The call came late on a Sunday night in June 2003. Shlomo Dror’s ex-wife was worried about their elder son, Emil’s, emotional well-being. A psychoanalyst in Tennessee, Dror promised to follow up quickly. Phoning the next day from his office, he couldn’t mistake Emil’s deep distress. Dror whirled into action. Telling his secretary to cancel all his patients that week, he rushed to catch the first flight to San Francisco and arrived at Emil’s door unannounced after midnight.
The next day they had heartfelt talks from morning to night. Emil, 34, echoed a complaint he had first lodged years before as a rising high school senior. He dredged up the hurt of a 6-year-old boy whose father pounced to make a winning move while teaching him chess.
Dror recalls, “I had this crazy idea I had to teach Emil how to get along in a rough world. Here he was years later telling me this was one of the most crushing experiences he ever had, and for the rest of his life it gave him a sense he couldn’t count on my help to make him feel good.”
Now Dror was there in person to rescue his precious son from major depression. He called a colleague in the San Francisco Bay area and made a therapy appointment for the two of them the following day. Having a plan seemed to foster a sense of calm over the situation.
The next morning, after reviewing the plan for the day and confirming Emil’s agreement, Dror was showering when he heard Emil shout cheerfully, “I’ll be back in a minute.” Intuitively, he knew his son didn’t plan to come back. He feared Emil was about to do the unthinkable.
One psychiatrist asked, “Have you called the Golden Gate Bridge?”
Dror called all over town, including police and emergency personnel, hoping to prevent Emil from harming himself. One psychiatrist he consulted asked, “Have you called the Golden Gate Bridge?”
As Dror was to learn later, it was too late.
After almost an hour of dreadful foreboding, he answered the phone to hear a highway patrolman say, “We recovered your son’s body from the bay.”
Dror lay on the floor in anguish, pounding his fists and screaming with all his might, “Emil, don’t jump! Please, please, please don’t jump!” He knew he couldn’t change the reality, but he continued screaming and crying anyway.
“I was filled with terror, horror, unbearable pain. I was expressing it with my entire mind and body. I cannot think of any equivalent moment of concentrated experience in my entire life.”
Life after Death
After picking himself off the floor, a great sense of calm unexpectedly washed over him. That moment marked an indelible turning point. “I have had two lives, before and after the suicide. I brought one life to a close and started a new life, almost as an infant,” Dror reflects.
Soul-searching became his constant focus. While agonizing over his tremendous loss and what kind of father he had been, Dror was counseled by his Chabad rabbi, among others, and over time he became an observant Jew.
“At that point we had already been studying on a weekly basis,” Rabbi Yossi Wilhelm of Knoxville, Tenn. explains. “We discussed many of life’s happenings through a Torah lens, which without question looking back was gave Shlomo a foundation to allow growth to come out of this terrible tragedy.”
Rabbi Wilhelm describes how Dror wrestled with his grief, pain and regret. “He mourned, and I’m sure he continues to mourn, struggling to get over the blame, and then he realized he would choose to learn from this. He accepted what happened and looked at how he could grow. By choosing to live life in a fulfilling way he is honoring his son’s memory. I believe this is a very Jewish approach to suffering.”
“By choosing to live life in a fulfilling way he is honoring his son’s memory. I believe this is a very Jewish approach to suffering.”
Dror’s slow journey toward Jewish observance had begun when he got cancer at age 40 – one year after the trauma of his divorce. As he says, “I intuitively felt that getting cancer was meaningful, although it would be several years until I gained broad understanding of its import. That ‘catastrophe’ provoked serious soul-searching as a close encounter with mortality often does.
“Dr. Dick Felder z’’l, a personal friend, visited me in the hospital while I recovered from a second surgery. He said he had read everything in the medical literature on psychological characteristics of cancer patients – psychosomatic disease was one of his specialties – and he learned only one thing of significance. ‘If you want to survive this,’ he said portentously, ‘you’d better get connected to someone.’
“I didn’t know what to make of this at the time, but after four months of intensive radiation therapy post discharge, I traveled to Spain to present a paper at an international professional conference. By ‘coincidence,‘ I met Ruth Dayan, widow of Moshe Dayan, in a Madrid art gallery. Hearing that I lived in Knoxville, she asked which shul I belonged to, and named both of them. I was embarrassed to say I had never been to either.
