esau was born: “his whole body was like a hairy garment” (Gen. 25:25). When Rebecca urged Jacob to pretend to be Esau in order to take Isaac’s blessing, Jacob said, “My brother Esau is a hairy [sa’ir] man while I have smooth skin” (Gen. 27:11). According to the Mishnah, a red thread was tied to the scapegoat, and “red” (Edom) was Esau’s other name. So there was a tradition that the scapegoat in some way symbolised Esau. Azazel, the mysterious place or entity for which the goat was intended, was Samael, Esau’s guardian angel.
In particular, the phrase “two kids of the goats,” shnei se’irei izim, mentioned in the High Priest’s rites, reminds us of the very similar expression, “two kids of the goats,” shnei gedi’ei izim, mentioned in Genesis 27, the scene of Jacob’s deception. Isaac had asked Esau to catch him some wild game and prepare him a meal so that he could bless him. Rebecca tells Jacob to “Go out to the flock and bring me two choice kids of the goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, the way he likes it. Such verbal parallels are not coincidental in the Torah. They are part of its sustained intertextuality, its finely woven prose in which one verse sheds light on another.
So the two goats of the High Priest’s service evoke in multiple ways the figures of Jacob and Esau, and specifically the scene in which Jacob pretended to be Esau, dressing in his clothes so that he would feel and smell like his brother. It was then, answering his father’s question, “Who are you, my son?” that Jacob said the words, “I am your firstborn Esau,” leading Isaac to say, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Gen. 27:22).
Who then were Esau and Jacob? What did they represent and how is this relevant to Yom Kippur and atonement? Midrashic tradition tends to portray Jacob as perfect and Esau as an evil-doer. However, the Torah itself is far more nuanced. Esau is not a figure of evil. His father loved him and sought to bless him. The Sages say that in one respect – honouring his father – he was a supreme role model. And in Deuteronomy Moses commands, “Do not despise an Edomite [i.e., a descendant of Esau], because he is your brother” (Deut. 23:8).
Esau in the Torah is not the epitome of evil. Rather, he is the man of impulse. We see this in the scene in which he sells his birthright to Jacob. Coming in one day exhausted by the hunt, he sees Jacob making lentil broth:
He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!”… Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright. (Gen. 25:30–34)
This vignette of Esau’s impetuosity – selling part of his heritage for the sake of a bowl of soup – is reinforced by the unique description of the action in the staccato form of five consecutive verbs (literally, “he ate, he drank, he rose, he left, he despised”). Every time we see Esau we have the impression of an impulsive figure always driven by the emotion of the moment, be it hunger, filial devotion, a desire for revenge or, at last, generosity of spirit.
Jacob is the opposite. He does not give way to his feelings. He acts and thinks long-term. That is what he does when he seizes the opportunity to buy Esau’s birthright, when he works for seven years for Rachel (a period that “seemed to him but a few days”), and when he fixes terms with Laban for payment for his labour. Rebuking his son Joseph for the seeming presumptuousness of his dreams, the Torah tells us that the brothers were jealous of Joseph “but his father kept the matter in mind.” Jacob never acts impulsively. He thinks long and hard before deciding.
Not only is impetuosity alien to him, he is also critical of it when he sees it in his children. On his death bed, he curses his three eldest sons in these words:
Reuben, you are my firstborn…. Unstable as water, you will not excel…. Simeon and Levi … Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel!” (Gen. 49:3–7)
Acting on the basis of anger and impetuosity is for him the sign of an unworthy personality with which he does not wish to be associated.
What does all this have to do with sin, transgression, atonement, and two goats?
Recent years have seen a revolution in our understanding of the human brain, and with it, the human mind. One key text was Antonio Damasio’s book Descartes’ Error. Damasio discovered something unusual about patients who had suffered brain damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Their ability to think remained unchanged, but their ability to feel dropped to almost zero. The result was that they found it impossible to make decisions. They would reason endlessly but fail to make their mind up on one course of action rather than another.
Much subsequent work has shown that Descartes and Kant were wrong in their assertion that we are, first and foremost, rational animals. David Hume was right in his view that we are primarily emotional beings who make decisions on the basis of feelings, desires, and drives of which we may be barely conscious. We justify our choices, but brain scans show that we may have made those choices before being aware that we had done so.
We are more driven by emotion and less by reason than Enlightenment thinkers believed. This discovery has led to new fields of study like behavioural economics (what people actually do rather than what theory says they do), emotional intelligence, and interdisciplinary studies linking neuroscience to morality and politics.
We have, in fact, a dual-system or twin-track brain. This is what Daniel Kahneman is referring to in the title of his famous book Thinking, Fast and Slow. One track is rapid, instinctive, emotional, and subconscious. The other is slower, conscious, deliberative, and calculating. The former allows us to react quickly to situations of immediate potential danger. Without it, we and our ancestors would not have survived. Many of our instinctive reactions are benign. It is natural to have empathy, and with it the tendency to feel other people’s pain and come to their aid. We develop a strong sense of attachment that leads us to defend members of our family or community. But not all instincts are benign. Anger, envy, jealousy, fear, hate, and the desire for revenge may once have been functional, but they are often deeply destructive in social situations. That is why the ability to “think slow,” to pause and reflect, matters so much. All animals have desires. Only human beings are capable of passing judgement on desires – of asking, should I or should I not satisfy this desire?
These recent discoveries in neuroscience and related fields do not tell us something new. Rather, they have vindicated an ancient insight that was often obscured by Enlightenment rationalism. We cannot live, choose, or love without emotion. But one of the fundamental themes of Genesis is that not all emotion is benign. Instinctive, impulsive behaviour can lead to violence. What is needed to be a carrier of God’s covenant is the ability to “think slow” and act deliberatively. That is the contrast between Isaac and Ishmael (of whom it was said, “He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him,” Gen. 16:12). Even more so, it is the contrast between Jacob and Esau.
Which brings us to Genesis 27 and the moment when Jacob dressed up in Esau’s clothes and said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn.” The two goats of the High Priest’s service and the two goats prepared by Rebecca symbolise our duality: “The hands are the hands of Esau but the voice is the voice of Jacob.” We each have an Esau and Jacob within us, the impulsive, emotional brain and the reflective, deliberative one. We can think fast or slow. Our fate, our goral, our life-script, will be determined by which we choose. Will our life be lived “to the Lord” or “to Azazel,” to the random vicissitudes of chance?
