Jews treasure their past and remember it vividly. The past comes to us not as a hazy dream but rather as a present and current reality. In the main, this is a positive achievement for it allows all later generations to experience the great moments of our history such as the exodus from Egypt, revelation on Mount Sinai, the consecration and later destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem, etc.
However, just as when we overpack our suitcase to go on a trip, taking along all sorts of clothing and items that we will never really wear or use, and that should really and rationally be discarded, so too do we overpack our historical suitcase of memories and reactions to situations.
Much of the conflicts that we witness in today’s Jewish world are the residue of old issues from decades and centuries ago. Even though the situation is far different now, these issues continue to affect the Jewish people. For instance, Jews have bitter memories of being forced to serve in armies in Central and Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century. For certain sections of Jewry, this memory has been translated into refusing service in any army, at almost any time.
It is patently obvious that the current Nachal Charedi, for instance, is a far different situation than serving twenty-five years in the army of the Czar. But the coercion of having to serve in that army of the Czar is part of the residue of history that is packed in our suitcase and though no one talks about, I believe it to be part of the current ongoing debate and controversy.
The Holocaust and its effect upon Jewry still haunts us. We have invented and created many means to commemorate that horror – museums, books, films, special days and unique prayers. But none of these, in my opinion, have really helped us come to grips with the theological and social consequences of that ghastly event in Jewish history.
One must agree that faith and belief in God was badly bruised by the Holocaust. I have been told by survivors that though they have resumed a fully observant/Chasidic/yeshiva life style after their harrowing experiences, they no longer believe in God! In my years in the rabbinate I have learned, often very painfully, to distinguish between those that are outwardly observant and those who truly believe and have faith in the God of Israel.
It is also critical to note who actually survived the Holocaust. Russian Jewry, raised and nurtured under atheistic Communism, is here in great numbers in Israel and in other Jewish communities in the world. Hungarian Jewry, the hotbed of extreme secularism and extreme Orthodoxy at one and the same time and place, also substantially survived. Polish Jewry (95%) and Lithuanian Jewry (98%), the more moderate elements in Jewish life in Eastern Europe were in the main destroyed. And, this is the residue of religious extremism, atheism and divisiveness that permeates much of Jewish political and religious life today – that part of past history that remains with us today.
The attitude of disparate groups in world Jewry to the nature, if not the very existence, of the State of Israel is also a result of the past that still lives with us. Zionism as practiced in the Land of Israel in the early part of the twentieth century took a decided turn to the left. The kibbutz, radical Socialism and Communism were the orders of the day.
The Soviet Union was the heroic force in the world. Stalin voted for the creation of the Jewish state because he was duped into thinking that it would become a Soviet satellite state and grant Communism its entry into the Middle East. When Israel regained its political balance and economic and social good sense, and allied itself with the West, the Left became disenchanted with it. This disenchantment continues today with all of the Leftist NGO’s and liberal organizations calling for all sorts of punitive measures against Israel.
The bitter romance of sections of world Jewry a century ago with Marxism has left a strong residue of frustration and self-hate in today’s Jewish world. And, at the other end of the spectrum, much of the Orthodox world is still fighting the battle against Zionism long after that battle has ended. Whether theologically there should have been a state or not is a non-issue in today’s world.
There is a state and the only issue is how to strengthen it, preserve it and make it more Jewish and exemplary. Efforts at fighting a battle long ago decided by history itself are patently futile and self-destructive. Much of the unneeded residue of history can be safely discarded.