“Dick‘s admonition to ‘connect’ and Ruth’s mention of congregations in my hometown combined to influence me to investigate the opportunities. After comparison shopping I became a member of the Reform temple, my first act of Jewish affiliation. It was also the beginning of an experience of connection that would culminate in a connection the likes of which I never imagined.”
During Rosh Hashanah services on the second year of synagogue attendance, he had a series of unprecedented experiences. “First I realized that the language of the prayers – recited mainly in English as is the reform custom – was beautiful, in fact poetic. Then I realized that this was more than elegant language – the words of the machzor conveyed ideas – ideas I deeply agreed with. I had one of the most startling revelations of my life.
“Having been a ‘60s counterculture radical, I held the unjustified conceit that the system of values that mattered to me had been formed through my individual effort to develop a philosophy of life. With an enormous shock I awakened to the fact that all the values I imagined I had selected independently had actually come from my parents, who learned them from their parents. My values were Jewish values passed from generation to generation beginning with the gathering Mt. Sinai thousands of years before me. In a flash, the concept ‘I am Jewish’ changed from a nearly empty verbal formula to an altered existence. With this new insight, ‘I am Jewish’ became the defining feature of my life. This was the first time my identity as a Jew gained existential gravity and intellectual substance.”
Building a Spiritual Life
Growing up in the only Jewish family in the small agricultural community of Moultrie, Ga., Dror wasn’t given a Hebrew name. He changed his name from Stephen to Shlomo Ya’acov after Emil’s death. His spiritual journey intensified and he made aliyah, becoming a citizen of Israel, in his 60s. As he studied Torah with new teachers, he decided to have a traditional bris, the ritual Jewish circumcision.
His internal landscape shifted dramatically. Dror, now 74, says he has given up the materialistic focus of his life before Emil’s death. He is driven to contribute to society by seeking opportunities to give charity, provide free counseling to those in need and share his teaching gifts. He pours his heart into his relationships with his younger son, Jesse, 47, his daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.
“I had been a bad father in the boys’ youth,” he confesses. “I was bad-tempered even when I wasn’t shouting. I couldn’t change what had occurred in the past, but I devoted myself to acknowledging the damage I’d done and to doing everything in my power to rectify things, doing tikkun (repair).”
After Emil’s passing, Dror could not get a passage from Psalm 34 out of his head: “God is close to the brokenhearted, and the crushed in spirit He rescues.” He says these words perfectly expressed his understanding that loss can be transformative.
“After Emil died, I no longer exclusively focused on the concept of being a better father; it broadened to the entire world. I review my behavior all the time, the good and the bad,” Dror says.
“I gave up the pretense of being better than other people. I dropped so much ego. If I had certain strengths other people didn’t have, it didn’t make me a better person. If I went to services on Shabbat and other people didn’t, it didn’t make me a better person. Since then I have never had a concern as great as my concern for teshuvah, genuine change. Whatever time God allows me, nothing can push me off course.”
La introspección, es la observación que una persona hace de su propia conciencia o de sus estados de ánimo para reflexionar sobre ellos.
Estamos acostumbrados a mirar a nuestro entorno o alrededor del mismo, y no dentro de nosotros; solo lo hacemos cuando nos duele o nos afecta mucho alguna situación.
Intentamos entonces examinar lo que nos ocurre para poder hallar la solución que nos restaure a nuestra anterior posición de bienestar. Es por ello, que siempre es necesario observar nuestros estados de ánimo, ya que de verdad lo necesitamos.
En nuestra educación, posiblemente no hemos sido enseñados a identificar emociones, así como tampoco a pedir ayuda cuando la precisamos. Pero llega un momento en nuestra vida que nos damos cuenta que algo anda mal y decidimos pedir ayuda psicológica en pos de recuperar nuestro equilibrio y estado saludable.
Para dar el paso y acudir a terapia, tenemos primero que dejar atrás la vergüenza en algunos casos, o el miedo que podamos tener en ese momento.
Lo hacemos porque queremos ser más libres y volver a tener de nuevo esa paz que ya no está con nosotros. No es que estemos locos, tan solo algo perdidos.
“Cinco de cada cien personas reciben actualmente tratamiento psicológico”. La sociedad ha normalizado el hecho de asistir a terapia psicológica, algo que en otros tiempos se ocultaba al círculo de amistades, incluso dentro del ámbito familiar. Es verdad que todavía sigue ocurriendo, pero con menos frecuencia y en casos aislados.
