Protection is the foremost enabler of inequality. The rich pay proportionally the same taxes as the poor, a bit more in countries with progressive taxation. Yet their property is disproportionally more attractive to robbers: a single rich target is preferable to a million paupers. States thus subsidize the rich by protecting them in excess of their taxes paid.
The rich are more prone to tax evasion than the middle class because they can afford better accountants. Rich people are often close to the government, and so they profit from its contracts. In a free society in which protection services are privatized, inequality would diminish.]]>
When people cannot evaluate the truth, they look for social proof instead of objective truth. The number of adherents to a particular idea and intensity of their beliefs is mistaken for proof. Israel’s population cannot evaluate the intricacies of the peace process, and so the population looks to the peace zealots for a social example. The mass political suicide of an Israeli society that follows the peaceniks is not unlike the Holocaust or Jonestown, where crowds walked to their deaths because imitation was their only behavioral benchmark.]]>
A major prophet, a highly respected authority on Judaism, doing what? Building altars! And he is not alone: Joshua, Manoach, David, Ezra, many other figures engaged in that absolutely prohibited activity. Rabbis have good explanations for each case, but if we look at the text’s plain meaning, neither the actors nor the authors had any qualms about unauthorized altar-building. It looks like the authors of the books of Joshua, Samuel, and Chronicles did not know about the Torah’s ban on out-of-the-Temple sacrifices.
After the Philistines released the Ark, it dwelt in several Jewish villages. Not even prophet Samuel thought of moving it to the official site of worship in Shiloh. The evidence suggests that religious service was not yet centralized.
History shows how problematic such centralization would have been. Left without God’s altars, Jews immediately lapsed into idolatry. The desire to have a nearby place of worship is deeply ingrained in humans. The legend that in the Second Temple period Jews refrained from idolatry is not exactly true. For one thing, transportation had greatly improved by that time, and the Jerusalem temple was not tremendously far away anymore. Nevertheless, archeologists have found many pagan worship items in Jewish settlements. Also, during that time synagogues began to appear, which allowed a venue for out-of-Temple worship.
The idea of a centralized cult was a great one: a truly abstract religion without daily contacts with divine proxies, be it altars or statues. The centralized religion was conceived to be unobtrusive, alowing people to go on with their lives without performing superstitious rites at every step. Unfortunately, that does not work, and so Jews are still kissing Torah scrolls and blowing kisses to mezuzas. The only expanding sect of Judaism for the past two centuries has been the Hassidim, a firebrand folk-style religion far removed from the cold and abstract Judaism of Leviticus.
We do not have the Temple. Never mind. It did not exist for most of our history in the Land of Israel. We do not have the Ark. Never mind. Prophet Samuel was not in hurry to get it from the villagers. The common law is clear: when there is no Temple, Jews are allowed to build altars and sacrifice on them. And this is our current obligation.]]>
Adam ate fruit: clearly, if he stopped eating, he would have died. The animals around him were mortal, killed later by Abel. It is therefore hardly plausible that man was the only immortal living being around.
Look at the text. In Genesis 3:3, God warns Adam against eating the fruit of knowledge lest he be destroyed. The word for destroyed is grammatically an emphatic passive verb, it does not denote a condition (like becoming mortal). There is no hint that otherwise Adam would have lived eternally. It is like the sign on an electric pole that reads, “Danger! Death!” True, Adam did not die immediately upon eating the apple, but perhaps the warning was not literal, or he was forgiven, or God just saw no point in killing the only human around. Not all of those who climb the electric pole die, either.
In Genesis 3:22, Adam’s potential immortality is related to the tree of life. He became like a god in knowing good from evil, and now he could become even closer to them by becoming immortal.
Theoretically, it is possible that God accepted an ignorant immortal man, but refused immortality to a person who knew morality. That’s not illogical: such a person can perform an infinite number of immoral actions during his lifetime. Infinite immorality sounds like too much. Curious as the interpretation is, it is not supported textually.]]>
If Judaism is about morality, what is its religious value? Any philosophy major can lay down a system of morals; we do not need God for that. Even animals develop a sense of morality: dogs die defending their owners.
Just how moral are the commandments to kill the Midian babies, exterminate the native nations of Canaan, or kill our fellow Jews over seemingly trivial violations of the sacrificial system? Just how moral is the sacrificial system itself, which commands the killing of guiltless animals to expiate human guilt? Just how moral is a system that denies an individual private liberties—to practice homosexuality, work on Saturday, or cook meat in milk?
