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Mene, Tekel, Peres

Posted By Obadiah Shoher On February 12, 2013 @ 8:26 am In Jewish matters | No Comments

European scholars were thrilled by the Enlightenment, which pushed the borders of knowledge into infinity. Unfortunately, social activists were also thrilled. Their logic was superficially compelling: if people can learn the secrets of physics and astronomy, and reduce the arts to semi-scientific rules taught to young painters and sculptors, why couldn’t we learn the laws of societies? If we know celestial mechanics and employ that knowledge advantageously, then all the more easily we could comprehend the workings of earthly societies and change those societies to people’s advantage.

Societies, however, are qualitatively different from other objects of scientific study: they are complex adaptive systems. Societies are too complex to be described with straightforward rules. People, unlike planets, possess free will, and are inherently unpredictable. People have myriad choices, and their behavior is not governed just by mechanical time, speed, and location variables. Human preferences are subtle, not quantifiable in terms of miles per hour or dollars per year. Societies adapt to external influence. In that sense, they are subject to the Observer’s Paradox known from quantum physics: observation affects its object and influences the result of observation. Social engineers develop their plans with an existing society in mind, but the society starts changing immediately after the reforms are launched. It’s like solving an equation with millions of variables which keep changing while you work on the equation. Liberal revolution was a sensible idea in Russia in 1914. After few years of liberal propaganda and exhausting war, the Russian society of 1917 was very different from what it had been in 1914, and the previously sensible revolution proved to be a disaster.

The Enlightenment produced social rationalism, which led to belief in conscious, deliberate reformation of societies. Social activists were no longer content with improvements, but craved sweeping reforms. From there, a logical step took them to destroying the old societies and engineering new ones.

Many Jews eagerly embraced the doctrine of social engineering. The Jewish culture of learning and work ethic led them to believe that societies could be comprehended and changed for the better. Their familiar role as a Light to the nations and their own suffering in ghettos prompted the Jews to fight the old order for the common good. Religious hypocrisy and the attractiveness of Gentile sciences reinforced the assimilationist attitude; Jews happily joined the Gentile reformers.

For some time, isolation saved Jewish communities from socialists and other reformers. Jews helped to reform other societies, but not their own. Secular Zionism became a Trojan horse which brought social engineering behind the iron curtain of Jewish isolation. Zionism was not Judaism adapted to the modern political situation, but rather social rationalism that picked some of the Judaic goals.

Zionists, just like the socialists, decided that they could devise a perfect society. Instead of taking the traditional goals of Judaism and realizing some of them while realistically postponing the others, Zionists redefined Jewishness. For them, the Jewish idea was not about the Torah or Jewish ethics, or even Jewish culture, but merely about escaping the ghettos—preferably into Palestine, but acceptably in Uganda. Zionists sought to normalize the Jews, but normal people are similar to everyone else. In order to become normal, the Jews had to abandon their isolation and peculiarity, intermingle, and assimilate. German “Jew-lovers” of the nineteenth century agreed with anti-Semites that the existing Jews were evil, but argued that the Jews could eventually learn German culture and assimilate into the German nation. Zionist policies inescapably led to the same goal of normalization through assimilation. Migrating to Palestine was the only way to resolve the paradox that the Jews that were like everyone else, yet distinctive. For Zionists, the Jewish state was not the political goal of Judaism, but a tactical means of normalizing the Jews while avoiding assimilation.

Judaism conceives of the Jews as proudly different, and opposes normalization. Judaism rejected the rights and wisdom of social planners. Jewish society was formed and its laws given three thousand years ago. That view ruled out sweeping reforms and the establishment of a new Jewish society similar to the Russian communist society. Zionists fought Judaism, which rejected their right to shape Jewish society. From the first settlements in Palestine to the modern education system, Israel has been vehemently anti-religious and anti-traditional-Jewish-state. Russian communists similarly rejected religious authority and national traditions, and unsuccessfully attempted to build a fresh society.

Jews embraced Zionist society. The Jewish way of life is difficult, especially when burdened with minute Talmudic regulations. Jews renounced Judaism in Sinai and were content with the Hellenists before the Maccabees started their revolt; modern Jews happily abandoned the Jewish way of life in favor of the easy-going Israeli lifestyle. Now the Israelis side with the government to expunge the people and ideas which remind them of their own Jewishness. Many Israelis dislike the settlers and religious Jews, and support the government’s drive to abandon the Jewish lands of Gaza, Judea, and Samaria. The Israeli government does not fool the poor good Jews; Israelis knowledgeably support their government. The destruction of the Jewish idea benefits both the self-hating Jewish assimilators and the unfortunate Jews who would otherwise love to remain Jewish but now have an excuse to follow the trend of assimilation, pretending that they are powerless against the government.

The Israeli eclipse began not with Menachem Begin returning the Sinai to Egypt, but when the earliest secular Zionists imagined that they or the people could decide about Jewish values. The values are axioms. Parallel lines either cross in infinity, or not. Neither a mob nor the elite can decide on matters of Jewishness. The case for Israel was lost when Zionists undertook to define what is a Jew, when a Jew of the Torah began to seem inconveniently outdated, and when enlightened rationalism permeated Jewish communities. The transcendental was explained, reformed, and made modern—and lost the claim to eternity. The Jewish idea was doomed when the Jews decided that everything, including religion and national destiny, could be measured. Being measured, it was found very light, and cut into non-being.

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