This is the moral drama symbolised by the two goats, one dedicated “to the Lord,” the other “to Azazel” and released into the wilderness. The power of ritual is that it does not speak in abstractions – reason versus emotion, instinctual deferral rather than gratification. It is gripping, visceral, all the more so when it evokes, consciously or otherwise, the memory of the twins, Jacob and Esau, together at birth yet utterly divergent in their character and fate.
Who am I? That is the question Yom Kippur forces us to ask. To be Jacob, we have to release and relinquish the Esau within us, the impulsiveness that can lead us to sell our birthright for a bowl of soup, losing eternity in the pursuit of desire.
 See Shemot Rabbah 46:4, Bamidbar Rabbah 1:15.  Antonio R. Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: Putnam, 1994).  Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).
So many people fail to appreciate the profound and positive impact that nature’s beauty can have on the lives of those who take the time to marvel at it. Even many devout individuals, while impressive in their commitment to Torah and mitzvot, do not instill in their children a sense of wonderment at the elegance and grace found in God’s world: majestic mountains, lakes, forests, flowers, colorful birds, and so much more. Parallel to this phenomenon, we also witness a widespread lack of appreciation for art and music. Religious school systems give little if any consideration to these matters, and they are not emphasized in most observant homes. This is a worrisome development, as this apathy toward aesthetics contradicts, in many ways, the very spirit of authentic Judaism.
Natural beauty, art, and music exist todisturb our complacency. Their purpose is to awaken in us a sense of wonder. And while beauty, art, and music facilitate that wonder, the role of religion is to provide us with the means to respond to it.
Artistic expression and religious observance are both forms of protest against taking the world for granted. The perception of objects as beautiful is an inexplicable phenomenon, and any attempts to rationalize the concept of beauty will be doomed to fail. The same is true for musings on the definition of art, which belongs to a world beyond words. Real art does not reproduce the visible but rather reveals the invisible. Consequently, not even artists are able to explain the beauty that resides within their creations. In fact, good artists are usually shocked by the work they produce. In general, they cannot explain their art any more than a plant can explain horticulture. This failure of the rational mind to categorize and define puts man in direct confrontation with the ineffable, and warns him not to fall victim to the simplistic belief that science can give him any insight into the mystery of our existence. Thus, natural beauty and art can be conducive to religious awakening.
Music, too, in its most exalted forms, is a means of giving structure to our inner feelings, and can therefore help us get in touch with the mysteries of our internal worlds. Man is charged with the duty to stand in awe of God’s creation. Beauty, then, is one of God’s incredible kindnesses to us, as it renders our task both easy and immensely pleasurable.
A student once asked the great Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch why in his old age he suddenly decided to spend some time in Switzerland. In his humble way, Rabbi Hirsch responded, “As an old man, I am afraid that when I will have to appear in front of the Lord of the Universe in the world to come, He will ask me, ‘Samson Raphael! Did you see My mountains in Switzerland?’ And I will not know what to answer”.
The Talmud adds another dimension to our understanding of the role and importance of aesthetics: “Three things grant a man serenity of mind: a beautiful dwelling, a beautiful wife, and beautiful furnishings”. Probably this statement relates to another remark by the sages: “The world cannot exist without perfumers and tanners; happy is he who deals in perfumes, and woe to him whose trade is tanning [because of the unpleasant odors produced in the tanning process]”.
Concerning music, we are told that “David would take the harp and play it with his hand, and Shaul [the first King of Israel] would be relieved and feel well, and the bad spirit would depart from him”. Furthermore, the Sages must have had good reason to inform us that the Temple service involved a choir of Levites who filled God’s House with otherworldly music and song. Many chapters of tehillim (psalms) begin with the phrase lamnatze’ach binginot, which Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch translates as, “To Him who grants spiritual victory through the art of music”.
The Sages made a number of remarkable observations concerning beauty. The Torah commands the urban planners in Israel to leave 1000 amot (cubits) of untilled land around each of the cities to be given to the Levites, allowing nature to manifest its beauty. The Sages further mandate that one must remove all unseemly objects, and even not plant trees in the immediate vicinity of a city, to ensure that the landscape will always be pleasing.
Beauty—whether in nature, art, or music—can calm us when we are stressed, or inspire our creativity and spur us on to great accomplishments. Jewish educators should encourage our children to study and appreciate natural beauty, art, and music. This should be done within the framework of the school and home, with emphasis on the religious significance of the aesthetic experience. With the proper perspective, visiting an art museum, or taking a walk in the woods, can effect real spiritual growth.
It is revealing that the Talmud calls on us to have beautiful furnishings in our homes. While many people do not have the financial means to spend on interior design, many are able, with less money, to make their homes warm and inviting. Few can afford to adorn their walls with original oil paintings, or to walk on expensive Persian rugs. Still, technology enables us to enjoy quality reproductions of even the greatest masterpieces. With an inexpensive frame and some light, we can create a heavenly “museum experience” in our own living rooms. Using simple flower decorations, one can revitalize an otherwise drab and dreary room. There are infinite possibilities available to people, according to their individual tastes and emotional needs. All that is required is a bit of thought and creativity.
To look at a Rembrandt and allow its beauty to wash over one’s mind is not just a sensory delight, but a religious experience that God, in His kindness and wisdom, has granted His creatures. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the famous mystic and philosopher who became the first Ashekanic chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, was stranded in London during the First World War. As often as he could, he would visit the National Gallery and look at its Rembrandts. On one such occasion, Rav Kook made a striking observation. The Torah states that God created light on the first day, while He created the sun and the moon only on the fourth day! What, then, was the source of light on day one? To this, the Sages reply that the first light was a special Divine radiance that God set aside as a gift for the righteous in the world to come. Rabbi Kook commented that he was certain God granted some of that light to Rembrandt.
Of course, we know that some music, paintings, and photographs implicitly conflict with our sense of decency and good taste, and convey messages that directly oppose the Jewish conception of holiness. But at their apex, classical art and music have the capacity to make us look beyond the mundane world and perceive the miracle of all existence frozen in an eternal moment, or in a heavenly combination of musical notes. Today we are confronted with many artists and musicians whose only goal—motivated largely by a lack of real talent—is to shock. Consequently, their popularity will fade away, since each of their pieces can only shock us once. This does not excuse us, however, from completely ignoring the beauty that does exist within the world of art and music. To refuse to listen to a refined piece of music is to close oneself off from one of the most sublime experiences our world has to offer.
The following suggestion is attributed to American author and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water bath is to the body.”
It is time for the religious community to put this matter back on its agenda.
 Eliyahu Meir Klugman, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: Architect of Torah Judaism for the Modern World, ArtScroll History Series (NY: Mesorah Publications Ltd., 1996) p. 320.