Afortunadamente se habla más abiertamente del tema y la figura del psicólogo o terapeuta está mejor valorada y se ve actualmente como la persona que te puede guiar.
¿Qué le pedimos a una terapia psicológica? Una de las primeras cosas que toda persona quiere saber cuándo asiste a terapia es la causa de sus angustias y sufrimientos. Porqué me ha ocurrido esto a mi y qué lo ha provocado, se preguntan la mayoría. Hallar la/s respuesta/s requiere de una pericia por parte del terapeuta que ha de separar y priorizar la causa de las múltiples adversidades.
El terapeuta cuenta con herramientas para ayudar al paciente en la tarea de limpiar esas adversidades con el menor daño posible. Aunque debemos normalizar el dolor y aprender que no se puede ser feliz las 24 horas del día.
El hecho de no querer ver el problema o dolor que está con nosotros, así como exigirnos estar bien siempre o meternos presión para cuanto antes recuperar nuestro bienestar, provoca que el proceso de recuperación sea mucho más lento de lo deseado. Por eso mismo, a veces lo normal no es lo saludable y en ocasiones nosotros somos los que más nos maltratamos, sin querer y de forma inconsciente.
Toda persona debería pasar por terapia psicológica al menos una vez en su vida, a pesar de que abrirse emocionalmente a un desconocido no es fácil y es uno de los actos más valientes que existen. La virtud está en el término medio, ya que contarse la vida de la peor manera tampoco ayuda. Hay que establecer límites y recetas anti-violencia con respecto a la estima personal.
La baja autoestima suele acompañar muy a menudo a la persona que asiste a terapia. El terapeuta debe enseñarle a cuidarse, a quererse y respetarse, poniendo el foco en determinadas conductas o comportamientos cotidianos del día a día donde poderlas poner en práctica.
El establecimiento de espacios y normas más beneficiosas hacen aumentar el respeto por nuestra autoridad. No hay que tener miedo a hablar de autoridad, que no es más buscar términos medios, reelaborar, buscar alternativas…
Así comenzamos a actuar desde nuestra libertad responsable en la que no podemos culpar a los demás de nuestras desdichas, ni tampoco evidentemente culparnos a nosotros mismos. Se trata más bien de ser responsables de nuestros actos y decisiones.
Como terapeuta y psicóloga, creo en el valor de las personas. Son ellas las que mejoran y
consiguen salir adelante solucionando los problemas internos que han ido almacenando a lo largo de su vida.
El terapeuta es un guía, un profesional que ayuda y da pautas en ese proceso, donde la toma de conciencia y el trabajo interno que corresponde realizar a cada uno de nosotros son clave en esa búsqueda o camino hacia lo saludable.
Cuando me presento como una persona de fe, una persona que tiene esperanza, que cree en Dios, que cree en lo misterioso e inefable, que cree en lo sagrado y oculto que se devela en la Tora, automáticamente un gran número de personas considera que debo ser poco inteligente o menos sofisticado que ellas como para necesitar estructuras que estas mismas personas definen como infantiles, irracionales, dogmáticas o débiles. Creen que necesito engañar a mi mente y creer en estas cosas ilógicas para tener un ordenamiento en mi vida buscando protección de algún miedo inconsciente aún no identificado (quizás miedo a la muerte, la soledad, el sinsentido o la libertad absoluta).
Una de los elementos más egocéntricas y arrogantes de nuestra era es la cantidad de gente que se auto congratula y se felicita a sí misma por ser orgullosamente atea y no creer en nada, como si esto significara que alguien es más inteligente porque no precisa de narrativas mitológicas creadas para personas débiles o menos sofisticadas que necesitan una especie de “voz paterna” que les indica cómo vivir mientras le define qué es lo bueno y qué es lo malo en la vida. El ateo radical se enorgullece de creer que puede decidir qué es lo bueno y lo malo y de no precisar de ningún ordenamiento social heredado de carácter metafísico, ya que entiende que el ser humano es la medida de todas las cosas. Quienes no creemos que la ética puede ser definida por la propia consciencia moral de cada individuo, ni tampoco creemos en que no existe ningún tipo de bien o mal en el mundo ya que todo es absolutamente relativo y aleatorio, somos vistos muchas veces como débiles o poco sofisticados.