It may be argued that even those actions are moral when we take them in a larger context. The babies of Midian were killed so that Jews could persist as an isolated people, become a light to the nation, and in so doing save many more lives. Ritual purity laws encourage people to dwell on the sanctity of life. Many such explanations can be made, but they are convoluted. The problem is that they are untestable. Communists likewise claimed that their horrendous crimes were a shining path to a blissful future.
If Judaism is about morality, then how it is different from Pauline Christianity, which did away with all commandments and instituted a handful of arbitrary ethical prohibitions? Both Judaism and Christianity emphasize compassion, to a member of a tribe and an adherent to a confession, respectively. Both take it so far as to forgive adversaries (though not political enemies). Both prefer an apolitical existence—communities in Christianity, judges or theocracy in Judaism—and both make exceptions to that principle for the purposes of defense. Christians do not observe the Mosaic law, but it was not given to them in the first place. Even the Christian emphasis on Jesus has its parallels in Jewish excessive reliance on examples from the lives of their rabbis.
The difference between Judaism and Christianity is as follows: The founder of the Christian religion was human. His injunctions have to be consistent with human morality; otherwise he would be immoral. In Judaism, commandments came from God, who is beyond good and evil. The commandments need not be nice, good, or moral. Christians observe because they agree. We observe because we accept the yoke.
Speaking about the commandment to avoid killing the bird when taking eggs from its nest, the rabbis said this: if someone cites this commandment to praise God’s kindness, we shut him up. The reason is, if you praise God’s kindness, what do you do when you encounter a brutally immoral commandment? Judaism is about divine service, not morality. Whatever God says, we do, whether or not it squares with our conscience. If we are told to exterminate the natives upon returning to the Land of Israel, that is our religious duty. As people with a semblance of free will, we can dodge that duty, but we have no right to call the white black. We cannot say that such a religious duty does not exist or that it should not be carried out because it is immoral. Immoral it may be, but it is a religious duty nonetheless.]]>
But internationalization is a bad interpretation of Rabin’s idea. Long before Begin signed a peace treaty with Sadat, Rabin made a highly controversial intermediate agreement with Egypt on disengagement in Sinai. Rabin’s idea was that peace is a step-by-step process of building trust between parties. Short of a more traditional alternative, devastation, Rabin could have been right. Indeed, most of the Israeli establishment at the time subscribed to the incremental improvement doctrine. Traces of this doctrine can still be seen today in Lieberman’s calls for a peace treaty with the Palestinians, or in the leasing of the Golan Heights from Syria for 99 years to ensure that relations are indeed normalized. Rabin insisted on diffusion and disengagement as preconditions for peace. He noted correctly that a peace treaty would be impossible amid daily clashes between Israeli and Egyptian troops in Sinai. Years later he changed his mind and agreed to negotiate with terrorists under fire, saying, “We will negotiate as if there is no terror, and fight terrorists as if there are no negotiations.”
Rabin’s initial logic was lost on Olmert, who offered the Palestinians international control over the Old City. This control is not really international: the council would have a built-in Muslim majority. Nor was the offer really Olmert’s. Even Begin mused that he wouldn’t be around by the time the issue of Jerusalem is discussed. Curiously, the only major politician who vehemently opposed a deal on Jerusalem was Shimon Peres—before he became a radical peace advocate in an effort to woo Labor’s leftist activists away from Rabin during his bank account crisis.
Imagine the practicalities. Jews apply to the UN’s Waqf to conduct renovations at the Western Wall; delays in granting the permit are trumpeted in Israeli press. Archeological digs are banned. Muslims embellish Al Aqsa with Saudi money and construct freely on the Temple Mount site. Russia demands to be included in the council, and immediately clashes with Armenia and the Vatican, which in turn clashes with the Evangelicals. Checkpoints are set up all around the Old City, with border police and customs officials at every gate. Since the Palestinians continue to engage in terrorism, long lines and racial profiling become a permanent feature at the checkpoints, as does barbed wire. Inefficient UN forces cannot prevent Arab attacks on Jewish residents of the Old City, at which point Israeli police have to cross into the international zone.
Internationalization of the Old City would create a perfectly explosive mixture in which enemies rub against each other while their respective societies, dissatisfied with the arrangement, hungrily wait for sparks. Far from a settlement to facilitate peace, internationalization is certain to perpetuate war.
As if a 3,000-year-long war is not perpetual.]]>
Learned ancient anti-Semites frequently taunt Jews for being useless to humanity. Compared to Egypt, Greece, or Rome, Jews brought nothing to the world. Most other nations did not benefit humanity, either, but at least they do not position themselves as proudly different. But even in antiquity, Jews were renowned for their commercial skills. In Alexandria, a highly developed and probably expensive city, Jews occupied the largest quarter. In Roman Europe, Jewish communities were so important that magistrates frequently donated to synagogues for political reasons; we know that from inscriptions.
