History has recorded for us great powers, ideas, faiths and societies that though apparently successful for periods of time, even long centuries, have turned eventually into monumental failures. The twentieth century was witness to the immense failure of fascism and of communism as examples of promised social panaceas that eventually collapsed due to false ideals and dogmatic ineptitude.
Even when failures are evident for all to see, the true believers never give up in their support of false gods. It is one of the perverse traits of human nature, never to admit error no matter how evident and apparent it may be. Here in Israel this is exemplified by the obvious and complete failure of the Oslo peace process, which over the past twenty years has brought only grief and death to all parties concerned.
Yet, its adherents continue to defend and attempt to prolong it as though it really would be able to achieve peace and solve the difficult situation that Israel has always found itself enmeshed in. It is difficult to admit failure and our president is not likely to return his Nobel Prize and say that he was wrong – in many cases dead wrong.
But failures eventually exact their toll and history does not allow them to be ignored forever. Just look at the economic problems that plague Europe directly and the world generally because of the incipient built-in disarray of the Euro zone currency arrangement. Cyprus and Greece are able to bring down France and even Germany. But no one is admitting failure as of yet.
The dominant social and political force in nineteenth and early twentieth century
Western society was nationalism and imperialism. Every nation had to prove its greatness and safeguard its place in the sun even at the expense of other nations and cultures. War was an acceptable means of achieving this.
Nation building was all the rage and Bismarck’s forced unification of Germany under Prussian domination would bring about the catastrophes of World War I and World War II. This failed god of nationalism brought, in post-World War II society, a new god of internationalism, self-determination and the mantra of human rights. Anti-colonialism reigned supreme, leaving many failed states scattered over the world’s continents.
Secular Zionism, which was the Jewish version of nineteenth and twentieth century European nationalism, also suffers from the failure of nationalism or of internationalism, to appreciably help the suffering millions of humankind. Hence the post-Zionist trend so popular today in many sections of the Jewish world.
It is no longer fashionable to engage in nation building. And certainly patriotism and loyalty are not to be enshrined any longer as virtuous traits. A Zionism that excluded God and Jewish tradition and practice from its agenda was doomed to eventual failure from the outset. The revitalization of Torah study and practice in today’s Israel is the guarantee that this failed nationalism will not bring the state to failure. Following secularism and internationalism at all costs will only prove the failure of those ideals when applied to Israel and the Jewish people.
All of the above failures concerned themselves with societies and ideas that basically turned their backs on religious faith. However, the religious world certainly has its share of failures as well. The record of both Christianity and Islam in achieving a better world is pretty dismal. The steady decline of the Christian faith and its influence in much of the world – especially in Europe – is remarkable. Yet instead of really looking after its own house, Christianity still expends a great deal of wealth and energy in attempting to convert others to its faith.
In our own neighborhood here in Jerusalem a missionary center is being built in order to convert Jews. One would have thought that by now, over two millennia, the failure of that effort would have convinced these Christian groups to concentrate their wealth and efforts on more noble and beneficial projects – as some Christian groups in fact have, over the past decades.
And Islam today has been taken over by jihadists and terrorists and represents a very negative image to the world generally. Without the moderation of tolerance and universality that is represented in Torah Judaism, the failures of these two offsprings of Judaism are historically certain. But as we all know, admission of failure in matters of faith and religion are almost never proffered.
Within our own religious world the dogmatic pursuit of failed policies – not halacha, but policies – is persistently pursued. Why should we think that policies that failed to rally Jews to Torah over the past centuries will somehow be successful now? Failure should beget humility and review. Let us hope that this will occur in all areas of life and societies.