Last week we explored the excuses for anti-Semitism; this week we’ll look at the reason. Anti-Semitism is unique amongst the hatreds in the world in a combination of four aspects:
1) Longevity — it’s been around a long time 2) Universality — virtually everywhere in the world 3) Intensity — it’s expressed in a particularly virulent manner 4) Confusion — there is surprisingly little agreement on why people hate the Jews.
Historians offer many “reasons” to explain why people are anti-Semitic: Jews are too powerful or too lazy; too separate or a threat to “racial purity” through assimilation; pacifistic
or warmongers; capitalist exploiters or revolutionary communists; the “killers” of Jesus or the progenitors of Jesus; possessors of a Chosen People mentality or an inferiority complex. These reasons have only one thing in common — they have nothing to do
with our being Jewish. One might think that we are just the victims of bad luck — always possessing the needed quality to be hated wherever we are in the world at exactly that time in history.
Do you know who disagrees with the historians? Anne Frank. Writes Anne Frank on April 11,1944 in her diary: “Who knows — it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples
learn good, and for that reason and that reason alone do we now suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English, or representatives of any other country for that matter. We will always remain Jews.”
Anne Frank made a point of stressing that Jews have something of special value to give to the world, and that is precisely what the world has resented, and that is why people have persecuted
Jews. Anne Frank identifies anti-Semitism as a hatred of Jewishness, a loathing altogether different from the bigotry or racism that other peoples experience.
The Talmud (Tractate Shabbos 69) cites the source of anti-Semitism using a play on words: The Torah – the source of the Jewish system of laws, values and moral standards – was received
at Mount Sinai. The Hebrew pronunciation of “Sinai” is almost identical to the Hebrew word for “hatred” –
sinah. “Why was the Torah given on a mountain called Sinai?” asks the Talmud. “Because the great
sinah – the tremendous hatred aimed at the Jew – emanates from Sinai.”
At Sinai Jews were told that there is one God, Who makes moral demands on all of humanity. Consequently, at Sinai the Jewish nation became the target for the hatred of those whose strongest
drive is to liberate mankind from the shackles of conscience and morality.
At Sinai the Jewish nation was appointed to be “a light unto the nations.” There are those who embrace Jews and the Jewish faith because of that light; but there are also those who want
the world to be a place of spiritual darkness. They object to morality. Those would-be harbingers of darkness attack the Jews as the lightning rod for their hatred. This “call to Sinai” – the message entrusted to and borne by the Jews – ultimately transforms
the world. Yet, it is this very message that draws forth the wrath of those who would give their last ounce of strength to resist it.
A great many people simply can’t cope with the burden of being good. However, when they act in ways that are bad, they can’t cope with the resultant feelings of guilt. Try as they may,
they can never cut themselves loose from the standards of absolute morality dictated by the Torah. Stuck in this “Catch-22” situation, people turn with their mounting frustrations against the Jews, whom they perceive as personifying humanity’s collective conscience.
When the Jews entered the theological arena, they showed people all the mistakes they had been making: Pagan gods are nonsense – there is only one God for all of mankind, Who is invisible,
infinite and perfect. Infanticide and human sacrifice are unacceptable. Every human being is born with specific rights. No one can live as he pleases, for everyone must surrender his will to a higher Authority.
Conscious or subconscious, people recognize the Jews’ message as truth. Those unwilling to embrace the truth have found that the only way to rid themselves of it is to destroy the messengers
– for the message itself is too potent to be dismissed. If Judaism were just another ideology, people could laugh it off and continue on their merry way; however, deep in every human soul is the recognition of the essential truth of absolute morality.
For the last 2,000 years the Jewish people have gone through enormous amounts of persecution, hatred — ultimately leading to genocide. And through it all, the Jewish people always held
onto being Jewish. Why? They understood that it was worth it. They understood what the meaning of being Jewish was, and they were willing to pay the price.
The pain that is part and parcel of being Jewish is obvious; if people cannot see any meaning to that pain, it is unlikely that they will be willing to stand by their Jewish identity.
That is why we find such widespread assimilation today – Jews do not see why they should “lose out” on life and set themselves apart from their host societies.
If we can come to understand why Jews are so hated, we can understand who Jews are and, more important, who Jews can be. A powerful effort has been made to remove the Jewish element from anti-Semitism, by calling it “anti-Israel.” However, in doing so, is to ignore the critical message anti-Semitism teaches about the uniqueness and preciousness of the Jew. This alone is a compelling reason for Jews to learn about anti-Semitism and what it means to be a Jew. (drawn from “Why the Jews?” seminar: www.aish.com/sem/wtj)
Estuve leyendo el libro de Daniel, está lleno de visiones extraordinarias y apocalípticas. Me sorprendió que no está incluido en la sección del Tanaj-Biblia conocida como los Profetas y es parte de las Escrituras, y el Talmud ni siquiera considera a Daniel como uno de los Profetas. ¿Cómo puedes ser?
El tema planteado es realmente desconcertante. Pero antes de explicarlo, debemos determinar si Daniel era un profeta.
Por un lado, el Talmud establece explícitamente que Daniel no era un profeta (1) . Por otro lado, cuando el Talmud determina que solamente “48 profetas y 7 profetizas profetizaron a Israel” (2) , los Sabios no están de acuerdo en si Daniel está incluido en esa lista o no. (3)
Lo que es aún más extraño es que la observación en el Talmud de que Daniel no era un profeta se hace en relación con un incidente en el que Daniel parece haber tenido una visión, cuando los tres profetas oficiales que estaban junto a él no la tuvieron:
“Y yo, Daniel, vi la visión, pero los hombres que estaban conmigo no la vieron. Pero un gran temblor cayó sobre ellos, y huyeron para esconderse”(4) . ¿Quiénes eran estos hombres? Dijo Rabi Irmia, y algunos dicen que fue Rabi Jia bar Aba: “Eran los profetas Jagai, Zejaria y Malaji. Ellos eran superiores a él (Daniel), y él era superior a ellos. Eran superiores a él, en el sentido de que eran profetas y él no. Él fue superior a ellos, porque vio la visión y ellos no la vieron”. (5)
Por lo tanto, debemos concluir que lo que distingue a alguien de ser profeta no depende de las visiones, sino de algo más profundo y fundamental.
Si bien en el lenguaje común la palabra “profecía” es utilizada para describir visiones en general, la verdad es que existen dos clases de visiones: profecía y Ruaj Hakodesh (“inspiración Divina”). Con la profecía, es casi como si uno estuviera viendo la revelación, adquiriendo una íntima familiaridad con lo Divino, mientras que el Ruaj Hakodesh es un conocimiento más separado, como será explicado.