Lo primero que me genera incomodidad en este tipo de posición atea radical y arrogante es su falta de conexión y continuidad con la antigüedad y la historia del pensamiento de la humanidad. Si uno se interesa por leer a los grandes escritores, filósofos, pensadores y artistas de la historia de la humanidad eliminando de esa lista todos aquellos que consideraron y contemplaron la posibilidad en sus pensamientos de algo metafísico, misterioso e inexplicable, la lista que queda no solo es minúscula sino que dicho pensamiento no logró perdurar como sello de nuestra especie. Por eso cuando uno escucha los argumentos de un ateo arrogante, generalmente descubre que son presentados como argumentos egocéntricos lógicos mientras que los de una persona de fe, de un creyente, de un religioso como yo, son interpretados por el mismo ateo radical como el producto de una neurosis psicológica.
El problema es la arrogancia
Cada día estoy más convencido que el universo no puede ser reducido al resultado numérico que da un examen de coeficiente intelectual como definición de verdad e inteligencia. La declaración del Shema Israel, la creencia de una unicidad cósmica en la que todo lo que existe está relacionado con todo lo que existió y existirá, me lleva a vivir una vida más plena frente a cualquier otra explicación que conozco y que compite con esta idea. Incluso la declaración agnóstica representada en el “ realmente no lo sé” me satisface más porque no es una explicación sino una declaración de ignorancia y en tanto de humildad. Sin embargo, esto no es lo que argumentan los ateos arrogantes que dicen con soberbia “saber la verdad de algo” que yo no sé y no entiendo porque no estoy capacitado para verlo como ellos.
Pero tampoco es así porque en el fondo también creo que el ateo cree que no cree. Es decir, el ateo también tiene una creencia. La creencia que cree no creer en nada. Sin embargo, la decisión de privilegiar ciertas creencias o explicaciones como realidad más auténtica por encima de otras posibilidades, si uno se considera realmente inteligente más allá de su ateísmo, agnosticismo o religiosidad, debe asumirlas con humildad. Al fin de cuentas lo que todos humildemente hacemos, ateos, agnósticos y religiosos, es decidir creer en algún tipo de afirmación tentativa e incomprobable para todos nosotros de la realidad y luego habitar y vivir la vida en esa afirmación. Lo hacemos libremente sabiendo que es posible traer otra explicación que otra persona puede decidir habitar.
Los ateos arrogantes deberían admitir que quizás se equivocan. Los que nos declaramos religiosos también debemos reconocer que podríamos llegar a estar equivocados. Es cierto, todo podría ser un accidente de la química sin ningún significado más allá del que nosotros le hemos asignado dentro de un contrato de lectura o acuerdo interpretativo. En lo personal, pensar esta idea está lejos para mi de poder sentirla como la realidad que experimento. Puedo pensar, es decir puedo concebir en mi mente la idea que el planeta que habito, este lugar que me da aire y alimento en forma increíblemente sofisticada es un accidente de la química. Puedo también pensar, imaginar o concebir la idea que junto a mis seres queridos todo lo que me emociona pero no puedo expresar en palabras es porque somos monos sofisticados con ideas creativas y una poderosa imaginación. Sin embargo, mi experiencia de la vida no reafirma esta idea, imaginación o pensamiento que mi mente produce. Que mi mente pueda pensar o imaginar cosas no necesariamente significa que las creo como realidad ni se sostienen como experiencia real para mí. No creo todo lo que mi mente concibe. Tampoco conozco persona aún que no me diga que más allá que pueda pensar o imaginar ideas ateas, hay ciertas cosas que experimenta o ha experimentado de su vida con una sincronicidad y conexión metafísica misteriosa e inexplicable de eventos y sentimientos.
¿Cuál es tu placebo?
Yo sé que mi vida es mejor cuando siento que soy parte de algo más grande e importante que mi propia existencia. Experimento esta sensación -incluso si llegara a ser un placebo- nutrida de amor, asombro, curiosidad y gratitud por mi existencia. Y aquí es importante entender que cómo evaluamos las cosas que vivimos y sentimos no necesariamente es porque son una “verdad” lógica o coherente producida por nuestros pensamientos, nuestra mente, nuestra imaginación o nuestras ideas. Los ateos arrogantes que conozco sufren mucho más por el sin sentido de la vida, por tratar de entender su identidad y pertenencia, por no saber quienes son y qué se suponen que deben hacer con su existencia que las personas creyentes que conozco. Porque si decido guiarme por el placebo del ateísmo y me declaro orgullosamente ateo entonces, ¿para qué hacer algo si nada si tiene sentido? ¿Para qué traer hijos al mundo? ¿Para qué intentar salvar una vida o luchar por un mundo mejor? ¿Para qué inventar algo o trabajar? ¿Para qué esforzarse o aprender algo nuevo? Si no creo en nada para que vivir por algo.