Jewish input into the arts and sciences is a new and short-lived phenomenon. Only since the late eighteenth century have a significant number of Jews left their traces in the ocean of human knowledge. Whom have we given the world in the previous three thousand years? Spinoza, a second-tier philosopher, a handful of less famous baptized outcasts, and that’s it.
Besides our history of commerce, we have strong evidence that Jews were smart all along: the rabbinical literature. Tens of thousands of bright minds invented and crunched the tiniest legal aspects of Judaism. Their intellectual activity could be called useless and even religiously misplaced, but by any measure it has been huge. From the age of three or five every Jewish male learns sacred texts. Most Jews learn to interpret them. The amount of memorization is staggering. Until their old age, Jews continue reading the holy books, studying commentaries, or at least reciting long prayers by heart. The synchronic environment is very conducive to intellectual development.
The evolutionary processes has always played a role, too, both natural and sexual selection. Intellectual achievements in rabbinical studies were rewarded with profitable marriage. Smart Jews left more offspring than average, if not at birth than in terms of survival to adulthood. Rabbinical families married into each other, producing the intellectual creme of society. It is from such an intellectual background that Jewish Nobel Prize winners have sprung. They could have made decent rabbis if they had properly applied their intellectual abilities, but they opted for secular professions—and succeeded in them. A similar process can be seen in Japan and possibly in Korea, where an age-old prowess in arts has translated into the outstanding achievements in engineering.
That situation need not continue. The price for many geniuses is many stupid Jews. Jewish genius correlates significantly with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and in such people abnormal intellectual abilities are mostly manifested at a young age; long education and conscription diminish this creative window. Other nations compete with Jews for prominence: there are a hundred times more Indians and Chinese than Jews, so even if geniuses among those nations are a hundred times fewer than among Jews, the absolute number of Nobel Prize winners, for example, will be the same. Just as education spreads into Asia, Jews will be far outnumbered in prized intellectual positions. Not impossibly, competition may be looming even in Africa.
Just as other nations become educated, Jewish intellectual development is being devastated. Most people forgo the excellent rabbinical learning that taught memorizing and analytical skills to their grandfathers. Atheistic education is no match for the rabbinical venue, or Jews wouldn’t be smarter than the people of Western nations. Atheistic schools differ critically from yeshivas in their educational approach. In schools, it is pass-and-forget; hardly any adult recalls anything from any school course. Knowledge gained this way is often forgotten hours after the exam. The amount of material memorized is meager: only the portion relevant for current exam has to be kept in the active memory, and everything else can safely be forgotten. Analytical skills are not taught at all: schoolchildren are not presented with anything resembling rabbinical discourses and legal problems. Atheistic pupils do not argue lemmas based on a variety of approaches which range from metaphor to analogy to lexicology to formal logic.
Competition has faded. No longer do Jews need to intellectually superior to confront quotas in universities and hostility in the workplace. They are welcome everywhere, even the silly of them, and the government takes care of the outright stupid.
Natural selection has been abandoned. In a social welfare state, worthless spongers often produce the largest families. Excellent healthcare allows them to leave more offspring than the intellectually capable and busy Jews.
Sexual selection has taken odd turns. Polls show that by far most Israeli atheists would prefer that their daughter marry a Christian rather than a rabbinical scholar. Pretty looks are more important marriage qualities than intellect. Romance outweighs rational choice.
Before the rabbis, Jews were an insignificant Middle Eastern nation. In Israel, Jews are heading toward a similar outcome.]]>
Not so with Jewishness. There is no easy way for Gentiles to imagine themselves the chosen people of God. They know that practically speaking they cannot become Jewish. They can suddenly become rich, or fall in love with a top model, or win a computer gaming contest—but can never become a Jew.
Until recently, some other transformations were also problematic: a man could not become a woman, for example. But the female position was not perceived to be better. People hate those in coveted positions they cannot ever reach; Jews and aristocracy, for example.
Atheism is of the similar stock. People trust blindly many concepts with immense negative bearing on their lives: safety of social security accounts, the wisdom of fighting wars in distant lands, or immigration. But a suggestion to believe in God causes a bitter reaction because people are loathe to accept that any beings are inherently higher than themselves. This is not related to the burden of the commandments: even Christians who don’t have to alter their lifestyle (assuming it is basically moral) to conform to religious principles convert to atheism en masse.