Algunos profetas ven una visión o sueño de un ángel hablándole, otros visualizan la forma de una persona, o hasta pueden percibir que Di-s mismo le está hablando. Sin embargo, otros no ven nada, sino que solamente escuchan las palabras proféticas. (6)
Hay varios niveles y clases de profecías (7) , pero el común denominador entre ellos es la manera en el que el intelecto del profeta se fusiona con lo Divino y trasciende los poderes normales intelectuales. Por lo tanto, cuando a los profetas se les concede una íntima familiaridad con el nivel de Divinidad que se les ha revelado, sus cuerpos se debilitan y tiemblan, y sus sentidos comunes se confunden o se paralizan, o simplemente se quedan dormidos. Es por esta razón que a veces encontramos que el profeta es referido en las escrituras como alguien que está actuando irracionalmente. (8) Esto no es debido a la falta de sabiduría. Por el contrario, él o ella se encuentra conectado con la sabiduría de Di-s, que trasciende el intelecto humano. Es debido a que durante la profecía, las personas que observan al profeta sólo perciben el vacío de lo que consideran ser intelecto racional, sin embargo, no perciben cómo la mente del profeta ha trascendido el intelecto humano normal y se ha fusionado con lo Divino. (9)
Aquellos que tienen Ruaj Hakodesh, sienten como si el espíritu Divino viniera sobre ellos. Con ello, reciben un nuevo poder que los estimula a tomar determinada acción, hablar con sabiduría, componer himnos, o discutir sobre problemas políticos o teológicos. Todo esto se hace mientras el que tiene el Ruaj Hakodesh está en plena posesión de sus sentidos. (10)
Es cierto que la inspiración a veces puede aparecer en forma de sueño, como sucede con los profetas. Pero hay, sin embargo, una diferencia entre la visión experimentada por los profetas en un sueño con los que aparecen a través del Ruaj Hakodesh, como fue en el caso de Daniel.
La diferencia se puede ver en la manera en que los profetas y aquellos inspirados por el Ruaj Hakodesh hacen referencia a sus visiones y sueños. Cuando los profetas profetizan, a ellos se les informa que aquella visión fue de hecho una profecía, y al levantarse, ellos declaran decididamente que fue una experiencia profética (11) . Por ejemplo, cuando Iakov se levantó de su sueño profético de los ángeles ascendiendo y descendiendo de la escalera, no dijo que fue un sueño, sino que proclamó: “¡Qué maravilloso es este lugar! Ésta no es otra que la casa de Di-s, y ésta es la puerta del cielo” (Génesis 28:16). Y luego hizo referencia a este incidente diciendo: “Di-s Todopoderoso se me apareció en Luz, en la tierra de Canaán, y Él me bendijo” (Génesis 48:3).
Daniel, sin embargo, utilizó el lenguaje de “visiones” para describir sus experiencias, incluso luego de haber visto ángeles y recibir sabiduría a través de ellos, como podemos ver de los siguientes versículos del Libro de Daniel:
1.“El secreto fue revelado a Daniel en la visión de la noche” (2:19)
2.“En el primer año de Belshazar, el Rey de Babilonia, Daniel vio un sueño…” (7:1).
3. “…y las visiones de mi mente me aterrorizaron” (7:15).
Mientras que es cierto que Daniel tuvo visiones, éstas estaban en el nivel de Ruaj Hakodesh, inspiración Divina. Por lo tanto, el libro de Daniel es parte de la sección de Ketubim, los Escritos, y no los Neviim, Profetas. (12)
Cuando hablamos sobre la diferencia entre la profecía y el Ruaj Hakodesh, debe hacerse una distinción entre los niveles de revelación Divina (qué tan alto en la cadena de emanación entre Di-s y el hombre alcanza el individuo), y la calidad de la misma (cuán íntima y clara es la revelación para el individuo).
Mientras que la calidad de revelación es superior en la profecía, el nivel de revelación logrado a través del Ruaj Hakodesh puede ser mucho más elevado del que se puede llegar a través de la profecía. El profeta adquiere un conocimiento y una familiaridad íntima con el nivel de Divinidad que se le revela, hasta el punto que el profeta dice que “vio a Di-s”. Es muy limitado lo que el profeta puede ver, como Di-s le dijo a Moises, “Ningún hombre me puede ver y sobrevivir.”(13)
Con Ruaj Hakodesh, sin embargo, no es como si realmente se “viera” o “escuchara” algo, sino que es más similar a percibir algo con la mente. Por lo tanto, el receptor de este Ruaj Hakodesh puede tener acceso a un mayor conocimiento de la infinidad de niveles y capas de emanación Divina que incluso el profeta. Pero al final, él solo conoce el hecho de su existencia (Iediat Hametziut), pero no tiene una apreciación real de su verdadera naturaleza, porque nunca la ha “visto”.
Esto es lo que el Talmud quiere decir cuando menciona que “un Sabio es superior a un profeta” (14) . Porque el Sabio, a través del Ruaj Hakodesh, puede tener acceso a niveles de perspicacia que superan lo que los profetas son capaces de vislumbrar tangiblemente. (15)
Los niveles de revelación profética experimentados durante la vida de un profeta no son estáticos. El mismo profeta a veces puede experimentar diferentes niveles de profecía, Ruaj Hakodesh, o ambos. (16) Por lo tanto, incluso si Daniel había alcanzado el nivel de profecía en algún momento de su vida, (17) no estaba en relación con el libro de Daniel, por lo que todavía se considera parte de los Ketuvim, los Escritos.
2. Ibid., 14a. Cabe señalar que cuando el Talmud declara que solo 55 profetas “profetizaron a Israel”, no significa que sólo haya 55 profetas. De hecho, el Talmud nos dice que el número de profetas a lo largo de la historia judía fue el doble del número de personas que abandonaron Egipto. Lo que significa decir es que hubo 55 profetas que dijeron profecías que tienen relevancia para las generaciones futuras y no solo para su propia generación.
3. Ver Halajot Gedolot, cap. 76; Seder Olam Rabbah, cap. 20; comentario del rabino Shlomo Yitzjaki, de Rashi a Megilah, ibid.
7. Vea la Guía para el perplejo 2:45, donde Maimónides enumera nueve niveles de profecía. (En realidad, enumera once; sin embargo, los dos primeros no se consideran profecía. Más bien, son formas de inspiración divina que están cerca de la profecía y están en el camino a ella, pero no son profecía técnica).
