We’re not that bad. Jews were never perfect. We had many sects with widely divergent views. Jewish apocrypha like the books found in Qumran is farther removed from traditional Judaism than Christianity. Rabbinical Judaism wildly departed from the priestly Judaism of the Sadduceans. The Judaism of the Torah was never practiced by all Jewish communities: it is inconceivable that Jews from Israel traveled to Jerusalem on Passover and fifty days after on Shavuot, or that they undertook dangerous travel to the Temple to slaughter every animal and give the priests their portion. Temple observance was only suitable for Judeans rather than all Jews. Judaism was reinvented many times throughout our history. The Judaism of the Temple replaced the Judaism of the Tabernacle. The Judaism of Judea accommodated refugees streaming from Israel. Ezra and Nehemiah established Judaism without the Arc and probably without Kohanim. The Israelites worshiped at Shiloh all their history with neither Arc, nor the Temple. The Maccabees coped with a repeatedly desecrated Temple, devoid of divine presence. Mishnaic sages redefined Judaism without a realistic hope of rebuilding the Temple or acquiring theocratic jurisdiction. Later rabbis created a ghetto Judaism. That was even before BeShT turned Judaism into a mystical religion resembling you-know-what. Modern Reconstructionism is ugly in its atheism, but something of the sort is unavoidable if Jews want to continue adapting to changing circumstances. The Karaites are largely correct, but we cannot go on slaughtering sheep in the twenty-first century; we can’t slaughter them absent the Temple, to put it politically correctly.

Jews were never fervently religious. Most of the population didn’t join the Maccabees, the Zealots, or Bar Kochba. Undoubtedly, most villagers paid scant attention to the required Temple observance, which was too cumbersome for those living farther away. Jews sacrificed at hilltops, transgressed regulations on debt collection and slave release, skipped alimony obligations with rabbinical consent through consecration, intermingled with Greeks, intermarried, and routinely committed plenty of other religious sins. The current situation—Israel populated by atheists, leftists, Arabs, religious crackpots of every hue who exiled their God into the synagogues, and a small number of zealots and decent believers—is close to the historical norm for the Jewish community in the Land of Israel. Judging by accounts such as Yehuda Halevi’s, the ghetto communities also were significantly cosmopolitan and less than fanatical on religious issues. The Diaspora communities of the Roman Empire were sufficiently open to pagans that pagans donated to synagogues, took oaths there, and arbitrated their religious disputes before the rabbis.

The Jews didn’t long for statehood. Look at the modern Jews mumbling, “Next year, in Jerusalem!” but staying in New York. Ancient Diaspora Jews lacked Jeremiah’s nostalgia for their land, and settled comfortably in Rome and Babylon. They kept sending their half-shekel contribution to the Temple just as modern American Jews buy Israeli bonds. Dhimmi status in tolerant Muslim societies allowed Jews excellent autonomy, good relations with non-Jewish neighbors, low taxes, and the absence of conscription. That’s very much what the modern Jews enjoy in America.

Nor are the trials that befell us too unusual. Europeans have reduced their Jewish communities to almost nil several times in recorded history. Treacherous leaders are as common now as they were in the fifteenth century. We tend to idealize the rabbis of old, but perhaps a millennium from now Jews will admire Ovadia Yosef.

We don’t need ourselves, but it seems that God really needs us.