The Jewish state is another unreachable ideal. Israelis came to believe in the impossibility of expelling the Arabs, rebuilding the Temple, and establishing a secure state in decent borders. People cannot stand the idea that some things are unreachable, so they hate and denigrate those things. Accordingly, proponents of the Jewish state are labeled “clowns,” and ethnic-blind democracy is embraced in place of Zionist ideals.
Sometimes it is worthwhile to dream.]]>
And this is a lesson: whatever are Israel’s intentions, they will always be interpreted in the worst possible light.
In early 1970s, Rabin and other leftist leaders (with the notable exception of Shimon Peres) consistently treated the West Bank as a bargaining chip for a future peace agreement with the Arabs. They proclaim not to want to annex the territory, to harbor no settler designs on it, and only hold it for the exchange. Illegal as their position was under the international law, it was sensible and possibly effective.
Begin’s government proclaimed a Jewish right to the territories, though many of his contemporaries heard him recognize the eventual need to cede them. Like Kissinger, Begin only hoped that he wouldn’t be around by the time that unwelcome deal became necessary. Without much thought and amid great fanfare, he created a new reality hugely detrimental to Israel.
For Begin’s proclamations to be useful, he should have annexed Judea and Samaria in an attempt to end the discussion. As we can see today, annexation is not a panacea, and Israel has given away the annexed Jerusalem and Golan Heights. But at least there was an honest attempt by Jews to treat the matter as done. Begin’s position on Judea and Samaria was inherently dishonest: he called them non-negotiable while insisting on Jordanian citizenship and autonomy for Arab residents.
In Rabin’s scheme, Israel was giving the land away from a position of strength. In Begin’s scheme, which is unfolding today—from a position of weakness. Rabin was abandoning something that we allegedly do not want; Begin was abandoning the land that we want dearly and consider ours by the strongest of all standards, the religious. Of course, our best option is to annex the land and expel the Arabs. Short of that, Rabin’s way was a political victory, while Begin’s was an utter defeat.
And this is how Arabs will see the eventual peace deal. Israel abandoning the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, dismantling dozens of Jewish villages, IDF troops evicting Jews from their homes, Arab mobs dancing on the ruins of synagogues—there will be a tremendous victory for the Arabs. For many years, images of Israel’s defeat in the West Bank will energize young Arabs to continue the struggle to liberate the last areas of what they consider their land from the Jews.
And the Arabs would not be that wrong. The Jews, who vacated their historical homes in Judea and Samaria and settled into the beachfront occupied previously by the detested Philistines and Graeco-Roman pagans, hardly deserve even that ten-mile-wide state.
During the Exodus, the line between Redemption and wholesale death was thin. Jews were apparently dispersed in Egypt. Some lived in forced labor camps such as Raamses, others were affluent and always had “pots full of meat,” and still others possessed considerable riches, which were partially donated later to the Tabernacle enterprise. Their numbers were huge and their fates were different. Exodus became a leap of faith for them: incident after incident, they could die all together either instantaneously (in crossing the Reed Sea) or slowly (of thirst at Meribah). Step after step, they were taught to trust God, recognize his signs, and observe his will. The self-reinforcing spiral of trust and miracles is perhaps the most important. Non-believers can rationalize any miracles away: splitting the Reed Sea was a natural event caused by strong winds, which made the shallow water fordable; partridges usually fly on their own, and manna could have been some sort of plant gum. Only people who look for miracles see them.
In our time, the Exodus developed along similar lines. Four out of every five Jews refused to leave Egypt, and perished there; so it was in Europe. Masses of non-Jews joined the Exodus both times. From the golden calf to socialist atheism, Jews tried to ignore the source of their salvation. Miracles were explained away, from stunning victories in all of Israel’s wars to narrow misses in Nazi German and Syrian nuclear programs. Jews of very different backgrounds and locations have joined their fates: seventy years ago, the Germans could not lay their hands on all the world’s Jews, but today the Diaspora is drained. From Poland to Morocco, Jews left their former countries and hedged no bets: a single lost war could eliminate the Jewry crowded in the coastal strip of Israel; several nuclear bombs could do likewise.
Like Pharaoh, the Western countries tried exterminating us in Europe, and herded the survivors to the Middle East so that Muslims could finish the Christians’ work. The world insists on the peace process, which strips Israel of the last shreds of its security buffer-zones. The Taliban came close to obtaining nuclear weapons in Pakistan. Ahmadinejad, an apocalyptic maniac, sought to speed up the advent of the messiah with a nuclear confrontation. Symbolically, he has picked up where Hitler (another clown and apocalyptic maniac) had stopped: the nuclear weapon. By any rational measure, Jews are doomed.
Unless we turn to God.]]>