9. Ver Maimónides, Mishneh Torá, Hiljot Iesodei Hatora 7: 2; comentario del rabino David Kimji (Radak) a 1 Samuel 19:24; El rabino Menajem Mendel de Lubavitch (Tzemaj Tzedek), Ohr HaTorah, Sukkot, pp. 1715–7, y Derej Mitzvoteja 172b.
10.Para aclarar, hay en general dos niveles de ruaj ha-kodesh. Uno simplemente inspira y mueve a la persona a tomar una acción específica, como rescatar a una comunidad, como es el caso de los diversos Jueces de Israel (véase, por ejemplo, Jueces 11:29, 14:19). El segundo y mayor nivel de ruaj ha-kodesh es cuando a la persona se le otorga el conocimiento divino, y también se le puede alentar a hablar o escribir sobre él. Cuando hablamos de “conocimiento fáctico”, nos referimos al nivel más alto de ruaj ha-kodesh, que trata del conocimiento (para más información sobre estos dos niveles, consulte la Guía para perplejos, ibid.).
11. Encontramos que el profeta Samuel, cuando escuchó una voz Divina por primera vez, pensó que era su mentor, el sumo sacerdote Eli, que lo llamaba. Eso se debió a que Samuel aún no sabía que Di-s se dirigió a los profetas de esta manera. Fue en el curso de ese episodio que Samuel aprendió que era una profecía. Vea la Guía para el perplejo 2:44.
GOOD MORNING! After the shooting at the Poway Synagogue in California many people have asked, “Rabbi, why do people hate the Jews?” “Why do they want to kill us?” We are seeing an ever-increasing number of anti-Semitic hate crimes. I decided to share with you a two-part article that I published 2 years ago.
Anti-Semitism is nothing new. Between the years 250 CE and 1948 CE – a period of 1,700 years – Jews have experienced more than eighty expulsions from various countries in Europe – an average of nearly one expulsion every twenty-one years. Jews were expelled from England, France, Austria, Germany, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal, Bohemia, Moravia and seventy-one other countries.
Historians have classified six explanations as to why people hate the Jews:
Economic — “We hate Jews because they possess too much wealth and power.”
Chosen People — “We hate Jews because they arrogantly claim that they are the chosen people.”
Scapegoat — “Jews are a convenient group to single out and blame for our troubles.”
Deicide — “We hate Jews because they killed Jesus.”
Outsiders — “We hate Jews because they are different than us.” (The dislike of the unlike.)
Racial Theory — “We hate Jews because they are an inferior race.”
As we examine the explanations, we must ask: Are they the causes for anti-Semitism or excuses for Anti-Semitism? The difference? If one takes away the cause, then anti-Semitism should no longer exist. If one can show a contradiction to the explanation, it demonstrates that the “cause” is not a reason, it is just an excuse. Let’s look at some contradictions:
1) Economic — The Jews of 17th- 20th century Poland and Russia were dirt poor, had no influence and yet they were hated.
2) Chosen People — a) In the late 19th century, the Jews of Germany denied “Chosenness” and strove to assimilate. Yet, the Holocaust started there. b) Christians and Moslems profess to being the “Chosen people,” yet, the world and the anti-Semites tolerate them.
3) Scapegoat — Any group must already be hated to be an effective scapegoat. The Scapegoat Theory does not then cause anti-Semitism. Rather, anti-Semitism is what makes the Jews a convenient scapegoat target. Hitler’s rantings and ravings would not be taken seriously if he said, “It’s the bicycle riders and the marathon runners who are destroying our society.”
4) Deicide — a) The Christian Bible says the Romans killed Jesus, though Jews are mentioned as accomplices (claims that Jews killed Jesus came several hundred years later). Why are the accomplices persecuted and there isn’t an anti-Roman movement throughout history? b) Jesus himself said, “Forgive them [i.e., the Jews], for they know not what they do.” The Second Vatican Council in 1963 officially exonerated the Jews as the killers of Jesus. Neither statement of Christian belief lessened anti-Semitism.
5) Outsiders — With the Enlightenment in the late 18th century, many Jews rushed to assimilate. Anti-Semitism should have stopped. Instead, for example, with the Nazis came the cry, in essence: “We hate you, not because you’re different, but because you’re trying to become like us! We cannot allow you to infect the Aryan race with your inferior genes.”
6) Racial Theory — The overriding problem with this theory is that it is self-contradictory: Jews are not a race. Anyone can become a Jew – and members of every race, creed and color in the world have done so at one time or another.
Every other hated group is hated for a relatively defined reason. We Jews, however, are hated in paradoxes: Jews are hated for being a lazy and inferior race – but also for dominating the economy and taking over the world. We are hated for stubbornly maintaining our separateness – and, when we do assimilate – for posing a threat to racial purity through intermarriages. We are seen as pacifists and as warmongers; as capitalist exploiters and as revolutionary communists; possessed of a Chosen-People mentality, as well as of an inferiority complex. It seems that we just can’t win.
Now we know what are NOT the reasons for anti-Semitism. Stay tuned till next week for the reasons for anti-Semitism — or, if you can’t wait, go to http://www.aish.com/sem/wtj (from which much of this material is taken) for the conclusion!
Nearly 60 years after she attended and wrote about the Eichmann trial, Hannah Arendt remains a controversial figure among intellectuals in Israel
“A time will come, that you will not live to see, when Jews will erect a monument to you in Israel… and they will proudly claim you as their own,” the philosopher Karl Jaspers wrote to his close friend Hannah Arendt in 1963. That monument remains unbuilt in Israel 2019. Nearly 60 years have gone by since the trial of Adolf Eichmann, and Arendt’s name continues to generate fierce criticism among many Israeli intellectuals. Although she is considered by many one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, and even though she was a Holocaust survivor and a Zionist (at least for a certain period) – she was boycotted in Israel for many years and most of her writings have only recently been translated into Hebrew.
The strong feelings that Arendt, who died in 1975, arouses in scholars, especially Israelis, spring primarily from her 1963 book “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.” Based on a series of articles Arendt wrote for The New Yorker, the book is critical of the way Israel conducted the Eichmann trial and the way the defendant was portrayed. Instead of the murderous, anti-Semitic monster the prosecution sought to paint, Arendt saw something very different: a new type of mass murderer, but without malicious, necessarily lethal, motives, who neither considered the significance of his deeds or accept responsibility for them. She attributed to Eichmann what she termed “thoughtlessness,” an inability to think from the other’s point of view.