Lo que la vida religiosa me otorga no es solamente esperanza sino también resiliencia y propósito. Yo sé muy bien para qué me levanto cada mañana y por qué debo agradecer a Dios por haberme dado otro día para ver a mi familia y realizar mi tarea en esta vida. Lo mejor de todo es que incluso si mi propia creencia llegara a ser un engaño- nuevamente una especie de placebo- confieso que funciona de maravilla. Si se que es un engaño pero decido de todas formas levantarme comprometido con un mundo que busca unicidad, momentos sagrados, amor y justicia y me paso el día enseñando y viviendo estas experiencias milenarias de mi tradición porque siento que soy un sirviente del Hakadosh Baruj Hu que me ha dado los talentos que tengo para hacer esto en la vida, para ayudar a despertar la conexión espiritual de los demás además de la mía y vivir la vida con otras personas siendo parte de los momentos sagrados de su existencia y su aprendizaje con el fin de vivir momentos de consagración a través de las enseñanzas de mi pueblo, al final de mi vida si me equivoque en mi engaño y el ateo arrogante tenía razón, estaré posiblemente amargado de no haber comido ciertas comidas que me gustaban pero las dejé por convicción religiosa. Quizás también estaré amargado de no haber intentado ser un músico profesional y vivir componiendo canciones, grabando discos y yendo de gira por el mundo. Obviamente cuando uno mira hacia atrás la historia que ve es la única posible así que sé que incluso mi engaño de lo que podría haber sido nunca se corresponderá con mi imaginación. Se que es otro pensamiento, otra imaginación o idea de mi mente. El “podría haber sido” es tan absurdo como declarar que “en el futuro seré”. Pero no es la realidad que experimento. Es otro engaño más.
Estoy seguro de algo más importante: si fue todo un engaño y al final de la vida el ateo arrogante tenía razón, de todas formas no estaré amargado de las familias que acompañé en nacimientos, ceremonias de bar y bar mitzvah, casamientos e incluso momentos de dolor y enfermedad acompañando a seres queridos a transicionar de este mundo al otro. No estaré amargado de la experiencia del ciclo anual del calendario judío, celebrando Shabatot y Jaguim, aprovechando cada instancia para crecer más, conocerme mejor, desafiarme y transformarme de una festividad a la otra y de un Shabat al otro. Sin dudas no estaré amargado por toda la Tora que he estudiado y todo el tiempo dedicado a conocer el pensamiento del pueblo judío. No estaré amargado de no haber dormido por mis estudios para mi maestría en educación judía y quedarme hasta las tres de la mañana para desentrañar una enseñanza del Talmud o la Tora. No estaré amargado por haber podido compartir con miles y miles de personas de todas partes del mundo la sabiduría ancestral de mi pueblo a través de clases y de mi blog. No estaré amargado de haber cambiado una historia de ego por una historia del alma. Al fin de cuentas no puedo imaginar cómo hubiese podido sobrevivir sin todo este maravilloso engaño en mi vida. Lo más importante de todo es que si todo lo que creo, enseño y vivo llegara a ser un engaño y el ateo arrogante tuviera razón, me sentiré feliz de haber elegido el mejor engaño que conozco. El ateo arrogante, ¿qué dirá al final de su vida?
Finalmente, lo mejor es que es tan glorioso este posible engaño que me hace creer y me convence cada día más que justamente no es un engaño: es la forma más precisa y preciosa para vivir una vida llena de sentido. ¿Cuáles son las posibilidades que un engaño como Dios, la Tora e Israel funcione tan bien por miles de años para millones de personas por todas partes del mundo? Es por eso que utilizando toda mi inteligencia disponible elijo cada día ser un creyente. De todas maneras al final de mis días cuando mire hacia atrás habré vivido un engaño que me dio sentido. Esto es lo que me recuerda Heschel cuando me enseñó que el objetivo más elevado de la vida espiritual no es acumular una riqueza de información, sino enfrentar momentos sagrados. A eso vinimos. Al creer elijo cada día vivir consagrando mi existencia.
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)