I think that history, both ancient and recent, proves that ideologies by their nature are rigid, oftentimes cruel, even murderous and dangerous. Devotion to a cause, no matter how noble by its very nature, places human beings in a secondary and often expendable position. When the cause is so noble and the venture so necessary and the perceived good of the fulfillment of the ideology are so attractive and mighty, then the cost to human lives and society pales in comparison.
How many millions of lives have been lost in the last century in the quest for the fulfillment of utopian ideologies that eventually collapsed of their own weight! The great murderers of the past century – the Kaiser of Germany, the Emperor of Austria, the Balkan nationalists, Lenin and Stalin, Hitler and Himmler, Chairman Mao and Pol Pot and the radical Islamic extremists of today – all have one thing in common – they were all ideologues.
Their efforts at enforcing and realizing their ideology in the real world brought about the deaths of untold millions. But they never had any qualms about the cost of their attempt to create the ideal society. When ideology governs, all concepts of humaneness disappear. People and individuals are merely pawns that are expendable in the great game that ideologues believe themselves to be playing. Woe to the individual that somehow disagrees with the ideology and the ideologues currently in vogue or in power.
The debris and destruction of much of the world that has occurred over the past century and is still occurring in front of our eyes is a result of ideologies that triumphed over the concept of humaneness.
One of the more startling insights into Judaism – not Jews – and Torah is an absence of ideology. There are rules and commandments, moral commitments and definitions, but there is no overriding ideology as to how society is to be formed and governed. To a certain extent, the Torah leaves that to human trial and error. Even though the great and holy prophets of Israel portray for us a world of future hope – a world of justice, equality and peace – they do not quite outline for us a certain path to bring us to that goal.
What form of government is to be instituted? Is it absolute monarchy, constitutional monarchy, a form of democracy – etc.? This problem troubled our great teacher Moshe at the onset of his career, when he asked God to tell him how he was to raise the Jewish people to a level of permanent greatness. Heaven demurred and did not so inform him. But when viewing that Torah in its totality, with all of its myriad commandments and instructions, the conclusion that humaneness is the overriding feature of Judaism is inescapable. The bookends of the Torah are kindness and goodness to others – to the stranger, the servant, the widow and the orphan and the otherwise defenseless. There is no ideological cause that justifies the abandonment of those principles.
In our current society, ideologies and politics have merged and sometimes form a witches’ brew of controversy, strife and even violence. The worst atrocities are justified by their perpetrators as being the fulfillment of great and true ideologies. Jewish society, as well, is not free of ideologues and differing ideologies. Because of this, it is not many times as humane as it should be and as what we would wish it to be.
The rights of the workers are considered to be sacrosanct in Jewish law and life. But these rights were an expression of the humaneness of Torah and not as an instrument of class warfare and the fulfillment of dreamy economic theories. Humaneness itself is often distorted and ruined when it is converted to an overreaching ideology. Human kindness is often morphed into aggressive, coercive and even violent behavior.
The question that should always be asked regarding a seemingly humane act that one is about to commit, is it being done out of humaneness or rather is it only in furtherance of a preconceived ideology. And we should always remember that humane behavior always trumps ideology, no matter how noble and progressive we believe that ideology to be.
The principle rule of the Torah is that human life is the most precious of all commodities and overrides all other considerations. Sending children to be suicide bombers based on a warped ideology is an affront to the idea of religion and faith in the Creator. The Torah warned us that these acts and beliefs would arise. It is our task to be humane in the face of such ideological cruelty.