Her book immediately sparked bitter controversy that persisted throughout the 1960s. Arendt was denounced, including by some of her closest friends, as anti-Zionist and said to an example of “Jewish self-hatred.” She was accused of being favorably disposed toward Eichmann and of absolving him of guilt and responsibility for his crimes. Her good friend, the kabbala scholar Gershom Scholem, wrote to her that she lacked “love for the Jewish people.” Relations between them were severed in the wake of her response to his letter.
For long decades, Arendt was unofficially ostracized in Israel. Her books were not translated into Hebrew and her work was not discussed, in either the academic or public spheres. She was effectively subjected to political-intellectual excommunication. It was not until 2000 that “Eichmann in Jerusalem” was published here, and the Hebrew-reading public had the opportunity to judge the text for itself.
More recently, Arendt’s status in Israel has begun to change. Though trenchant criticism is still leveled at her, over the past two decades, a process has been underway that reflects new approaches to her thought. She is no longer taboo: Her writings are the subject of critical and more favorable consideration by Israeli scholars, among them Adi Ophir, Michal Ben-Naftali and Leora Bilsky.
One reason for her gradual inclusion in public discourse is the dominance of post-Zionist and postmodern discourse in academic circles beginning in the 1990s. The first international conference on Arendt to be held in Israel took place in Jerusalem in 1997, with its lectures later issued as a collection of articles (in English), written mainly by scholars from abroad, edited by historian Prof. Steven Aschheim.
A notable step in introducing Arendt into the Israeli discourse was made by historian Idith Zertal. She researched Arendt’s thought and the controversies surrounding her, and beginning in the 1990s, published articles on these subjects in Israeli journals and newspapers. Prof. Zertal also discussed Arendt extensively in her book “Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood” (published in English in 2005), which dealt with the politics of Holocaust memory. In 2004, in the wake of the first Hebrew-language conference on Arendt, held at Tel Aviv University, a first collection of essays in Hebrew also appeared. In 2010, Zertal’s Hebrew translation of Arendt’s groundbreaking work “The Origins of Totalitarianism” was published.
The Arendt renaissance continued with translations into Hebrew of additional books, among them “The Human Condition” and “The Jewish Writings.” In the past decade, local universities have offered courses on Arendt, a play about her life was staged here and she was the subject of an Israeli documentary film.
Arendt challenged, and continues to challenge, the Jewish and Zionist consensus. The conceptual revolution she fomented with the term “banality of evil” and its relevance 56 years after it first saw the light of day, remain difficult to swallow even in our world today. What is it about that concept that continues to the present to stir such deep unease among Israeli intellectuals?
Arrested by the Gestapo
Arendt was a Holocaust survivor in every sense, even if she did not define herself as such. She was born in 1906 to an assimilated Jewish family in Germany, and studied philosophy from an early age. She was Martin Heidegger’s pupil and wrote her doctoral thesis at the University of Heidelberg under the supervision of Karl Jaspers. In 1933 she was arrested by the Gestapo for engaging in Zionist activity, and was released after a week by a young officer she befriended. She succeeded in fleeing with her mother and reached Paris, where she spent eight years as a refugee. She also worked for Youth Aliyah, organizing groups of children and adolescents for immigration to Palestine. Following the occupation of France, Arendt was arrested and incarcerated in the Gurs camp in the country’s southwest, but managed to escape within a few weeks.
In 1941, Arendt and her husband, Heinrich Bluecher, fled to the United States, for which they had refugee visas, via Lisbon. She became an American citizen in 1951 and lived in the country, pursuing a distinguished academic career, until her death in 1975.
Arendt’s lengthy refugee experience went a long way toward shaping her political thought. Her Judaism and her approach to the Jewish question also played an important part in this context. Arendt espoused a strong affinity for Zionism, even though she was critical of Zionist ideology and was increasingly censorious in regard to Israel.
Why, despite her biography, did her book generate such a stormy controversy? The answer lies, in part, in her critique of the political nature of the Eichmann trial. Arendt saw it as a show trial – a political event with a specific agenda. She took issue with the fact that the majority of the testimonies were not relevant to proving the defendant’s guilt. She also objected to the prosecution’s focus on the legal category of a “crime against the Jewish people,” which was intended to promote a Zionist-historical narrative in which the Holocaust was depicted as another link in a long chain of persecution of Jews. That approach, she argued, attested to the fact that the court did not grasp fully the singularity of Auschwitz. In her conception, the Nazis’ crimes were unprecedented and constituted “crimes against humanity.”
However, the source of most of the anger against her lay elsewhere. What brought about her boycott in Israel was her interpretation of Eichmann and her characterization of the victims of the Shoah.
Arendt objected to the prosecution’s depiction of Eichmann as having been guided by a racist, murderous ideology. She offered an alternative interpretation: Eichmann as a bureaucrat engaged in advancing his career, who avoided contending with the consequences of his own deeds. Arendt contemplated the possible emergence of a “desk murderer” who perpetrates his harrowing crimes from afar, doing no actual killing himself and viewing himself as a law-abiding citizen who obeys his superiors’ orders. This was the context in which she coined her contentious and most widely misunderstood concept of the “banality of evil.”
Though Arendt’s book was subtitled “A Report on the Banality of Evil,” the term itself appears only once in the text, near the end. It has been subjected to endless interpretation. One reason for the initial bewilderment was that Arendt did not explain the term in the book’s first edition. She did so only in a postscript that appeared in a revised and expanded edition published in 1965. Her later references to the term and her personal correspondence with friends shed further light on what she meant.
Arendt explained that she had not attempted in the book to articulate a comprehensive theory of the essence of evil, but rather intended to point to a phenomenon she had noticed during the trial. By “banality of evil,” Arendt had in mind two interconnected ideas. The first is that Eichmann was not a satanic figure or, for that matter, an extreme anti-Semite. He was an ordinary person. He had no motives for his actions other than promoting his own advancement. His deeds were monstrous, but the man himself was banal.
The notion of the “banality of evil” refers to the paradox created by totalitarian society, in which an unprecedented crime is executed optimally by an ordinary bureaucratic apparatus; it suggests the disparity between the vast dimensions of the crime and the unexceptional persona of the criminal. This challenged a long theological, philosophical, moral and legal tradition, extending from Augustine to Kant, which maintained that acts of evil must necessarily be a manifestation of evil intentions, and that the degree of the evil that finds expression in crimes must be consistent with the level of malice of the motives.
