Anti-Semitism has its benefits

  • Parshas Ki Tetze - Rabbi Yossi Goldman
Whether it manifests in the crude bigotry of the lower classes or the snide subtleties of the upper crust, anti-Semitism is a fact of life.
by Rabbi Yossy Goldman, Sydenham Shul | Sep 12, 2019

But there is a strong argument to suggest that, in a perverse sort of way, anti-Semitism has been good for the Jews. The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, made that point in his book Anti-Semite and Jew. Without the constant reminders and threats to our existence, we Jews would have been lulled into a peaceful and passive state of national amnesia. Secure in our comfort zones, we might have lost much of our unique identity.

History records that under regimes that persecuted us, we remained steadfastly Jewish. Whereas, under more enlightened, liberal forms of government, we became comfortable in our newfound freedoms, gradually embracing a welcoming but dominant culture, and forfeiting much of our own.

Back in the 70s, when I was working with Jewish students at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), we were struggling to break through a wall of icy indifference towards Judaism. It was so frustrating that my colleagues and I even considered going onto campus in the dead of night to paint a few swastikas on the student-union building. Maybe that would jolt them out of their apathy. Of course, we never actually did it, but I confess to having been tempted.

Towards the end of this week’s parsha, we read of the commandment to remember the unprovoked attack by the nation of Amalek against the Israelites when they left Egypt. We are told zachor (remember) and lo tishkach (you shall not forget). But why the need for both expressions? And what’s the difference between remembering and not forgetting?

Commentary suggests that “remember” is a command to the Jewish people. “Don’t forget” would seem to be a prophecy concerning the nations, in other words, they won’t let you forget! Should you ever lapse into a false sense of security and forget your Jewishness, the anti-Semites of the world will be there to remind you of who you are. You are still an outsider, a people that dwells alone.

Everything has a purpose in creation. There is nothing redundant, nothing in vain in G-d’s world. So what’s the purpose of an anti-Semite? To remind Jews that they are Jewish.

But why wait for the Amalekites of this world to remind us? Rather, let us be proactively Jewish, positively Jewish, and Jewishly positive. There are a million good, positive reasons to be proudly Jewish. If 75 years ago being Jewish carried a death sentence, today it’s a life sentence, promising a meaningful and blessed life. And, when we decide to live proud, committed Jewish lives, we make a fascinating discovery. When we respect ourselves, the world respects us too. That applies across the board, from the individual Jew to the Jewish state.

Judaism is a boon, not a burden. We should be staunch about our heritage. It’s a badge of honour to wear with noble pride. If you don’t know why, go and study, but that’s another sermon.


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