There is no way that anyone can completely shut the door of one’s religious Jewish home to exclude the influences of prevailing culture from entering our living quarters and influencing our families. The zeitgeist – the prevailing culture of the time and place -has always been a powerful and sometime detrimental force in Jewish history.
It was the existing zeitgeist of rampant and universal paganism that explains for us the sins and punishment of Israel and Judah during First Temple times. It was the dazzle of Greek culture and Roman technology that brought Hellenism and a rebirth of paganism to the Jewish society of Second Temple times.
It was the messianic zeitgeist present in Jewish society immediately preceding the destruction of the Second Temple that gave rise to sectarian asceticism and eventually to the creation of Christianity. It was the zeitgeist of Islamic philosophy in the Middle Ages that helped foster the philosophical works of such great Torah scholars as Saadia Gaon, Rambam and Rabbi Yehuda Halevi.
The spirit of the time in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – Enlightenment, Reformation, Marxism, etc. - created Reform, secularism and a very powerful Jewish Left, originating in Germany and Eastern Europe and then spreading throughout the Jewish world. From all of the above it is obvious how important the general zeitgeist is in any meaningful understanding of Jewish life past and present.
In Yiddish there exists this phrase that says it all: “Vi est kristilt zich azoy yidilit zich” - whatever is current in the non-Jewish world becomes current in the Jewish world as well. This innate recognition of the influence of zeitgeist is important for us to appreciate in responding to the current challenges to the State of Israel, the Jewish people and Judaism itself.
The current zeitgeist thatisprevalent in Western civilization is one of unchecked liberalism and moral equivalency. No longer are concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, aggression and justified armed response relevant.
Many decades ago there was a famous book entitled “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” that preached a completely nonjudgmental world where anything goes and somehow everything sorts itself out. This philosophy has become prevalent and dominant in our current world. It is no wonder that the cause of the Arab Palestinians is the main cause of political liberalism today.
No amount of facts regarding a century of aggression against the Jews, the countless number of terrorist attacks, the tens of thousands of Jews killed in the name of Arab nationalism will alter the thinking of the liberals today. The zeitgeist demands no judgment of right or wrong and no consideration of the moral realities of the situation.
There are thousands of people, especially on university campuses throughout the Western world, who identify with the cause of the Palestinians without any knowledge of the complexities of the situation and of the history that has brought us to this day. It is the cool and accepted thing to do – to criticize and delegitimize the State of Israel at every opportunity, almost in a mindless fashion and in a knee-jerk, robotic jargon.
The zeitgeist today is anti-Jewish in a moral and practical sense. It condones, if not even promotes, gay marriage, lower standards of education, avoidance of marriage and commitment, and promotes dependence upon others and upon the government for sustenance and accomplishment.
Judaism is built upon family, upon tradition, upon permanent moral values and about concern for others. Tragically, these ideas and values do not resonate in today's zeitgeist. It is very difficult, even in the most observant and sheltered of families, to raise children today that will uphold these traditional Jewish values in their lives.
The zeitgeist has spawned a technology unmatched in all of human history. That very technology itself has become addictive to the extent that it has overtaken the lives of many of our youth and made them oblivious to the real problems of life and to the world that surrounds them. Easy drug use is rampant and is approaching legal acceptance - no longer just for medicinal purposes.
Perhaps the old traditional methods of education will no longer be successful in dealing with the aggressive and wantonness of the current zeitgeist.Inacultureof constant texting, a musical world of wildly violent melody and lyrics, of high expectations requiring only minimal effort, anything moral or traditional automatically appears to be anachronistic.
The moral right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel means nothing in a culture which does not recognize any moral rights. This is the struggle that faces us. It will not easily be won but we cannot afford to lose.