The second element that Arendt perceived in Eichmann was “thoughtlessness,” a trait she defined as the “almost total inability ever to look at anything from the other fellow’s point of view.” But this did not absolve him of responsibility for his deeds. The lesson to be learned from the Eichmann trial, in her view, was that this sort of thoughtlessness, which is “by no means identical with stupidity,” can “wreak more havoc than all the evil instincts taken together which, perhaps, are inherent in man.” Her primary argument was that in the atmosphere prevailing in Nazi Germany, Eichmann could not have distinguished between good and evil. Arendt termed him a “new type of criminal,” who commits his crimes “under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible to know or to feel that he is doing wrong.”
What is so difficult to accept about Arendt’s hypothesis of the “banality of evil” – and what generated opposition to the book in Israel – is that she was positing here a new type of conscience. Contrary to the judgment handed down in the trial, Arendt did not believe that Eichmann needed to “close his ears to the voice of conscience,” or that he lacked a conscience altogether, but that the voice of conscience of “respectable” German society did not tell him that he should feel guilty for his deeds.
Whereas the law in enlightened states presupposes that the voice of conscience tells everyone, “You shall not kill,” the law in Hitler’s state required the voice of conscience to tell everyone, “You shall kill.” Indeed, one of Eichmann’s claims in the trial was, Arendt writes, “that there were no voices from the outside to arouse his conscience.”
An additional reason for the rancor directed at Arendt was her criticism concerning the image of the victims of the Holocaust. She objected to the prosecution’s systematic evasion of dealing with the cooperation of the leaders of the Judenräte (the Jewish councils) with the Nazis. One of the most difficult allegations to accept in the book is that if the Jews had been less well organized, and if they hadn’t had a leadership, the overall number of victims would not have reached the dimensions it did.
“To a Jew,” Arendt asserts, “this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story.” This hypothetical claim is of course unprovable speculation by Arendt.
Some of Arendt’s detractors understood the term “banality of evil” as a description of the crimes themselves. By this thinking, if the Nazis’ crimes were banal, it follows that they were not unforgivable. Others interpreted her comments about the responsibility of Jewish leaders as a classic instance of blaming the victim. Both groups saw her book as a dangerous blurring of boundaries that could lead to moral nihilism. Criticism of this sort, which was raised immediately upon the book’s publication, is still being voiced.
Israeli historian Anita Shapira, for example, maintains that Arendt’s critical approach reflects moral ambiguity, and this is what has made her a favorite of postmodernists. “‘Nothing is at seems.’ There is no truth, no lies, no victim, no murderer. No one is guilty, none are innocent, there is no hierarchy of values, no value is absolute,” Shapira wrote, in a 2004 article, “The Eichmann Trial: Changing Perspectives.”
Elhanan Yakira, former head of the philosophy department of the Hebrew University, asserted in his book “Post-Zionism, Post-Holocaust” (published in English in 2009) that “Eichmann in Jerusalem” is not only Arendt’s worst book, it is also “morally scandalous” and a philosophical-moral failure. In a later article, he explained that his attempt to expose the book’s intellectual failure is part of a broad effort to expose the moral failure of today’s critics of Zionism, who cast aspersions on Israel with “the systematic use of the Holocaust as an ideological weapon.”
One of the flagrant mistakes in Yakira’s book is his claim that Arendt engaged in an “act of suppression” vis-a-vis the Nazis’ crimes. Arendt, he maintains, barely refers to the annihilation itself. It is true that Arendt’s theory of totalitarianism focused more on the concentration camps and less on the death camps, but this in no way stemmed from a “suppression” of the crimes. The atrocities of Auschwitz jolted every fiber of her being. The act of annihilation is present throughout her book on Eichmann and guides her thinking.
One author who went a lot farther is Tzvia Greenfield, a Haredi journalist (and briefly a Knesset member from Meretz). In her 2017 Hebrew-language book “Collapse: The Disintegration of the Political Left in Israel,” she repeats the same baseless accusations against Arendt that were voiced 50 years ago. Time and again she reiterates that according to Arendt, “it was precisely the Jews themselves who effectively brought about the catastrophe of the annihilation” through the cooperation of the Judenräte with the Nazis. Greenfield even maintains that Arendt asserted that “Eichmann is the true victim of the historical events.”
It’s doubtful whether Greenfield, who accuses Arendt of expressing views that “border on Holocaust denial,” no less and no more, read “Eichmann in Jerusalem” carefully. Otherwise, it’s hard to understand how she could fault Arendt for undermining the “implications of the Holocaust” in order to justify Israel’s violent treatment of the Palestinians, in a book that was published four years before the Six-Day War. Greenfield draws a direct line between Arendt’s criticism of David Ben-Gurion and Zionist ideology, and the BDS boycott movement, which she maintains is undermining Israel’s legitimacy.
Let’s set the record straight: Nowhere in the book does Arendt absolve the Nazis in general or Eichmann in particular of guilt. Arendt was vehemently opposed to the “cog in the machinery” theory, according to which Eichmann was supposedly not responsible for his actions. Functionaries are human beings, too, and as such are blameworthy and guilty. Eichmann, she argues, was accused as a human being; an individual human was on trial, not the entire Nazi regime. Nor, in contrast to many of her friends, did she object to the death penalty he received.
Furthermore, Arendt never claimed that the Jews were to blame for their own destruction. Her consideration of the role of the Judenrat is indeed an infuriating and painful part of her book, marked by a harshly judgmental approach and insensitivity. Even though her discussion of the topic covers only 12 pages, it was the issue that sparked the fiercest response and the most intense anger against her. Her views concerning the behavior of the Jewish leadership during the Holocaust were very similar to the dominant approach in Israel during its first two decades of existence. The judgmental approach toward the Jewish Police and the leaders of the Judenräte, and against everyone who was suspected of “collaboration” with the Nazis prevailed in the country. This was reflected in legislation – in particular the Law for the Punishment of Nazis and Their Collaborators (1950); in the Kapo trials in the 1950s, and in the trial of Rudolf Kastner in 1955.
At the same time, Arendt did not censure the victims themselves, who went to their death, supposedly, like “sheep to slaughter.” On the contrary: She was critical of Gideon Hausner, the chief prosecutor, for asking survivor witnesses over and over, “‘Why did you not protest?’ ‘Why did you board the train?’ … ‘Why didn’t you revolt and charge and attack?’” She argued that these were silly, cruel questions, which attested to a total misunderstanding of life under the murderous terror of the Nazi dictatorship.
Moreover, she also made a point of noting that no other non-Jewish population under German occupation behaved differently. Idith Zertal adds in her book that the prosecutor’s approach aimed less at understanding the Jewish situation under Nazi rule, than at serving the needs of the Zionist narrative and self-image.
