BY EUGEN SCHOENFELD / AJT CONTRIBUTOR//
Perhaps one of the dominant influences that the two thousand years of galuth the Diaspora had on Jews is distrust.
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The common denominator of Jewish experiences was, and perhaps still is, hostility and broken promises. Lewis Namier, a noted Jewish historian, when asked by Isaiah Berlin why he, a Jew, devoted himself to write English History and not the history of Jews, responded, “There is no modern Jewish history. There is only a Jewish martyrology” and that didn’t interest him.
In fact, a part of the High Holiday service is devoted to the history of the martyrs. While all nations honor their heroes – the people who gave their lives for a cause – Jewish history in contrast honors those whose lives were taken away, namely martyrs.
No wonder the generations of pre-Holocaust Jews distrusted the Christian and the Muslim world. Even when, on the very infrequent times, the Christian world sought to eliminate the harsh anti-Jewish laws that characterized many European and Islamic countries, the two thousand years of negative experiences led Jews to distrust the sincerity of offers for changing Jewish-Christian relationships.
We have always questioned the sincerity of any positive offers and that is quite understandable. How frequently in our history were we permitted to settle in a country and later we were summarily thrown out?
This doubt places me on the horns of a dilemma about Iran. Can we trust them? Is their offer sincere or, as the American Indians would say, are they speaking with a “forked tongue?”
Most Jews, be they in America or Israel, as well as many non-Jewish Americans do not trust the Iranian government. If history is an indication of the future, Jews have indeed good reason for distrusting them.
They have denied the Holocaust, they have vowed to destroy not only Israel, but like Hitler, Jews altogether. So how shall we treat this sudden change in attitude? Is their new peace offering merely a façade induced by self interest?
I have no doubt that Iran’s new image does not reflect a change of heart, but rather represents a way to maximize their economic self-interest. And yet, with all that doubt and distrust should we take an opportunity to explore the possibility of an accommodation between the Western Nations (including Israel) and Iran?
Let me point out that in spite of historical hostilities, Israel made peace with both Egypt and Jordan. I am not here to tell you that these countries became friends with Israel – but they have established a modus Vivendi that has now lasted for a number of decades.
But even more importantly, I wish to propose that Israel’s political perspective should not reflect an attitude that rises from real-politick and become kechol-hagoyim like all other nations, but should reflect the unique Jewish value that raises the search of peace above all else. The following Talmudic midrash is apropos in this instance.
The rabbis asked, “How can we differentiate between Jews who are truly descended from Abraham from those who are descended of the erev-rav [the mixed multitudes who joined the Jews and freed themselves from Egyptian slavery]?”
The answer the rabbis proposed is that those who descended from Abraham are seekers of peace. The Hebrew text is rodef shalom namely those who run after peace. For the sake of peace we must often take a chance – after all we can always make war.
Thrice daily Jews for millennia have prayed: Grant us peace for with peace we also have welfare and blessings. The Karliner Rebbe instructed us: “The entire progress of mankind depends on loyal cooperation. If quarrels are absent from the company of men, no evil can over take them.”
The Bratzlaver Rebbe taught us: “Prayers are not heard when there is no peace.”
Many years ago, before my brother lost his life in Auschwitz, there were times when the two of us had disagreements. At such times my mother (z”l) would tell me: “Tuli, you are the oldest and hence wiser than your brother. For the sake of peace, give a little.”
And so, I must say to the powers to be in Israel – don’t be like others, honor our values and seek peace. Even when we doubt the honesty of the Iranian government, let us give it a chance. Haven’t we lost enough people?
Shall we not choose, as the Torah advises, life over death? After all, we can always respond with war if necessary, but give peace a chance first and foremost.
We always took pride that we are the people of the “book,” that we are a learned people we are talmodey chachomim a people of scholars. We should therefore remember the teaching of Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Chaninah who said, ”Scholars increase peace throughout the world – that scholars are the true builders are the true builders of peace and let us be the true example of the teaching of Abraham and run after peace.”