The stand Arendt took on the side of the survivors was given symbolic expression in her choice to sit among them in the courtroom rather than in the section reserved for VIPs and journalists. The hall, Arendt wrote, “was filled with ‘survivors,’ with middle-aged and elderly people, immigrants from Europe, like myself, who knew by heart all there was to know, and who were in no mood to learn any lessons and certainly did not need this trial to draw their own conclusions.” Like many Holocaust survivors, Arendt too thought that the huge crimes committed by the Nazis could not be adequately represented through the trial, but nevertheless acknowledged that there were no other tools with which to judge them.
Arendt had little patience – neither for Hausner’s theatricalities and nor for the dozens of witnesses whose testimony was heard in the trial. Her rhetoric was at times sharply honed, perhaps excessively so. Her tone was steeped in irony and at times showed a lack of empathy toward some of the testimony, infuriating the Jewish community in Israel and abroad. As the Jewish, Turkish-American philosopher Seyla Benhabib noted, many of the terms Arendt used in her book showed an astonishing lack of perspective and judiciousness, and above all strong emotional involvement and lack of distance from the topic she was examining. She wasn’t able to find “the right public language, the right discourse through which to narrate past sorrow, suffering, and loss.”
Zertal, too, believes that Arendt’s rhetoric played a part in rendering the book controversial. “The things themselves,” she told me in an interview, “the caustic, compassionless wording, were frequently more than the people of the time and the people of this place could bear.”
But above and beyond that, she says, “What was acceptable and tolerated for the people of the Yishuv, the Zionist collective ‘we,’ was not permissible for the ‘foreign,’ Diaspora, anti-Zionist woman, as her critics termed her. She burst into the midst of the organized event of the trial and disrupted its ideological messages, which were on the brink of theology, about Zionist redemption that sprang from Jewish annihilation. The fact that she was a woman and a groundbreaking thinker, possessing a brilliant intellect, in a realm of knowledge that was completely ruled by men, did not facilitate her acceptance.”
Beyond this, it is worth dwelling on the ambivalent position that Arendt represents as a Jewish refugee, on the one hand, whose life was shaped by virtue of her Jewishness and by her ties with Zionism, and her critique of the Zionist project, on the other hand, as an outside observer. According to the writer and translator Michal Ben-Naftali, who was deeply influenced by Arendt and devoted a book to her, “It is impossible even for a moment to accuse Arendt of being alienated from her Jewishness. Not only is she occupied with the commitment and responsibility that stem from that identity, but from the 1940s onward she writes about Jewish and Zionist matters from a position of involvement and concern, though this never leads to integration or an unequivocal sense of solidarity.”
Ben-Naftali adds, “It seems to me that precisely the uncommon fusion of caring and critical distance generates suspiciousness toward her in the best case, and massive recoil in the less-than-best case.”
Saving the Jewish state
Even though Arendt didn’t see herself as belonging to any political group, and even if it’s hard to tag her as “left” or “right,” her critical writing anticipated some of the central issues that appeared years later in studies conducted by the “New Historians” and “post-Zionists.” Already in early articles from the 1940s, Arendt was critical of the Jewish nation-state, supported binational and multinational political frameworks, and warned about the threat posed to the Arab population of Palestine. In her book about Eichmann she came out against what she perceived as the Zionist project’s exploitation of the memory of the Holocaust. Arendt touched plenty of raw nerves, which continue to generate searing disputes.
In 1948, at the height of Israel’s War of Independence, and long before the Nation-State Law was promulgated and before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented the plans for of Auschwitz-Birkenau at the UN General Assembly, Arendt wrote the following in an article titled “To Save the Jewish Homeland”: “And even if the Jews were to win the war, its end would find the unique possibilities and the unique achievements of Zionism in Palestine destroyed. The land that would come into being would be something quite other than the dream of world Jewry, Zionist and non-Zionist. The ‘victorious’ Jews would live surrounded by an entirely hostile Arab population, secluded inside ever-threatened borders, absorbed with physical self-defense to a degree that would submerge all other interests and activities.
“The growth of a Jewish culture would cease to be the concern of the whole people; social experiments would have to be discarded as impractical luxuries; political thought would center around military strategy; economic development would be determined exclusively by the needs of war.”
Zertal’s 2018 book “Refusal: Conscientious Objection in Israel” (in Hebrew), which deals with the issue of political evil and the possibilities of rising up against it, examines the intellectual, political and historical background of conscientious objection to army service in Israel, particularly in relation to the occupation. “Eichmann in Jerusalem” is the book’s point of departure. Zertal shows how Arendt’s ideas, including the “banality of evil,” “which were rejected and repressed for years, are present in the thinking of young Israelis and influence their choices and their decisions” during their army service and afterward. The book contains interviews with soldiers of various ranks, from reserve officers to former Shin Bet security services director Ami Ayalon, who talk about how they became functionaries who only did their duty in operational actions, in a narrow realm that left them little room for thought.
“She is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most influential thinkers of the 20th century,” Zertal told me. “And she chose consciously not to be a philosopher in the sense of thinking and reflection in isolation from the world, but saw herself as a political thinker whose philosophy is nourished by life’s experiences. She experienced it all first-hand: world wars, Nazism, the Holocaust, totalitarianism, revolutions, postcolonialism, refugeehood and migration. Rare are the thinkers who have introduced into their work so many critical issues for deciphering the world, and did so with an intellectual passion and brilliance and with such uncompromising courage as Arendt.” I asked Ben-Naftali what she thinks makes Arendt unique. She replied that she was drawn to her thought “because of her nonconformist courage and because of her effort to dissolve clichés and norms of thought impartially.” According to Ben-Naftali, “Arendt’s writing is informed by tremendous complexity. It seems to me that many people cannot bear complexity in contexts that they consider to be ‘volatile.’ That tendency renders many of the debates on public issues superficial and effectively superfluous, and not only in this context.
“In a certain sense, Arendt knew that. She knew she was aiming for what was intolerable and was acting just plain tactlessly, touching on things that were not yet ripe to be touched on. There aren’t many people who are capable of doing that and paying the kind of price that she did. In a way, the book was aimed, already when it was published, at the sensibilities of a generation younger than the one Arendt herself was part of. From this point of view, Arendt’s writing still awaits us in years to come.”
Dr. Michal Aharony is a researcher of the Holocaust and political philosophy, and author of “Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Total Domination: The Holocaust, Plurality, and Resistance” (Routledge, 2015). Her website is https://michalaharony.net/.